Cuisine: Spanish tapas designed by star chef José Andrés and served with style in the rollicking center of the local small-plates movement.
Mood: The party started in 1993, when DC’s Penn Quarter was a run-down warren of abandoned buildings. Andrés is rarely seen here nowadays, but Jaleo remains the flagship of his empire. The crowds keep coming for sangría, a glass of bubbly cava, or to see what Andrés has paired tomato with this time. The successful Bethesda and Crystal City branches have never equaled the energy and quality of the original.
Best for: Dinner before a play at the Shakespeare Theatre or a game or concert at Verizon Center, first dates, after-work drinks, a languid liquid lunch.
Best dishes: The tapas menu changes, but less than it used to—look for the classic potato tortilla, a cold omelet; a palate cleanser of watermelon with tomato; garlicky octopus doused with paprika; anything cooked on the plancha; fried swordfish; endives with goat cheese, oranges, and almonds; and the city’s best flan.
Insider tips: Jaleo stays fresh by occasionally bringing trendsetting young chefs from Spain for cameos and by taking the small-plates theme to an extreme with pintxo—minimalist bites served on toothpicks. A reserve list presents the newest wines from Spain.