Cuisine: Celebrity chef José Andrés’s Jaleo restaurants—two of the three make our list—are loving odes to classic Spanish tapas. Many, such as the garlic shrimp, are classics you’ll find all over Spain, but Andrés experiments, too, with fresh variations on familiar themes. These small, boldly flavored plates—order several to make a meal—pair well with the sangrías, Cavas, fino sherries, and new reserve wines on the restaurant’s impressive Spanish-centric list.
Mood: Sprawling dining rooms and the tapas format attract large groups, so the scene tends to be more raucous than intimate. The original downtown DC location long had the sharpest kitchen, but the energy seems to have shifted slightly to Bethesda, while the Crystal City outpost lags behind.
Best for: Couples and groups on the prowl for cheap eats in stylish surroundings. Both DC and Bethesda are good spots for before or after the theater or a movie; the three-course pretheater meal—three small plates plus dessert—for $25 is a good deal.
Best dishes: Thin shavings of Ibérico ham from Spain’s famed black-footed pigs; all-Spanish cheese plate; crisp chicken croquetas; fried organic egg with a dollop of caviar; bacon-wrapped dates; house-made chorizo on potato purée; airy salt-cod fritters; arroz con leche, a creamy rice pudding with lemon marmalade; flan.
Insider tips: Pricey paellas often take more than the stated time to prepare and aren’t as satisfying as the little plates.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.