100 Best Restaurants 2010: Jaleo

No. 32: Jaleo

Cuisine: In a sense, no restaurant in Washington has been more influential than this hopping tapas spot, which birthed the small-plates movement and turned fine dining into a more freewheeling affair. Well into its second decade, it remains a remarkably vibrant operation, still capable of astonishing diners with its broad palette of flavors—now bold and bright, now lusty and rich, now delicate and subtle. It also remains one of the area’s great dining bargains. Of the three locations, Bethesda is a close second to the DC original, with Crystal City a distant third.

Mood: A big, moodily lit space where BlackBerrys give way to potent pitchers of sangría and the passing of plates—where dining out becomes a chance for community and conviviality.

Best for: Big groups; special occasions; pre-theater and pre-game dining.

Best dishes: Stone-size boiled baby potatoes with a mojo verde sauce; a good and garlicky gamba al ajillo; house-made grilled sausage with white beans; bacon-wrapped dates; beet salad with pistachios.

Insider tips: It’s best to order only a couple of tapas at a time rather than all at once—dishes can crowd the table. And great as the sangría is, a number of good Spanish wines by the glass are available, including some fruity, mineral whites.

Service: ••

DC and Bethesda locations open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Crystal City location open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.