Area restaurants serve up authentic Spanish cuisine

barcelona wine bar

Chorizo with sweet and sour figs at Barcelona Wine Bar


Pan con Tomate from La Prensa Tacos & Tapas


Tortilla de Patata mollette sandwich from Tia Pepa

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The idea of Spanish food and authentic Spanish dishes is sometimes confusing. Some novice foodies might call Mexican, Puerto Rican or Peruvian food “Spanish” — and those cuisines certainly often have Spanish influences in their cooking. But when you are talking about authentic Spanish cuisine — it usually means flavors, ingredients and recipes that come directly from Spain.

Finding good Spanish food has sometimes been a challenge in Loudoun County and nearby communities, but recently, some new options have appeared offering up dishes from around Spain — we’re talking things like Croquetas de Jamón (ham croquettes), Tortilla Española (Spanish omelette, pictured above) and Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp).

The “go to” spot for Spanish food in this area has long been Barcelona Wine Bar. It opened six years ago in the Reston Town Center and immediately attracted a young, vibrant crowd enjoying the extensive wine selection and dishes served tapas style. Yes, it’s part of a chain, but the Reston location is the only one in Virginia and it still has a wait every weekend.

Our favorites at Barcelona include the Albondigas — spiced meatballs in a ham-tomato sauce; the Bacon-wrapped dates; and an amazing Olive Oil Cake topped with sea salt. (You can find the full menu here.)

More recently, La Prensa Taco & Tapas opened in Sterling. The restaurant — located in the Nokes Plaza shopping center at Nokes Boulevard and Windmill Parc Drive — is a hybrid, featuring both Mexican- and Spanish-inspired dishes. (That’s probably why what’s actually Spanish is blurry to some folks.) It’s the brainchild of Chef Santosh Tiptur of La Conche fame in Leesburg, so you know it’s going to be good.

On a recent visit, we focused on the Spanish half of the menu and enjoyed Pan con Tomate — ripe crushed tomatoes with olive oil, garlic and sea salt on Pan de Cristal (translated as glass bread). We also sampled the Patatas Bravas con Manchego — crispy fried potatoes with brava sauce, garlic aioli and Manchego cheese. (Check out the La Prensa menu here.)

“Spanish cuisine is known for its simplicity,” said Tiptur. “It’s a cultural dining experience — and fun and enjoyable — to share food like tapas, pintxos and paellas.”

This summer a new Spanish food purveyor opened in the miniature Food Hall at the Village at Leesburg. Several small kiosks operate inside ChefScape and one of those is currently occupied by Tia Pepa, an offshoot of the famous La Taberna Del Alabardero restaurant in DC.

Tia Pepa specializes in a variety of Spanish tapas, as well as Mollette sandwiches, served on mollette, a type of Spanish bread. We sampled the Tortilla de Patata mollette sandwich — basically a small, circular egg and potato omelette topped with aioli and served on the bread. Delicious. We also tried the Manchego Frito con Mermelada de Frambuesa, which is a fancy way of saying fried Manchego cheese sticks with a raspberry jam dipping sauce. (See more of the Tia Pepa menu here.)

It definitely seems Spanish cuisine is making headway out here in the suburbs. And there certainly may be other restaurants tucked away in the area with cooks busy stirring up pots of Paella and frying up crispy Churros. Where have you found good Spanish food in the region? What Spanish dishes would you recommend? We look forward to future Spanish adventures and culinary discoveries.

(Image at top: Barcelona Wine Bar)