The first time we tried to find the place we only knew as “that little Latin place around the corner,” we nearly gave up. Getting there was an adventure of missed turns, laughs and a few mumbled curses.
Our perseverance paid off.
From the cozy wooden tables and walls covered in pot tops to the friendly, attentive service, Tapas Spanish Café had a feel-good vibe from the moment our talkative group walked in. We seated ourselves in the busy but not-overcrowded dining area. Then, the food came, and few words passed between us as we ate: “Wow,” “Amazing” and “Why haven't we been here before?”
The restaurant, which opened in 2000, is off Faulkenburg and Windhorst roads in the Greenbriar Office Park, a nondescript complex that you might never know harbors such a culinary gem if you didn't go there seeking it out.
Look for it. You won't be disappointed. In fact, you might end up a bit addicted. I've been three times in the past week.
On my first visit, I had the Papa Bob ($6.49), one of Tapas' “signature sandwiches” piled high with pork, onions, mojo, plantains and Swiss cheese. It is rather large and so delicious that I was both disappointed I couldn't finish it in one sitting and more than happy to have leftovers for later. I added a side of black beans and yellow rice ($3.50) and wanted for nothing except maybe a quick nap afterward. Simple and satisfying, not spicy unless you kick it up with the hot sauce conveniently on every table. A hankering for the beans and rice a few days later brought me back to Tapas with another group.
The service again was exceptional and quick. A large group with separate individual checks is no problem at Tapas; they have the lunch-crowd thing down. This time I tried the Caribbean Jormy ($7.59), another signature sandwich. This delectable creation is stuffed with pork, ham, chorizo, salami, American cheese and habanero sauce. And, of course, I added the side of rice and beans. It was enough food for several people, I'm sure, but I managed to savor it over lunch then later for dinner. The leftovers were so good I made sure to hide them so I wouldn't have to share. (Is that wrong?)
The Media Noche, a Cuban sandwich on sweet bread and the quesadilla platter were big hits with my lunchmates.
My only complaint is with what I'll call “the soda situation.” I like a Diet Coke with my giant, meat-filled sandwiches, but they serve canned soda ($1.15 per can) rather than fountain sodas, so there are no refills. And on my second visit, I got only a can and a straw with no glass of ice. Not a big deal, but if you like to overindulge on the diet drinks (guilty), you may be disappointed. It's a good excuse to choose water instead, though.
Early the next week I was pressed for time, so I called in a takeout order for the sampler platter, which was ready 15 minutes later. The platter includes a stuffed potato, deviled crab, an empanada, croquettes and tostones for $9.50. You can choose ham or chicken croquettes and chicken or beef empanada. Again, enough food for more than one person, but I gave it my best shot. The platter selection was tasty, but it is definitely best as a shared appetizer since everything is fried.
Tapas has more than a dozen sandwiches to choose from, as well as a variety of salads, lunch plates and daily specials — lots to choose from and plenty of reasons to go return often. When asked to choose a favorite restaurant, I always answer “food trucks” because I love the creative flavors and variety they offer. The problem is, you never know where they're going to be on any given day when you need to grab a quick lunch. Tapas food has a food-truck feel but with a location that once you find it, you never have to hunt for again.
Tapas Spanish Café, 1202 Tech Blvd in Tampa, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch. Takeout, delivery and catering options are available. For information and to see the full menu, visit www.tapasspanishcafe.com.