Right away, things seem right at La Taberna. But you have to start with the sangria. This requires forgetting the sangrias of your past, all those cloying cups of hyperactive grape juice that rush back at you whenever you consider eating Spanish. This will be hard.
But try, because you’ll be rewarded with a better sangria, a light sweetness balanced by a lively acidity. And from here, things get even more promising. Order the albóndigas, soft meatballs with hints of herbs. There’s a tomato sauce on the plate—so often a throwaway at tapas spots (it’s just for show, right?)—that exhibits a complexity (saffron…black pepper…) that entices beyond the life of the meatballs. It’s the kind of sauce you spoon onto bread, or just into your mouth, until a server pries away the plate.
Not all the tapas here are as impressive, but they are all executed with finesse: Sizzling shrimp are sweet, tender and, obviously, hot; skewered beef tips are cooked to medium and plated with soft caramelized onions. The La Taberna paella begs for some rice that’s been crisped by the pan (there is none), and the patatas bravas are alternately perfect or undercooked. But Chicago—and certainly University Village—can’t remember the last time it had a tapas restaurant that didn’t operate as anything more than a culinary theme park, with Disneyland-quality food to match. So it’s good to have something to give us pleasant memories.
|Venue name:||La Taberna Tapas|
1301 S Halsted St
|Cross street:||between Roosevelt Rd and Maxwell St|
|Opening hours:||Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner|
|Transport:||El stop: Blue to UIC/Halsted. Bus: 8, 12, 18, 62.|
|Price:||Average small plate: $7|
|Do you own this business?|