The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Tapas Restaurants
Who knew a restaurant tucked into a suburban medical center could be so sophisticated? Merche is a cross between Spain and Italy when it comes to cuisines and has everything from a large al fresco dining area to a fireplace and a water wall. It's a popular date spot, with plenty of elegance to spare. Merche features a tapas menu, wood-fired pizzas, cigars, an extensive wine list, private dining option and plenty of classic dishes at surprisingly affordable prices.
One of the city's best Spanish restaurants is outside the Loop -- way outside the Loop. But the trip to this oddly located Spanish paradise is entirely worth it. You'd never know once you're inside that Rioja is bordered by some rough apartments and a Fuddrucker's; it's a little slice of Alicante in Houston. And while the paella here is very good (not stupendous, but better than you'll get anywhere else in town), the real treat is the tapas menu. On weekdays, Rioja offers a phenomenal lunch deal: three tapas for $13.95. The patatas bravas and the jamon serrano will make you feel as if you're right back on the Costa Blanca.
Veteran restaurateur Youssef Nafaa has created an authentic taverna and tapas bar where guests can party late into the night. With lots of dark wood and wrought iron, it's the perfect place to watch flamenco dancing on weekends. The menu is extensive and features traditional hot and cold tapas like tortilla española, mushrooms sautéed in sherry, potato croquettes, sautéed shrimp in garlic sauce and grilled octopus, to name just a few. Andalucia also serves wonderful paella and the best and strongest sangria in the city.
Gerry Sarmiento owns the equally popular Mezzanotte Ristorante, right next door, and offers his fans an entirely different experience with Piqueo than at his longtime Italian restaurant. The menu here is fully Peruvian in tapas-sized portions, with an emphasis on more than just ceviches. You can get everything from gaucho steak to Peruvian-style mussels and homestyle Peruvian beef stew.