clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Paella
Shutterstock

15 Exciting Spanish Restaurants in San Francisco and the East Bay

Tapas, paellas, sherry and all the jamón

View as Map
Paella
| Shutterstock

Spanish cuisine in the Bay Area isn’t so much a trend as a movement. Since the early ’90s, Missionites have been lining up for tapas and sangria at Picaro, while their Russian Hill counterparts have packed into Zarzuela for paella and the restaurant’s namesake seafood stew. Neither shows signs of letting up, and in the meantime, the ranks of Spanish dining establishments have swollen to include large, ambitious tapas bars and dedicated regional restaurants devoted to Basque and Catalonian cuisine. Explore the spirit of Spanish dining, embraced by so many Bay Area chefs, with these 15 excellent restaurants for Spanish food.

Did we miss your favorite tapas haunt outside of Barcelona? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
If you buy something or book a reservation from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

The Commissary

Copy Link

One of chef Traci Des Jardins’ restaurants in the Presidio (in partnership with the Presidio Trust and Bon Appétit Management co.), the Commissary is a Spanish-Californian oasis in an old military mess hall. The unique space is as striking as the Presidio setting (right on the parade ground). Edible attractions include patatas bravas with buttermilk aoili, Spanish octopus, catalan flatbread, and a good list of sherries and gin tonics.

barvale

Copy Link

Veteran restaurateur Adriano Paganini knows how to run a fun, finely-tuned restaurant, and Barvale brings his know-how to the tapas bar model. Chef Patricio Duffoo serves reasonably-priced cold and hot tapas plus paella by the individual serving with plenty of the crispy bits — no need to order 45 minutes ahead. The sizable space on a fashionable block of Divisadero seats 65 — walk-in only — and includes room for 32 more at the bar, where cocktails bear an emphasis on Spanish sherries and vermouth. Another full pintxos room that’s yet to open will have room for another 50.

Alegrias

Copy Link

After more than 20 years, chef/owner Cesar Faedi is still celebrating Spain in the Marina with Alegrias. Head in for classic hot and cold tapas and paella preparations aplenty in a homey dining room with white table cloths.

Canela Bistro & Wine Bar

Copy Link

Chef Mat Schuster’s gambas, croquetas, and thin crust coca flatbreads have drawn diners to his Castro/Duboce Triangle neighborhood wine bistro since 2011. You’ll find plenty of Spanish wine and sherry by the glass and bottle plus refreshing white sangria, too.

Barcino

Copy Link

The Absinthe Group’s Hayes Valley followup to Bellota is an homage to Catalonian cuisine, the region that’s home to Barcelona. Group culinary director Ryan McIlwraith and chef de cuisine Athman El-Kindiy serve a menu of contemporary tapas including must-order patatas, reimagined as potato cups filled with charred scallion aioli. Save room for churro-based desserts, and be sure to order cocktails, including mix-and-match gin tonics.

Lively and full of character, Picaro lays claim to being the first tapas restaurant in San Francisco. What’s not to love: Their tapas are affordable, their paella is available in portions that feed six, and they’ve got plenty of sangria and “clara,” a Spanish beer-based drink with lemon soda.

El Lopo

Copy Link

If the Spanish had never ceded control of California, more bars on Polk Street might look like El Lopo, which imagines an alternate history of Californian food and drink with Spanish influences. Go here for Spanish-style bar snacks like Spanish tortillas, early strawberry gazpacho, and a hefty, layered Galician-style empanada, with smoked ham, egg, and pistachio romesco. To drink, there’s lots of vermouth, sherry, and a generous selection of wines, which customers can chug from a porron, a sort of Spanish wine bong.

Heaping paella and Spanish tortillas are some of the highlights at this replacement for another popular Spanish restaurant, the late Zarzuela. Chef/owner Michael Pawlik, formerly executive chef at nearby Frascati, told Eater he “want to keep the Spanish theme going but broaden it regionally,” at Abrazo.

Abrazo

Asiento

Copy Link

While not strictly Spanish, this non-traditional tapas spot is very classically the Mission, in the sense that it’s an eclectic, artistic mix of cultures and cuisines. Pull up a seat for affordable drinks including Spanish wines and cocktails, along with classics like gambas, albondigas, and bocadillos — plus Mexican-influenced plates, kebabs, and fusion items. DJ sets often fuel the lively atmosphere.

Bellota

Copy Link

Bellota is a serious stunner of a restaurant at a sizable scale that the Absinthe Group opened in SoMa in 2016. The opulent but still cozy setting is built around an impressive open kitchen with a wood fire grill where the kitchen turns out incredible tapas — don’t miss the albondigas or the patatas bravas “animal-style” — and hit paella and fideua. Diners can order by the whole pan or “dividida,” in a divided pan to try two different preparations.

Truly Basque in the sense that it serves both French dishes (like escargots de Bourgogne and foie gras) alongside Spanish ones (gambas and paella, for example), this Jackson Square tapas restaurant has a casual atmosphere and something for everyone. Bask is also authentic in its liberal use of toothpick skewers — the dining implement of choice for casual tapas.

Piperade

Copy Link

Located not far from the Embarcadero in the shadow of Telegraph Hill, Piperade is a longstanding fine-dining establishment focused on the Basque country, the Spanish-French region extending between the two countries with influences from both. In fact, Piperade is named for one of the region’s most-prized dishes, a pepper stew. The cozy ambiance and indoor/outdoor space are perfect for a romantic dinner or special occasion.

La Marcha Tapas Bar

Copy Link

Chef/owners Sergio Monleón and Emily Sarlatte, who made their name cooking large-format paellas at events and festivals, opened La Marcha in Berkeley in 2015. Named for the Spanish late-night tradition of “the march,” a bar and food crawl, their evening happy hour can’t be beat — it’s 4 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight. Come in for sherry tasting flights, sangria, and obviously that paella of theirs, which they make in seven varieties including the popular arroz negro with squid ink.

Chef Paul Canales opened his Uptown Oakland tapas temple Duende in 2013 and it’s been going strong since then. Diners will find all the traditional pintxos and tapas they crave presented in a large, dark, and elegant setting that’s perfect for before or after a show at the nearby Fox theater. Don’t skip the fideua and paella — Canales’ specialties.

Telefèric Barcelona

Copy Link

Spanish tapas and pintxos are the stars at Walnut Creek’s answer to Barcelona, where you’ll even find the occasional Flamenco performance. In fact, Telerific is actually right at home in Barcelona, where it began at its original location there. A patio deck sets the sunny scene for dining and sangria swilling.

The Commissary

One of chef Traci Des Jardins’ restaurants in the Presidio (in partnership with the Presidio Trust and Bon Appétit Management co.), the Commissary is a Spanish-Californian oasis in an old military mess hall. The unique space is as striking as the Presidio setting (right on the parade ground). Edible attractions include patatas bravas with buttermilk aoili, Spanish octopus, catalan flatbread, and a good list of sherries and gin tonics.

barvale

Veteran restaurateur Adriano Paganini knows how to run a fun, finely-tuned restaurant, and Barvale brings his know-how to the tapas bar model. Chef Patricio Duffoo serves reasonably-priced cold and hot tapas plus paella by the individual serving with plenty of the crispy bits — no need to order 45 minutes ahead. The sizable space on a fashionable block of Divisadero seats 65 — walk-in only — and includes room for 32 more at the bar, where cocktails bear an emphasis on Spanish sherries and vermouth. Another full pintxos room that’s yet to open will have room for another 50.

Alegrias

After more than 20 years, chef/owner Cesar Faedi is still celebrating Spain in the Marina with Alegrias. Head in for classic hot and cold tapas and paella preparations aplenty in a homey dining room with white table cloths.

Canela Bistro & Wine Bar

Chef Mat Schuster’s gambas, croquetas, and thin crust coca flatbreads have drawn diners to his Castro/Duboce Triangle neighborhood wine bistro since 2011. You’ll find plenty of Spanish wine and sherry by the glass and bottle plus refreshing white sangria, too.

Barcino

The Absinthe Group’s Hayes Valley followup to Bellota is an homage to Catalonian cuisine, the region that’s home to Barcelona. Group culinary director Ryan McIlwraith and chef de cuisine Athman El-Kindiy serve a menu of contemporary tapas including must-order patatas, reimagined as potato cups filled with charred scallion aioli. Save room for churro-based desserts, and be sure to order cocktails, including mix-and-match gin tonics.

Picaro

Lively and full of character, Picaro lays claim to being the first tapas restaurant in San Francisco. What’s not to love: Their tapas are affordable, their paella is available in portions that feed six, and they’ve got plenty of sangria and “clara,” a Spanish beer-based drink with lemon soda.

El Lopo

If the Spanish had never ceded control of California, more bars on Polk Street might look like El Lopo, which imagines an alternate history of Californian food and drink with Spanish influences. Go here for Spanish-style bar snacks like Spanish tortillas, early strawberry gazpacho, and a hefty, layered Galician-style empanada, with smoked ham, egg, and pistachio romesco. To drink, there’s lots of vermouth, sherry, and a generous selection of wines, which customers can chug from a porron, a sort of Spanish wine bong.

Abrazo

Abrazo

Heaping paella and Spanish tortillas are some of the highlights at this replacement for another popular Spanish restaurant, the late Zarzuela. Chef/owner Michael Pawlik, formerly executive chef at nearby Frascati, told Eater he “want to keep the Spanish theme going but broaden it regionally,” at Abrazo.

Abrazo

Asiento

While not strictly Spanish, this non-traditional tapas spot is very classically the Mission, in the sense that it’s an eclectic, artistic mix of cultures and cuisines. Pull up a seat for affordable drinks including Spanish wines and cocktails, along with classics like gambas, albondigas, and bocadillos — plus Mexican-influenced plates, kebabs, and fusion items. DJ sets often fuel the lively atmosphere.

Bellota

Bellota is a serious stunner of a restaurant at a sizable scale that the Absinthe Group opened in SoMa in 2016. The opulent but still cozy setting is built around an impressive open kitchen with a wood fire grill where the kitchen turns out incredible tapas — don’t miss the albondigas or the patatas bravas “animal-style” — and hit paella and fideua. Diners can order by the whole pan or “dividida,” in a divided pan to try two different preparations.

Bask

Truly Basque in the sense that it serves both French dishes (like escargots de Bourgogne and foie gras) alongside Spanish ones (gambas and paella, for example), this Jackson Square tapas restaurant has a casual atmosphere and something for everyone. Bask is also authentic in its liberal use of toothpick skewers — the dining implement of choice for casual tapas.

Piperade

Located not far from the Embarcadero in the shadow of Telegraph Hill, Piperade is a longstanding fine-dining establishment focused on the Basque country, the Spanish-French region extending between the two countries with influences from both. In fact, Piperade is named for one of the region’s most-prized dishes, a pepper stew. The cozy ambiance and indoor/outdoor space are perfect for a romantic dinner or special occasion.

La Marcha Tapas Bar

Chef/owners Sergio Monleón and Emily Sarlatte, who made their name cooking large-format paellas at events and festivals, opened La Marcha in Berkeley in 2015. Named for the Spanish late-night tradition of “the march,” a bar and food crawl, their evening happy hour can’t be beat — it’s 4 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight. Come in for sherry tasting flights, sangria, and obviously that paella of theirs, which they make in seven varieties including the popular arroz negro with squid ink.

Duende