One of the early reasons people went to graze in Penn Quarter, even before it was called Penn Quarter, was Jaleo. And this tapas party by José Andrés never lets you forget that its Spanish name translates as “fun.” Nowhere else do foosball tables double as eating counters, glass heads serve as bowls for citrus — or faces beam from restroom floors. The kitchen plays along, offering dozens of small plates that tap into every craving.
A spicy bite of chorizo wrapped in fried potato improves on the usual pig-in-a-blanket; green beans taste regal when they’re dappled with Spanish goat cheese and heaped on romesco; and see-through circles of silken raw salmon, paved with pine nuts and capers, glisten beneath a drizzle of anchovy-lemon oil. For the ham-obsessed, Jaleo shaves the fabled meat from acorn-fed, black-hooved Iberico pigs. Meanwhile, the richest tuna salad in the city is one of multiple options on the three-course, pre-theater menu — a show of its own for $30. Sangria or albariño might be the obvious quaffs, but the bar does neat riffs on gin and tonics, one version of which is jazzy with ginger and allspice.
Chasing all the new restaurants doesn’t leave me much time to spend with the tried-and-true, but if there’s one spot you’ll see me more than any other, it’s a barstool at one of the most spirited restaurants in town.