photo credit: Nicolai McCrary
El Raval’s menu might look like the type of tapas menu you’d expect to find at any Spanish restaurant—so you’ll find the classics like pan con tomate and patatas bravas, next to small, shareable plates of Iberian ham and gambas al Ajillo. And if that was all El Raval on South Lamar had given us, we’d be perfectly happy. Because tapas bars are kind of a rarity in Austin—and we’re not just talking about the “tiny plate movement” that ripped its way through so many “New American” restaurants in the 2010s.
El Raval does the classics well, including a very good paella with a layer of crispy rice you’ll want to scrape off the pan. But instead of stopping there, this spot introduces little global influences—like Peruvian leche de tigre, a Punjabi makhani sauce, or a Middle Eastern harissa sofrito—El Raval is named after the iconic and diverse neighborhood in Barcelona. It happens sparingly across the menu in a way that feels less like fusion, and more of a nod to Barcelona’s cultural diversity. Some of these globally-influenced dishes work better than others, but even when it doesn’t quite hit the mark, it’s never bad.
The dining room is dark and packed full of long tables and booths, where you’ll probably see a mix of couples on dates and coworkers gathering for an after-work drink. There’s a buzzy energy that makes you feel just as jazzed up about just being there as you already do about the plate of Iberian ham in front of you that’s been curing for the time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree (gap year to backpack through Spain, excluded). Cocktails are the star of the drink menu, and follow the same around-the-world-inspired footsteps set by the plates, leading to drinks like a gin and tonic with Sichuan peppercorns, or a vermouth-and-sherry cocktail topped with briny olive foam. And if you’d rather just stick with the classics, there’s a pretty extensive list of mostly Spanish wines, vermouths, and sherries.