La Vara is Cobble Hill’s best and most charming restaurant. In fact, the couple who run the place should demand some sort of commission for luring people to move to the utopian commune of brownstones and tots on tricycles (especially since the husband-and-wife duo also own Saint Julivert Fisherie next door). Instead, they just charge between $20-$30 for plates of Southern Spanish dishes influenced by Moorish and Sephardic-Jewish cooking traditions.
La Vara is an essential visit for anyone who loves Spanish food, particularly because the menu expands beyond the croquetas-and-jamon canon you may have seen at tapas restaurants around the city. Some of our favorite food here combines classic Spanish proteins with Middle Eastern cooking, like the cantabrian anchovies served with a disc of salted dukkah butter. Another great Jewish-fever-dream dish is the salchichón—fried artichoke hearts lying in hammocks of oil-slicked ibérico de bellota sausage (which is where our hearts would like to hang out, ideally). The plate gets topped with polka dots of anchovy aioli and grated grana padano, and, when you eat it, you'll taste each individual salt crystal on your tongue.
We’ve had great meals here sitting at the bar and catching up with a friend, but this restaurant is best used for a date night in the area. Something to note: You’re probably not going to get out of La Vara without spending close to $75 per person. Nothing on the menu costs more than $32, but the portions are meant for you to order a whole bunch of stuff and share. Plus, La Vara serves a long list of cocktails as well as delicious (often Spanish/Portuguese) wine. Make sure to reserve your table ahead of time if you don’t want to wait. This place is pretty much always filled with couples who found babysitters and people who plan their weeks around eating cantabrian anchovies.
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These anchovies come with dukkah butter and a few pieces of crispy charred sourdough, so you can make your own perfect bite: intensely salty from the anchovies and nutty from the blend of seeds in the butter.
La Vara has plenty of dishes that read more classically Spanish, and you shouldn’t ignore those unless you want your future self to be angry. Try the rossejat, a party bowl of crisped fideo noodles in a lobster stock.
Pulpo De Roca
Galician octopus is on the table at La Vara—and it should quite literally be on yours. This octopus comes sliced into gelt-sized coins, which are submerged in a ton of bright and citrusy olive oil.