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photo credit: Reema Desai

Jaleo image
7.0

Jaleo

Spanish

Penn Quarter

$$$$Perfect For:See And Be SeenDinner with the ParentsBig Groups
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José Andrés is the unofficial culinary king of DC. The chef owns and operates eight powerhouse restaurants here, and from Zaytinya to The Bazaar, Andrés knows how to draw a crowd. But it's Jaleo, the crown jewel of Andrés' kingdom, that's always full of guests from around the world, many of whom have remained devoted to the DC institution since it opened in the ‘90s, despite its less-than-stellar food.

The restaurant's red neon sign is a tempting siren’s call for anyone walking down E St. and the signature red and yellow honeycomb tiles lining the dining room are as colorful as the cast of characters eating here. There are the tourists from the National Portrait Gallery in their sweatshirts and jeans sitting next, federal workers from the trade commission in Bonobos and Dockers, and high school students making their way downtown, but under the watchful eyes of their parents two tables down. 

And though the food falls squarely in the ‘just fine’ category, the restaurant’s location and huge dining room, great for last minute group dinner, make it a popular choice. Like the friend that’s always ready to serve up the kind of questionable advice you secretly want to hear (no, you don’t need closure), Jaleo is dependable. 

Jaleo image

photo credit: Reema Desai

Jaleo image

photo credit: Reema Desai

The Penn Quarter spot serves an assortment of tapas from a menu longer than the last season of your favorite Netflix show. With over 50 dishes to choose from, dining here can sometimes feel like an old-school game of Battleship. There are misses, like their patatas bravas and paella valenciana, which taste like someone was napping when they were supposed to be seasoning. But every once in a while, you come across a hit, like the coliflor salteada made with dates and olives, a pleasant balance of sweet and savory.

With so many choices on the table, it can be tough to narrow your options. If it's your first time here, try one of the restaurant's three tasting menus. It'll help you figure out what works for you—and after that, à la carte is the only way to go.

It'll take some work, like finding the quickest commute route during rush hour, but Jaleo has a little something for everyone—you just have to find what you like. And if what you like is eating out in a lively environment that puts you at the heart of the city, then this is the place for you.

Food Rundown

Jaleo image

photo credit: Reema Desai

Pollo Croquetas

You can’t go wrong with an order of the chicken croquettes or maybe five since you only get three of these bad boys per serving. They’re delectably crispy with a creamy center.
Jaleo image

photo credit: Reema Desai

Coliflor Salteada

The coliflor salteada is a delightful surprise on the menu since cauliflower doesn’t necessarily give “choose me” (Meredith Gray voice). But if you’re a fan of the salty-sweet combo, this one’s for you. The savorness of the fried cauliflower is complemented by sweet dates.
Jaleo image

photo credit: Reema Desai

Patatas Bravas

We have high expectations for patatas bravas, and don’t think you need to go to Spain to get some good ones. But at Jaleo, the tomato puree feels like off brand ketchup and the thick cuts of potatoes are incredibly bland.
Jaleo image

photo credit: Reema Desai

Paella Valencia

You’re at a Spanish restaurant, so you’ll be tempted to order paella—don’t. The flavors are sleepy, boring and bland, the meats, in this case rabbit, are under seasoned and the same is said for the rice.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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