Spanish tapas in the heart of Bethesda MD? Look no further than Jaleo. Delicious food, wonderful sangria, great atmosphere
Last month I was able to go back to Maryland for a week for the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s very rare that I get to do that during the fall, but OSU’s home football season ended early. Plus, OSU basketball played at Maryland while I was there, so I got to be a fan of both teams at the same time. My dad and I sat behind the OSU bench, but I wore all neutral and didn’t cheer at all. It was a great visit, and I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen in about 15 years.
When I first moved to Oklahoma and went back to visit Maryland, I tried to do way too much, so I was exhausted by the end of the trip. Then I went completely the opposite and did as little as possible, but that was no fun at all. Now I’m somewhere in the middle. But life is too short, so I need to make time to see more people. Emily and I have been friends since we worked together in the football office about 20 years ago, and she is one friend I see on nearly every visit. She even came out to Oklahoma a couple of years ago for a home football game weekend.
Emily and I usually meet for happy hour or Sunday brunch. We meet in Bethesda, because it is near both of us. Bethesda is a high-end area of Maryland, and downtown is home to dozens of shops, bars and restaurants. There are lots of good happy hour restaurants in the area; Emily gives me a list of her favorites, and I choose from those. When I was in Maryland in October, we did happy hour at Silver New American Brasserie. It was delicious, but I couldn’t go back again so soon, so I chose Jaleo.
Jaleo opened in 1993, and one of the co-owners is chef Jose Andres. There are 5 Jaleo locations, including Bethesda, Washington DC, Crystal City (VA), Las Vegas, and Mexico. Jaleo is part of the ThinkFoodGroup, one of 18 restaurant concepts with locations in the US and Mexico.
Jaleo is in South Bethesda, not far from Silver. The Bethesda location underwent a complete renovation in 2013. It is open daily for lunch and dinner, and also offers a weekend brunch menu. Jaleo has happy hour (called Sangria Hour) daily, plus late night on Saturday. The restaurant has lots of bold red colors and unique decor on the walls. It is in a semi-circle shape, with the main dining room on both sides of the entrance, and the half-circle shaped bar is along the back wall. Many pieces of furniture at Jaleo were imported from Spain, and there are also 2 glass-covered foosball tables.
We arrived at 6PM to a packed restaurant, but we did find 2 seats at the bar. The only negative to the bar space is there are too many barstools. When the bar is full you have to maneuver yourself into an empty chair, and a larger person would have a really hard time. Once the happy hour crowd cleared out it was comfortable, but I believe they could easily eliminate 5-6 barstools without a negative impact.
One of the most popular appetizers we saw leaving the bar was the charcuterie board. We sat directly in front of the display of meats and cheeses, and the young woman back there constantly prepared plates.
The large leg of meat is Jamon Iberico, one of the best hams in the world. There are actually 2 types of pigs; Jamon Iberico and Jamon Iberico de Bellota. The bellota is a special acorn that these pigs eat, which also makes the pigs double in weight by the time they go through a ritual sacrifice.
Jaleo offers menus for lunch, dinner, Sangria Hour, brunch, and dessert. We were at the bar, during happy hour, so of course we stuck to that menu. We began with a carafe of sangria
I’ve never been a fan of sangria, but this one is delicious. It is surprisingly strong, but very smooth and extremely flavorful.
Bread with olive oil, garlic and rosemary came to the table first
I love that the rosemary and garlic are whole, and they lend a wonderful fragrance to the oil without being too powerful. The bread has a great crust on the outside, and is soft on the inside.
Tapas is the signature of many Spanish restaurants, and Jaleo is no different. The entire Sangria Hour menu is comprised of a variety of tapas dishes. Tapas are small, shareable plates. Because they are small, it is best to order a few different items.
We began with calamari, plus grilled cheese and pancetta sandwiches
Some of the pieces were a little over-done, but the breading has a delicious flavor and it was scorching hot. The garlic aioli is strong, but not overpowering.
I really like the mixture of cheeses, and I love that they finished the sandwich on a panini press.
This was definitely my favorite sandwich. They could double the pork belly and I wouldn’t complain. The aioli works very well with the pork belly and, again, the bread is finished on a panini press.
Emily’s friend Michelle met us, so of course we ordered another carafe of sangria, plus patatas bravas, cauliflower, and shrimp
The potatoes are crisp on the outside, with a creamy interior. I love that they don’t remove the potato skin. The tomato sauce has quite a kick, and the aoili has a very nice cooling effect.
I’ve never been a fan of cauliflower, olives or dates. However, this dish sold me. The seasoning adds a wonderful spice and flavor, and anything sauteed is going to be tasty. Still not a fan of the olives, but I really enjoyed both the cauliflower and dates.
The shrimp is outstanding. The spicy sauce is strong, but not powerful. The shrimp are huge, and once we finished the shrimp we got more bread to dip into the sauce. There’s never anything wrong with that.
As I was preparing to write this post, I found so many pictures of the architecture and beautiful decor of Jaleo. That is reason enough to go back for lunch so I can see it in the daylight. Well, that and I want to try more delicious food, especially the Jamon Iberico. I already told Emily we have to go back on my next visit to Maryland.
For reviews of restaurants in Maryland, click on the photos below!