Celebrity chef José Andrés’ Spanish Diner, a new concept replacing his former tapas restaurant Jaleo, is opening on Thursday in Bethesda Row.
Andrés, who lives in Bethesda, announced in the fall that he would bring Spanish Diner here.
He opened the first Spanish Diner in New York City’s Mercado Little Spain, a food hall in the Hudson Yards development, two years ago, Eater DC reported.
The restaurant’s extensive menu features a variety of small plates, such as aceitunas alinadas (Spanish olives marinated with citrus, sherry and herbs), vaso de gazpacho y sus picatostes (chilled tomato, cucumber and green pepper soup) and tortilla de patatas chips (Spanish omelet with chips and caramelized onions). The appetizers are between $5 and $12.
Another section of the menu is labeled “Pica-Pica,” or “Spanish Specialties.” These include cured ham, cured sausage, cured pork loin and anchovies served over toasted slices of bread brushed with fresh tomato and olive oil. These items are between $15 and $23.
Spanish Diner’s menu features a “breakfast all day” section, as well, including huevos fritos con pisto manchego (fried eggs with eggplant, peppers and zucchini stew) and garbanzos bar pinotxo (chickpeas with sausage and a fried egg).
Additionally, diners can choose their own meats and vegetables to combine with eggs into a customized dish. These customized egg dishes are anywhere between $12 and $39, depending on the ingredients.
Toward the back of the menu is the “La Cocina de la Abuela,” or “our grandma’s cuisine,” entrée selection. Items featured include lentejas con chorizo (lentils, carrots and potatoes stew with chorizo), bacalao frito con pisto (fried Spanish cod with eggplant, peppers and zucchini stew) and Canelones gratinados con foie (chicken, pork and duck foie gras with baked pasta, bechamel sauce and cheese). These items are priced between $12 and $20.
Spanish Diner also features sandwiches, soups and salads for $12 to $15.
Nicolas Lopez, the concept chef at Mercado Little Spain in New York, told Bethesda Beat in an interview on Monday that he hopes some dishes on the menu, such as the gratinados con foie, are ones people can’t find anywhere else in the greater Washington area, or most places in the United States.
“Spaniards are missing the dishes from home that they wouldn’t find in a Spanish tapas restaurant [in the U.S.],” he said.
Daniel Lugo, the Bethesda restaurant’s head chef, who worked at Jaleo, said Andrés wants the food to be “as authentic as possible,” and hopes to achieve this by importing the Spanish products from Spain and getting other produce from local farms.
Lugo added that Andrés is a regular at the Bethesda farmers market on Sundays.
Andrés closed Jaleo at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Initially, he turned all of his restaurants, including Jaleo, into community kitchens where volunteers provided to-go lunches to people in need. Jaleo, however, never reopened in Bethesda.
Lugo said he agrees with Lopez that the success of Spanish Diner in New York will carry over to Bethesda.
“And there’s a lot of Spaniards in the area, and they’re really excited for the opening. The food reminds them of home and what their grandma used to cook,” Lugo said.
Although the physical space of the Spanish Diner building hasn’t changed from when it was Jaleo, the colors and designs have. Red and yellow awnings with the Spanish Diner signage greet customers as they walk in, replacing the distinctive red awnings from Jaleo.
Customers can play foosball while they wait for their food. Lopez said the restaurant plans to show soccer from Europe on TVs in the restaurant.
“This place will be a really good place to watch sports,” he said.
Lugo said Spanish Diner will operate in its “soft opening” hours of 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. each Wednesday through Sunday until more COVID restrictions in Montgomery County are lifted.
The restaurant normally seats 200 inside and 50 outside at full capacity, he said. However, restaurants are only allowed to seat up to 50% capacity inside under the county’s current health order.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org