Believe it or not, there was a time when the padron pepper was somewhat exotic in these parts. Why is it now on half the menus in town? You can trace the trend to John Gorham and Toro Bravo, our 2007 Restaurant of the Year. The always-busy tapas joint was groundbreaking a decade ago. Now, not so much—but it's still among the best.
The menu is organized into sections by size, starting with single-bite "kisses," like a deconstructed Spanish olive ($2) whose flavor increases exponentially in your mouth, and growing up to heftier raciones. It's playful Spanish cuisine as created by the bounty of the Pacific Northwest—grilled sweet corn ($7) is smothered in verdant cilantro pesto, earthy-sweet duck liver mousse ($8) and the house-smoked coppa steak with crispy confit potatoes, cracked olives and caramelized onions ($21). That coppa steak is Gorham's own innovation and has gone on to become a local legend. It starts with an obscure and inexpensive cut otherwise known as a "chuck-eye roast" that's dry-aged, wet-aged and smoked to render it tender inside and crusty outside. Why isn't it on half the menus in town? Because it's a lot harder to get right than pan-fried Spanish peppers.
Eat: The chef's choice tasting menu ($40 per person) is a parade of surprises.
Drink: Gin and tonics are having a moment in Spain and Toro Bravo is on board with four interpretations. Try the Aviation with fennel tonic, orgeat, Spanish bitters and lemon ($12).
Most popular dish: The Valencian paella with chicken, chorizo, shrimp, clams and mussels. It doesn't get much more Spanish than this.
Noise level: 79/100. It's always busy, and the atmosphere is jovial.
Expected wait: Reservations are limited to larger parties on select days. Expect a wait of at least 45 minutes to an hour and a half.
Who you'll eat with: Boisterous groups of celebrating 30- and 40-somethings, and dignified older gentlemen sitting at the bar alone with a glass of sherry.
Year opened: 2007