Jaleo is a lively Spanish tapa restaurant in downtown DC, owned by famous restaurateur/chef José Andrés. They opened their first location in Penn Quarter in 1993 and have since opened a few more locations in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Disney Springs. Manuel and I visited the Crystal City location several years ago (which has since closed), but this was our first time trying the DC location!
Fun fact: I used to live a few minutes’ walk from Penn Quarter when I first arrived in DC eight years ago, so this area has a lot of positive memories for me. Every time I walk through the Penn Quarter/Gallery Place neighborhood, I feel a sense of nostalgia and I’m reminded of the bubbling excitement I felt when I first moved to the area, started my new job, and met Manuel for the first time. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there are a ton of good restaurants to check out too! 😉
Jaleo has a very swanky interior, with rich crimson, yellow, orange, and warm gray accents, comfy velvet chairs, and bright geometric floor tiles. They have table settings of all sizes, from small two-person tables to large circular tables that could easily accommodate eight.
My favorite decor piece is probably the welcome window, which features Spanish phrases like “buen provecho” (enjoy your meal) and “hasta pronto” (see you again soon), as well as the names of some of the tapas, in bright, happy red block letters.
Since it was a weekday, Manuel and I decided to try the “Almuerzo Rápido” (Quick Lunch), a.k.a. “Lunch in an hour, the José way!” This is a prix fixe menu with three tapas + dessert for $24, and an optional sangria add-on for $6 (which we obviously added on!).
COURSE 1 (above): Ensalada verde (mixed green salad with sherry dressing) and Ensaladilla rusa (classic Spanish potato salad with tuna, carrots, and peas)
COURSE 2 (above): Setas al ajillo (sautéed button mushrooms in garlic and white wine sauce) and croquetas pollo (traditional chicken fritters)
COURSE 3 (above): Gambas al ajillo (shrimp sautéed with garlic) and Butifarra casera con mongetes (Grilled house-made pork sausage with white beans)
Dessert (above): Flan (classic Spanish custard)
The food was DELICIOUS! We got a ton of tapas, so I won’t go into each one, but some of our favorites were the ensaladilla rusa (classic Spanish potato salad with tuna, carrots, and peas), the gambas al ajillo (shrimp sautéed with garlic), and the flan (classic Spanish custard).
If you’re going to Jaleo for the first time, you must try the gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), which is one of their most popular and famous dishes. I very rarely order shrimp on its own, but this shrimp was just so firm yet tender, and bursting with flavor. I’m getting hungry just looking at the photos!!
Also worth checking out is the pulpo a la gallega (octopus with peewee potatoes, pimentón, and olive oil; pictured below), which we got as an add-on tapa (separate from the prix fixe deal). It had a wonderful texture and was beautifully seasoned and garnished.
I feel like the sangria needs its own section because it was just THAT good! It had the perfect mix of spice and fruitiness, and was super refreshing. Plus it just looks so beautiful in the glass, don’t you think? 😉
Here’s a photo of Manuel enjoying his sangria. 🙂
Our waiter was very attentive, checking up on us several times during the course of the meal. Each dish came quickly and empty plates were cleared out regularly to make space for the next course.
I requested a window-adjacent table with natural lighting (gotta think about them photos!), and Jaleo was able to accommodate my request, which wins them extra brownie points! 😀
Restrooms are located to the left of the bar and were very clean. The women’s restroom could use more stalls though (there were only three).
Jaleo does not have its own parking lot, which is not surprising for Penn Quarter. You’ll need to find street parking or opt for expensive garage parking (according to Yelp, there is a nearby garage on 8th and E Street).
We always metro or Uber into DC because we hate parking in the city, haha! 😉 Jaleo is located just one block away from the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stop (Yellow/Red/Green lines), which makes public transit easy.
We very much enjoyed our lunch and left with very full bellies. I think Jaleo would be a wonderful place for a date, girls’ night out, or classy family gathering. If you go during a weekday lunch, you can expect to be amongst the DC work crowd (definitely overheard some lawyers chatting about their clients!). We would definitely come back to try more tapas and have more of their yummy sangria!
Looking for more restaurant reviews? Check out my other Local Eats blog posts here!
Jocelyn Bravo is a Northern Virginia family photographer who specializes in creating joyful and luminous images for families and couples. She is based in Alexandria, VA and loves working with clients all across Virginia and the DMV.