Tapeo is a casual restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts. Fernando León is co-owner of this popular tapas restaurant, opened in 1995 with his father, Mario León, and partner Patrick Buben. Fernando speaks here:

Tapeo Restaurant, Boston, MassachusettsTapeo Restaurant, Boston, Massachusetts

The concept:

“My father’s parents were Spanish Basque, so that’s the Spain connection. We were the first to do tapas here in Massachusetts. My father was very concerned with making sure everything was authentic. We use a lot of Spanish ingredients that we get from importers in New York and New Jersey. The restaurant has 220 seats—180 inside and 40 on the patio.”

The look:

“We’re on Newbury Street, the premier shopping street in Boston, but when you walk into the restaurant, it feels like a bodega in Spain. We’ve got hams and peppers and garlic hanging, and the tables are handpainted with Spanish tiles in them. We went the more traditional route.”

The menu:

“Eighty-five percent of our food sales is tapas. We have about 40 tapas, but only six main courses, including seafood and Valenciana paellas. The menu changes every six weeks or so, when we add seven or eight seasonal tapas. We use the specials page to bring new things onto the menu.”

Tapeo's Plato MixtoTapeo's Plato Mixto

Adapting tapas to American tastes:

“You have to have a ton of chicken, and you have to have vegan and vegetarian options. Our food is very traditional and presented in a very straightforward way but now we’re looking at ways of presenting that are more American. Our potato-onion omelet is something you get in every Spanish restaurant, but now I’m looking at presenting it with a hot paprika sour cream to make it more “wow.” Americans want the wow factor.”

Top seller:

“The sizzling garlic shrimp in a cazuela, a little ceramic casserole. The secret to those is we heat up the oil first, then put the garlic in, and as soon as it starts to caramelize, we throw the shrimp in and send it to the table. They cook on the way to the table. When they stop sizzling, they’re cooked. It’s very impressive because of that wow factor. If it doesn’t arrive sizzling, it’s just shrimp in oil.”

Can’t sell it:

“Offal. Tripe, kidneys, liver, sweetbreads—it’s just a losing battle. We used to have baby eels (angulas) which we had on the menu more as a curiosity and to prove we were authentic, but now with the Euro so high, we don’t do that anymore. We were selling them basically at cost and still had to charge $35 for a tiny portion. I was eating a lot of angulas.”

One great idea:

“We started doing a prix fixe menu and that’s worked out great. It’s a subset of our regular menu: pick one cold tapa, two hot tapas and a tapa-size poriton of paella, plus dessert, for $35. We only do it on weeknights. It’s great for people on dates, people who don’t want to think very much.”

Hot Spanish ingredients:

Piquillo peppers are very hot. We stuff them with shrimp and crab. Jamón serrano is still very popular. We serve it on bread with olive oil. And there are a ton of cheeses coming from Spain that people are becoming more informed about.

Visit them at www.tapeo.com
or at
268 Newbury Street, Boston, MA t: 617.267.4799

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