Most visitors to Logroño’s Old Town congregate in and around calle Laurel, our legendary tapas street. Locals, however, tend to have their tapas and drinks on calle San Juan, a short walk away. Until recently, San Juan kept a more traditional profile than its better-known neighbor, a street packed with bars serving traditional specialties such as tortilla de patata (Spanish egg and potato omelet), zapatillas (ham on toasted bread), lecherillas (sweetbreads) and fried mushrooms, while on Laurel and adjacent streets, the fare has evolved toward the modern (at least for tapas), like steak and roast suckling pig. The wine selection on San Juan used to be firmly Rioja, while on Laurel, you can find wine from just about everywhere, to the chagrin of 600 Rioja wineries.
This clear distinction has become blurred in recent months, as many bars on San Juan are going upscale to follow Laurel’s lead. Last Saturday, my wife, some friends and I did a short tour of San Juan. Our first stop was Tastavin where the bar was packed with elaborate meat and fish tapas, most of which had been cooked in the kitchen and needed to be reheated in a microwave oven just before service. I ordered pluma ibérica, part of the feather loin near the shoulder joint of an Iberian pig, grilled and topped with a green pepper sauce. The rest of our party ordered grilled red tuna drizzled with soy sauce. We drank Buble, a white made with the godello grape from Valdeorras, a denomination of origin in Galicia in northwestern Spain, near the town of Verín and the Portuguese border.
Our next stop was Bar Torres, which had been transformed from a dark, dingy place into one of San Juan’s most popular bars. Although Torres offers a wide range of tapas, the specialty is a grilled patty of wagyu beef (from cows bred in Japan that are massaged and fed beer). Here, we drank Sela, a crianza from Roda in Rioja. If you’re a visitor to Logroño, you’ll enjoy looking at the pictures of the city in the mid-20th century that hang on the walls.
It was getting late, around midnight, so our next stop was our last for the evening, although the streets were still teeming with people. We decided to go to La Tortilla, where, as the name implies, the specialty is Spanish omelet. We ordered our slices of perfectly cooked (meaning that the egg isn’t completely cooked and the potato is al dente) omelet with hot sauce made from a piquillo pepper concentrate on top – that packs quite a wallop! We washed the omelets down with glasses of Campo Viejo from Rioja. Visitors shouldn’t be put off by the gooey texture of the omelet – it’s how it’s supposed to be!
Tortilla is probably Spain’s most popular tapa. Here, the local restaurant association sponsors a contest to determine who makes the best tortilla. There are two categories: regular – tortilla using egg, onion, potatoes and salt – and special, where anything can be used as an ingredient. Once the winner has been chosen, Inside Rioja will sample Logroño’s best offerings. My mouth is already watering!
Tastavin San Juan 25, Logroño http://tastavin.es
Bar Torres San Juan 31, Logroño
La Tortilla corner of Travesía de San Juan and calle Portales, Logroño