What you might refer to as tapas, someone else would call bar food. Or mezze, or even hor d’oeuvres.
In the neighborhoods of Shenandoah, Silver Bluff and the Roads, this kind of food has thrived for years. Although Miami is predominantly Hispanic, ethnic restaurants — Middle Eastern, Spanish and Mediterranean, for example — have established residence and succeeded along Coral Way.
Especially popular are Spanish tapas.
“Tapas is anything you share with people that is small,” said Terry Zarikian, restaurant consultant and product development director for China Grill Management. Different regions of Spain have their own tapas.
Zarikian, restaurant consultant and product development director for China Grill Management, said tapas originated in the Basque region. “Tapas over there are called pinchos,” he said. “You take a toothpick and stab them.”
Tapas and meze are interchangeable, according to Angela Albanis of Maria’s Greek Restaurant, 2359 Coral Way.
At Maria’s, meze includes taramosalata, a whipped roe spread; keftedakia, small Greek meatballs; and feta cheese and olives, served with pieces of warm pita bread.
“Consistency is what makes it a success,” Albanis said.
Albanis’ daughter Kat Albanis Theodorou said Coral Way is a great place to run a restaurant.
“Coral Way is very specific,” Theodorou said. “(The restaurants) here are consistent and there’s a variety. A lot of homes here have young families. All of these restaurants are different.”
They thrive, she said, because there’s a pikilia, which means variety in Greek. ( Pikilia is also a dish on the menu, made up of a variety of dips.)
Theodorou worked in the restaurant as a child peeling potatoes and cucumbers and then later as a waitress. “When you work in a restaurant, you hardly ever sit down to eat dinner,” she said. Theodorou said she’s always eaten a little bit of everything, even when everyone in her family sits down to eat together during the holidays.
“Greeks always eat family style,” she said. “There’s always room for everyone. There’s even room for a stranger.”
When Zarikian is craving tapas, he goes to El Carajo International Tapas & Wine, 2465 SW 17th Ave. The restaurant, originally located closer to Coral Way, is now inside a gas station convenience store.
“It’s like going to the store, but then you have tapas,” Zarikian said.
The Fonseca family moved the restaurant following a trip to Italy. After stopping at a gas station and noticing the diner inside, they decided to sit down and eat.
“It was a unique and transporting experience,” Carlos Fonseca said. Fonseca, the restaurant’s sales and marketing manager, said the restaurant expanded its wine collection after it moved to more than 2,000 bottles.
“It has brought our tapas to a whole new level,” he said.
The menu is almost entirely made up of tapas, which Fonseca said encourages community and friendship.
“(Dining out) is much better when you order five or six tapas with friends. It gets you to share an experience and communicate,” he said. “Many times, we’ve had customers talk to each other (from different tables) and form a new group.”
When Zarikian goes to El Carajo, he typically orders a crepe de cangrejo (crepe filled with crab and covered in a creamy sauce), camarones al Albariño (shrimp in an Albariño sauce), croquetas de bacalao (codfish croquettes) and a tortilla española (Spanish tortilla), among others.
When you go to a bar in Spain, Zarikian said, they’ll put a tapa on top of your glass.
While El Carajo isn’t set on one specific region of Spain, Bocaito, 1801 Coral Way, is.
Bocaito’s menu is focused more on Southern Spain, chef Antonio Puertas said. Tapas represents very traditional Spanish food, he said. “When people taste Spanish food, they notice it.”
Popular items on the menu include arroz negro (paella made with squid ink), chorizo and gambas al pil pil (shrimp cooked in garlic, lemon and olive oil).
The restaurant has had a fixed clientele since it opened three years ago. The same goes for Maria’s, which has been on Coral Way since 1982, moved to its most recent location about eight years ago and expanded shortly after. Customers go back 20 to 30 years.
“My mother fell in love with Coral Way,” Albanis said. “She fell in love with the trees and found a little restaurant with four or five tables... The rest is history.”