Bodega Tapas, Wine & Rum
110 South White Street, Wake Forest, bodegawakeforest.com
We don’t get to Wake Forest very often. (Unless you live there, you don’t either, don’t lie.) But this recently opened—in February 2019—spot in the town’s historic district might get us there more frequently. There are nearly forty wines by the glass, a killer rum list (and an inventive collection of rum cocktails) and a slew of delicious tapas: Parisienne gnocchi, warm goat cheese dip with oyster mushrooms, cider-braised pork belly, scallop ceviche, and more.
1228 Heritage Links Drive, Wake Forest, bukuwakeforest.com
OK, so maybe there are two reasons to go to Wake Forest: In 2018, bu•ku closed its downtown Raleigh location, and its planned Cary location (2800 Renaissance Park Place) hasn’t opened just yet—it’s planned for spring 2019—so for bu•ku aficionados, Wake Forest it is. Crab-stuffed avocados, lobster chowder, twice-fried cauliflower, Chinese steamed pork buns, and other creative dishes hold down the tapas menu.
107 West Main Street, Durham, copadurham.com
A small-plates restaurant rooted in farm-to-table concepts and focused on nineteenth-century Cuban recipes, COPA serves standards like arroz con pollo and a spin on ropa vieja, but also almejas con salsa marinera (Southern clams in a rich sauce) and chuletas a lo Guajiro (locally raised pork chops with onions and parsley).
1053 East Whitaker Mill Road, #111, Raleigh, hummingbirdraleigh.com
Skip the bigs and stick to the smalls at Coleen Sparks’s New Orleans-inspired restaurant and cocktail bar: charbroiled oysters, gumbo, smoked deviled eggs, frog legs, and other kinds of Big Easy goodness.
737 Ninth Street, #210, Durham, jujudurham.com
Yes, Juju has a full menu of entrées, and we’re sure they’re great. But we’ve never made it past the Asian tapas—mushroom-and-cabbage dumplings, crab and shrimp cake, crispy brussels sprouts, chickpea chaat.
746 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Chapel Hill, luchatigre.com
At Lucha Tigre, the Asian-Latin fusion concept works even when it doesn’t seem like it should. The tapas menu features gems like tiger shrimp ceviche, empanadas with red curry chicken, and chicken tostadas with crispy wontons.
Mateo Bar de Tapas
109 West Chapel Hill Street, Durham, mateotapas.com
Mateo’s menu has an enormous selection of inventive Spanish-style tapas—everything from chicken liver pate to cold crispy pork skin, blood sausage spring rolls to bone marrow and smoked oxtail marmalade, shrimp and pork meatballs to the locally famous patatas bravas. Its ever-changing blackboard has even more options, some that thread the needle between “small plates” and “entrées” but leave you just full enough. If you ever see the sweet potato dish on there, go for it.
Oro Restaurant & Lounge
18 East Martin Street, Raleigh, ororaleigh.com
Oro’s menu is made for sharing, and dishes are brought to the table throughout the meal. Start with the truffle mac ’n’ cheese, wok-fried brussels sprouts, and grilled sweet potato with brown butter, make your way to the Chilean seabass and seared scallops, plow through the seared duck breast, Korean barbecue chicken, and caramelized pork belly, and, if there’s still room, get a crème brûlée or a warm chocolate molten cake with peanut butter cup gelato.
2130 Clark Avenue, Raleigh, socaraleigh.com
A Latin sister to bu•ku, so•ca features small plates like Salvadoran yuca frita, empanadas with black beans and North Carolina charred corn, and Guatemalan shrimp ceviche.
325 West Main Street, Durham, tabernatapas.com
Spanish tapas and signature paellas make Taberna more than the other Mateo (it’s a few doors down). There’s charcuterie, bacon-wrapped dates, spicy lamb sausage, octopus, and more, served in portions perfect for sampling far and wide.
2018 Best of the Triangle Readers’ Pick, Best Tapas in the Triangle: Mateo Bar de Tapas.
Finalists: Humble Pie, Stanbury, Taberna Tapas.