Going out for tapas can feel like a production. Too many small plates and bite-sized things, too much stress over how much to order and whether or not it’s appropriate to get a cheese plate just for yourself - not to mention concerns about whether anyone in your party has a Hitch-level shellfish allergy. But Barvale, a Spanish restaurant on Divis, is the opposite of a stressful tapas experience.
The menu at this NoPa spot has everything from pan con tomate and tortilla de patata to delicious paella and some of the best octopus we’ve ever eaten. Pan con tomate isn’t a complicated dish, but what makes Barvale’s so great is the quality of every ingredient. The tortilla has just the right ratio of potato to egg to onion, and the paella shines thanks to super-fresh seafood and an excellent aioli on the side. Some of the vegetable-focused plates, like the bland eggplant dishes, are a little disappointing, but the meat and seafood plates make up for that, and as long as you focus your order on those, you’ll be very happy. The portions are reasonably sized, too, so you won’t feel like you need to order multiples of everything. (That being said, the paella and tortilla are delicious enough that you might order more just to have some to take home.)
You’re also here to drink. Luckily, the staff is super-helpful with wine recommendations and will almost always offer you a taste of whatever you order, or are deciding between, even if you’re not sitting at the bar. Besides wine, you’ll find some great gin & tonics and other cocktails outside the normal negroni zone - so many, in fact, that you may have a hard time choosing. We’d recommend the Gin Tonic #3 (with grapefruit and lime) to start.
The space is surprisingly large, with plenty of bar seats and a huge back seating area that seems to hold overflow from the front of the house. You can’t make reservations, but the wait is usually minimal, and if you’re a group of two, it’s pretty easy to get space at the bar or a high-top table.
Barvale’s NoPa location and busy but not insane scene make it perfect for many things - a first date that you might want to turn into more than just a drink, a mid-week dinner and glass of wine at the bar, or a book club meeting where you all hated the book and would rather talk about more important things, like your boss’s bizarre habit of saving pieces of used gum for later. It’s a low-key place for very good tapas and very good drinks, and while you may not actually need to double-order anything, we’ll understand if you want to anyway.
Also known as hummus. This is a nice dip for sharing.
Delicious, well-balanced egg, potato, and onion tortilla. Very simple and addictive. You might need one per person because it’s just that good.
Also excellent - the toasted bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, and oil are all close to perfect.
Not a ton of flavor and very similar to the other eggplant dish. If you need to appease non-meat-eaters, this is all right (it’s mostly just oily), but you can do better.
Hands down the best thing on the menu. The octopus is crispy on the outside and soft and not-chewy on the inside - and the olives bring it to the next level. This is some of the best octopus we’ve had, period.
This should be on your table - maybe even get two orders if you’re a party of three or more. It has lots of seafood, and the shrimp are particularly good. Not as good as Bellota’s paella, but a close second in the city.
Very good meatballs to balance out all the seafood, and better than any of the vegetarian options on the menu. The meatballs are soft (but not too soft), and the sauce is tasty, too.
Underwhelming. The half-squash is almost bitter, and it’s stuffed with a somewhat bland goat cheese and bread stuffing. This mostly tastes of regret for not ordering other things.