Iza Tapas Bar in Orlando's Thornton Park neighborhood skips the traditional tapas staples in favor of Mediterranean- and Latin-inspired fare.
This diversion is not uncharted territory. Tapas have become familiar far outside their Spanish origins. The tasty little plates of food, usually portioned for one or two servings, are filling. And the concept is easily adapted to many cuisines.
Jessica Barrientos and Rommel Lares have created a cozy space inside and a nod to café culture outside.
In the evenings, Thornton Park's restaurants create an intoxicating mix of aromas of barbecue, fresh bakery goods and more. At Iza's outdoor tables the result can be a sultry meld of molasses and smoke from neighboring WildSide BBQ Bar & Grille and a deft amount of sizzle and pop from the kitchens at nearby Dexter's.
The mood inside is lively with a mix of tables and bar seating. The scents from the kitchen showcase the chef's emphasis on Italian-, Greek and Latin-inspired cookery.
Craft beers, wine and house-made sangria make up the beverage menu. The sangrias are made daily with seasonal fresh fruits and berries. A tangy lemony apple mix ($7, or $2 during happy hour 4-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday) was refreshing without the cloying sweetness some sangrias can have.
Start with the plato mixto ($12), a shareable platter of black pepper goat cheese, double-smoked cheddar, manchego cheese, sweet berry compote, green olives and crisp artisan bread. The mix of textures and flavor notes is a good amuse-bouche for the palate for heartier things to come.
Our server recommended pincho de carne ($9), flank steak skewers that didn't disappoint. The beef was marinated in a Peruvian red pepper (aji panca) paste and stacked on skewers with pieces of juicy bell peppers and mild onions. The marinade's fruity nuances enliven the meat and left a slight smoky kick on the finish.
The serving included two skewers and a hefty variation of papas bravas, a Spanish dish of pan-fried white potato chunks commonly seen on tapas menus. With a generous dusting of red pepper and paprika, these potatoes were more in the style found in the Valencia and Catalonia regions of Spain.
The gambas al ajillo ($10), a garlicky presentation of four plump sautéed shrimp on artisan bread slices, had hints of brandy, fruity olive oil and clean peppery bite.
Tamer palates will appreciate the lamb sliders ($12) served on warm Indian naan bread and topped with chimichurri, feta, bibb lettuce and tomatoes. Or try the open-face Cuban sliders ($9) with the requisite tender pork shoulder, cured ham and Swiss cheese dressed with mustard and a pickle. Plantain chips are scattered on the side.
Iza Tapas Bar is a hidden gem in Thornton Park, one of those special places locals like to keep to themselves.
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Iza Tapas Bar
** 1/2 out of four
Where: 712 E. Washington St. in Orlando (between Summerlin and Hill avenues)
When: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday
How much: $6-$12