Falling in love with Spanish Tapas at Las Ramblas, North Hills (Review)

Places like Las Ramblas remind me how far Raleigh has come. Culinary experiences that celebrate cultures from around the world were few and far between when we first moved to Raleigh in 2004.

Woman sitting at table in a restaurant drinking
Amazing decor at Las Ramblas

Now they’re exploding on the streets of Raleigh and the surrounding municipalities. The latest flavorful serving is the Spanish Tapas Restaurant, Las Ramblas in North Hills.

We recently enjoyed a fabulous date night here (hosted), at one of the latest restaurants from Giorgios Bakatsias, the Triangle restaurateur behind other Midtown favorites, such as Rosewater Kitchen, and the newly opened Giorgio Pizza Bar which we’ll be experiencing soon with our kids.

This restaurant is named after the famous Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona, a street known for its festive atmosphere, markets, restaurants, and cafes.

The Las Ramblas Ambiance

Painting of a bull behind a bar
Loved this bull behind the bar!

Festive is what you’ll get at this tapas restaurant in North Hills. It hits you as soon as you walk in with the mosaic tiled entryway and giant bull behind the bar waiting for the matador to tease him with a swoosh of his red coat.

Instead, we let him lure us into the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. We were grateful to arrive 15-minutes before our reservation to sneak in this quick treat.

las ramblas raleigh nc
Awesome bar for pre-dinner drinks

Craig ordered a Spanish style cocktail – Agua De Sevilla with bourbon pineapple, rosemary, lemon and lime – and I ordered one that catered more to the North Hills crowd – the margarita style Tequila Por La Gente with passion fruit, lime, and pomegranate seeds. I can’t resist a margarita!

Lady holding a cocktail in her hands with mosaic tile background
Margarita style Tequila Por La Gente

The fun designs spread across the walls of the restaurant with hand painted murals of flamenco dancers taking up an entire wall space, a large wine bottle cellar breaks the room into two spaces, and giant weaved light fixtures hang over the tables helping create a soft ambiance.

And the music also compliments the ambiance well. It started off upbeat with party vibes and by the time dessert rolled around we had more Spanish jazzy vibes happening.

Table in a restaurant with a flamenco dancer mural on the wall

The smell of mouth-watering meals heavy on rich tomato and spices compete with the subtle smell of incense burning. Not what I’d typically equate with Spain, but I’m not that qualified to really know. (But I’ll take that small detour to Southeast Asia while I’m here! Why not?)

Throughout the course of your meal, the leather brown padded chairs are quite luxurious to sit on, you can rest assured you won’t end up with a butt that feels like a bull rammed it. They also look great with the interior design of the restaurant.

People dining in a restaurant
These chairs are so comfy!

Tables are seated close together – true Spanish tapas bar style; it helps create that lively atmosphere – keep that in mind if you’re looking for a quiet, more intimate space on a date in North Hills.

Toilet in bathroom with a Spanish mural on wall
Even the bathroom decor was on point!

For an Aussie, sitting in close quarters can give you a little edgy tension, of “hey man, what are you doing in my space.” But we’ve lived and traveled long enough outside of spacious Down Under to learn how to cope with closeness!

It didn’t impact the intimacy of our dinner date. And I hope we did not interrupt the people next to us. It’s just like you’d find in Spain. So, Salud!

Excellent service

Table and chairs in a restaurant

For Craig and I, restaurant servers are just as important as the ambiance and food. We like to meet people, and usually end up talking way too much wherever we go.

Las Ramblas gave us that people experience we love! From the hostess to the bartender and table servers, staff were attentive with impeccable Southern manners, but still easy going enough to chat and laugh with.

They helped choose all our dishes for us, paying close attention to my gluten free needs which I was incredibly grateful for. Their recommendations were spot on, and I read several reviews online that echoed that!

Is Tapas Style for you?

Las Ramblas is a tapas restaurant, which means small shareable plates. The curated menu from executive chef, and partner, Brian Jenzer is a blending of old and new world Spain focusing on locally and Spanish sourced ingredients and dishes, paired with Spanish wine and sherry. (Or craft beer and cocktails if you prefer).

You can expect dishes on the menu that you would commonly find on the streets of Las Ramblas, heavy on the seafood (but with the N.C. Coast spin), and of course favorites like patatas bravas.

When I first encountered tapas bars traveling through Spain in my twenties with my backpacker budget diet of Dorito sandwiches and cheap sangria, I didn’t quite understand what tapes were, or why anyone would want to eat small plates. Just give me a burger or a whole pizza!

And I have to be honest, this is the first real tapas experience that I’ve had. I have avoided it for all these years, as I’ve still had that misconception that I’m being skimped on and would walk out hungry.

Las Ramblas completely changed my mind! Flavorful, exciting meals don’t have to burst your stomach. And they don’t have to break the wallet either. I found the prices reasonable compared to most other restaurants.

I will also confess; I always found the Spanish daytime nap thing was just as confusing. Why on earth would you want to siesta? There is too much life to experience!

But then I saw how the Spaniards eat and party, spilling out of the bars onto the sidewalks until 6am and I understood the need for an afternoon kip.

Craig and I weren’t spilling out of Las Ramblas at 6am, but we did leave content and happy after an extraordinary smorgasboard of Spanish tapas. I didn’t feel sickly full like a burger or pizza would, and I am pretty sure these whole food dishes weren’t coating my inside with unhealthy fats and sugars.

Dishes to Love at Las Ramblas Raleigh

Let’s roll out the delicious Las Ramblas tapas spread that we enjoyed. Each dish arrived like a colorful piece of sculptured art with intoxicating smells. “Please sir, may I have some more?”

People sitting in a restaurant
Outdoor patio

Of course, there is a Spanish wine menu to match, and I enjoyed my glasses of red – both recommended to me by our servers, as I’m not so versed on Spanish wine – only that cheap sangria I enjoyed on the streets of San Fermin festival in Pamplona where those bulls were running.

It’s important to note that many of the items on the menu are gluten free, which is another reason I loved this North Hills restaurant. Usually my options are limited, but here I felt cared for.

Y’all, let’s start the dinner with shots….of the tuna tartar kind!

Plate of limes with tuna inside
Bonita Tuna Tartare (Lime aioli, Sesame)

Pick up the half lime that’s topped with the tuna tartar in lime aioli. Squeeze it for the lime hit and then throw back the tuna all in one go. Deliciosa and a fun start to the meal.

You’ve got room for one more. This time it’s fresh oysters with a guindilla mousse giving a great balance with the salt of the oyster.

las ramblas north hills 5
Oysters (Lime, Guindilla pepper)

Only a few days before our dinner date at Las Ramblas, my 11-year-old Savannah and I watched an episode of an Australian cooking show, My Kitchen Rules. A Spanish contestant shared the importance of Jamon in Spanish culture (a kind of dry-cured ham). So, I was thrilled with the plate of freshly shaved jamon that arrived at our table, (pausing to take a photo to show Savannah).

A plate Jamon, dry-cured ham
Shaved Jamon

I took a bite and understood what that Spanish contestant was on about. The jamon iberico was melt-in-the-mouth delicious with its rich, nutty flavor. I think I may have even said, “Sorry Italy, but Spain wins!”

Spain was winning a lot during this meal. They were even giving Australia a nudge with their Gambas Al Ajillo. The garlic, spicy, rich aroma coming from the prawns was heavenly. And yes! They call them prawns (not shrimp) and had the juicy heads sitting on the plate waiting to be sucked on.

Bowl of prawns in garlic sauce
Gambas Al Ajillo

It took all my strength not to scream to Craig to hurry up and take his photos (a downside to our business). They were full of flavor like we’re used to back home with a great burst of spice. I think I could have drunk that sauce.

The good seafood was not going to end with the empty prawn head, though!

A special of the night was soft shell crabs with saffron aioli, cucumber salad and finger limes – hello again Australia!

Soft shell crab on a plate
Soft shell crab

Usually due to its complicated way of eating, I avoid crabs. But the soft-shell kind is pure perfection. You get that sweet, delicious crab but without the laborious cracking of the shells. Pick it up and eat it – soft shell and all.

Another melt-in-the-mouth experience was the pork cheeks covered in a pork jus and sitting on a bed of creamy mashed potato and raw cauliflower slices. It’s one of Las Ramblas’ most popular dishes alongside the burrata.

Bowl of pork and cauliflower
Pork cheeks

In between all these rich dishes – but still not too heavy and filling – we balanced it out with a light and tasty colorful endive and grilled asparagus salad.

Bowl of salad
Grilled asparagus salad

We moved into our final main of the night – freshly grilled NC Rainbow trout with Spanish Pisto and charred lemon. It had stunning bursts of flavor – most notably eggplant – and a crispy skin.

Serving of rainbow trout on a plate
Rainbow trout with Spanish pisto and charred lemon

Thankfully, the meal wasn’t quite over. Gluten-free cheesecake and chocolate mousse arrived to finish a wonderful evening. These felt quite larger than tapas size so add another notch in your belts.

Slice of cheesecake on a plate
Hibiscus Cheesecake (gluten-free)

The hibiscus cheesecake was the perfect dessert for me. If you like American style sickly sweet desserts, it may not be for you. This is more of a cheese and wine kinda dessert.

Bowl of chocolate mousse
Chocolate Mousse (Almonds, White chocolate, Pomegranate)

Elevating the sweetness slightly but not enough to make you feel ill is the chocolate mousse. Your first bite comes with a surprising snap, crackle, and pop. Mixed in the velvety chocolate mousse are almonds, white chocolate, and pomegranate. Again, the dessert favored the taste of chocolate more than sugar.

And of course, Craig had to finish on an espresso martini. He wanted to compare to the delicious one we had at Coquette. It was a very tight race – France won this by a nose!

Final Thoughts

We’ve been experiencing some fantastic restaurants in Raleigh recently, and my list of favorites is growing. Las Ramblas has made the top five alongside other great cultural eating experiences like Coquette, Bida Manda, and Cortez.

I like how this tapas restaurant in Raleigh gave us a different date night experience – rather than order a separate meal each, we got to share plates and dive into the flavors together.

Bowl of salad and lady taking a photo

Places like this excite me. It brings a rush of that travel euphoria into my soul, a feeling I know so well and keeps me addicted to the fine art of travel.

I’m so grateful I can do it in North Hills without worrying about passport control and long flights. The feeling is mostly the same. This is why we encourage you to travel wherever you are, especially in your own hometown. It makes the everyday adventurous and filled with awe.

All I can say is I’m planning for a Spain trip in 2024, and there will be NO Dorito chip sandwiches!

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