April 9, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Paella

Taking advantage of an unseasonably warm, 70-degree day in late February, I settled into an outdoor table at Little España to enjoy the sunshine, sip sangria, and savor the flavors of Spain. The Rockbrook Village restaurant is one of Omaha’s many great ethnic spots where diners can transport their taste buds—no passport or plane ticket needed. Talented chefs, careful technique, and fresh ingredients result in flavorful, beautifully plated dishes that celebrate Spanish cuisine.

Omahan Carlos Mendez opened Little España in December 2014 as a sister restaurant to the original España, a fixture of the Benson neighborhood for 13 years. Mendez, a Benson España employee, purchased the business from owner Bill Graves in 2009 and operated it until it closed last fall. In its former spot at 60th and Maple streets is Au Courant Regional Kitchen, also run by Mendez and Omaha chef Benjamin Maides.

Serrano ham wrapped stuffed dates

Fans of the original España will find all their favorites at the Rockbrook Village location. The Spanish restaurant specializes in tapas (small, shareable plates) and paella (a rice-based dish with a variety of seafood, vegetables, and meat). For our visit, we focused on tapas. There are dozens of cold and hot tapas, divided into vegetarian, seafood, and meat. Only a few tapas are listed at more than $10 on the menu.

Sharing is part of the fun of small-plates dining, and a good rule of thumb is two or three tapas per person, depending on one’s appetite. My dining partner and I chose five tapas to share, selecting a mix of hot and cold, hearty and light. Our favorites included serrano ham and chicken croquettes—crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside. Another popular tapas, the serrano ham platter, features thinly sliced dry-cured Spanish ham served with pickled vegetables and garlic confit, accompanied by slices of warm, crusty bread.

Fresh mozzarella plate

A fresh mozzarella plate had a nice balance of flavors and textures, with its firm, mild mozzarella balls, basil, olive oil, and zesty sun-dried tomato puree. Those with a taste for meat and potatoes may want to try the solomillo fries—crispy diced potatoes topped with shaved steak, melted cheese, spicy aioli, and pickled onions to cut through the richness. Serrano ham-wrapped fried dates stuffed with blue cheese and marcona almonds satisfied, but we wished the bite-size morsels were more savory-salty than sweet. The dish could easily pass for dessert.

All the tapas we tried worked well with a fruity, refreshing glass of house sangria—red or white wine infused with orange, lemon, lime, and apple. One quibble with the drink: None of the fruit made it into the glass. The restaurant’s cozy, inviting dining room features decorative ceiling tiles, Spanish music, wood and brick details, and Spanish-inspired artwork. Diners can catch a glimpse of the chefs working in the semi-open kitchen.

Serrano ham and chicken croquettes

For food lovers who are into sharing and trying new dishes, enjoying tapas at Little España is a fun, delicious experience. The hard part is narrowing down the choices. After our meal, we left stuffed, happy, and ready for a siesta.

Visit espanaomaha.com for more information.