Classic Tables: La Nacional

Timeless tapas at NYC's oldest Spanish restaurant

Homesick Spaniards have been flocking to La Nacional for camaraderie and tapas since the 1920s. Over the years, these expats have been joined by a mix of chefs and in-the-know diners for good reason: The city's oldest Spanish restaurant is also one of its best.

Ever reverential of La Nacional's storied past, owner Jesus "Lolo" Manso (who's also behind the much newer Socarrat Bar de Vinos) treads lightly with his recent updates to this dimly lit, wood-clad space. A much needed scrub, new floor tiles, a fresh coat of paint and framed photos of famous Spaniards freshened up the rooms–just enough.

The menu, thankfully, remains untouched. It's a mix of neo-Spanish tapas made from Manso family recipes, which showcase the bold flavors of the country's various regions.

Like most La Nacional regulars, we stick to our favorites: simple boquerones (white anchovy fillets drizzled with olive oil, garlic and parsley, $7); tomato gazpacho with an intense garlicky punch ($5); crispy croquetas ($8); and albóndigas moruñas–veal and pork meatballs in a barely sweet tomato sauce ($8).

As for drinks, Spanish wines and sangria are matches older than the restaurant itself, but don't discount throwing back an Estrella Damm beer at the bar.

La Nacional Tapas Bar, 239 W. 14th St. (between Seventh and Eighth aves.); 212-243-9308 or lanacionaltapas.com