Plenty of restaurants claim to serve authentic cuisine from their country of origin, but very few have the ham to back it up.
At La Rioja in Astoria, they don’t just serve tapas and cook dinners only to send patrons on their way. They also house an authentic Spanish boutique where customers can buy meats, cheeses and a plethora of spices, olive oils and vinegars.
“Everything we serve, everything we sell is directly from Spain,” said manager Alex Velez. “And we want the people who come here to try everything, even if they’re not sure about it. Trust us to tell you what to eat.”
Trust is not an issue at La Rioja. For starters, Velez recommended the Patata La Rioja (spicy chorizo with sweet potatoes), Gambas a la Plancha (grilled shrimps) and Tortilla en Salsa Verde (Spanish omelet in green chili sauce). All three dishes gleamed with flavor; the spicy chorizo was cooled by the mashed sweet potato, the Spanish omelet was light and mild, and the grilled shrimps – served head-on – came to life with smoky flavor.
The crown jewel of the starters has to be the famous Jamon Iberico. This world renowned ham goes through a curing process of at least 12 months, giving it a flavor and texture that will linger on in your memory. Its high fat content gives it a rich taste, as it coats your mouth with the essence of the pig.
After indulging with the Iberico, dive into the entrees. First up, the Paella de Mar; served with shrimps, squids, mussels, clams, octopus and the option of lobster. This dish is clearly big enough for two and Velez suggests splitting it with a friend. With seafood so fresh it’s almost swimming, the paella mingles rice with Spanish spices for a robust, flavorful dinner option.
Another standout dish is the Pollo La Rioja. This ample chicken breast is served blanketed with Serrano ham and Mahon cheese. The smooth, velvety cheese yields perfectly to the salty, cured flavor of the ham.
Save room for dessert, as their Spanish version of a crème brulee has a flavor and texture reminiscent of a toasted marshmallow.
La Rioja’s chefs have the industry chops to make you a believer in Spanish cuisine. Chef Felix Fernandez has been cooking all his life and executive chef Jose Ignacio Sanchez is the chef for the U.N.’s ambassador to Spain. It’s an authentic knowledge of the cuisine that comes through in every dish.
La Rioja Tapas and Bar
33-05 Broadway Avenue
Astoria, NY 11106
Take out: YES
All major credit cards accepted
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 12 – 11 p.m.
Friday/Saturday, 12 p.m. – Midnight