Tapas Territory

The small plates at Tapa Toro are a delightful mix of Spanish and Mediterranean influences. And the paella pit cooks up tasty experiences aplenty.



Tapa Toro, in the shadow of The Orlando Eye, features a variety of eye-opening tapas, as well as a 12-seat paella pit that turns out varied tasty versions of the classic rice dish.

Courtesy of Tapa Toro

According to Katerina Coumbaros, the cultures of Spain and Greece are similar enough that when it came time for her and husband Vassilis to open a second restaurant, the Andalusian tradition of tapas seemed a perfect choice. And so Tapa Toro, with its imaginative twists on traditional Spanish dishes, was born under the watchful Eye of Orlando at the I-Drive 360 entertainment complex.

“There are similar flavors between Mediterranean and Spanish food,” she says. The Coumbaros own the Orlando franchise of Taverna Opa, where souvlaki, ouzo and belly dancers demand equal time on the hopefully reinforced tables. There’s dancing at Tapa Toro as well (but not on the tables), performed by hand-clapping, stomping, skirt-waving flamenco bailaoras who roam the restaurant. 

Several distinct areas make up the attractive restaurant: an outdoor patio; a round, table-laden section by the bar; the main dining room highlighted by a wall of paintings (more on that later); and the 12-seat “paella pit,” where some elemental magic happens involving rice, heat and spices. 

The visible kitchen is under the command of Chef Wendy Lopez. Born in Michoacan, Mexico, Lopez grew up in her family’s restaurants. “My dad didn’t want me to work in a kitchen,” she says, “so he put me in the dish pit thinking I’d want to do anything else but cook.” Instead, she ended up at Orlando’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, where she learned the French techniques she now applies to Latin cuisine. 

“I take the dishes from traditional and then go off in my own spin,” she says. Take her cold tortilla Española ($7). A Spanish tortilla is a firmly cooked omelet incorporating potatoes—kind of a home fries frittata. Lopez’s rendition layers thin potato slices with eggs cooked to an almost pancake consistency, sliced into bite-sized cubes and topped with a tart and spicy dressing. Equally delightful is pan con petipua ($6), pureed green peas topping crisp toast wedges with paper-thin candy-cane beets and creamy goat cheese. The garden freshness of the peas is offset by a touch of lemon and olive oil. 

Tapa Toro
8441 International Drive
407-226-2929
tapatoro.restaurant
Tapas: $6-$24
Entrees: $17-$42

On the caliente side, Pulpo Al Gallego ($15) cooks tender sous-vide octopus on a charcoal grill to smoky perfection. Sprinkled with picante paprika and sea salt, it is a dish that disappears quickly. Their version of one of my favorites, patatas bravas (“fierce potatoes”; $7) doesn’t take much bravery; a tomato sauce base for the cubed fried potatoes held little of the spice I’d expect from this traditional offering. Garlic shrimp, on the other hand, was everything I’d expected, succulent shrimp simply tossed with chives, lemon, olive oil and a generous amount of sliced garlic ($15). 

“I think the secret of tapas dining is this combination of multiple things,” Lopez says. “Each dish needs to be different, with very strong flavors and textures and temperatures. It’s the combination that’s so interesting.”

Entrée offerings are heavy on steak—sirloin skirt, ribeye, filet mignon and grilled lamb chops are all offered, while kids or kids at heart would go for the duo of hamburguesitas sliders ($11), juicy burgers dressed with caramelized onion and aioli.

Along the dining room walls are “paintings” made from video screens, that change over a prolonged period. You might see the “Admiral’’ sneak a drink, or a matador walk out of frame view. Or you might be too busy enjoying the food to even notice. 


It’s All in the Rice

The round bar at Tapa Toro’s center focuses on paella, with a special flattop stove turning out lightly flavored seafood ($35) with chorizo, calamari, clams, shrimp and mussels mixed with the toothy medium-grained rice; or a robust chicken, chorizo and lamb chop version ($42). Ask that they leave the paellera pan on heat long enough to develop the much-treasured and often battled-over socarrat crispy bottom.

Edit Module
Want to read the whole issue? Download and read this issue and others on Magzter.

Add your comment:
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags

Guides & Resources

Orlando's Top Chiropractors of 2017

Check out our 2017 list of some of the best chiropractors in the Orlando area.

2017 Premier Veterinarians

The 2017 Pet Guide: Pet Resource Guide

Here are some of the places you can go in Central Florida when you need supplies, products and services for your best friends.

Premier Realtors 2017

Let Orlando's best realtors help you find your dream home!

Orlando's Best Lawyers 2017

Our annual list includes hundreds of Orlando-area attorneys in dozens of areas of practice.

Orlando's Top Dentists of 2017

Our annual list featuring 224 of the area's finest dental professionals.

Guide to Private Schools 2017

Our searchable annual database will help you chart an educational course for your family.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

MoreRecent Blog Posts

Health Hub: GERD Awareness Week

This Thanksgiving, we're grateful for GERD Awareness.

Weekend Happenings Nov 17 to 19

Know what's happening in and around Orlando for the weekend.

Weekend Happenings Nov 11 to 12

Know what's happening in and around Orlando for the weekend.

Weekend Happenings Nov 3 to 5

Know what's happening in and around Orlando for the weekend.

Turn Shoes into Money

How your fundraiser can help families in developing nations.
Edit Module