If you’re looking for a quieter tapas spot where you can enjoy a range of inspired dishes, definitely check out Taberna Tapas on Main Street in Durham.
While Mateo Bar de Tapas is literally right down the street, my sense is that these two spots complement rather than cannibalize from each other. The vibe at Taberna is a bit more mellow and the servers are a bit more relaxed, so the atmosphere suggests that you can take more time to enjoy your food and company, especially when you’re trying to appreciate both. The bull’s head also gives the place a bit more whimsy — it really can’t help itself!
My friend and I decided on Taberna after trading off almost 20 texts because we couldn’t settle on a place that I hadn’t been, that she loved, and that was actually open on a Monday. (Why are so many places closed on a Monday?!) As my stomach made it clear that it was ready to be fed, I was grateful when we finally landed on a dinner destination.
As a solo dining aficionado, eating with friends is almost always a challenge at the front end (especially when your friends who love food have conflicting schedules and discriminating palates!), but almost always worth it when the food gets to the table. This is especially the case with tapas, where the whole point is try as many different dishes as possible.
Given that she’d already been to Taberna before and had pescatarian restrictions, I deferred to my friend to navigate the menu. Most of the time, I hate long menus, particularly when I’m hungry and I just need a few good things done well. Not here though. Here I was happy to scan the wide range of options, ranging from octopus to croquettas, from albondigas to paella, from salmon cakes to empanadas.
Sticking to the vegetarian and seafood options, we decided to go with the roasted Brussels sprouts ($12) and the Durham oyster mushroom and kale saute ($10), along with the anchovy pintxos con pan ($4 — white anchovy fillets on bread) and the fried oysters.
Both of the vegetarian dishes had just the right amounts of garlic for taste, contrast in texture, and pops of color. The Brussels sprouts were crispy on the outside, showing off the red from the paprika and complemented nicely by the crunch of the pine nuts. The mushroom and kale saute was balanced by the crispy shallots and the thin silvers of sun-dried tomatoes.
I was personally in love with the anchovies, which were luxurious on the tongue yet packed so much flavor. A few drop of ajo perejil (the garlic parsley sauce) offered a bit of brightness against the unctuousness of the anchovies. The fried oysters — breaded and fried to crispy perfection — were less my cup of tea, but only because I prefer my oysters raw on the half shell.
I never skip on at least checking out the dessert menu, so even though my friend was done for the evening, I couldn’t help but latch on to the flan. When you start Spanish, you have to end Spanish — and so I did. Even on a full stomach, the dish was perfection. The color was magical, the custard was smooth and creamy, and the caramel syrup was just sweet enough. I thought I didn’t need it, but I very clearly did — and you will too.
Don’t miss this lovely Durham spot — especially on Mondays!
325 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701
Hoi Ning Ngai is the Associate Dean for Student Affairs at The Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill. She’s a recent transplant to the Triangle, a native of New York, and a lover of all things bacon, ice cream, and Paris. Follow her life adventures on Instagram at @hoiningngai!