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Arlington, VA, United States for Jaleo Crystal City

Jaleo Crystal City has been one of my go-to places for happy hour as my day job is close by. The decor transports you to the south of Spain with its bright colors, tapas and sangria. In the heart of winter, I was transported to sunny Spain for a Valentine’s Day Lunch (see Tastemade video below). Indulging in tapas, paella, and cava took us both back to our wedding in Barcelona. Recently, I returned for lunch to host a #DCTravelBlogger get-together where a group of travel-minded bloggers converged for a virtual trip to Spain. Here’s a bit on what to expect from Jaleo Crystal City:

Decor: As you walk into the ample space of Jaleo Crystal City, you are automatically transported to Spain with its bright colors, mosaic tiles, and festive atmosphere. After a long day working in the beltway, it’s the perfect place to decompress and feel as if you are somewhere else. The restaurant also has semi-private rooms, which are perfect for large gatherings. We had our #DCTravelBlogger event with 24 people in one of the semi-private rooms which was perfect. We had our own space to mingle but we still got plenty of light and did not feel isolated from the rest of the restaurant.

Food: Where do I start? For our Valentine’s Day Chef’s Tasting Menu, we had the opportunity to sample pretty much everything on the menu. From caviar topped oysters to gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce), Jaleo Crystal City has plenty of Spanish antojitos (cravings) to choose from. It’s hard to pick favorites but there are a few which come to mind. First: the squid ink paella. It is not the sexiest looking dish but the saltiness of the rice with the squid took me from winter misery to the beaches of Sitges in one bite. Although it is not offered in the regular menu, there are other great paellas to choose from. At our meetup, we had a delicious spring paella crafted by executive chef Domenik Torlucci. Paella lovers: Sundays is all you can eat paella during lunch service.

Every time I taste jamón de bellota (acorn fed, free-range pork ham) I shed a tear for the 4o Euros worth of ham I had confiscated at Newark Airport upon my return from Barcelona last year. This is a must to be ordered at Jaleo Crystal City. Legend has it that Jose Andres himself hand picks the charcuterie for the restaurant. Although brunch is not a Spanish thing, Jaleo has done a great job at translating the flavors of Spain into the most adored meal in the DC area. One of the standouts is fried mini shrimps topped with an organic egg. As you cut into the egg, the creamy yolk spills into the crispy shrimp. Brunch decadence!

The Service: One of the things I appreciate about the restaurant is the staff knowing their menu inside out. During our Valentine’s Day Lunch and our #DCTravelBlogger meetup, servers took us through the menu, speaking enthusiastically about the food and its ingredients. They are a big part of what makes the restaurant so lively!

The Verdict: Jaleo Crystal City is the perfect place for a large gathering with friends, a family dinner, or happy hour with your colleagues. The festive ambiance, large space and dishes made for sharing are perfect for a social setting. Although there are four Jaleos (DC, Crystal City, Bethesda, and Las Vegas), this restaurant does not come off as a chain, but rather its own place. This is made possible by the lovely staff at the restaurant.

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