A few years ago tapas — the small bites served at Spanish bars — were all the rage, spawning years of restaurants dishing out the trend of mini bites at high prices. Now it seems like tapas are making a comeback in the Bay Area, first with the opening of Aatxe in San Francisco and now La Marcha in Berkeley.

The restaurant, which opened in late October on San Pablo Avenue (near University Avenue), gets its name from the Spanish tradition of “the march” or late-night tapas crawl where Spaniards would go from one bar to another, drinking and munching on tapas, often just served on a toothpick.

La Marcha Berkeley

The small restaurant has a rustic feel with brick walls but colorful paintings and flowers add some life.

I was invited recently by the restaurant for a media dinner, and our table tried to think of other tapas bar in the area (if for some reason we wanted to do our own impromptu “march”) and we couldn’t think of one. (Of course, the most notable tapas bar in Berkeley would be on Shattuck Avenue at the longtime Cesar.) But we really didn’t need to do a march because co-owner Emily Sarlatte kept the food coming from the kitchen, headed by Chef Sergio Monleon.

Before opening the restaurant, Monleon and Sarlatte gave the Bay Area a taste of their food through their catering company, Nora Cocina Espanola.

The new restaurant has a bright and lively feel with the colorful paintings on the brick walls, and the TVs above the bar always showing a soccer game. La Marcha currently serves only wine and beer, and a small selection of sherry. I started with a glass of Sangria ($12), which always says party with the festive fruit in wine.

La Marcha bar

Partial view of the bar with TV screens showing soccer games.

The food all looked so amazing coming to the table, and really had an authentic feel, showing that Monleon has some mad skills in the kitchen. Some dishes tasted great while others seemed to lack some oomph. The tapas menu seem to be one of the most extensive I’ve seen in town, with nearly 20 items just under the tapas section. (Other sections include salads, charcuterie, and paella.)

Here’s a look at some of the dishes and my initial thoughts from our dinner:

Olive plate

An assortment of olives was a nice way to whet our appetite. ($5)

albondigas

Tradition Spanish dish of albondigas ($9) or meatballs. La Marcha makes theirs with wild boar served with sherry tomato cream, manchego, and guindillas. I loved the color of the sauce, and the meatballs were light and easy to eat, but I wanted more flavor in the sauce.

Brussels sprouts with grapes and balsamic ($6). How can you go wrong with Brussel sprouts slightly charred to bring out that caramelization? A nice vegetable dish.

Brussels sprouts with grapes and balsamic ($6). How can you go wrong with Brussel sprouts slightly charred to bring out that caramelization? A nice vegetable dish with a sweet twist with the grapes.

Croquetas de bacalao

Another classic tapas dish is salt cod croquetas ($9). The cod is blended with potatoes and these were perfectly fried. But they were very delicate so when you try to dip it in the accompanying pistachio hazelnut romesco sauce, the croquetas fell apart. My suggestion is to treat the sauce like a spread and use a knife to apply it to your croqueta.

More fried things place right in front of me! LOL. This is crispy calamari ($9) that was nicely fried (I tried a couple of bites) and served with an unusual squid ink aioli (that black dip in the back).

More fried things placed right in front of me! LOL. This is crispy calamari ($9) that was nicely fried (I tried a couple of bites) and served with an unusual squid ink aioli (that black dip in the back).

Costillas ($9) or baby back ribs with pedro ximenez and pickled peppers. The meat were fall-off-the-bone tender, but again the ribs needed more flavor, maybe more salt?

Costillas ($9) or baby back ribs with pedro ximenez and pickled peppers. The meat were fall-off-the-bone tender, but again the ribs needed more flavor, maybe more salt?

Another classic tapas dish: patatas bravs ($7) or fried potatoes. La Marcha serves their potatoes with a beautiful calabrian fiora sauce. Not sure if the sauce added much to the crispy potatoes, but it made the dish quite pretty.

Another classic tapas dish: patatas bravs ($7) or fried potatoes. La Marcha serves their potatoes with a beautiful calabrian fiora sauce. Not sure if the sauce added much to the crispy potatoes, but it made the dish quite pretty.

piquillos rellenos

Piquillos rellenos ($7) or stuffed piquillo peppers with goat cheese and breadcrumbs and radicchio. The creamy goat cheese was a nice match to the mild roasted peppers.

Sauteed kale

A dish for California: col rizada ($8) or sauteed kale topped with the Spanish cured meat of jamon serrano, mixed with manchego, pistachios, dried cranberries, and balsamic brown butter. The combination of flavors was nicely balanced and this was one of my favorite dishes. But then again, I do love kale.

char grilled vegetables

Charcoal grilled market vegetables ($7) is a nice way to get some veggies. I probably would have loved this more if there were less red onions 😉

Probably the most blonde looking chicken wings I've seen. La Marcha's pollo al ajillo ($8) is made with garlic and white white garnished with serrano chiles. It was nice but nothing special.

Probably the most blonde looking chicken wings I’ve seen. La Marcha’s pollo al ajillo ($8) is made with garlic and white wine garnished with serrano chiles. It was nice but nothing special.

lamb sliders

Cumin lamb sliders ($12) is served with idiazabal, minted cucumber and harissa aioli. I wished there was more lamb flavor, but the meat was cooked nicely.

Then we moved on to some of the paellas. We were served three types, a traditional mixta with prawns, chicken and chorizo, a pork-focused dish, and a vegan paella. My favorite was the mixta because of the combination of flavors. I liked the presentation of the pork chop in the paella tres cerditos, but unfortunately the pork chop was dry.

paella tres cerditos

Paella Tes Cerditos ($28) is served uniquely with a pork shoulder chop right in the center. Unfortunately, the pork chop was dry.

Paella mixta

Paella mixta ($26) with prawns, chicken, chorizo, garlic, sweet peppers, and saffron. Loved the roasted lemon in the center.

My plate with three types of paella to try.

My plate with three types of paella to try.

Of course, by the end of the meal we were all exhausted and barely looked at the dessert menu, which offered such traditional dishes as flan. We ended up, though, with the olive oil cake served with ice cream. The cake tasted fine, but I was more enamored by the ice cream.

olive oil cake

Olive oil cake with ice cream

The last bite
La Marcha’s parade of tapas showcases the skills of Chef Monleon. And while some might need a bit more flavor, they all accomplish the goal of quenching your hunger while having a nice glass of wine or beer. La Marcha adds a nice dining night life to this part of San Pablo Avenue, and is a nice place to drop by for a bite and drinks before dinner.

Because this is a media dinner, I’m not giving it my typical rating but it’s a spot I would check out again. Thanks to La Marcha for the invite!

The deets: La Marcha Tapas Bar, 2026 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley. PH: 510.269.7374. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m. (happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. lamarchaberkeley.com

La Marcha Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Marcha is already trying to build a community feel to its restaurant as this group gather for flamenco music later in the evening.

La Marcha is already trying to build a community feel to its restaurant as this group gather for flamenco music later in the evening.

4 Responses to Tapas Emerge on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley’s La Marcha

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    They’re probably not walking distance, but Shakewell in Oakland and Duende in Oakland serve tapas, as does Cesar in North Berkeley.

    • Ben Ben says:

      At our table we were trying to think of places in Berkeley. But yes, Shakewell and Duende in Oakland are other fine examples of the new tapas trend returning.

  2. Brenda Ton says:

    Hmm, I’ve been wondering about this place. I’ve had their paella before and enjoyed it. Sucks about that dry pork chop, and the other things that needed flavoring. I’ll wait this one out a bit more to see if they improve.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Yes, I think maybe when they get a rhythm, then maybe it might be worth checking out. I know Christina (who was also at the dinner) says she loved the catering food but didn’t feel it was the same at the restaurant.