Not my second, third, or even fourth visit, I arrived at Andaluz starving and eager to fill up on generous portions of high quality food at this Spanish tapas bar located in downtown Salem, Oregon. I dragged 7 of my friends along and was delighted to find that chef/owner David Rosales had noticed me mention our outing on twitter earlier in the day and had notified his staff to ready a table for us (what a way to start the night!).

First round: Spanish Coffee with a combo cocoa powder and sugar rim. Coffee drinks with booze are some of my favorites, I’m always pleased when a high quality coffee is used, Andaluz uses Tico’s and it shows. The balance between ingredients makes a very smooth and deceptively potent drink.

After a few sips of our delicious coffees, my favorite regular on the menu arrived at our table: chicken, ham, and parmesan croquettes (a deal at 5 for $5). The word croquette is derived from the French word croquer which means “to crunch”–and these certainly did! The exterior is a perfectly fried medium brown which crunches nicely when bitten into without being hard. The inside is a decadent, creamy, piping hot filling. I stuffed my face with 2.5 of these in under 5 minutes.

When the rest of my group arrived, we began ordering in earnest. The patatas bravas, seasoned fried potatoes with aioli and salsa brava, arrived along with a plate of manchego cheese slices topped with quince preserves. The potatoes were perfectly fried and crispy, tossed with a delicious seasoning I am unfamiliar with. I was also unfamiliar with the fruit quince, the preserves turned out to be a great combination of sweet and tart, a perfect complement to a slightly salty manchego cheese.

The last of my favorite dishes was the grilled cheese sandwich with duck chorizo and Mahon cheese. Grilled cheese is quite possibly one of the most perfect foods in the world. Add rich duck chorizo and a fancy Spanish cheese and glory has arrived. This sandwich arrives cut in quarters and piled one on top of the other: a grilled cheese tower. A quality bakery bread is the foundation of the sandwich, grilled with a satisfying crust on the outside. One of my concerns when ordering this sandwich is that the duck and cheese would be very rich and greasy together–this wasn’t the case at all. The duck chorizo was minimally oily and balanced surprisingly well by the slight tangy, and I think citrus flavor of the cheese. Can cheese be citrus flavored? I’m pretty sure this was. Even though I was nearing the end of the meal and full beyond belief, I was reluctant to share any of this sandwich with my friends.

For the sake of brevity, here are a few other dishes and drinks we ordered and also enjoyed: sherry lemonade, romaine Caesar salad, sauteed mushrooms, chickpea soup, salt cod fritters, and albondigas. Over the past few years I have sampled most of the menu and have never been disappointed. A handful of my favorite dishes are staples on the menu, the rest rotate seasonally or as the chef chooses. It’s a lot of fun to scan the menu each visit to spot the new additions.

Dessert. We were stuffed to the gills and then surprised when our friendly server told us that the chef had comped orders of flan and churros con chocolate for our group. Yes, please! I did not sample the flan, but was assured that it was delicious. These churros are the first I’ve had that are crispy on the outside and light and tender on the inside, I’m used to the chewy kind. Amazing! They come with a small cup of thick, dark hot chocolate for dipping. After you finish the churros you will be tempted to grab the handle of the hot chocolate and toss it back. I may have.

I talked a lot about the food in this review. I think one of the reasons that it is so easy to focus entirely on the main point of eating out–the food–is that the service at Andaluz was exceptional as always. I’ve never experienced an empty water glass, finished my plates before being asked if I would like anything else, or an energy any less than friendly. The atmosphere and staff at Andaluz allow you to be comfortable to enjoy the food and your company.

Note: The pics in this post were taken with an iPhone 4 in very low light conditions. They really don’t do the food justice.

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130 High Street SE
Salem, OR 97301
(503) 585-1773

Andaluz Tapas Bar on Urbanspoon