Best Tapas - 2012
When you spy Joachim Splichal — the acclaimed chef who opened Patina in 1989 and has mentored half the toques in town — happily sauntering out of a cozy Pasadena restaurant, smelling vaguely of sangria and cured Spanish ham, moments before your 8 o'clock reservation, you should take it as a good sign. In a world where "tapas" might be the only word as overused as "gastropub," Ración is one of the rare Spanish restaurants that delivers on its promises. The salt cod croquettes are light and airy; the pinxtos topped with braised tongue are rich and as tender as roast beef; the ocean-scented squid ink fideua is liberally studded with fresh mussels. You'll leave feeling a bit closer to San Sebastian, and even after a few glasses of good Spanish red, you'll do it without feeling like you blew your entire vacation budget. 119 W. Green St., Pasadena. (626) 396-3090, racionrestaurant.com.