Tapas 101: A Guide To Spanish Eating

tapas ceviches

The main style of dining associated with Spanish cuisine is called tapas. This social style of eating is designed to encourage interaction amongst those sharing a meal. Tapas can cover a whole slew of menu items from appetizers to dessert and can be served both hot and cold. Keep reading for the lowdown on one of our favorite ways to chow down!

For first time diners, this style of eating can be overwhelming and confusing, so we thought it was best to do a walkthrough of a tapas meal as this 101. For the purposes of this walkthrough, the tapas meal occurred at Chicago’s Nacional 27, a beautiful establishment that combines the flavors and cooking styles of the 27 Latin countries. 

For all intents and purposes, the format of a tapas dinner is quite similar to a traditional dinner, but the key differences will be highlighted. Upon being seated, the waiter or waitress will come to your table to take your drink orders. 

At Nacional 27, they encouraged us to try the El Corazon cocktail which featured tequila, pomegranate, passion fruit, blood orange, and a salt and pepper rim. Typically, sangria, a drink containing wine mixed with fresh pieces of fruit, is the drink of choice at a tapas restaurant. 

After allowing for some time to look at the menu, which is almost always divided into hot and cold tapas plates, the server will return to take your first wave of tapas. It’s normal to first order a few lighter tapas, such as papas bravas, ceviches (seafood cocktails, pictured below), and some cheeses with bread. 

At Nacional 27, we dined on guacamole with chips, corn fundido (corn and cheese, cheese, and cheese; who wouldn’t love that?), and that ceviche sampler platter. 

After you’ve had some time to enjoy the first round of tapas, the waiter will come back to take the second order. In this phase, it’s good to order the main dishes. Heavier items, such as Spanish tortillas (a thick omelet), paellas (rice and seafood), and grilled calamari are all items here.

Nacional 27 presented us with a sampler platter (pictured above), which included : a smoked chicken empanada, a barbecue lamb taco, plantain tostones, and a shrimp and Argentinian beef skewer. For people new to the tapas experience, we recommend trying any sampler platters the restaurant may offer as they usually show off the best flavors available.


Many times, dessert is also offered in a tapas form. Here, there can be quite a variation in dishes: we’ve seen everything from fresh fruit and yogurt to cakes and fried bananas. 

A tapas meal is a wonderful way to go out to dinner with close friends and family and spend a leisurely evening enjoying good food, refreshing drinks, and perfect desserts to seal the deal. 

Special thanks to Nacional 27 for helping us out with this story. 

Nacional 27 
325 West Huron Street  Chicago, IL 60654
Mondays-Thursdays 5 pm - 9:30 pm
Fridays 5 pm - 2 am
Saturdays 5 pm - 3 am



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