Tio Pepe
 

Credit: Ethan Covey

 

Tio Pepe’s got a brand new bag—and it’s delicious

By David Farley

Forget what you thought you knew about Tio Pepe’s—this is not your uncle’s Spanish restaurant. That is unless tu tio is in the habit of dropping the odd, super hip reference when you least expect it. A West Village institution seemingly forever, Tio Pepe opened on July 4, 1970 in the space that had formerly housed celebrity haunt La Bijou. And middle-aged or not, the place has picked up a little swagger as of late, reinventing itself and cultivating some character in the process.

Pepe always floated in some indeterminate region of the murky Atlantic Ocean waters between Spain and Mexico. There were tacos and tortillas Española, tequila and Tempranillo. But last year the owners decided to give the restaurant a makeover, playing down the avuncular and the indistinct and playing up the urban and the refined. Out are the staid stucco walls and the Mexican standards, and in is an airy, natural-lit ambience, along with a menu filled with decidedly Spanish fare, presented in a manner both contemporary and familiar.
Large plates lean toward a modern interpretation—tender salmon served in a luscious pool of crème fraîche and shallots with dill stacked atop, or pollo al ajillo sauteed in an Albariño reduction and sprinkled with confit garlic. The tapas tend to get a more traditional treatment: the oblong-shaped croquetas, filled with cod and chicken, are as creamy and satisfying as you could hope for, and the gambas al ajillo, sizzling shrimp and garlic, explode with flavor.

The wine list is 99 percent Spanish, and they’ve paid particular attention to offering a selection of quality bottles in the $40 to $50 range. The cocktail list reveals yet another inspired rethinking, with choices like the Pandora, a sage-infused gin concoction with aloe vera foam, and the Conquistador, a honey-sage-Bourbon libation. Whatever has gotten into this uncle, here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of it.


Credit: Kaylee Dopkins

hours

Tue–Thu 4 PM–midnight; Fri–Sat noon–midnight; Sun noon–11 PM
Closed Monday

price range

$10 (chicken and cod croquettes) to $34 (New York strip steak)
x