When I think about my experience at the Tío Pepe Restaurant, I smile because I had such a wonderful experience. When I saw that it made the Baltimore’s 50 Best restaurants list, I immediately understood why and I cheered in excitement. During my visit, I was going through a tough time in my life and a coworker from Baltimore wanted to take me out to one of her favorite places to get sangria and paella. I’m always down for a good dining experience so I agreed to meet her there. It was a great place to escape the troubles of the day and go back in time. Watching the news, one of the Anchors said that he has visited the restaurant every Valentine’s Day with his wife for the last 20 years. Baltimore natives have embrace the restaurant and share many wonderful memories at this restaurant, and as a resident, so do I.
Tío Pepe is located in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood in Baltimore City at 10 East Franklin Street. I parked in the lot across the street that was $6. My friend knew that the city would allow street parking after 6pm but did not share that with me, but I will share this with you. From the street, all you see is the sign of the restaurant and a red–tented entrance. When you approach the entrance, you actually go down a few steps to enter the restaurant. Once you open the door and enter, you are immediately transposed to Spain in the time of the Matadors and Bulls. (Granted they still do this but think about the pictures you’ve seen in the history books). The furniture is older as is the wall décor but classic, very old-world retro. It is almost like walking in a time period piece. However, it does not smell old or feel dusty. The wait staff was very friendly and I waited in the bar until my friend arrived.
When she arrived, we were taken to our table that was located in one of the many dining rooms in the restaurant. All of each were equally beautiful and had different decorations to aid to the Spanish theme. The wait staff were dressed elegantly and were very familiar with the details of the menu. However, we already knew what we wanted to order.
We started with a pitcher Red Wine Sangria that was a popular order in the restaurant. The server smiled and gave us the nod that we picked a great choice. The pitcher included custom painted decorations that included the name of the restaurant. But the size of the pitcher was huge. We had about 4.5 glasses to enjoy out of there. The Sangria was so sweet and had all the right fruits to add to the flavor. It was such a treat. However, the sweetness is dangerous because it masked the amount of alcohol in the cocktail. After my first glass, I was definitely tipsy and feeling good. My friend and I truly enjoyed our drinks.
As we talked and enjoyed our drinks, an older gentlemen dressed in a chef uniform came to our table and brought us a puff potato dish. Neither of us ordered this dish but I guess it is a standard of the restaurant. The plate included about 10 potatoes that were fried almost like a long potato wedge, but hollowed in the inside. The chef was warm and inviting as he introduced his dish as well as himself. He has worked in the restaurant over 40 years and was proud of the food he prepares. As I ate the potatoes, they were delicious and so very light. I asked about the process of the dish and he shared that is very time consuming if done correctly. There was another couple that he was talking to that frequents the restaurant more so they had a bit more of a rapport but he was still very welcoming to me, the first timer. We told him that we ordered the paella and he assured me that we were in for a treat and an amazing experience.
The Paella a la Valenciana-Para Dos ($52.50) is their paella dish that is supposed to be shared with two people. When you see the presentation of the dish, you will definitely understand why. This dish was bought out on a large tray and placed on a tray table in the corner of our dining room. From there, the server plates the dish splitting the contents of the tray down the middle. Paella is a Spanish rice dish that includes a lot of seafood like lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, veal, chorizo, and chicken and seasoned with saffron and prepared in a “paellera” pan. The server did a great job in making sure that we got all the seafood the dish had to offer equally. But the pomp and circumstance that went into plating the dish made it so exciting and fun to witness. This would a great dish to order on a date!
The rice was so flavorful and the saffron in the dish was very prevalent. There was an additional flavor in the dish that I was not expecting but overall the dish was a delight. The seafood was cooked to perfection and the half lobster was definitely a treat. But it was a generous portion of food considering the amount of seafood included in the dish and the amount of rice that was served with it. I could not have been more pleased.
We did not finish our meal because the serving paella and ended up taking to-go boxes. The sweetness of the Sangria handled our sweet tooth though I am disappointed that we did not indulge. But we still had so much more Sangria to drink, we just took our time and enjoyed. There are a few things I could try on the dessert menu so I will go and report back on my experience. But overall, I had the most wonderful time at Tío Pepe and I cannot wait to visit the restaurant again. I have wanted to for quite some time but I would rather wait to go on a date. Below is the Seven Mac Rating of the restaurant:
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Please look out for my next post as I review another one of Baltimore’s Best! And remember: It’s a BIG world and we are going to eat our way through it!