You wouldn’t expect to stumble across La Ñapa strolling down Nostrand Avenue. Locals have known the corner spot as a bodega for a long while, so its new iteration as a tapas joint sticks out among the sea of long-term small businesses and Caribbean-leaning establishments. Miami transplant and executive chef Francisco Anton didn’t want to just bring the same old shared-plate spot to the neighborhood, though. Instead, he modified the concept with a worldly perspective that’s uniquely him, all while remaining affordable for the Crown Heights crowd. Forget the paella; bring on the arepas!
Small plates get an exotic new life…
Every last recipe on the menu acts as a love letter to Anton’s travels around the globe. Latin America is extensively represented in a variety of forms like Venezuelan masa cakes stacked with heaps of beef skirt and queso fresco; Colombian yuca balls stuffed with two types of cheese and harmoniously paired with a bright guava dipping sauce; and stew-y Mexican sopes and al pastor tacos. An Ecuadorian-style ceviche mixto also wows, excelling at being lip puckering (raw shrimp and octopus rings marinating in a lime juice pool), sweat inducing (thanks to plenty of sliced jalapeños), and refreshingly cold in time for peak summer. Beyond that are fitting culinary tributes to Vietnam (wontons loaded with roasted lechon and soaking in an umami-packed nuoc cham au jus) and Greece (bone-in lamb chops sitting atop fresh Greek yogurt). Finally, he has a special place for his beloved mom’s favorite carrot cake at the end of dinner service.
…but the few tried-and-true staples are home runs.
While the unexpected takes precedence over the standards, La Ñapa still finds ways to please the purists. Good patatas bravas have perfectly crackly, crispy fried skin surrounding the miniature potato bits, along with a smoky, tangy tomato aioli that copiously coats them. Fortunately, the kitchen nails both. (If I’m being honest, I’d probably eat a few servings of this alone and call it a night.) Roasted tomatoes and grilled eggplant marry over house-made hummus in a modernized iteration of escalibada; and classic camarones heat up in a reduced beer broth alongside smoked chorizo bits and a colorful sofrito showcasing the kitchen’s expert knife skills.
Lively vibes make you feel right at home.
Tapas joints are naturally festive in nature: Loud salsa tunes made for impromptu dance sets, boisterous banter at every table, and waiters who predict when you need yet another generous wine pour are common. La Ñapa is working on that last part (it is currently anticipating a liquor license approval), but it’s well on its way to mastering the first two. Bar seating wraps completely around the open-air kitchen, giving croquetas cravers an intimate glimpse of the line cooks whipping up their meals in real time. Surrounding this scene are Brooklynites sitting at two- and four-tops, giving one another animated rundowns of their days. A lively Latin soundtrack plays from the speakers, just enough to meld with your neighbors’ voices, taking you away from Crown Heights into the heart of Little Havana—at least until the check lands on your table.