A lively outdoor patio in Clarendon called Pamplona is the perfect spot for an upscale night of dining that still feels like a casual happy hour. Sitting outside, you can order happy hour drink specials, tapas, or full entrees so it doesn’t feel like typical bar food. The restaurant is also tucked slightly off the main strip of Clarendon so the patio doesn’t feel like it’s right on top of the sidewalks. So when Chef Mario Mendoza invited us to try a few of his favorite dishes, we couldn’t wait!
Chef Mendoza is a seasoned DC chef with presentation that packs color and style – perfect for Instagram! Prior to Pamplona, he cooked near The Hill in Washington, DC at restaurants like Sonoma Wine Bar. He looks to chefs like Jose Andres and the late Michael Richard for inspiration because of their charity work and a strong passion for cuisine.
At first glance, Pamplona is a tapas restaurant but also offers easily shareable large plates. The restaurant offers a deal called Taste of Spain which allows you to choose unlimited tapas and apps for $35/person. You can also add $10 for large plates and paella. However, we recommend ordering by the plate as these dishes are very filling. It’s easy to order a few tapas and then share one of the larger dishes like the seafood paella. Since everything is still easily shareable, guests still enjoy the community-style dining experience.
This shrimp ceviche had an extra minty kick and came with banana chips. The banana chips gave the dish a lighter feel than the traditional chips or bread.
Brussel sprouts are a happy hour staple in my book and these guys were perfect. Not too crispy or too soft, and the lemon aioli added a perfect bright flavor to balance the char.
These deviled eggs packed a little punch with a strip of duck on the top. It added an extra kick to this classic small plate.
The Parillada with steak, spicy chorizo, and a chicken sausage packed some heat while a few green peppers and onions balanced the spice to cool things off. It’s a great dish if you need some variety for a group and love your meats.
This steak blew us away. The meat was cooked to melt in your mouth and the sauce added extra smokey flavor. It was possibly one of the best pieces of red meat we’ve ever had.
Chef Mendoza told us the squid ink paella is one of his favorite dishes to make because of all the colors. It was definitely one of the most interesting things to eat because of the different textures from the shrimp, clams, and calamari.
We capped the meal with one of our favorite desserts – churros! These guys felt light and fluffy so they weren’t too heavy after a big meal. Plus, the presentation on the wood block made this dish feel extra inviting.
Chef Mendoza has recently left Pamplona to begin a new opportunity at Metropolitan Hospitality Group which includes restaurants like Circa with locations in Washington, DC and Virginia plus TRIO Grill, and Open Road Grill in Virginia. Look out for his talents and follow him on Instagram @chefm.doza. You can also keep up with Pamplona @pamplona_va.
Happy hour, dinner, brunch
3100 Clarendon Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201