With the closing of the Red Room in Raleigh a year or two ago, there was no longer any easy options for Spanish tapas in the Triangle. While it certainly wasn't gourmet, I always enjoyed grabbing some paella and plates at the Red Room. Earlier this year, Durham had two tapas restaurants open up near each other, Taberna Tapas and Mateo. I had tried to eat at Taberna but they still didn't have their liquor license so I passed. Finally I had an excuse to check out Mateo for a friend's birthday and let's just say it was worth the wait! From the outside, Mateo is lit up by a cool, back-lit sign high up on the building, just a hint of the wonders inside...
The store-front glows from the outside, Mateo looks like a wonderfully warm and inviting spot on a cold night. The place was packed on the night I visited, all bar seats taken with the energetic buzz of diners enjoying a meal. Decor is full of stained wood, mirrors and large blown, globe-lights over the bar. The lighting is dim, perfect for an intimate dinner but a bit of a challenge for the small print menu. After a couple of glasses of wine we head on over to our table in back and start ordering. The beauty of tapas is not having to really decide on any particular type of food, you just graze, which is perfect for large groups.
Over the course of the evening plates of calamari, pate, chorizo, oxtail and ribs hit the table. Everything comes out in fairly sharable portions, I'd guess three small plates per person should be enough with plates ranging from $5 - $15. Highlights for me was the braised oxtail with cheese on crusty bread, sumptuous chorizo with braised brussel sprouts and the costilla ribs with pepper jelly. A long wine list give you plenty of drink options and for the short list, I went with some churros and chocolate sauce, yum! Service was attentive and professional, the staff is well-trained here overall. So I admit to being a bit envious of Durham since they've got this cool new tapas spot. While it isn't perfect, Mateo brings a great mix of high-quality continental/Spanish eats along with a very stylish space. This place will be perfect for a date or quick bite before a DPAC show, just make sure you've got a reservation because this place is gonna by muy popular come summer time!
109 W. Chapel Hill Street
Durham, NC 27701