Just over a mile from my accommodations at the winning Brayton House in the Heritage Hill Historic District of Grand Rapids, Michigan, San Chez Bistro created a buzz when it opened in 1992, introducing western Michigan to the concept of Spanish tapas, and it’s been going strong ever since. Located in a handsome old wholesale building from 1884, the lively bi-level bistro with high ceilings is awash in colorful artwork on its walls. The laid-back vibe of the customers, who seem reluctant to leave because they’re enjoying everything so much, reflects the rather friendly and fun service of the bartenders and wait staff. It’s a convivial atmosphere filled with redolent aromas that titillate your senses and that encourage you to eat and have a good time. The superior and creative menu guarantees that you’ll do both.
Try This: I started with what became one of the best non-alcoholic drinks I’ve ever had, a vanilla and peach cream soda that San Chez calls an Algerian Sunset. Serving sizes of tapas are smaller than typical entrées, enabling you to sample a wide variety of dishes. So I indulged in quite a few, all of which scored high marks for flavor and visual presentation. You simply can’t go wrong with any of these: delicious fritos de queso azul (blue cheese fritters in red pepper aioli), tostones fritos (fried plantains with avocado relish and jalapeño honey), albóndigas (skewered beef, chorizo, and lamb meatballs served with salsa verde) and, finally, mouthwatering pato a la parrilla (Zahtar-spiced duck breast and a carrot-garbanzo mash). Then go for a lighter dessert with the sorbete de sandía (watermelon with lime and a sea salt cookie).