Philadelphia’s Amada: Chef Jose Garces’ Modern Spin on Classic Tapas
In the years since Jose Garces opened his first restaurant, Philadelphia’s Amada, in 2005, he’s been crowned Iron Chef, won a James Beard Award, has opened many additional restaurants (including the popular Volver, Village Whiskey, and Tinto), and has gone through recent financial turmoil. But through it all, Amada has remained insanely popular to the point of becoming a Philly icon, all due to its buzzy vibe, timeless style, and laser focus on serving classic Andalusian tapas using the highest-quality ingredients available, with expert precision.
We recently dined there at the invitation of the restaurant, and from the get-go it was clear why Amada has had such longevity. It’s located in the heart of the Old City, on a bustling cluster of blocks that’s chock-full of bars and casual restaurants, and was packed on the evening we visited, with its large front windows open to the sidewalk. The restaurant itself is divided into a few different spaces, with a long bar on one side (complete with hanging jamóns), a spacious dining room on the other, and a large open kitchen behind with a six-seat chef’s counter. The majority of the lighting comes from old-fashioned lanterns on each table, which also occupy cubbyholes in the barrier between the bar and dining area.
The menu is sprawling, but it hews pretty closely to the classics. There’s a wide variety of Spanish cured meats and cheeses, traditional tapas, soups and salads, vegetable-based small plates, simple grilled items, and larger fish and meat preparations. Larger-scale specialties include two paellas, a dry-aged prime rib-eye for two, and a whole or half suckling pig with all the fixings (you’ll have to call ahead for that one); if you’d rather just leave your meal up to the kitchen, you can choose the Chef’s Selection for $65.
We ordered a little bit of everything, and by and large we were really impressed.
Lomito Iberico de bellota (cured Iberian pork shoulder) was thin-sliced and of an incredibly high quality.
Croquetas de jamón were crisp on the outside, filled with a creamy mix of diced ham and bechamel, and served with a well-balanced romesco.
Gambas al ajillo were plump and super-fresh, served in an addictive pool of garlic butter.
Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-style octopus) were sliced into inch-thick pieces and were tender and perfectly seasoned.
The garbanzos con espinacas were served both fully-cooked and slightly crunchy; the dish could have been a meal unto itself in its soupy broth.
Wagyu beef brochettes were thick cubes of perfectly cooked beef, topped with a classic Bordelaise.
A well-seasoned half-lobster got a nice sear on the plancha but still remained tender.
And finally, the pernil asado were delicate chunks of slow-cooked pork with super-crispy skin, served atop yielding soupy white beans and topped with orange supremes and micro arugula. I was seriously wishing that it had been brought out earlier in the meal, because it was one of the finest pork dishes I’d ever eaten and I was ridiculously full by that point.
To drink, there’s a nice selection of Spanish and Portuguese wines, as well as a few creative cocktails and five different takes on gin and tonic; we suggest the Gran Casino, with Sipsmith gin, Fever Tree tonic, cucumber, and rosemary.
Amada is one of those restaurants where from the moment you sit down you don’t want to ever leave. The vibe makes you feel like you’re at a party, and the menu is so varied and expansive that you’ll want to order one of everything. Thankfully, the portion sizes are small enough that you can sample as many dishes as you choose, but as soon as you leave you’ll be planning a return visit to work your way through the rest of it.
The meal that was the subject of this review was provided at no cost to the author.