Bring up the term “Hell’s Kitchen” and more than a few people will picture a wild and wooly blue-collar Manhattan neighborhood that has been the setting of a number of books and movies, some of which have not portrayed it in a very good light. But this section of the city—which is also known as Clinton and Midtown West—has changed a lot over recent times, and with the changes it has become more and more of a dining destination. Gotham West Market is at the forefront of some of these improvements, with this relatively new place on Eleventh Avenue (between W 44 and W 45 streets) changing the way people think of food courts; here you will find a tremendous ramen place, a classic American roadside restaurant, a friendly beer and charcuterie spot, and more, including El Colmado, a truly marvelous Spanish tapas and wine bar that has an award-winning chef and restaurateur (Seamus Mullen) behind it.
Like most of the restaurants inside Gotham West Market, El Colmado is small with a relatively high noise level (due in part to the hard floor and high ceiling) and fairly limited seating at its wraparound counter. The kitchen is out in the open behind the counter and can certainly be a hectic place during the height of the lunch or dinner hour. Because Gotham West Market can be such a bustling space, El Colmado is not exactly the type of spot where you can dine in peace and have quiet conversation, and the chairs along the front of the counter can sometimes get jostled by folks walking by, so the handful of chairs along the side of the counter are definitely preferred (if you can get them) when the market is packed.
El Colmado is actually Seamus Mullen’s second restaurant, with Tertulia opening in the West Village back in 2011. Like that dining spot, this one focuses on Spanish fare, though Tertulia is more of a taverna/gastropub while El Colmado is more of a straightforward tapas spot. And what a tapas spot it is, with each small plate impressing on so many levels. A few of the highlights include sublime serrano ham finger sandwiches with smoked butter; fried and salted shishito peppers that have a lot of heat on the back end; savory lamb meatballs that are as good as you’ll find at any Greek restaurant; crispy potatoes that are doused in a flavorful garlic aioli; fresh black and white anchovies on toast with runny goat cheese; and an absolutely mesmerizing dish of marinated smoked beets, creamy Cana de Cabra cheese, candied almonds, and spicy horseradish. Drinks at El Colmado include a variety of wines as well as a red sangria that is a definite favorite here. Prices for food and drink, while not exactly cheap, are reasonable for the most part, especially considering the quality of what is served here.
While Hell’s Kitchen has come a long way over the past few decades, parts of it are still a bit rough around the edges, including sections of Eleventh Avenue where Gotham West Market (and El Comado) reside, which has more in the way of auto dealers, repair shops, and gas stations than restaurants. But Gotham West is doing its best to change that, with such spots as El Colmado bringing tremendous food to the area. If you are a fan of tapas bars and find yourself in this section of Manhattan, try not to miss this one.
Marc Hurwitz is the founder of Boston's Hidden Restaurants, a website that focuses on lesser-known dining spots in the Boston area and elsewhere in New England.