It’s not often in my culinary adventures that I encounter a restaurant that makes me weak at the knees, breathless and wondering how I had managed to live as long as I had without knowing the flavors of a certain cuisine. And then enter La Marcha, the incomparable tapas restaurant nestled in West Berkeley.

Located near the corner of University and San Pablo Avenue, La Marcha’s understated exterior might leave you questioning your navigational device but trust me, it’s there! Enter through the glass doors and surrender yourself to the ecstasy that is all things Spanish.

Once inside, Trish (the hostess) greets you by name, introduces herself and then shows you and your party to your table. (This will not be the only encounter you will have with Trish and you actually might see her more often than your server … Trish is gregarious, helpful and knows everything about anything on the menu.) The main dining room is warm and inviting, and while small, it feels spacious and romantic. A joyous celebratory vibe emanates throughout the room; people are happy and you get a sense it’s more than simply sangria that is making everyone giddy.

Woman of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is projected on the screen (plays on loop for all the adoring Amodóvar fans), and the bar beneath never ceases to take a break. Drink after drink flies off the shelf. And you will definitely desire a drink here; they are wonderful! There is an extraordinary selection of Spanish wines and the house-made sangrias are divine.

My friend and I order several tapas: Morcilla sausage with pork belly, lima beans, radishes, cumin carrots, chermoula and crème fraiche; Abóndigas, pork and lamb meatballs served with sherry tomato cream, manchego, and guindillas; Costillas which were confit baby back ribs, pedro ximénez, pickled peppers, and wild arugula. It sounds like a lot but they are after all, small plates … and these plates are delicious, each with its own song to sing. The balance of heat, acid and sour notes makes each bite a delight, leaving my friend and I with little words to exchange besides: “WOW!”

The Ensalada Primavera is next to arrive. Wild arugula, fennel, pollen, mint, toasted pine nuts, artichoke hearts, English peas, manchego and moscatel vinaigrette combine to create a salad that is fresh, crunchy, salty, sweet, bitter and warm. It might be the best salad I have ever met.

Nearly 30 minutes later, we are feeling plump and happy but we know the real star of the show is forthcoming; in fact, nearly everyone here comes for a single dish and that dish is paella (it takes 30 minutes to prepare so patience is key). The very fortunate few of restaurants will have a singular dish that defines them and for La Marcha this dish is the Arroz Negro. The squid ink, mussels, fennel sausage, peas, anchovy breadcrumb, truffle aioli, salmon roe, saffron blend together and sits over a bed of crunchy rice and presented in the paella pan tableside; it looks terrifying and stunning simultaneously. Nearly half the tables seem to be dining on it and while it sounds intriguing we opt to devour the Paella Huertana that blends kabocha squash, cipollini onions, chickpeas, cauliflower, and saffron with farm egg.

The scent of saffron fills the table and we serve ourselves large portions of crackling rice, oozing egg, and mounds of vegetables. It looks like the very best of the local market is being represented and you are astounded how the cook on each vegetable is its own delicacy, never mushy nor watery. Every subsequent bite of this dish leaves me conspiring all the excuses I can come up with to come back to this moment, eating this paella.

We completed the meal with a Torta de Aceite Con Helado which is an olive citrus cake with saffron ice cream and pistachios and (because we simply could not choose) Churros Con Chocolate, a fresh Spanish doughnut with warm chocolate milk. Here I can’t seem to locate a more fitting term other than perfection; the cake is warm with a hint of citrus and the ice cream blends even better with the equally warm and heavenly churros.

La Marcha offers two happy hours daily, 4-6pm & 10pm-Midnight. Just as in Spain, patrons receive a complimentary tapa with the purchase of any beverage: $4 Caña (small pour of beer), a $5 Chato (small pour of wine) and a $5 Sangria.

Other special promotions include Flamenco Night occurring EVERY TUESDAY featuring live music from renowned guitarist Keni “el Lebrijano” starting at 9:00pm. The flamenco night experience can range from quiet background music to rousing performances by special musical guests and spontaneous Flamenco dancing. You certainly don’t want to miss that!

With its rustic interior, pops of bright color and welcoming atmosphere, La Marcha is a tapas bar in the heart of Berkeley that encapsulates the vibrant culinary culture of Spain. Visitors will feel as though they have strolled right off the streets of Spain and into an authentic neighborhood tapas place. Now go and make your reservation at La Marcha … they've been waiting for you!

If you are looking to dine with a group of friends, check out the La Marcha Dinner Party Microguide!

Reserve with Open Table!

HOURS:
Dinner (reservations recommended)
Tues - Sun 4:00pm - 10:00pm

Happy Hour
4:00 - 6:00pm & 10:00 - midnight