|The 1996 opening of Vega Tapas Cafe successfully introduced the classic Mediterranean tapas (pronounced TOP-ahs) tradition to the New Orleans area. Tapas are appetizer-sized portions of a variety of dishes, hot and cold, that bring a sense of adventure and excitement to dining and allow for the sampling of many flavors and sensations within one meal.Tapas, loosely translated “little plates” encourages diners to sample smaller portions of several dishes, usually four or five different tastes, rather than the usual one appetizer, one entree. The tapas concept is fun and socially engaging. Patrons are free to try something different and unique without committing to an entire meal based on an unfamiliar ingredient.
In a town that credits much of its rich culinary history to the French, notable is that beginning in 1762, New Orleans and south Louisiana were under control of the monarchy of Spain. To these prominent bloodlines, Vega is primed to maintain the diverse cultural history Spain provided. However, Vega has never been strictly Spanish: it has embraced Mediterranean cooking in general. But the tapas bars that are at the root of Spain’s culinary identity are in Vega’s DNA.
Originally founded by local chef Alison Vega in November 1996, Vega currently boasts a renewed sense of energy by current owner, Greg Francis and Executive Chef Will Sampson. “We have a legacy to uphold that started back in 1996 by Alison Vega”, says Francis “inspired and creatively prepared food at a reasonable price and a warm friendly atmosphere ”. Now in its 19th year, Vega Tapas Café has garnered a long list of accolades.
Rated for over 16 years including top Mediterranean restaurant in New Orleans by Zagat Survey. Voted “Best Tapas / Small Plates Restaurant” in reader’s poll by Gambit Weekly newspaper, and awarded 4 stars by food critic Tom Fitzmorris, the suburban café is a proven favorite by a mostly-local clientele. In 2003, Times-Picayune Newspaper’s restaurant critic, Brett Anderson, rated it very good to excellent, adding “the belief that serious eating can transpire in the most casual of settings is at the foundation of the tapas tradition. Vega is making that tradition proud.”
The decor at Vega is as warm and sensual as the culture that inspired it. The inviting atmosphere begins with a visually stimulating lounge area of glass mosaic tiles and an etched concrete bar under a candlelit silk ceiling. Upon entering the dining room, you are greeted with dramatic iron wall sconces and warm burnt-Sienna walls adorned with seasonally changing art exhibits by local artists. Velvet drapes and plush banquette seating make for a casual, chic dining experience. The 75 seat dining area under 15 foot ceilings is a unique backdrop to enjoy the area’s most adventurous menus. A wine list focused heavily on Spanish & California selections is rounded by enough vintages from other regions to heighten the interest in the list’s 75 plus labels.
As would be expected, the menu at Vega is diverse and changes based on the availability of the very freshest seasonal ingredients. Vega has found a perfect marriage between Louisiana’s indigenous foods and Mediterranean cuisine. Soft shell crabs, crawfish, shrimp, quail, Gulf fish, regional sausages and meats lend themselves perfectly to Mediterranean cuisine. Seasonal menus are enhanced by an abundance of innovative daily specials and other tasting menus. An annual summer “Tour of the Mediterranean” includes a five to seven course weekly menu, showcasing foods and wines on a progressive “tour” through the individual countries lining the shores of the Mediterranean. Additionally, a special “Aphrodisiac Valentine Day” menu is an immensely popular favorite of local romantics.
What distinguishes tapas from other little dishes is more the spirit of the diner rather than the food itself. Tapas at Vega are meant to be savored at an unhurried pace. Enjoy our warm atmosphere and linger over a delicious variety of tastes. And always,