Happy Place: Ondo's, 250 Steele Street, 303-975-6514
The Hours: Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.; all day Tuesday; Friday and Saturday from 10 p.m. to midnight
The Deals: $3 Heineken drafts; $3 red or white sangria; $3 well pours; $2 off wine, cava, and sherry by the glass; $3-12 food specials, including paella and tortilla Espanola.
Were we happy? Flip the page to find out.
The Digs: Over the years, certain Denver addresses have chewed up and spit out as many restaurants as Lady Gaga has costumes.There are spaces that just seem cursed, and each time a new joint opens in one, we cautiously hold our breath. Ondo's, a Spanish tapas bar, landed in one of these locations: a sublevel Cherry Creek enclave whose address has seen five restaurants crash and burn in a decade. But Ondo's has already celebrated its first birthday, and judging by the buzzing crowd on a recent Tuesday night, it may possess the elusive staying power the space has failed to garner in the past.
Ondo's is brighter and more colorful than its predecessors. A rich yellow and orange color scheme graces the open dining area separated from the bar by a four-foot wall, while the bar flows through the room and wraps around the west end of the restaurant. Patrons enjoy cocktails and small plates as servers compare powder days and ski gear while punching in their orders. A note to single men: During both of our adventures to Ondo's happy hour, the bar was packed to the gills with women; there wasn't a male in sight.
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The Verdict: If you've ever been to Spain, you understand how captivating it is, the breathtaking beauty of the countryside and the mischievous magic of the cities permanently etched into the psyche after a visit. Ondo's owners Curt and Deicy Steinbecker are well aware of this romance, as both attended culinary school in San Sebastian. A staple of Spanish cuisine is the tapa, a two-bite morsel whose original purpose was to cover sherry glasses, thus protecting the sherry from fruit flies. It later evolved as a grazing ritual, allowing people to focus more on conversation. Regardless, well-done tapas are incredible, and we were stoked that we could find them for happy hour.
Unfortunately, the tapas we had for happy hour were slightly underwhelming. The bonito del norte ($5), a heaping pile of conserved albacore salad topped with pimienton shrimp confit, was slightly underseasoned, albeit rich enough to share. Next up was the chorizo y datiles, a soggy and sweet tapa topped with sliced chorizo over a creamy mascarpone spread and diced dates ($4), whose unappealing presentation exposed sausage had been sliced in half to resemble a hot dog on a slice of toast. On the palate, the sogginess of the bread actually lent itself to the gooey dates, but the chorizo was dry. Still, there are some very good things about Ondo's happy hour: Guests are presented with appertivos before their food is ready, and on this particular evening, we slurped small shots of warmly spiced, drinkable yellow squash. The $10 liter of sangria is outstanding, and the service at Ondo's is superb, staffed with warm and friendly bartenders who are quick to chat, yet professional and classy. We'll definitely be back.
Overall Grade: B+