Inspired by the culture and tradition of authentic Spanish cuisine, husband-and-wife duo Vassilis and Katerina Coumbaros, Tapa Toro at I-Drive 360 features tapas-style dining, a full-service bar and Flamenco dancing.
The restaurant leads with a 12-seat paella pit serving up family-style paella, a traditional Spanish dish made of rice, vegetables, and meat or seafood.
We recently chatted with Chef Wendy Lopez of Tapa Toro about her inspiration and her favorite eats.
Tell us about yourself!
Chef Wendy Lopez: I’m from Michoacan, Mexico, and I have been cooking since I was little. I received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu here in Orlando. I began my career at the Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Windermere, then later I became a sous chef under Certified Master Chef Russell Scott.
I’ve been with Tapa Toro since we first open. I’ve had the chance to create a really unique menu that combines traditional Spanish dishes with contemporary flavors and presentations that are unexpected, but still accessible, for Orlando foodies.
Where did you get your inspiration to cook?
My family. Both of my parents were restaurateurs, so I have been playing around in professional kitchens since I was three years old. I also think my Mexican culture has something to do with my passion for cooking. In my culture, we wake up thinking about what we are going to eat that day and plan our whole day around it.
Favorite first memories of food?
My first memory of food is eating rabbit for the first time — and loving it!
Every afternoon, me and my brother would come home from school, wash our hands and eat what Mom cooked us. One day when I was about eight, we were eating something our Mom told us was chicken, but it did not taste like chicken. Me and my brother looked at each other thinking, “What’s going on here? This isn’t chicken!” Finally (after some begging and pleading) she told us what we were eating was actually rabbit. She didn’t want to scare us. But it was quite the opposite, we both loved it. After that we requested rabbit all the time. Recently, when I hosted a Chef’s Table at Tapa Toro, I prepared a duck à l’orange — which was a tribute to my mom’s rabbit à l’orange recipe.
Another favorite food memory is trying oysters for the first time in St. Augustine. I was a little older — about 12 years old. My brother and I wanted to try oysters. My mom insisted that we weren’t going to like them, but we tried them and ended up eating 30 oysters each. I thought they were so refreshing and tasty.
We were always curious about food and wanted to try everything.
Best Dishes to Try at the Restaurant?
When you come to Tapa Toro, you have to try the paella. I’ve worked very hard to perfect it and it’s what we are best-known for. (Don’t ask me for the secret recipe!)
My favorite dish on the menu (besides the paella) is the stuffed piquillo peppers.
It’s the one tapa where you take a single bite and taste so many different, incredible flavors. Spanish cuisine has many influences, including Morocco and the Mediterranean.
The Moroccan spices and the Greek Yogurt sauce in the piquillos best describes my eclectic style of cooking and Tapa Toro’s contemporary take on traditional Spanish.
What is one dish you would make for yourself to eat after a long day in the kitchen?
Every day I go home and I make tacos. (You can really tell I’m from Mexico!) I probably eat tacos at least six days a week. Tacos with queso fresco and refried beans are such a comfort food for me. Growing up, beans were always cooking in a room, somewhere.
That comfort that comes from the smell and that taste of tacos has stuck with me since I was little.
Favorite local Orlando places to dine?
When I go out, I love to eat Asian food because it’s so different from my day-to-day. Shin Jung Korean BBQ on Colonial Drive is one of my favorites because the meat is so full of flavor. If I’m in the mood for pho, House of Pho on John Young & Sand Lake is my go-to spot. I love the people at Thai Thani on International Drive because I joke that no spice is too hot for me, so they try to make me cry with how spicy they prepare my food… But it’s still never too hot for me to handle!
DINING NEWS: Tapa Toro and the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye are teaming for Tapas Before Take-Off, a new dining package. Now Orlando residents and visitors can enjoy a three course prix fixe meal and complimentary drink at Tapa Toro, plus a ticket to ride the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye for the low, all-inclusive price of $49.95, including tax and gratuity. (Tickets to ride retail for $25.) For more info, visit http://tapatoro.restaurant/tapas-before-take-off/
Tapa Toro (I-Drive 360, 8441 International Dr) Enjoy an Easter brunch buffet with Spanish flair, flamenco dancers & DJ from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Buffet is $35 per adult and $15 per child. Add bottomless mimosas and sangria for $15. Reservations required.
Taverna Opa (Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Dr) Free glass of house wine with purchase of any lamb entrée. Traditional Greek entertainment all day.
Tapa Toro (I-Drive 360, 8441 International Dr) Mom drinks free during a special Spanish-style brunch buffet with live entertainment from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Complimentary bottomless mimosas and sangria available with purchase of adult buffet. $35 per adult and $15 per child.
Taverna Opa (Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Dr) Mom eats free on Mother’s Day with family-style menu for four. One offer per party. Traditional Greek entertainment all day.
Tapa Toro (I-Drive 360, 8441 International Dr) Enjoy an all-you-can-eat steak & chorizo paella special. Meal includes chicharrones and flan. Plus dad drinks a free 20oz beer with purchase. Paella special is $30 per person.
Taverna Opa (Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Dr) Dad eats free on Father’s Day with family-style menu for four. One offer per party. Traditional Greek entertainment all day.