Malabar – Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

Even before I moved to Charlotte, I had a favorite restaurant here:  Coco Osteria.  I ate there on my first visit to the Queen City (and every trip thereafter).  I loved the food, the ambiance, and the service.  I never once dined inside of Coco’s—I always sat outside with a bottle of wine smack dab in the middle of uptown surrounded by the energy of the city.  To my horror, Coco’s shut its doors in December and reemerged as Malabar, a Spanish tapas restaurant, in January.  I was devastated.  To make matters worse, I had to walk right by 214 N Tryon every day on my way to and from work.  I’d peer into the windows trying to get a feel for the place.  I’d note how many people patronized the restaurant at various times of day.  I inspected the menu dozens of times.

Last month I realized some of my favorite dishes from Coco’s are now served at Luce, a sister restaurant located in the same courtyard, mere steps away.  So then I became a little less angry and slightly less hostile and decided to finally try Malabar. malabar charlotte 10

Inside Malabar, the seating area is quaint with about 15 or so tables.  They tend to fill up shortly after noon and again around 6:30 in the evening.

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There is also a bar area with a handful of stools.

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The Malabar dinner menu boasts four types of tapas (vegetable, meat, seafood, and cheese), plus entrees, and traditional made-to-order paella.

I needed a cocktail to assist me in analyzing the menu, and I opted for the Caipirinha, which had a mango puree and fresh muddled basil.  It was different from traditional Brazilian Caipirinha, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

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It wasn’t an easy decision, but we opted for tapas rather than paella so that we could sample more of the menu.

The star plate of the evening was the Almejas a la Mancha (sautéed clams, chorizo, and saffron).  At only $10, I think this was a pretty generous serving.

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Both the chorizo and the clams were tender and coated in a delicious Spanish red sauce.  My best bite was a sauce soaked piece of bread, topped with a large slice of chorizo, and garnished with a succulent clam.

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We also order the Croquetas ($8).  These were basically little fried logs of mashed potatoes.  They were decadently creamy, but the best part of the dish was the garlicky white sauce the croquetas were perched upon.  The menu says the croquetas are made of potato, manchego, and jamón serrano.  The potato and manchego were definitely there, but ham and pepper?  I couldn’t taste either of them.  And only three croquetas for $8?  Overpriced in my opinion.malabar charlotte 7

Next was the Braised Beef Empanadas ($9).  The plate came with four empanadas, which were good but in SERIOUS need of a sauce.  Thankfully we had leftover red sauce from the clams and chorizo, and a spoonful on each empanada completely transformed the plate.

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I went back to Malabar for lunch and tried their Cubano with pork and ham, homemade pickles, swiss cheese, and mustard for $9.  This sandwich was OK, but I was a bit disappointed.  This is North Carolina, and I was expecting hunks of succulent pork.  Instead, the sandwich had thinly-sliced lunch-meat style barely discernible meats.malabar charlotte 8

For vegetarians or those looking for a lighter option, Malabar has several entree salads available in the $10 price range.  You can opt to get the salads without meat, bringing the price down to a mere $5. malabar charlotte 9

On the whole, I like Malabar but I don’t love it.  There are several other tapas on the menu I’d like to try as well as the paella, so I will return.  In addition to the paella, I’ve heard great things about the Pimientos Rellenos and Albondigas (beef meatballs in tomato sauce).

Malabar on Urbanspoon




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  1. Glad I finally got to catch up on your blog, Mae!! Your photography is just getting better and better. Love you and can’t wait to see you when you come home in May. Until then, keep posting all these yummy food pics!!

  2. Concerning the croquetas, jamon serrano is not ham and peppers. Serrano is a specific type of dry-cured Spanish ham similar to Italian prosciutto. So the omission of peppers was not a mistake. Jamon serrano, like most Spanish ham, is generally sliced paper thin. This might explain why you didn’t taste any in the croquetas, although they should probably add more if one can’t even tell that it’s there.

    1. Very interesting — and thank you for the clarification! With regards to these croquetas, if there was ham it was invisible to the eyes and to the tastebuds.

      1. You are the “Foodie”, you should know what serrano ham is. That is also what you were trying to speak on during your kings kitchen post.

        Although I enjoy your “enthusiasm” for food, you really should not consider yourself a foodie. A real foodie needs to have above average knowledge of types of food and ingredients and such. You really lost me with your pizza choices. Beside Pure Pizza, you eat a bunch of horrible sauce and too “bready” dough covered (way too much) with processed cheese.

        1. WOW! I’m sorry to have angered you so!

          The word “foodie” means someone who is dedicated to enjoying food. Or, according to Webster, someone who has an avid interest in food and food fads. This is what I mean by choosing to call myself a foodie, nothing more. I do not claim to be a gourmand or a gourmet or any sort of food expert. I am not an all-knowing eater (thankfully!), nor am I competent at translating Spanish. I just love food. As previously discussed in the comments, the ham was apparently missing from these croquetas. I could have rewritten the references to serrano in this post, but I chose to leave it as-is. I enjoy learning, and don’t feel a need to conceal the learning process.

          I’m not sure what pizza has to do with this particular post, but I agree that everyone has different taste in pizza. I love a thick Sicilian style crust, but I’ve had quite a few great tasting thin crusts in town too (Intermezzo and Pure Pizza are two of my favorites).

          Also, regarding the King’s Kitchen ham, they use surryano country ham (per the menu), which is like an American version of serrano. (Note that the King’s Kitchen post went live 7 months after this post, during which time I’ve had serrano and surryano several times.)