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Sabores Tapas Bar sees spike in business after ranking on Yelp list of top 100 places to eat in 2024

When friends Alex Lopéz, Carlos Olarte and Ernesto Valenzuela opened Sabores Tapas Bar last year on Columbia Pike, they did not anticipate becoming a community staple so soon.

Since its debut last February — replacing a former Taqueria el Poblano location — the tapas bar was named one of the top 100 places to eat in the U.S. in 2024 by Yelp. Sabores ranked 48 on the list of 100 and was the only Northern Virginia restaurant to be featured.

Sabores was also named to Northern Virginia Magazine’s 2023 Best Restaurants list, cementing it as a new mainstay in the Penrose neighborhood.

“It was amazing news, we got really excited,” Olarte said. “It didn’t sink in completely until when it was announced and we saw the hype and started receiving phone calls from people that we knew, from customers calling us.”

Sabores samples regional cuisine from Spain and several Latin American countries, including Colombia, Venezuela and Honduras, from which López, Olarte and Valenzuela hail, respectively.

This is the first restaurant the trio has opened, though the restaurateurs have a combined 70-80 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, particularly in managing and opening restaurants, Olarte says. They worked together at a Brazilian steakhouse in Fairfax as well as Jaleo in Crystal City, which closed in 2021.

After the Yelp ranking, the business at 2401 Columbia Pike saw an immediate increase in customers, including upticks in large parties and reservations.

“We really, really welcome that push,” Olarte said. “People are being great. A lot of regulars, a lot of people coming in. It makes sense.”

As Sabores Tapas Bar welcomes more repeat customers, the restaurant become a place where “everybody knows everybody,” he continued.

“We really have become part of the neighborhood,” Olarte said.

Following the Yelp write-up, Sabores started serving bottomless brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and is working on launching a new lunch menu.

“We realize that a lot of people in the area are looking for something quick, so we’re adding more sandwiches, more salads, and also like a pre-fixe menu so people can pay a fixed price and get like three tapas of their choices so they can get in and out — something really quick and affordable,” Olarte said.

In the future, Olarte says he and his business partners are considering expanding Sabores as well perhaps opening other concepts. Right now, however, they are focusing on keeping up with the excitement at the current tapas bar.

“We’re hoping, right now especially with this, to start getting to a level that we feel comfortable that we can spare a little bit of our efforts for the new ventures,” Olarte said.

Despite these plans, the trio is still focused on serving Columbia Pike.

“This is our home,” Olarte said. “We can’t wait to see you again and again and again and again.”

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