Zuzu offers food with Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American, and Mediterranean roots, and it's primarily expressed through its tapas, little small plates of food, a bit like dim sum.
There's always the fear with restaurants that offer a lot of types of food that they will all be, at best, mediocre. But a good dim sum or tapas places somehow manage to keep things humming along. It's almost like a focus on the portfolio of dishes you select rather than the importance of any individual one where you can have your own tasting menu and share which is probably why these types of restaurants are so much fun.
Between a dinner and lunch experience, I prefer to go to Zuzu for lunch for two reasons. One is that it's a lot less crowded and has a more relaxed vibe to it. And two is that between the selection on the menu and the changes on the menu, you always have tasty stuff to choose from. The downside is that tapas is a bit more expensive than you think with these small dishes running at $8-$12 per plate.
The tapas menu can be broken down into a cold vs. hot dishes. The cold dishes are like olives, almonds, ceviche, salad, etc. The hot dishes are where the fun's at.
Here's a spring vegetable soup with onions, carrots, and goat cheese toast. This is one of those "so hot it melts your bread" type of soups like french onion soup. Nice starter, and the goat cheese and bread serve as a french onion soup reminder with strong doses of flavor to shake things up a bit.
Here's a sauteed petrale sole with golden raisins, pine nuts, and pea shoots. Pea shoots were a little hard to eat due to their length, but overall a nice dish with the golden raisins adding little bursts of sweetness.
Gambas al ajillo. Fresh gulf shrimp with garlic, piquin chili, and smokey pimenton. Little disappointed in this one. Was expecting something zestier and stronger judging by its looks but didn't quite get it. This one also comes out blazing hot.
Grilled chicken and beans (garbanzo?). Chicken was maybe a bit salty, but it still had a nice smoky flavor and the garbanzo beans help take the edge off.
Chilaquiles. Corn tortillas with goat's eye beans and a poached egg. Overall tasty, but maybe my tortillas were a little too soggy. I still like a bit of firmness and crunch to mine when it arrives on the table.
Not pictured but also very delicious: niman ranch grass fed flat-iron steak with roasted jalapeno chimichurri.
You can nitpick with the dishes, but if you like variety with your eats at a restaurant or like sharing foods, you should stop by Zuzu.
Zuzu setting and service
The downstairs seating area is fairly small as you can see. We've never eaten upstairs so I'm not sure how much room is up there. Although Zuzu has a slight country look to it, the electronica club music lightly pulsing from the speakers as well as the somewhat young and fabulous clientele that fill up the place during the evening give it a bit of a club feel. It gets pretty noisy, and there's a half-decent chance if you're sitting near the wall under the stairs that you'll get an earful of your neighbor's conversation. At night time, the restaurant gets pretty full, and they don't take reservations. So, be prepared to wait. As I mentioned above, the afternoon provides a different vibe and isn't anywhere near as crowded, particularly during the week.
Service is fine overall. With so many items to choose from on the menu, you will lean on them at first to see what the different dishes are like. You might get a little lost in the crowd on the busier days though.
Price of our meal
We've had dinners around $60-$80 with tax and tip for two depending on how many tapas dishes we had with our two glasses of wine. I've had individual lunches with say 3 dishes (or 2 dishes and a glass of wine) would go about $25-$30 with tax and tip.
I've seen some places refer to Zuzu as a cheap place to eat which is a little misleading. Keep in mind that the dishes are small. It doesn't end up so cheap if you go through 2-3 dishes in a hurry which is very likely given the choices on the menu which they strategically let you keep during your meal so you can order "just one more dish."