Angel Leston was about three when, around 1990, he and his parents moved from Newark’s Ironbound to Galicia on the northwest coast of Spain. For the parents, it was a homecoming. His father, Francisco, who had worked his way up from dishwasher to chef at Casa Vasca in Newark, became a chef on fishing boats. For their Newark-born son, Galicia became his first food culture, triggering a passion that would come to fruition only when Leston opened Casa d’Paco in the Ironbound in 2015.
Francisco’s nickname is Paco, and he is the chef. He and his son, now 31, rebuilt the interior of what had been a dive bar and gave the otherwise nondescript facade on a residential side street a striking red entranceway. Leston’s mother, Ana, who ran the Suissa bakery after the family returned to the Ironbound when Leston was 14, makes the desserts.
Leston earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Rutgers and worked in that field for several years, including at Newark Airport, where he managed shops. “I always hated it,” he says, “but I needed a way to save money before I could open the restaurant.”
Casa d’Paco’s menu focuses on seafood and tapas. Seafood is Galicia’s glory.
Though tapas is more associated with Barcelona in northeast Spain, Leston says it has become popular in Galicia. In 2016, his aunt opened a tapas bar in Galicia, and she and Leston frequently bounce ideas off each other.
Seafood and tapas come together in the piquant chipirones da casa—grilled baby squid (not quite as tender as one might wish), with grilled onions and spicy cherry peppers. The menu lists 14 hot and five cold tapas, plus about 10 daily tapas specials. Among the hot tapas, solomillo de cerdo con bacon—bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin—was flavorful, the pork rather well done, though still tender. The pieces are brushed with a delicious garlic glaze enriched with long-simmered bits of meat. Among cold tapas, rollitos de salmon—house-smoked salmon served on crisp, thin-sliced baguette and drizzled with fig-balsamic reduction—stood out for flavor and luscious texture.
One of Francisco’s most distinctive creations is paella Casa d’Paco. While the name is problematical—it’s more of a stew—the dish itself is terrific. In a twist that is Francisco’s own rather than Galician, you find at the bottom of the pan not the iconic crunchy saffron rice of a traditional paella, but plump saffron rice luxuriating in a rich seafood broth. Mixed in is plenty of lobster, clams, shrimp, tiger shrimp, squid, mussels, chicken and imported Galician chorizo.
Explaining the soupiness, Leston says, “My father believes that when you send out anything, it has to be juicy and have flavor.”
Another signature is langosta rellena, a burly broiled lobster, its body stuffed with a reduction of Alaskan crabmeat, manchego, cream cheese, poached onions and butter, mixed with shrimp and scallops. The lobster comes with fried potatoes and steamed vegetables.
Many dishes are served with fried potatoes, one of the staples of Galician cooking. Some are thin and chip-like; patatas bravas are chunky and come with a spicy aioli. A couple of times a month, Leston offers a special featuring his father’s house-cured chorizo. Made with paprika, it’s spicier than the imported Galician chorizo.
Ana’s desserts are simple but satisfying. They’re cookie cakes, made with layers of flat, crunchy Maria cookies with filling between the layers. The cookies are dipped in espresso, then in sweetened brandy. For the lemon cake, the dipped cookies are layered with lemon cream. Sweet, tart and astringent meld well. There’s also a butterscotch-pudding cookie cake.
One caveat: Casa d’Paco has a tiny parking lot with room for about five cars. On a busy weekend, you might have to prowl the streets to find a spot.
- Cuisine Type:Spanish/Portuguese
- Price Range:Moderate
- Price Details:Soup, salads, tapas, $4-$20; entrées, $15-$30; desserts, $5
- Ambience:Cozy tavern
- Service:Friendly and efficient
- Wine list:All-Spanish wine list; sangrias, beer, including several Spanish, and Galician liqueurs