Progressive Meal plan

January 2020 View more

Al Camaronchizo

Many diners have been conditioned to base their opinion of tapas on the actual cuisine being served—most often an array of Spanish-influenced appetizers and small-plate entrées, owing to the origin of the style. The reality these days is that “tapas” is just as often used simply as a descriptor for how the meal is intended to unfold, regardless of what’s actually being served. One’s tapas experience may or may not include a heavy emphasis on the Iberian-inspired olives, cheeses, and meat or seafood bites most commonly associated with the traditional definition of the form. The key notion, instead, may be the way the meal is served, spooling out dish by dish over the course of the evening, with a decided emphasis on sharing.

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So even though the menu at Altiro Latin Fusion ( includes several nods to Spanish flavors among its diverse offerings, the concept of tapas in play here definitely has more to do with the idea of a communal dining experience among tablemates in an intimate setting than any strict consensus on the food itself.

The Wheaton restaurant, which opened in the fall, is one of five outlets in what has become a suburban minichain (a sixth was scheduled to open in Aurora in late 2019) from the husband-and-wife team of Roberto Avila and Erika Villanueva. Like its siblings, this location, tucked into a cozy corner spot at the north end of downtown Wheaton’s “restaurant row” on Hale Street, features a clean, cool vibe with a lofted ceiling, modern art and understated lighting.

The bar is a small but lively spot, cranking out a variety of pricey but satisfying Mojitos, margaritas, and sangrias, while the tables are set and spaced to encourage a full evening of sharing among duos and small groups. Meanwhile, the most outwardly Spanish-style dishes on the tapas slate are the Al Mejillon, featuring Prince Edward Island mussels, Spanish chorizo, roasted tomato; and the Ala Paella, a traditional mélange of tilapia, salmon, shrimp, mussels, and ahi tuna. While both of these are served with grilled rustic bread, most of the other items on the menu tend to have a Mexican lineage, with a variety of tacos and other tortilla-adjacent dishes dominating the proceedings.

Ala Papa Brava

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In attempting to assemble a full tapas experience for one’s table at Altiro, it’s important to keep in mind the “small plates” philosophy at work here, since few of the dishes are really meant to do the heavy lifting of a full meal on their own—portions are designed to allow for a procession of possibilities. For example, the guacamole trio includes some wonderful rotating flavors (such as apple and pear among our selections), but these are meant to be sampling allotments, as opposed to the overflowing molcajetes that one might find elsewhere. The Mexican street corn, too, arrives in a compact pot with just enough to give everyone a taste—and yet, is not to be missed.

Likewise, the tacos deployed in groups of four are of the smallish, two- to three-bite street vendor variety. It’s enough to deliver the outstanding flavor combinations the kitchen is determined to convey—including a delicious Al Cameleon with garlic shrimp, bacon, lime, and avocado; and the Al Frito with beer-battered tilapia, avocado-chipotle aioli and cilantro slaw—but not necessarily built to leave big eaters feeling overstuffed. These taco quartets, in fact, most clearly demonstrate the true appeal of Altiro, with boards arriving in measured succession over the course of the evening, all while drinks are refilled, stories are shared, and numerous individual flavor encounters are built into a diverse dining whole.


Photos Courtesy Altiro Latin Fusion