‘The secret’s out’

The international history of Dagabi Tapas Bar

Photo by Mikey Kahn

Dagabi Tapas Bar is a family joint. It’s not uncommon to see tables filled with three generations of diners enjoying the restaurant’s blend of Mediterranean staples, and regulars are common at the Cheers-like back bar.

“Our slogan when I first bought it was, ‘Boulder’s best kept secret,’” says co-owner Noah Westby, who acquired the North Boulder eatery in October 2003. “The secret’s kinda out now.”

Laura and Jiroh Landeros opened Dagab in its current location in 1994. It had a brief stint as a Mexican restaurant before morphing into Dagabi Cucina, which served elegant and robust Italian fare. 

“When I bought it,” Westby says, “it was pure Italian. Italian servers, Italian cooks, etcetera.”

But the restaurant’s lore runs deep, with a history that’s perhaps uknown to even its most devout patrons. Jiroh, who previously cooked in destinations including Vail, Dallas, Italy and Hawaii, first opened Dagabi with Laura in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in the early ’90s. Many of the plates, some of which still act as menu cornerstones, were developed there, enjoying early test runs on sun-soaked beachgoers who felt like classing it up for supper.

So how did a beachside eatery from the Riviera Maya become one of Boulder’s most enduring and well-loved Mediterranean restaurants?

It started with a middle school trip. 

Photo by Mikey Kahn.

Around 1993, Tanya Bonino-Westby, Noah’s wife and Dagabi co-owner, was in the seventh grade at Shining Mountain Waldorf. She and her classmates visited Playa del Carmen, where chance led them to a meal at Dagabi. One thing led to another, and the Landeros family decided to move to Boulder to send their kids to Waldorf. 

“There was just a connection,” says Bonino-Westby, who, over the years, has worked at Dagabi as a hostess and barback, along with acting as the Landeros’ nanny.

Both Westby and Bonino-Westby are Boulder locals. Westby previously co-owned Caffe Sole and its roasting company, as well as Pearl Street’s iconic Trident Booksellers. 

“Dagabi was one of my coffee accounts,” says Westby, who used to service Dagabi’s coffee equipment long before he owned the restaurant. 

So when the opportunity came to purchase the place, Westby felt the connections ran too deep to ignore. “I had never even thought about owning a restaurant,” he says.

In 2007, Westby and Bonino-Westby started to shift Dagabi’s menu to its current form. Under the direction of Antonio Rullo, who started as a server before rising to menu designer and kitchen manager, the team began replacing many of the heavier plates with a roster of tapas, paellas and rotating weekly specials. 

Photo by Mikey Kahn

The staff is extraordinarily tight knit. Bonino-Westby recently got back from a visit to Rullo’s family farm outside of Toledo, Spain, where she obtained a stockpile of saffron for the ever-popular paellas.

In July, Rullo left on sabbatical to fully invest in his recently debuted Gabi Food Adventures, a food and culture tour company with trips set for Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, Jerez and Ronda in November 2023, and Valencia and Mallorca in April 2024.

In his absence, Bonino-Westby, a Culinary School of the Rockies graduate who has frequently collaborated with Rullo, has assumed the back-of-house helm. She’s also been in charge of Dagabi’s fabulous wine list, a Spanish and California-heavy selection which includes a few appropriate offerings from Italy.

While the bulk of the menu will remain static, Bonino-Westby has been hard at work crafting weekly specials. “We want guests to feel at home. It’s kinda the taste of old Boulder, then, now and what it could be,” she says.

That Dagabi’s dining room is constantly populated by guests who fill it with warmth and familiarity should come as no surprise, especially considering the intricate web of kindness, romance and deep international connections that helped to forge it. 

“Food and drink and family and friends is just what it is here,” says Bonino-Wesby. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here