Madrid is a foodie’s paradise. Traditional tabernas and tapas bars line the city’s streets, not to mention the numerous food markets and good-value restaurants right in the centre. In fact, one of the first things I noticed about Madrid is that the food scene is predominantly local — there aren’t as many Oriental restaurants, fast food outlets or pizzerias as there are in other major cities. If you want to sample something local, you’re definitely spoilt for choice.
Here’s a short list of places to look out for if you want to satisfy your appetite with local bites and dishes, plus a few tips on choosing eateries and dining in the city.
If you’d like to immerse yourself in the city’s food scene, I highly recommend going on a tapas and wine tasting tour.
CHEAP MEALS & QUICK BITES
Situated on Gran Via, this cheap and cheerful place specialises in seafood and paella. The restaurant was recommended to us by our receptionist at the hostel, and it was packed with locals when we were there. I had a very generous portion of fried calamari, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the lovely paella that the table next to us were having. Pity we only found out about this place on our day in Madrid.
This wee place is simply amazing. One thing you must have when in Madrid is bocadillo de calamares; a fried calamari sandwich, and the best place for it is La Campana, just off Plaza Mayor. Why? Well, for €2.75 you get a big bread roll loaded with deep fried calamari rings. We were there at lunchtime and managed to grab the last available table. The place is always busy but you can have your sandwich outside, perhaps while people-watching in Plaza Mayor.
If you’re travelling to Madrid on a shoestring budget, you might want to pop into Cien Montaditos for lunch AND dinner. A popular place among locals, Cien Montaditos serves 100 types of sandwiches starting at €1 each. You can easily have a big (and cheap) feast at this place. There are three Cien Montaditos outlet in Madrid and you’ll also find it in many other cities across Spain (we went into the one in Avila).
The tapas bars in Calle de la Cava Baja
This street is lined with quirky tabernas and tapas bars, making it a great area for bar-hopping and trying out tapas or pinchos at different places. If you want to eat and drink among locals, this is the place to go. Most pinchos (small finger foods) cost between €1 – €4 each and they can be quite filling.
If you want to have a unique dining experience in Madrid, check out this award-winning restaurant in Calle Cuchilleros. Founded in 1725, Sobrino de Botín is the oldest running restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records. It is mostly famous for its suckling pig, which is still cooked in the restaurant’s original wood-fired oven. The place has also retained its 18th-century interiors. Ernest Hemingway was very fond of this restaurant, and he dined here quite often on his trips to Spain.
Botín serves traditional Castilian dishes. If you don’t want to have dinner here, you can still visit the restaurant for a quick tour.
Some might tell you to avoid this place, while others would recommend it. This gourmet market in the heart of Madrid is a bit pricey and tends to be crowded, but it’s worth popping into if you want to treat yourself to some freshly prepared tapas in a lively ambiance. The aroma of baked goods is incredibly tempting, and be prepared to drool over the cake displays. I had a freshly-squeezed smoothie at the fruit section for about €4.
Mercado de San Miguel is also very touristy, so you might also want to check out some other food markets in Madrid.
This pastry and sandwich cafe in Puerta del Sol is by far the best place for a quick bite and a nice cake. Even the locals love it! Many madrileños stop for a quick coffee and bite by the shop’s counters. Have your breakfast the local way, then return in the afternoon for a nice cake.
La Mallorquina is mostly known for its divine Napolitana de Chocolate, but there are so many other sweets and cakes to choose from -you might spend all day in the shop!
Want to try the famous churros? This quaint café in narrow street, just around the corner from San Ginés Church near Puerta Del Sol, has been serving churros with chocolate since 1894. San Gines serves freshly baked churros with a cup of thick, melted chocolate. Sounds divine, right? We had 6 churros and a cup of chocolate (shared between two) for just €4.
This place tends to be packed to the rafters with locals and tourists. When we got out of the bar, we found a long queue of people waiting to be seated, but their churros are worth the long wait!
A FEW TIPS
Madrileños love to socialise in cafes and tapas bars after work. They also eat late. Dinner time in Madrid (and across the rest of Spain) is between 9.00pm – 11.00pm, but most restaurants start serving dinner at 7.00pm. If a place looks quiet, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the food or service there is bad – it’s probably because you’re there early by local standards.
When walking into a taberna or bar, always take a look at the floor. If it’s dirty, you’re at the right place. Madrileños throw their napkins on the floor when they’ve had a good meal. Many tapas bars have a trough running along the base of the bar for discarded napkins. I learnt this (and many other interesting facts) while on a free walking tour with Tatiana from Ogo Tours (she also took us inside Sobrino de Botin).
If you’re not sure where to go for a good meal, it might be a good idea to ask your hotel or hostel receptionist for suggestions. Ask them where they normally go for good food with friends.
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