It’s said that in Spain “we live on the street”. This doesn’t mean we literally live on the street, it makes reference to the custom of living most of our social life outside of our homes. If you end up becoming really good friends with a Spaniard in Madrid, don’t take it personal if he/she never invites you to lunch or dinner at their place. Life is outside those four walls!
And for you to make the best of this time, here is a list of great places to give some flavour to life in Madrid!
Ps. Most of the places I recommend are ancient taverns, dated from the 19th and 20th centuries. History and gastronomy will be your elective courses while in one of the Old Continent’s capitals. Plus, here’s a hint: modern restaurants come and go, these places have survived filling the bellies of locals for hundreds of years!
This restaurant is set inside ancient caves that were used as a hiding place by Luis Candelas in the 1800s; he was one of the city’s most famous bandits. The waiters wear the outfits of the bandits from that time. If you don’t want to spend a lot on an entire meal, you can order a glass of red wine to go along with a portion of jamón and pimientos del padrón. (Spanish ham and green peppers)
Lucio’s restaurant is well known for its huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs), an excellent-quality red meat, and many typical stews, soups and other pot dishes. Important public figures often dine here: famous actors, politicians, etc. It’s not the cheapest place in Madrid, but it is worth trying at least once while you’re in town.
This is a small tapas place that recreates an Andalusian patio. The inside is decorated with antiques from the 1900s and the background music helps you time-travel to those early years from the 20th century in Spain. You should try a glass of espumoso (sparkling wine) and order one of its delicious tostas (slice of bread with food on top) or cazuelitas (tiny saucepans where a small portion of a hot plate is served).
The food here is from the northern region of Asturias, one of its famous dishes is the fabada (pork and white beans). This place has a nice sit-down area downstairs, but the fun thing to do is to stay by the bar, upstairs, where you can order a bottle of Asturian cider to share with your friends – you can learn how to properly serve it making it splash inside the glass to produce bubbles, a technique called escanciar. When you order the cider, you can choose from a tapa of chorizo, cabrales cheese or tortilla. All good!
It is typical that people go out on Sundays for a walk in the sun and have an aperitivo (small snack before lunch). Many will choose a vino dulce (sweet wine) or a vermouth from the tap to go with their tapas! This ancient bar is located right across from the Cathedral and the Royal Palace, so I recommend doing the same: enjoy a nice walk in the area – check out this spot with one of the best views of Madrid – and then cross the street to visit the Old King of Wines.
Ok, so this is a place with aristocratic history (Est. 1839), and also a very expensive one. Especially if you go up to the dining room and order its famous cocido madrileño. But instead, you can enter the lower area, where sweets and canned goods are sold to the public and, at the end of the room, below a beautiful 19th century mirror, you can serve yourself a cup of hot soup and add a few drops of Jerez white wine (one of the best things in the world to warm you up if you’re walking around downtown in the winter!). I also recommend the croquetas!
If you’re in the mood for wooden-fire traditional cuisine, this is the place to go. Botín is the oldest active restaurant in the world, it was established in 1765! You can see its ancient architecture: slightly bent walls, wooden floors and ceilings… If you want to give yourself a treat (or if your folks are visiting and paying for lunch!) try the roasted lamb (cordero asado) or the roasted pork (cochinillo asado).
Like in many other establishments, you can go into the dining room for a full meal, or order a few tapas at the bar or terrace outside. This is what most people do. If you’re walking down Preciados street, on your way to Puerta del Sol, I suggest a small detour to Casa Labra. Once there, you have to try the home-made cod croquette. Just ask for a “croqueta de bacalao”. On a curious note, this was where the Spanish Socialist Party was founded in 1879.
This tavern is located in La Latina district, it serves Andalusian food and wines. One of the most typical plates to try here are the “roscas”: a kind of bread rolls split in half and filled with deliciousness! They have different flavours: ham and cheese, meat pie… or if you’re up for trying some real Spanish flavours, try the morcilla (blood sausage) or the pringá (a mixture of chorizo, chicken, ham, bacon and red meat from the pot, chopped up and served separately, on bread).
This place is located near the university area, in the Moncloa/Agüelles neighbourhood. Many students live around here. From La Caleta, I recommend the berenjenas con salmorejo (fried eggplant with a purée consisting of tomato and bread) and the traditional Andalusian tortitas de camarón (deep fried mini-shrimp tortillas). So good!
Since 1906, four generations of the same family have been serving in the name of “Grandpa” (Abuelo). The tavern is located near Sol, in the centre of Madrid, and it has been very popular since its beginnings. However, it was after the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939) that they introduced something to their menu which is now what they’re best known for: Shrimp. If you’re walking around downtown a little before lunch or dinner, go inside and ask for a tapa of gamba roja a la plancha (grilled red shrimp).
Since 1892, this winery has maintained its decorations from back then and you feel inside a time machine when you walk inside. But there’s nothing like its famous tortillas to bring you back to real life! It is said that Ms. Conchita’s Spanish omelets are one of the best in town. I suggest you go and decide that for yourself!
Like many old establishments, this one also has a sit-down area at the back, but the typical Madrileño will go in, go up to the bar and ask for a caña (small glass of beer) or a chato de vino (small glass of wine). The waiters here are a show to watch, especially when the place is packed! Don’t turn around just because it’s full of people, it’s Casa Paco’s natural state! Make your way to the bar and, when you ask for your beverage, the waiter will serve it with a delicious tapa of cheese, salchichon or its famous torreznos (bacon rashers). If it’s a sunny day (even in the winter), I would take my beer and tapa outside and lean against one of their old barrels, enjoying the sun and one of our favourite pastimes: watching people go by.
This bar is situated in Lavapiés, one of the oldest districts of Madrid (near Sol and La Latina). It is a very lively neighbourhood, especially on Sunday mornings because many people go to El Rastro (huge flea market) and then stay out. At Melo’s, you can satiate a whole week’s hunger with its famous zapatillas (the literal translation is “shoes”, but it refers to these incredibly huge sandwiches!)
Behind a little red door, this great place normally goes unnoticed. But if you go inside, a dimly-lit peculiar scene comes to life. Souvenirs from times long gone hang from the walls: an out-of-date map of Spain, a small black and white TV set, old glass bottles and other curious objects. Any tapa you try here, you’ll like! You may ask the waiters for recommendations, they are extremely nice. You won’t regret visiting this place: authentic and a favourite for locals!
This place is well known for its abundant Iberian tapas accompanied with a bottle of cider. You can ask the waiters to serve your cider in the proper way: escanciada (just like at El Ñeru). It is decorated with the symbols of the Spanish deck of cards, “As de copas” meaning Ace of Hearts. It has such a fun ambiance, make sure to gather a large group of friends to hang out there! It is located near Santa Ana square, an area with many restaurants and bars for cocktails.
The name of this place has a curious origin. This place started out in 1895 serving wine and other liquors to bakers, butchers, bricklayers… An old and poor guitarist would visit the place playing always the same tune “Tin, tin tin, malacatín, tin tin…” in exchange for a glass of wine. The founder’s youngest daughter inherited the place and decided to name it after this man’s song: “Malacatín”. The inside is decorated with bullfighting motifs, and the cuisine is traditional from Madrid.
During the 17th Century, the only flour mill in the Ville of Madrid was located in this spot. And so, in 1642 it became the Court’s Inn. It served food and shelter within Arab walls to all travellers. Since then, it decayed and was finally restored in 1980, now being one of Madrid’s better-known restaurants for traditional cuisine. The old flour mill has evolved into a beautiful wood-fired oven!
Captain Alatriste is a famous Spanish character depicted in novels as one of the great swordsmen of the Court of King Felipe IV. The tavern is located in the ancient Tavern of Lebrijana Charity, where he supposedly rented a room. You can read more about the history of this place and Captain Alatriste on their website. What’s sure is that in here, you are walking straight into the Madrid of the 18th century… Just picture yourself sharing a table with soldiers, poets, swordsmen and travellers.
This tavern was founded in 1908 and is situated right behind the Palace Hotel. It serves different canapés (small slices of bread with food on top), but you may also want to try its famous patatas fritas con boquerones (chips with anchovies). Perhaps if you’re showing some visiting friends around you’d want to introduce them to a classic Spanish tapa: jamón and manchego cheese. You’ll never go wrong with that!
Oh…mmm! Well, I think this post is coming to an end because I’m getting really hungry! I hope you are too, hungry to get here and start impregnating yourself with history and gastronomy! Please do let us know which places end up being your favourite in Madrid. Cheers! Or as we say in Spain: ¡Salud!
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