Tapas in Madrid: The Simple Pleasure of Small Bites, Red Wine and Good Conversation
By Sarah Rogers
Buenos Aires Local Expert
Going out for tapas is one of Madrid’s most delicious traditions. Whether in a tapas bar, a local tavern or a trendy restaurant, the pleasure is the same: small plates of tasty, creative morsels perfect for sampling, glasses of red wine to wash them down and good conversation as accompaniment.
Go ahead and try some tapas before lunch, after dinner or even instead of dinner with a fun, traditional tapas crawl! This simply means sampling a tapa or two at one establishment before heading on to the next, and it is the perfect way to find the tapas you like best!
Customarily, the city’s taverns and tapas bars have been located in the La Latina neighborhood or near the Puerta del Sol, with those featuring zinc bars, marble tables, tile walls and a red exterior most closely following the city’s long tapas tradition. Today you can certainly find lots of delicious places to have tapas throughout the Spanish capital; no neighborhood is without a place to go for tapas. However, the biggest concentration for tapas establishments continues to be in the La Latina neighborhood or near the Puerta del Sol. The problem will be choosing which one to try first!
10 La Bardemcilla
Run by the cinematic Bardem family (the Oscar-winning Javier, along with sister M�nica, brother Carlos and old screen legend mother Pilar). Miniature movie sets, family photos and film stills adorn the walls. The tapas and larger raciones are named after Bardem films (mostly Javier's). Madrid's cool crowd hangs out at the bar, located near the entrance, to drink a ca�a or nibble on some Jam�n Jam�n (ham croquetas). At the back of the bar is a convivial and comfy restaurant, where diners can enjoy an economical set lunch or an a la carte sit-down meal of predominantly meaty classics, such as solomillo a la luna (sirloin steak) or chuletas de cordero (lamb chops), washed down with a good selection of Spanish wines. Metro: Chueca (91-521-4256)
9 Cerveceria Santa Barbara
Cervecer�a Santa B�rbara is a local restaurant and tavern that serves up plates of tapas, sandwiches, shrimp and other Spanish fare that is more often than not washed down with small glasses of the Mahou beer on tap. At Cervecer�a Santa B�rbara you can stand and eat at the bar counter for a casual meal or sit down at one of the tables for waiter service. The restaurant is located on Santa B�rbara square, from which it gets its name, and draws its history from a brewery dating to 1815. Try the homemade potato chips and do sit outside when the weather's nice. (915 75 00 52)
8 Casa Alberto
You will have a pleasant dining experience in this charming restaurant situated in the previous home of Miguel de Cervantes. You can mingle with the locals at the bar while enjoying delicious tapas, or you can have a full meal in the restaurant. Their specialties include fried squid, shellfish in vinaigrette sauce, and chorizo (sausage) in cider sauce. METRO: Anton Martin (91-429-93-56)
7 100 Montaditos
100 Montaditos is a fun, cheap Spanish sandwich and beer chain with a slightly Andalusian feel to it. But true to its name, the restaurant offers 100 types of sandwiches, and as they are small ("montadito" means a small sandwich), diners are encouraged to mix, match and try different types. It's actually a good way to sample several Spanish staples in a hurry. The customers at 100 Montaditos are asked to mark down what they want on an order form; the orders are then either called over the loudspeaker for you to pick up or are brought to your table. (913 540 268)
6 La Musa
The only thing that was less than perfect about the original La Musa in Malasaña was its cramped dimensions. This newer branch solves the problem with large airy spaces and even slicker décor. The excellent menu expanded too, particularly for breakfast (weekdays only). The vibe is as fashionable as ever: it draws a style-conscious young crowd with its creative, but very affordable, dishes and affordable set lunch. This eatery is especially strong on creative salads, tapas and its signature bomba, a deep-fried tennis ball of spicy meat or vegetables. The cocktail lounge has a DJ spinning house sounds and is open from Thursday to Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Turn up early to avoid a long line. METRO: La Latina (91-354-0255)
5 Casa Lucio
Casa Lucio promises great authentic Spanish food regardless what you choose to order. You can choose from a selection including Jabugo ham with broad beans, shrimp in garlic sauce, and hake with green sauce. You can also choose from several selections of roast lamb. The service is friendly, and the food is fabulous. METRO: La Latina (91-365-32-52)
4 Taberna del Zapatero
Named after its charming location in an old shoemaker's shop, this boisterous tavern is festooned with old tools of the cobbler's trade. In homage to the restaurant's origins, its signature flat little canap�s are known as suelas or shoe soles. The broad bar is always heaving with rowdy clients having a quick cold ca�a of beer. The tapas are well-priced and classic: ensaladilla rusa (egg mayonnaise salad), patatas bravas (french fries with a spicy sauce) and anchovies and tomatoes stuffed with cod brandade, along with more modern snacks like asparagus with brie. Metro: La Latina (91-364-0721)
3 Casa Labra
Casa Labra has special historical significance because the Spanish Socialist party was established here in 1879. When you enter, you'll get the impression that the dark wood interior and Spanish-style d�cor appears to have changed very little over the past 100 or so years, and this just adds to the tavern's charm. Even today, the restaurant still maintains a special place in the hearts and of Madrid's locals and visitors. In addition, their stomachs do not forget its great tapas menu and traditional Spanish cuisine that features cod fritters. METRO: Sol. (91-531-0081)
2 Antonio Sanchez (Tabernas)
The original owner, a bullfighter, took the tapas bar's name in honor of his son who was killed in the ring. The walls still display bullfighting paraphernalia, and the conversation within often turns to the best bullfighters. You can order from a slew of different tapas, including garlic soup or smoked fish montaditos and the salad comes free with your drink. The friendly environment is sure to please. METRO: Tirso de Molina (91-539-7826)
1 Casa Paco
Casa Paco is Madrid's finest steak house. The meat is exquisite, and the service mirrors the quality of food. Casa Paco's trademark is that all steaks are served on plates hot enough to continue to cook the meat while it is at your table. There are other options besides steak, including sole or baby lamb. Don't forget to finish with a tantalizing dessert that can't be resisted! METRO: Tirso de Molina (91-366-31-66)
About Sarah Rogers
Born and raised in northern California, Sarah grew up to become an expat, traveler and wordsmith. She lived for seven years in Madrid, Spain and now calls Buenos Aires, Argentina home. She has had the privilege of visiting 15 countries and working as a writer, editor and translator doing what she loves best: facilitating intercultural communication through the written word.
Read more about Sarah Rogers here.