Best Restaurants Madrid
TRAVEL GUIDES, CITY, ART, FOOD / MAY 20, 2016
MY 16 FAVORITE PLACES IN MADRID, SPAIN
I love Madrid. I love the vibrant, friendly Madrileños. I stay on Huertas Street in the Barrio de las Letras, Madrid’s oldest neighborhood and also one of its liveliest. A friend of mine has a few lovely rental apartments in a classic, completely refurbished building.
This neighborhood has a mix of shops, galleries, coffee houses, bars and excellent restaurants, from old tabernas to trendy tapas bars and everything in between. There are so many things to love about the Barrio de las Letras , you may not think to leave. Yet if you do, it is easy to walk to other parts of Madrid. It’s comfortable with our kids too; the scale feels safe, intimate. Plus, Huertas Street leads directly down to the Prado Museum and behind that, the grand Retiro Park. When you visit, check out a few of my favorite places in Madrid:
1. Maceiras: Colorful, whimsical decor and farm implements hang on the walls at Maceiras, which serves up rustic, Galician food. Menus are chalk scrawled on round wooden platters and the wait staff slices your bread at a hutch within the dining room. I like to go in the afternoon when it’s quiet and have soup with pimientos de padron. This is a relaxing place for a family meal before or after a trip to the museums along the Paseo del Prado, nearby. It’s small, so go in the off hours when it’s easier to get a table.
2. Casa Alberto: This is “old school” – 1827 old- and it occupies the bottom floor of a building where Cervantes is said to have written one of his books. Every detail in Casa Alberto says “traditional / taberna.” We wandered in very late one night and wedged ourselves in shoulder to shoulder with locals at the far end of the bar. We ordered vermouth and chatted with the bartender for awhile until we were led to a cozy table. We feasted on ravioli de calabacín relleno de carne y pate con salsa, which to our surprise, had not an ounce of pasta in it and shared a plate of Alberto’s famous rabo del toro.
3. La Musa: This is a trendy tapas bar in the Malasaña neighborhood and while it may be a bit out of the way, it’s totally worth it. This is a great opportunity to see another part of Madrid and hang out in a younger, hipster crowd. La Musa is small, lively (there is always great music playing), friendly, serves delicious food and the prices are good; it’s popular for a reason! Oh, and the sangria and mojitos are stellar.
4. Chocolat: When in Madrid, have chocolate con churros: homemade donuts served with a goblet of warm chocolate pudding. Dip them for breakfast, like the Spanish do, or very late, after a big night out, before heading home to bed. The guide books will all tell you to go to the very old and very famous Chocolatería de San Ginés, and you can go there when you are near Plaza Mayor. Like me, you may be amazed at the hustle and bustle and their ability to turn over satisfied customers at warp speed. But there are different kinds of chocolate and I prefer the chocolate at the smaller and less touristed Chocolat, in the Barrio de las Letras.
5. Mercado de San Miguel: This gorgeous indoor market is one of the coolest gathering places in Madrid. I first visited on a rainy Sunday during Christmas holidays and although it was crowded and nearly impossible to find space at the market tables and bars, the vibe was so festive, I’ll never forget it. Mercado de San Miguel is a carnival of Madrid’s best food and drinks, all in one place. You can get paella, oysters, newspaper cones filled with fried fish and vermouth on tap…there’s even a mozzarella bar. My favorites are seafood tapas from Llardy and a glass of cava from the one of the wine merchants. At el mercado with kids? There’s a gourmet pizza cart, scoops of fancy yogurt and more… here everyone can have what they want under one roof.
6. La Casa del Abuelo: If you like seafood drenched in garlic and olive oil, La Casa del Abuelo is for you. I usually stop in for a snack, rather than a whole meal. Order gambas al ajillo or gambas a la plancha, with a glass of sherry; It will be served with a basket of bread for sopping up the garlicy mess. There are plenty of good things on the menu, but these two are so delicious, I have never ordered anything else. (Btw: There are several locations very near to each other. The only difference is their seating arrangement. Walk into the classic tile and marble taberna if you’re in the mood to stand and the rustic cafe if you prefer to sit.)
7. Museo del Prado: Some people love the heavy handed Spanish paintings of “The Prado” and claim this museum as one of their favorites. I feel overwhelmed by the rooms upon rooms of large scale religious works but I love learning more about the Spanish painters, especially El Greco, Velázquez and Goya. To get started, check out Lonely Planet’s nice, little introduction here.
8. Estado Puro: If you’re like me, before you head into a museum with your family, you want to know where to get good food nearby. Estado Puro might be your answer. It’s located on the Paseo del Prado near the Prado and the Thyssen, so if you exit the galleries hungry, all you have to do is cross the street. The tapas is inventive, with some fancy molecular gastronomy mixed in, but the menu offers classics too (the gazpacho is amazing) and favorites to fill our boys (caesar salad, mini hamburgers and artisanal ice cream). The dining room room has a lounge vibe which I find relaxing and because it’s touristy, the menu is in both Spanish and English.
9. Museo del Jamon: This Madrid institution has several outlets and you will undoubtedly pass one as you wander through the center of Madrid. Museo del Jamon is an easy place to sample Spain’s famous ham and their sandwiches are great. I like the simple Serrano or Iberico on baguette, with a cup of beer and sometimes, a slice of Tortilla Espanola. Our kids order fresh squeezed orange juice.
10. Le Cabrera: I was tipped off to Le Cabrera by a local celebrity who loves great food and great cocktails under one stylish roof. Le Cabrera may be Madrid’s hottest cocktail bar now, but it’s still a friendly place with vintage decor, good vibes and some of the most delicious food in town. Go early and sit at the bar while chatting with the owner or go late and mix with fashionable Madrid’s movers and shakers.
11. Flea Markets: I love to visit great flea markets. My passions for people watching, street photography and historical curios all come together here. I also like stumbling toward new words in Spanish; my vocabulary doesn’t extend to things like, say, Spanish Revolutionary slogans. But it’s fun to fumble. For a full list of Madrid’s flea markets, look here.
12. Populart: The Barrio de las Letras is lively at night; people flood the narrow streets walking from one restaurant or bar to another. At some point in the evening, you may hear live music wafting out onto Huertas Street from well loved Populart Jazz Cafe. If you like what you hear, go in and stand at the bar. This is an intimate place where people really listen to the music. There’s no cover (they’ve added €1-2 to the price of each drink) and the musicians are generally outstanding. To get a seat you’ll have to arrive in advance; shows generally start around 10pm. I like to duck in for part of the show because there’s so much to enjoy in Madrid at night; being spontaneous works for me.
13. Botin: Shortly after arriving in Spain I re-read all of Hemingway’s novels and made of list of restaurants featured in them, just for fun. Botin is one of those, which is host to a meal of suckling pig and rioja alta in A Sun Also Rises, but has actually been around even longer- it claims to be the world’s oldest restaurant, established in 1725. Amazingly, it is still a favorite spot in Madrid and the food is excellent. You’ll have to jockey for a seat with other tourists, but it’s worth it. Or plan ahead and make reservations online here.
14. Del Diego: For classic cocktails, including Gin Tonics, Del Diego is my favorite. The bar is owned by Fernando Del Diego and his two sons, David and Fernando, and your drink will be mixed with precision by one of them; they don’t mess around. Here you can have the Caipirinha, Gimlet or Martini of your life in a stylish, mid last century lounge (think “Mad Men”). You may want to try their namesake: the Diego (vodka, advocaat, apricot brandy and lime.)
15. El Retiro Park (aka Parque del Retiro or El Buen Retiro): Make time to visit this “Park of Pleasant Retirement.” Stroll along its tree-lined promenades or rent bikes and pedal around (our children love this!) This is one gorgeous city park. Mingle with locals, listen to street performers (in tourist season, you might catch some excellent flamenco), boat around the lake… on a hot summer day find respite in the shade of the park’s mini forests.
16. La Rotunda: After all this fun, you might need a good cup of coffee. I rarely recommend hotel restaurants, but I will make an exception for La Rotunda, in the Westin Palace. Here you can sip café cortado (or anything else you’d like; they have a full menu) under a gorgeous stained glass cúpula while you instagram your favorite shots of the day.
Take my list + map with you. Click to launch in google maps. Have fun!