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Madrid food secrets: Where to have the best culinary experiences

What makes Madrid such a great place to visit? Apart from the weather, history, culture and the affordability, there is also the food!

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There are several reasons as to why you would visit Madrid.

The weather is magnificent, and although a little warm in summer, it has long periods of sunshine throughout the year. There are plenty of tapas bars, cafes and restaurants, which take advantage of the glorious sunshine with plenty of outside, casual dining and imbibing.

Let’s not forget Madrid’s and Spain’s proud history. The Spanish “discovered” and then created colonies in almost every South and Central American country. They were a dominant sea power for centuries. The museums and palaces of Madrid reflect this.

And then there is the culture. How about flamenco dancing and the artists of Spain going back hundreds of years right up to the present time? And don’t underestimate the influence of the Moors. You can see these influences in the stunning architecture throughout the city. Is there a more beautiful street anywhere than the Gran Via?

And the biggest bonus about visiting Madrid? It’s the affordability! Seriously, you get all of this at incredibly affordable prices. I’m struggling to think of another Western European city that compares to Madrid on price. Madrid even makes most Asian cities now look expensive.

And then there is the food and drink. Madrid surely has the cheapest wine prices anywhere in the world. It’s the bargain of the century! And speaking of food and wine, let’s move onto our Madrid Food Guide. Yes, we are certainly not local, but this Madrid Food Guide includes recommendations from our AirBnB host, together with a few we discovered ourselves.

Madrid food guide

We traveled to Madrid with much anticipation. For Elizabeth, this was her third trip to the Spanish capital, having traveled there previously in her young, adult life. And, for Mark, it was his first visit. The anticipation of tasting authentic, Spanish food in Madrid was growing for weeks before leaving for this trip.

One of the surprises waiting for us on checking in to our AirBnB apartment in Madrid was an extremely comprehensive listing of places to visit. This included tapas bars, restaurants, trendy eateries, eateries off the beaten path, places to drink and dance, museums, markets and flamenco places. So, we already had a great start for putting together this Madrid Food Guide. One of the advantages of a great AirBnB host!

It was all put together by someone who knows the ins and outs of Madrid and featured many places off the beaten path, which would only be known by locals. As we have previously written, locals tend not to write reviews on TripAdvisor for restaurants and eateries in their own city. So, local secrets remain just that—secret!

For sure, some of the establishments we feature below are frequented by tourists, but many of them are hidden gems, with a price to match. We took full advantage of our wonderful time in Madrid, making sure we hit the restaurants and tried the foods for which this city is famous. Our Madrid Food Guide details our favorite culinary experiences in this wonderful city.

One of the highlights of any trip in Madrid is the gastronomic experience of tapas. From old-school establishments to modern day hang out, we've listed down some of the best places to go for your tapas fix. (Photo by Salomé Chaussure via Flickr. CC BY 2.0)

One of the highlights of any trip in Madrid is the gastronomic experience of tapas. From old-school establishments to modern day hang out, we’ve listed down some of the best places to go for your tapas fix. (Photo by Salomé Chaussure via Flickr. CC BY 2.0)

Where Madrid locals eat tapas

Surely, one of the culinary highlights of visiting Madrid is to experience the wonderful world of tapas. Tapas bars are springing up everywhere around the world. And why not? It’s a casual and very social method of eating.

In Madrid, most tapas bars specialize in just a few menu items. People come after work to enjoy a drink and some tapas before moving onto the next tapas bar and ordering their specialty. It is worth noting that restaurants in Valencia take a different approach when it comes to tapas.

Here are some of our favorite tapas establishments and the foods we tasted:

La Cerveceria Cervantes

This is the place to come for excellent mushrooms (setas)—large mushrooms which just melt in your mouth. And I do believe there was more than a good hint of garlic! And, because we are in Madrid, you receive free tapas each time you order a drink. That might be a small plate of green olives (they are legendary in Spain) or maybe some spicy chorizo.

La Cerveceria Cervantes is busy, so you may wait for a table. But the mushrooms are worth it. You can find it at Plaza de Jesus, 5.

Cerveceria Alamena

Here you will find some tourists given its location. This place has old-world charm in spades and looks like something out of a movie. This business has been around since 1904, and indeed there is a movie connection as it was apparently a great favorite of Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway. That man did get around! Here, the waiters wear ties, white shirts, and tasteful, black aprons to fit in with the old-club ambiance.

You can also enjoy the delights of draft vermouth. Yes, vermouth, which is on tap and delightfully refreshing. We found draft vermouth everywhere in Madrid and really came to enjoy it. This is the place to enjoy Spanish tortilla (potato pie), another one of those special Spanish dishes. The tortilla was just out of this world and filling. The calamari and meatballs (albondigas) were also of the highest quality. Prices are a little higher here, but that isn’t surprising given the location and history of the place.

You will find Cerveceria Alemana at Plaza Santa Ana.

El Eltxoko

We discovered this place opposite the magnificent Mercato San Miguel (see our review below). It’s a small establishment but with some very high-class tapas. This place has a nice vibe and maybe the best service we encountered in Spain (service was good everywhere, but here, they went out of their way).

Our eyes were taken by the chalkboard sign indicating wild boar pate was on the menu. With a glass of cava each (Spanish sparkling white wine not dissimilar to prosecco), we could not have been happier.

You will find El Eltxoko at Plaza San Miguel, 7.

Alimentacion Quiroga

We came across this delicatessen and tapas bar on our way to an evening show of flamenco. So glad we did! It was Mark’s favorite tapas bar. The tapas are created from the cheeses, smallgoods and other culinary delights sold as part of the delicatessen. In the evening, Alimentacion Quiroga comes to life as a tapas bar. This was definitely a local’s favorite, and it was obvious the place was full of regulars. It was a charming experience in a very eclectic space. Alimentacion Quiroga was busy, but within a few minutes, we were seated.

The cheeses looked so good we couldn’t help ourselves and ordered a simple sheep’s cheese on toast and cheesy mushrooms. Yes, both menu items might sound simple, but when the ingredients are of such high quality, why not just keep it simple? Both dishes offered a tremendous depth of flavor. We both enjoyed a glass of cava and Mil Rios red. At 21 euros for four glasses of wine and two largish tapas, it was an excellent value and put us right in the mood for our late-night flamenco show.

You will find Alimentacion Quiroga at Calle Huertas, 19.

Taberna Txakolina

We discovered this great, neighborhood and family-oriented tapas bar on our last night in Madrid. Here, you can enjoy tapas and pinchos (tapas with toothpicks). This place was very social with a neighborhood bar feel. Again, it was full of regulars.

We enjoyed a gorgonzola croquette, which was absolutely to die for, and a blood sausage tortilla. Together with a large beer and large mineral, we paid only 11 euros. As I said earlier, Madrid is just fabulous value. Honestly, how can you beat that?

You can find Taberna Txakolina at Cava Baja 26.

Making tapas at home

In addition to featuring the great cuisines of the countries we visit, we also feature recipes so you can try these cuisines at home. With tapas being so popular now throughout the world, why not try making them yourself to see what all the fuss is about?

This is perfect if you are hosting a party and looking for some finger foods. The recipes are all tasty, quick and easy. Here are some other great ideas for tapas:

– Garlic prawns

– Spanish albondigas (meatballs)

– Garlic mushrooms

– Grilled calamari

San Miguel market or Mercado de San Miguel is the oldest and only iron structured market surviving today. (Photo by aiko99ann via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0)

San Miguel market or Mercado de San Miguel is the oldest and only iron-structured market surviving today. (Photo by aiko99ann via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0)

Food courts the Madrid locals frequent

They might be food courts, but they are very upmarket ones! Food courts might be a harsh description of the classy and up-market foods on offer. These two establishments featured independent stalls in large, modern spaces selling a range of tapas, as well as more substantial meals and a fabulous range of drinks. Both were of the highest quality.

If only all food courts would sell such high-quality foods at such honest prices and in such wonderful locations. Allow some time to wander through both food courts to “consider your options” before ordering what food and drink to enjoy.

El Corte Ingles Food Court–Gourmet Experience on the Gran Via

The flagship, El Corte Ingles department store in Madrid, is situated on the magnificent Gran Via. And, on the ninth floor of the store is this rather attractive and inviting food court—modern, high-quality décor and lots of glasses to take advantage of the views over Madrid. You can also just sit outside in the reasonably-sized outdoor area to take advantage of the sunny, Madrid weather.

Pasta, Mexican, tapas, gelati. There is no shortage of options here. There are also some fabulous bars if you just want to enjoy a drink or a glass of Spanish wine.

You will find the Gourmet Experience Gran Via at Plaza Callao 2 Planta 9. It’s just off the Gran Via and is open during the day and well into the evening.

San Miguel Market

No Madrid Food Guide could be complete without a reference to the magnificent San Miguel Market. Yes, this is a little touristy, but this is just one of those Madrid icons you must visit. The market dates back to 1916 and is unique because it is the only iron-structured market surviving today. This heritage-listed building was totally renovated and re-opened in 2009. Now, there are 33 stalls offering very high-quality products, as well as a range of tapas, olives, jamon, and more substantial meals. There are a number of bars to take advantage of as well, including a roving bar to save you the trouble of waiting at the bar. What a great concept.

San Miguel Market is a more expensive option for your pocket than other selections in this Madrid Food Guide, but the convivial atmosphere and the sheer magnificence of the structure make this a must visit.

La Dolores' friendly and cozy atmosphere is what will make you order more than one beer for the road. Not to mention free tapas coupled with every order of beer. (Photo by Tamorian via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 3.0)

La Dolores’ friendly and cozy atmosphere is what will make you order more than one beer for the road. Not to mention free tapas coupled with every order of beer. (Photo by Tamorian via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 3.0)

Bars Madrid locals go to

Our Madrid Food Guide also covers three Madrid bars for you to enjoy. You can’t go to Madrid and not visit one of these institutions. Spain is well known for its great range of red, white and sparkling wines, but our observation during our visit is beer (cerveza) is also popular. And the drinks are extremely affordable. If there is a more affordable city than Madrid to enjoy beer and wine, I’d like to know where it is because I haven’t found it yet!

La Dolores

La Dolores was my first experience in a Spanish bar. It was here that I realized how affordable and high-quality Spanish food and drinks are. This was our AirBnB host’s favorite bar in Madrid, and I can see why. We arrived at around 4:30, and the bar was humming with locals. There is seating, but we decided to stand at the bar and enjoy the busy vibe, as we just wanted a drink. Being built in 1908, the bar is full of wood paneling and old-fashioned, Spanish tiles. It looks like another movie set.

On ordering our “Dolores” beer, served in a clay mug, and a mineral water, we were also handed two chorizos tapas. Yes, the tapas were gratis. What a concept. No wonder the Spanish people are so relaxed! Order another drink? No problem, along comes another couple of tapas.

We really enjoyed La Dolores with its friendly atmosphere. You will find it at Plaza Jesus 4, and it is right next to La Cerveceria Cervantes for those wonderful garlic mushrooms.

Casa Revuelta

As our AirBnB informed us, here you will find the best cod in all of Madrid. As one who has sampled plenty of fish and chips in the U.K., where cod is very popular, I was dubious about this claim. But after tasting the cod at Casa Revuelta, we couldn’t agree more!

To be sure, Casa Revuelta is not a fine dining establishment. It is a local’s bar, a little sparse on the furniture and reminds me of old-fashioned, public bars in Australian pubs from the 1960s. But the drinks are affordable, the atmosphere convivial, and the beautifully crisp and golden, deep-fried cod might just be the best cod I have ever tasted. One draft beer and one draft sherry and two portions of cod for only 8 euros. How can you complain?

You will find Casa Revuelta at Calle Latoneros 3.

Tempranillo

Tempranillo is more a wine bar than anything else, with a huge array of wines to choose from. This bar doesn’t open until 7 p.m., and there was already a queue outside waiting for it to open. We ended up sitting at the bar, as all the tables were taken by those in front of us.

We enjoyed two glasses of red wine at Tempranillo, and yes out came some free tapas with a rather generous plate of sausage, sliced right there in front of us. You can also enjoy a meal here, and I noted they serve foie gras as one of the menu options.

You can find Tempranillo at Calle Cava Baja 38.

Cocida is a Spanish specialty soup dating back to the Middle Ages. It has a lot of ingredients that will make the dish a little bit overwhelming just by the sight of it. (Photo by Salvatore G2 via Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0)

Cocida is a Spanish specialty soup dating back to the Middle Ages. It has a lot of ingredients that will make the dish a little bit overwhelming just by the sight of it. (Photo by Salvatore G2 via Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0)

Some local Madrid restaurants serving specialty food

Our Madrid Food Guide has detailed some great places to enjoy tapas, food courts and bars. But now it is time to turn our attention toward restaurants. Here, we showcase three restaurants where you can enjoy some very special Spanish dishes.

But first a warning about eating hours in Madrid and Spain, in general. They eat late, very late! Many restaurants do not even open their doors until 9 p.m.! Don’t forget, in the late afternoon they enjoy tapas to keep them going. The thought of having a big meal and then going to bed does not appeal to me. Luckily, most restaurants are also open for lunch. So our suggestion, unless you prefer eating late, is to make lunch your main meal and enjoy some lighter tapas in the evening.

Our Madrid Dining Guide features three rather unique restaurants just full of locals enjoying typical Spanish cuisine.

Malacatin

If you want a unique dining experience in Madrid, go to Malacatin and order the cocida. Don’t order any appetizers, as you won’t be able to finish the cocida.

Cocida is a specialty of Madrid. This chickpea soup dates back to the Middle Ages. At Malacatin, it contains noodles, salted pork, cabbage and dried ham-flavored broth, dried ham, chickpeas and plenty of them, chicken, boiled potatoes, chilies, beef shank, gherkins, chorizo, spring onions and black pudding. It is substantial, and I feel full just writing that last sentence. And, I’m not sure we even got through half of it!

At 21 euros per head, it is a great value. The cocida is a life-changing experience. And, I am ashamed to admit, we ordered the cheesecake for dessert. It was the best crust for a cheesecake I have ever tasted.

Malacatin is a great little restaurant and visiting establishments like this reminds me of why we travel. The restaurant is at Ruda Nº 5 (next to Cascorro). Don’t forget to try the draft sherry here.

Posada de la Villa

This place just oozes atmosphere, and it is busy with happy diners, including numerous, large family groups. Located in an old but very attractive building, Posada de la Villa is a large restaurant over a couple of floors. The centerpiece is the old oven dating back to 1640. Yes, that’s how old this restaurant is! And the specialty here is wood-fired, roast lamb from the magnificent old oven.

We ordered the traditional roasted lamb for two being one whole quarter of a lamb. Wow, what a feast! The lamb was infused with the wood smoke from the oven. It was beautifully tender and a reminder of why lamb is, in my opinion, the best meat to roast with. If you want to try great roast lamb, don’t miss this opportunity.

You will find Posada de la Villa at Cava Baja 9. You need to make a reservation.

Casa Minga

Finally, to round out our Madrid Food Guide, you must try the roast chicken at Casa Minga. Casa Minga is a long walk or taxi ride from the center of Madrid, but it is well worth seeking out. It wins our award for the best-value restaurant in Madrid. In fact, I would say it is the best-value meal we have enjoyed in all of Europe.

The specialty here is roast chicken and apple cider (alcoholic). Yes, apple cider. All simple stuff but perfectly executed at an unbelievably good price. For 26 euros, we enjoyed two orders of roast chicken (a half chicken each), bread, mixed salad and two bottles of apple cider. The chicken was just perfect—crispy skin and wonderfully juicy on the inside.

Watching the waiters pour the cider from a great height was fascinating. In fact, we enjoyed our first bottle of sparkling cider so much the people at the table next to us persuaded us to try a bottle of still apple cider (what the English might call scrumpy). It was slightly cloudy, incredibly refreshing and matched our chicken perfectly.

You will find Casa Minga at Paseo de la Florida, 34.

And that completes our Madrid Food Guide. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. The food in Madrid is a highlight and is reason enough just to visit this wonderful city.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Elizabeth Rudd is one half of the talented team running the popular food and travel website Compass & Fork . Having traveled extensively for both business and pleasure Elizabeth has been fortunate to visit over 50 countries discovering some terrific food, wine and accommodation along the way.

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