I don’t want to waste your time so I will give you as much info as I can summarize here and if you feel like reading more on my opinion about the local specialties of Madrid, you can read the next text.
Whenever I want to have a good meal, I go to international restaurants. I’m not a big fan of the local gastronomy.
If I want to have a good steak at a very fair price, I go to De Maria Parrilla in Opera or Sol and ask for the bar menu for 10€ or 12,50€ and I’ll have an appetizer, main course with a very good meat, a side dish, a drink and dessert. They also serve a great chimichurri sauce with bread. All included in the price.
De Maria Parrilla Opera: Plaza Isabel II, 8 – 28013
De Maria Parrilla Sol: Carrera de San Jerónimo, 5 – 28014
I find it kinda funny that you go to a good looking (even fancy) bar or restaurant and it’s very typical that your fellows will order a portion of Huevos Rotos, which is a dish with potatos topped by sunny side up eggs and prosciutto. Or Patatas Bravas, which is potatos with a pink sauce1 on top.
Then we have the bocadillos (sandwiches). You can never go wrong with a sandwich, but one of the typical Madrid bocadillos is the Bocadillo de calamares. They serve fried calamari here as a sandwich filling. I find it to be way too dry. I love calamari but I like to eat it (without bread) fried with lemon, tartar sauce and tomato sauce dips. Here even if you order a side dish, they only serve it with lemon. I kinda miss the dips.
You will notice a typical smell of fried food in the bar/restaurant areas of Madrid. In a nutshell, what Madrileños order to go along with their cañas (beers) are “raciones” of fried calamari, cheese and prosciutto, potatos with the pink sauce or with the eggs on top (patatas bravas and huevos rotos), pork ear (pincho de oreja), codfish carpaccio (bacalao), fried breaded baby squids (chopitos), fried shrimp, octopus with hot paprika and potatos (pulpo a la gallega), deep fried dough with a hint of ham (croquetas) and a few other things.
If you enjoy always trying the local specialties when you travel, you can give it all a try. However, if you are like me, which means you do enjoy trying the local specialties but you prefer to go for what you don’t have back home, you could skip the potatos and the eggs. But anyway, this topic was more to let you know what you’re gonna find in the menus of the classic Madrid bars when you come.
Note: If you want to eat a Paella, make sure they are homemade. A lot of restaurants sell a brand of frozen paellas that they only put on the microwave, overcharge you and serve. These are not good.
Usually they will present those pre-made frozen paellas in a menu like that:
So double check with the waiter if it’s genuinely homemade 😉
Depending on the number of days you have to explore Madrid, you could also try restaurants that serve food from other regions of Spain: Cocina Asturiana or Vasca for example.
If you like Indian food, you have a good opportunity to take a walk in the young neighborhood of Lavapiés before stopping to eat. It’s a very interesting neighborhood to admire the architecture of the short buildings and the narrow streets. I find it to be very “Spanish” even though it’s a multicultural area.
Churros con chocolate 2. Another Madrid specialty.
Anyway, you have all kinds of ethinical restaurants at your disposal as well. Bear in mind that most of the restaurants you will find when you walk will be the caña and fried stuff style. If you want a real meal, such as a good fish or meat, you will find restaurants, only the bill can be a little salty (depending where you come from). For lunch you might find good deals such as menus or all-you-can-eat buffet for 10€ (not very common but you can find some in the touristic areas). If you are one a tight budget, check out this post. Madrid is not like Paris or Switzerland, but sometimes it’s not as cheap as one may think, depending on where you come from. It’s definitely more expensive than Berlin for instance.
The nice short walk ending in a cañas, tapas and tostas tour (for all budgets)…
As I promised, I’ll close the post with a suggestion for you. It comprises of a very nice walking starting from Plaza del Sol through the charming neighborhood of La Latina (Please guys, admire the architecture of the city during your walk. It’s so nice!) and ends in a tapas tour. You go to the right of the Plaza del Sol street and pass by Calle Toledo until you end up in Calle Cava Alta (use a GPS or ask around). There you go. You should be very pleased by now for the short walking tour you just did. Isn’t Madrid beautiful? Now, before starting your Tapas tour at xxxxxxx Street, I want you to go take a look at this bar in front of this church at Calle xxxxxxx. Nice, huh? You can have a caña there just for the sake of the atmosphere or you can go back and start the tapas tour on Calle xxxxxxx.
To be continued…..
Once again, watch for the Tourist traps, which are restaurants that put bread on your table only to charge 1,50€ per roll after you ate them, restaurants that charge for hidden fees that almost double your bill and the typical “extra” cañas mistakenly added to your check. If you haven’t read the post, I recommend you do. 😉
1What gives the pink tone of the Patatas Bravas sauce is sweet paprika, chili powder and tomato sauce.
2This page talks more about Churros con Chocolate, such as addresses and prices in Madrid.