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The ten best places for foodies in Barcelona

Barcelona is one of the best European cities for foodies, where you can find everything from Michelin starred greatness to restaurants that have been in the same family for generations. Barcelona expert Rob Dobson tells us his top ten foodie favourites.

The ten best places for foodies in Barcelona
Barcelona is a foodie paradise. Photo: www.hofmann-bcn.com

Barcelona is one of the best European cities for foodies. You’ll find Michelin starred greatness from the likes of Mey Hofmann, Xavier Franco, Carme Ruscalleda and of course, Ferran Adrià; yet around the corner a restaurant that has been in the same family, serving the same great food for generations.

Barcelona features cuisine from around the world and restaurants are fusing Catalan, Japanese, Brazilian, Vietnamese and everything in between.

The list below is by no means definitive. But hopefully there are a few places you haven’t read about in your average guidebook that you fancy trying the next time you’re here.

1.      El Vaso de Oro, Barceloneta

Photo: vasodeoro.com

This bustling tapas place at the top of Barceloneta has been serving great tapas for over 50 years so they must be doing something right. The bar is long and narrow and chances are you’ll be eating standing up while jostling with other customers for the attention of the busy staff. This place is all about the food and the atmosphere.

2.      Saboc, El Born

Saboc is a relatively new restaurant in El Born serving above average tapas dishes. The menu is split into food served at different temperatures and is based on four types of cooking: raw, low temperature, with stoves, and with griddles. Everything is beautifully presented and the flavours are stunning.

3.      Caravelle, El Raval
Barcelona's new fad is is all about brunch and Caravelle is one of the stars. But this is no ordinary café. Owner Zim is constantly on the move, brewing, baking, brining or pickling. Breakfast, lunch, coffee, cocktails and dinner are on offer. Be sure to check out Galactic Sundays for tacos, crispy squid tostadas and the delicious house brew, Galactic Pale Ale.

4.      Casa Lucio, Sant Antoni
Only go to Casa Lucio if you are happy to be led. There are no menus and even the blackboard is short of any prices. The wine is excellent and never more than about €20 a bottle. Patrick (who speaks English) and Lucio (who doesn’t) will ask you what you like and suggest some dishes from what’s being made that night and they will choose the wine for you too. The bar area has an eclectic selection of cheeses and cold tapas for you to try too. The restaurant at the back is the same deal. Home cooked food served with passion. If a little on the pricey side.

5.      La Muscleria, Eixample

Photo: James/Flickr 

If you like mussels then La Muscleria is well worth a visit. This basement restaurant in the Eixample is homage to the little molluscs that come with a long list of preparations. Among them is cider, wine, cava or beer; ginger, curry, pesto or mustard. The curried ones are a particular favourite.

6.      Maitea, Eixample
If you’ve never tried pinchos before then Maitea is the place to discover them. Pintxos (in Basque) are small slices of baguette with a variety of toppings held together by a cocktail stick (the pincho in question). At the end of your feed the waiter will count up the sticks and charge accordingly. All very honest and civilised. The array and quality of the toppings is what makes this Basque restaurant one of the best pincho places in Barcelona.

7.      Taverna Hoffman, Eixample

Photo: www.hofmann-bcn.com

The restaurant of the great Mey Hofmann, this is modern Catalan cuisine at its best. The staff here are excellent – friendly, knowledgeable, attentive – and the food just makes you smile. For a special meal with food that you want to talk about but is not outrageously priced, make a point of visiting Taverna Hofmann.

8.      Can Kenji, Eixample
If you love sushi and you also enjoy watching it be prepared then sit at the bar at Can Kenji. This small Japanese restaurant serves some of the best sushi in town and their other Japanese dishes are equally good. This place feels like a Japanese kitchen and often with a fair share of Japanese, which is always a good sign. They offer good value lunch menus during the week too.

9.      La Pubilla, Gràcia
And while we’re talking of good value lunch menus they don’t come much better than La Pubilla in Gràcia. The quality of the food on offer at this small Catalan restaurant next to Mercat de la Llibertat is simply stunning. Get there early as by 1.30 the place starts to fill up and the line often goes out the door. If you can’t get there for the lunch menu do not worry, it’s open in the evening too.

10.  La Royale, La Bonanova

Photo: www.laroyale.es

We end with a hamburger restaurant. But this isn’t just any hamburger restaurant. La Royale likes to pair its burgers with 'gintonics' and has an array of gins that any gin bar would be proud of. The burgers from around the world using Wagyu beef, Angus beef, ostrich, bison and tuna that is minced on the premises at 0°C. Accompany this with some great starters and three different types of potato offerings and you’re on to a winner.

So there you have it. Ten places in Barcelona where you’re sure to experience good food in a great setting.

Bon profit! (as they say in Catalan).

Rob Dobson is a digital marketing consultant from London who now lives in Barcelona. You can read more about Barcelona on his blog at www.homagetobcn.com or on Twitter at @H2BCN.

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FOOD & DRINK

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Not everywhere will offer you free tapas in Spain, but there are some cities where the tradition lives on. Read on to find out where they are, how you can get a free 'tapa' and the slight differences between each place.

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture, not only because of the gastronomical aspect but because of the social aspect of sharing dishes too. 

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

A ‘tapa’ was a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink and usually came free. 

The tradition of free tapas has died out across much of Spain, but there are still some cities where it is alive and well. Most of these cities can be found in three regions – the eastern part of Andalusia, Castilla y León and Galicia. 

READ ALSO: Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day

Granada

Granada is the undisputed king of free tapas in Spain, famed for its offerings which can be anything from a piece of Spanish tortilla to almost a whole meal, such as a mini burger and fries or small fried fish. It works like this – each time you buy a drink, you will be given a free tapas dish. If you order consecutive drinks in the same bar, each of the tapa dishes you get will be different. Free tapa will come with everything from beer and wine to soft drinks and sparkling water, but not with coffee or tea. Keep in mind that the price of drinks in Granada is slightly higher than in some Spanish cities, which helps to cover the cost of the food.

Calle Navas, Calle Virgen del Rosario and the area around the Cathedral offer some of the best tapas in the city. Remember that if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, ask for una tapa vegetariana o tapa vegana. While most bars in the city should have a suitable alternative, some of the more rough and ready ones might not, or you may just get something simple like bread and cheese. One of Granada’s best-loved vegetarian tapas dishes is berenjena con miel (deep fried aubergine drizzled with treacle). 

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain

Almería

Just southeast of Granada on the coast, Almería is another of Spain’s great free-tapas cities. The tradition is a little different here than in other Spanish cities because you get to choose your tapa instead of just getting a surprise. Many of the tapas menus here are vast and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It could be anything from a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion montadito (small sandwich) to paté on toast. Almeríans love their toast, so don’t be surprised if you find many different variations of topped toasts on the menu.

You’ll also have to speak up here, waiters will often come over to ask for your drink order, but not come back and ask for your tapa order. It’s best to tell your waiter what you want when your drinks arrive.

You may be able to get a free pulpo (octopus) tapa in Galicia. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Jaén

The city and province of the same name to the north of Granada is also known for its tapa gratis when ordering a drink. Like in Granada, here you’ll be given the tapa of the house and generally won’t be given a choice in what you get. The prices of beers here are not as high as in Almería, but tapas portions are generally pretty generous, meaning you can easily have enough for dinner by going to just a few places.

Dishes here may include a plate of migas (fried breadcrumbs or flour with pieces of meat and fried peppers) or morcilla (blood sausage or black pudding). You can try asking for a vegetarian or vegan tapa here too, but the bars may not be as accommodating as the ones in Granada and may not have so many options, although they will try with what they have. 

León

It’s not just the eastern provinces of Andalusia where you can get free tapas. One of the best foodie cities in northern Spain that has carried on this tradition is León. Some of the most typical tapas dishes you may be served here include patatas leonesas (León-style potatoes), or morcilla de León (blood sausage or black pudding from León).

During the pandemic, a few bars in León started charging around €0.30 to €0.50 for tapas, but you’ll be happy to know that the majority of them still offer it for free. Bars will generally charge less for the wine, beers and other drinks here than in Granada too. The best places to go are around the famed Barrio del Húmedo or the Barrio Romántico. There are even some bars that will offer free tapas with your coffee order for breakfast here, which is unheard of elsewhere. 

Ávila

In almost every bar in Ávila you will be served a free tapa along with your drink. You’re unlikely to be served a simple piece of bread with a topping, here the dishes are almost like mini meals. Much of the cuisine here is based on meat, so you might expect a small plate of stewed wild boar or kidney with potatoes.

You will also find that they’re pretty big compared to free tapas in some other cities and filling too, but along with that, you will be paying slightly above average for your drink. The best street to head to for free tapas here is Calle San Segundo.

Alcalá de Henares

There may only be some bars left in Madrid that will offer you a free tapa with your drink, but head just east to the student town of Alcalá de Henares and you’ll find that they’re given out freely. Lots of places here will let you choose what you want too. You’ll pay above average for a caña here, around 3, but for that you’ll get a fairly decent tapa which could include patatas bravas, burgers or scrambled eggs with potatoes.

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Santiago de Compostela

When you’ve finally completed the Camino, what could be better than sitting down to a nice cold beer and plate of free tapas? The majority of bars here offer simple tapa such as a piece of bread with some type of meat on top, such as jamón or sausage or a small slice of tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette).

Lugo
Another Galician place, known for offering free tapas is the walled city of Lugo. Here you’ll be given a free snack with your glass of Albariño wine or beer. Lugo’s tapas scene works differently from elsewhere too, here a waiter will come around with a tray of various types of dishes and you’ll select the one you like the look of best. These may include anything from pulpo (octopus) to empanadas (Galician-style pies), tortilla rellena (filled omelette) or anchoas (anchovies).

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