Madrid is a culinary haven. From humble tapas bars and open-air markets to high-end establishments, it’s impossible to not feast in the vibrant Spanish capital. We’ve rounded up the top places for travelers to dine on any budget. ¡Que aproveche!
Best cheap eats
Once you manage to elbow your way through this normally packed place just off Gran Vía, you’ll be rewarded with a wide assortment of innovative tortillas (Spanish omelettes) and croquetas (croquettes), like the brie, truffle and jamón tortilla, and croquettes with monkfish and salsa verde. Pez Tortilla also offers a wide selection of craft beers and vermouth.
Takos Al Pastor
Popular at any time of the day, this authentic Mexican taquería peddles assorted tacos at only 1 euro ($1 USD) each. A long line usually snakes outside the restaurant during busy lunch and dinner hours, but it goes pretty fast. After ordering, patient customers sit down at tables and have their orders served to them personally. Margaritas and micheladas (traditional spicy Mexican beer cocktails) wash the flavours down perfectly.
This no-frills haunt at the heart of the gay-friendly Chueca neighbourhood is a favourite for a budget-conscious set. For every drink order, either a beer or a tinto de verano (similar to a sangria), they serve a huge plate of Spanish tapas, usually a tortilla, Spanish ham, chorizo or patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy sauce).
Best high-end dining
This enigmatic Valencian restaurant is half-hidden in the shadows of an unremarkable street. Once inside, you’ll be treated to an avant-garde setting with suspended laboratory equipment and artfully hung laundry. They’re known for their patella rice — an innovative twist on the classic paella and smoked salmon, which go perfectly with various wines from their fine selection.
Basque chef/owner Iñaki designed a “choose your own culinary adventure” structure wherein he sits down at every table to tailor customers’ menus according to their taste and experiential preference, starting with the question: “Hunger, craving or enjoyment?” chef Iñaki suggests seasonal Spanish dishes with such flourish that makes everything sound mouthwatering. A memorable dining experience from appetizer to dessert.
Minimalist, contemporary interiors, exposed brick and candlelight set the mood for a unique culinary experience, where classic Spanish ingredients are given a creative twist, like Galician sea urchin topped with a creamy sauce américaine served on a bed of stones and Iberian beef cheeks brioche with summer truffles. It may sound lofty, but it is far from pretentious thanks to the lively, social atmosphere.
Best “Centenarios” — restaurants over a 100-years-old
El Sobrino de Botín
The world’s oldest restaurant according to the Guinness World Records, where the likes of Hemingway and Goya frequented, serves excellent cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) and cordero asado (roast lamb) cooked in its original cast-iron wood-fired oven. If you can navigate through the tourists, it’s worth venturing down the basement steps to see a gloriously dusty 16th-century cellar still intact.
A stone’s throw from Plaza de la Puerta del Sol is this iconic restaurant that hasn’t changed much since the Romantic era, retaining its original chandeliers, varnished wallpaper and gilded fixtures. Lhardy is well-known for serving elevated versions of traditional Spanish cuisine such as cocido (chickpea stew) and callos a la madrileña (beef tripe and sausage stew).
Posada de la Villa
This historic restaurant along Cava Baja in the La Latina neighborhood was originally established as a traveler’s inn, replacing Madrid’s only existing flour mill back in the 17th century. A grand wood-fired oven is the restaurant’s centerpiece that still cooks the house specialty — roast lamb — after over three centuries.
Discover Spanish tapas
This lively local favourite is a great gathering spot where you can share good quality traditional tapas such as tostas (toasted bread with toppings), artisanal anchovies and empanadas. Giving a modern twist to a traditional beer garden, El Enfriador offers a good selection of beers, Spanish wine and cava (sparkling wine) at friendly prices to last until the final call.
Stylish and modern, Lateral is an ubiquitous dining chain that offers a wide range of excellent tapas and pintxos, or small plates, at very reasonable prices. Some great dishes to share are the brie and caramelized onion tosta, meatballs, tortilla and calamares (deep fried squid). This bustling local hotspot attracts everyone from the working crowd to entire families on weekends.
This cozy stopover in the colourful Lavapies barrio offers an excellent selection of tapas and wine at great prices. It’s easy to forget time slipping by while enjoying exquisite Iberian ham and gilda, a typical Basque appetizer with olives, anchovies and peppers. The friendly bar staff are so welcoming you’ll feel at home straightaway.
Best over-the-counter dining
Sala de Despiece
This upbeat industrial space in trendy Calle Ponzano with long bar counters and an open kitchen pays homage to fresh produce. Here, every order is skilfully prepared in front of you by affable staff. Try the bestselling Rolex – pancetta with truffled egg yolk or, for a fiery table show, choose the Trufa Coreana – a Korean-style beef stuffed with kimchi and ensconced in melting beef fat.
Evolving from a humble food truck to a rudimentary open kitchen in a corner of Mercado Vallehermoso, Kitchen 154 is always packed with locals enjoying spicy fare prepared sous vide, a French cooking technique employing vacuum sealed bags submerged in a precisely-heated water bath. Must-try dishes include their signature slow-cooked ribs with homemade kimchi, black pepper hake and chilli beef dumplings.
Best vegetarian and vegan-friendly spots
A haven for hummus lovers in the Chueca barrio. This healthy, vegetarian-friendly restaurant specializes in different varieties of hummus made fresh everyday, crisp salads and vegetable tapas, given a distinct Middle Eastern twist. The interplay of spices, herbs and music make for an intoxicating atmosphere not unlike a Mediterranean market.
Vegans, vegetarians and those with food intolerances will love this green mecca with creative and carefully-thought out dishes plated beautifully. The menu is sumptuous even for the non-plant-based set, with dishes such as beet hummus, quinoa mixed salads, mushroom and kimchi croquettes, tofu and spinach meatballs and Beyond Meat steak tartare.
Flax & Kale
Plant-based burgers and ramen, veggie curries, fresh poke bowls and fruit smoothies — this sustainability-conscious flexitarian eatery near the famed Santiago Bernabéu stadium upholds ingredients of the highest quality. Not only do they have a delectable plant-based menu, they also source food from local providers, recycle and hire diverse staff. Call it good food for the body and soul.