Editor’s Note: Although you might imagine that two food lovers would have very similar jaunts where they savor mouthwatering bite-sized tapas, but with over 20,000 bars in Madrid, variety is easy to encounter.
Adrienne Smith, author of A Gastronomican in Madrid, is a self proclaimed: “former restaurant owner, sommelier, dubber, translator, writer, convincing at accents, prolific exaggerator, despicable speller, and former appallingly poor English teacher”, and joins us today to give us her take on fantastic spots to frequent in Madrid. (All locations are listed on the Catavino Map of Spain)
As far as must-have tapa places are concerned in Madrid, the best I can do would be to give you a list of some of my favorites in terms of variety and local flavor. There are so many great places to explore all over the city, but I will try to stick to areas that have a more touristic or cultural interest.
In the area around Plaza Santa Ana, my favorite place without a doubt is La Venencia, a narrow and very traditional looking sherry bar, complete with huge wooden casks, bottles that haven’t been dusted for years, if ever, and surliest waiters who keep track of what you’ve had in chalk on the top of the wooden bar. You pay at the end. They only have sherry here, (Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado and Oloroso), so don’t even think about ordering a coke unless you want to get sneered at; and I would recommend ordering one of each if there are a few of you, in order to try the different styles. As far as tapas go, try the cecina plate for delicious slices of cured beef, and the cheese and olives are always delish. Another in this area is Viña P, located directly on the Plaza Santa Ana. This family owned restaurant is famous for its bullfighting clientele and its great Spanish food. You can either have tapas at the bar or sit down to some carne roja a la piedra – sliced steak brought to you raw with a hot stone so that you can cook it yourself. Good raciones (bigger tapas for sharing) are the berenjenas fritas (fried eggplant), chopitos fritos (fried baby squid) and the trigueros (wild asparagus with a homemade aioli sauce).
My other favorite area for tapa-ing is Conde Duque. The area surrounding the old barracks is full of classic tapas places and then newer options with a more modern twist. El Maño is one of the most typical, on Calle La Palma (corner of Calle Acuerdo). They have vermouth on tap and a varied and very reasonably priced list of wines, all served in smallish glasses. The croquetas de jamon are homemade and some of the best in Madrid, and the patatas bravas, a Madrid specialty of fried potatoes with a spicy tomato based sauce are also excellent here. Drinks are always served with a tapa of morcilla, chorizo or big cured olives, but beware, don’t expect the service to be overly friendly and it get’s crowded, so it’s best to go early (8ish). Across the street, the Palmera has good tortilla and beautiful tiled walls. Also in the area, on C/Bernardo Lopez Garcia (between c/Amaniel and c/Limon) the Taberna del Norte has great simple tapas, a basic but good wine list, good ambiance and smiling young waitresses. Next door, Taberna Mayrit (number 11) has an amazing dish of roasted fresh artichokes with Iberian ham. It’s not cheap (around 17 euros) but if you like artichokes, it could change your life. Just one street over on C/Limon there are quite a few good places including a little one on the left hand side about halfway down the street. I only know it by the name Mariano’s, but I think that’s just what I call it, as that is the name of the guy who works there. A tiny place with only two tables, it specializes in shellfish, and the selection just depends on what they could get their hands on that day. The best thing to do is to stand near the bar and snack on some gambas a la plancha (grilled prawns) or whatever else Mariano recommends, while drinking some white Ribeiro or Albari?o wine from Galicia.
On the nearby C/Cristo, a small pedestrian alley that heads towards the Conde Duque palace, there are a number of little tapas places that are always buzzing with good atmosphere, food and wine. Enjoy!