A TAPAS CHEATSHEET (3 : Where to go) - A guide to tapassing in Madrid by Adventurous Appetites.
Here is the third in our series of short articles designed to help you on your quest for the best tapas in Madrid with help on how to do it, how to ask for it, what to order and where to go.
(Disclaimer: Covid-19 has decimated the restaurant/bar industry with many bars struggling to adapt and survive, and things change on an almost daily basis. Activity such as elbowing into crowded bars is obviously not currently appropriate, and while the bars mentioned below are places we love and we hope they will be back up and thriving after the pandemic, we cannot guarantee that they will be operating at the moment. Please do check in advance. We will endeavour to update this list as soon as we return to some degree of normality.)
A lot of what tapassing is all about is moving from bar to bar trying the best food and drink in each.
With the highest density of bars per square metre in Europe, you really have a plethora of places to choose from in Madrid and at times it can be a bit overwhelming distinguishing the good from the ordinary!
As a general rule, look for those bars with lots of locals of all ages in them, and with, dare I say it, a fair smattering of discarded serviettes on the floor!
Elbow your way to the bar, grab a drink and your free tapas, keeping your eyes open for mouth-watering dishes other clients are consuming... Order a couple (if necessary just point and smile)... If nothing really makes you salivate, have another drink or pay up and move on to the next bar...
If you want to see how it's done before you venture out on your own, do join Adventurous Appetites' Madrid Tapas Tour, but here we give you a few great areas to go for tapas with a couple of suggestions on bars, but really just GET OUT AND EXPLORE!!!
Where are the best areas to go for tapas in Madrid?
1) La Latina.(map)
Famed for its Sunday morning fleamarket the "Rastro", this is a great area where there are loads of bustling squares, such as Plaza San Andres or Plaza de la Paja, to sit outside on and watch the world go by. An easy walk from the Plaza Mayor, La Latina has 100s of bars and really is a place to enjoy bar-hopping. You will find everyone has different favourites but you should definitely explore Calle Cava Baja, which is just stuffed with bar after bar after bar...! Try "El Tempranillo" for wines and Spanish stuff, order the traditional Huevos Rotos (ham, egg and chips Spanish style) in Taberna los Huevos de Lucio (not Casa Lucio which is opposite and, as a favourite of the former Spanish King, is a much more formal, sit-down eating establishment) and seek out "Juana La Loca" for a more modern take on tapas and pintxos, with a melt-in-your-mouth tortilla, + explore!!!
2) Huertas/Barrio de las Letras. (map)
Grab a seat on a terrace for a bit of al fresco tapassing on Plaza Santa Ana - the Cerveceria Alemana (lit. German beer bar but actually very Spanish!) offers very no-nonsense, traditional fare, which you can still wash down with a German beer if it takes your fancy, inside or out. Duck down the picturesque side-streets of the old literary quarter, where Cervantes, of Don Quijote fame, and other famous Spanish writers and playwrights lived and died! Calle Huertas itself offers a great selection of eateries and after-dinner drink bars. Do check out Taberna Maceiras, a very down to earth, good value, Galician restaurant, where you sit on low wooden stools drinking the traditional white albariño wine out of ceramic bowls as you pick from a menu handwritten on wooden boards. Then, I am not really so much of an "artistic" tapas type of person, but a great and different place is el Triciclo which mixes very traditional with modern, and fuses Spanish with South American/Asian flavours. It has a more informal bar eating area and then a slightly more formal dining area and offers full, half and third platefuls so you can try lots of different stuff. Or go for an after-dinner cocktail or a "submarino" (a glass of very hot milk with 80% chocolate bars sunk into it) in classic Casa Pueblo.
3) Calle Ponzano. (map)
A little further from the very centre of Madrid, this area has become hugely popular with locals. 72 bars in 1km, it has something for everyone, whether you are looking for pintxos from the Basque country, sherry from Andalusia, an annual route of vermut (red martini - for an overview of some of the bars in Spanish, check out the Martini guide from last year or look at the bars with pictures in El guia del Ocio de El País)!! Not actually in Ponzano itself but in the parallel street is the very traditional Casa Paulino if you are looking for some no nonsense, good quality, incredibly Spanish food. If you are into your wines you must visit Taberna Averias with is mix of modern lamps, white shelving and old fashioned chalk boards and most importantly more than 400 wines to try, along with a few great tapas. You really are spoilt for choice in this area so just keep popping in and out of the bars that grab your eye!
4) Ibiza. (map)
If you stroll through the Retiro park with its green, tree-lined avenues and boating lake (a very recommendable activity) and come out the other side, you will come to the zone of Ibiza, which, just out of the path of your normal tourist, has more and more to offer on the tapas front every day, and has really turned into one of the principle tapassing areas for Madrileños in the city centre. It has a real variety of places which perhaps tend more towards the modern and fashionable, but generally base themselves upon classic Spanish cuisine. If you fancy a bit of cider, do try Couzapin, which is a great place to go for real quality Asturian food, with an informal bar area for picking at things and a large restaurant at the back if you prefer to sit down and really "ponerte las botas" (lit: put on your boots but means "stuff yourself")!!! With a modern feel, a light atmosphere, classic food with an up-to-date touch, and a good selection of beers, it is really worth trying out Casa de Fieras right next to the park (don't miss out on the artichokes). For high-quality, classic dishes with a modern feel in a funky setting and a very long wine list, try Taberna Laredo.
These are just a few of the areas where you can go to get some great tapas. But do look at our website for more general information on Madrid and if you would like to see Adventurous Appetites' Guides' favourites places. We hope it gives you a bit of inspiration and a few ideas.
Enjoy exploring Madrid and its food scene!!!!
In our next article we will be looking at how to eat and drink safely in Madrid in times of COVID-19