Ah, Madrid. Although it has only been a short month since visiting Spain’s lively capital, I already feel nostalgia. Our memories are formed and enriched based on the senses: taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing. As a foodie, it is no surprise that I have vibrant memories about Madrid based on these senses as they relate to food. I can still imagine the sight of colorful fresh zumos (juices) at Mercado de San Miguel, the aroma freshly baked nun cookies, the sound of paella sizzling in the pan, the feel of creamy texture of the croqeutas de jamon iberico, and the taste of rich chocolate-dipped churros, Whether you’re planning a trip to Madrid or you’re just along for the ride, I’m happy to share my collection of the best Madrid eats based on my experiences. (Prepare yourselves for a whole lot of mouthwatering pictures!)
How to Pick Madrid Eats
Since you’re reading this article now, entitled “Foodie’s Guide: Best Madrid Eats,” this tells me that you are a kindred spirit who also enjoys doing copious research before traveling to a new place. After all, you only have so many vacation days, who knows when you might be back to Madrid, and you want to make sure you see/do/eat all of the best things. I get it. I, too, spent hours researching Trip Advisor, Yelp, and guidebooks to help me find the absolute “best” places to go. While I am all for research, I also encourage you to consider a “go with the flow” approach to meals in Spain. I ended up going to the city with only two bucketlist food destinations for Madrid eats (Chocolateria San Gines and Mercado de San Miguel) as well as a list of places that sounded promising. However, once I arrived I was open to trying places we walked by with appealing menus or refreshing bursts of air conditioning when soaked in sweat. A laid-back attitude is definitely part of the Spanish lifestyle, and you’ll find yourself frustrated if you try to plan the day in 30-minute increments. (Trust me, no one is guiltier of this than me.) I absolutely do advise reading about Madrid before visiting and coming up with a list of places to eat, but I would advise against making too many reservations, if any. Once you are in Madrid, you will appreciate flexibility of not being bound to a timeline. Madrileños (locals) tend to enjoy a more laid-back, relaxed lifestyle, and I recommend trying to adjust to living on that wavelength during your time there.
Madrid Eats: Restaurants & Eateries
The first restaurant where we dined was Casa Mingo. We enjoyed tapas on the beautiful outdoor patio, which is a must when the sun isn’t too hot. Lucky for us it was a gorgeous day, so we took in the sights of Madrid our first night while enjoying our meal. We ordered our plates together, and they arrived incrementally. Tapas do not not arrive to the table at the same time, so be aware of the potential awkwardness if you decide not to split dishes with your dining companions!
We ordered a tortilla, croquetas de jamon iberico, queso de oveja (cheese), pan (bread), and Sidra Natural to drink. Our bill total was only 25 euros total which, if anything, was a little high for Madrid. However, this was a very affordable meal by American standards! My favorite part of the meal was the tortilla, which I continued to eat throughout my time in Spain. A Spanish tortilla is actually nothing at all like tortillas we are familiar with in America and Mexico. Spanish tortillas are often referred to as Spanish omelettes, though that still doesn’t paint an accurate picture. Imagine a little crust-less quiche made with potato, egg, cheese, and sometimes ham—there you have your tortilla! Tortillas are a staple of tapas menus, though they also are common breakfast menu items.
Dave’s favorite tapas by far were the croquetas de jamon iberico. They reminded me a little of super creamy hush puppies with a smooth, rich filling. Croquetas de jamon iberico are made with ham, eggs, olive oil, and béchamel sauce to give it that amazing creaminess.
Malaspina is another restaurant we thoroughly enjoyed in Madrid, though outdoor seating was limited. I loved the dark, moody atmosphere at this place; it had a lot of character with its wall of wines, creative murals, and eclectic music choice. This was the first restaurant in Spain where we received tapas free with our jar of sangria in addition to a complimentary bread basket with olive oil. Score! We were hungry, so finding Malaspina was a major win. We also shared a tapas order of patatas bravas, which are white potatoes that are diced, fried in oil, and drizzled with a spicy tomato sauce. Patatas bravas are a staple of Spanish cuisine, so make sure you don’t miss out on ordering them while in Madrid!
I also enjoyed a malaspina salad, which is made with bacalao (salted codfish), aguacate (avocado), gulas (imitation baby eels), lechuga (lettuce), and tomate (tomato). In case you’re scratching you’re head wondering “imitation baby eels?!” I’ll give you the 411 on these intriguing Madrid eats. Angulas are baby eels, but they’re expensive. So, the Spanish created “gulas,” which are made with surimi, a paste made with different different types of fish. Surimi is also the fish used to make imitation crab. The surimi is cut to look like little baby eels, and there you have it: gulas.
There was no way we were leaving Madrid without sampling paella, so we stopped by El Taberna Arco, which is recommended by Trip Advisor. In true Spanish style, we arrived at 9:45 in the evening for dinner. The host inquired if we had a reservation (we did not), but we still were able to snag the last table. We opted for a vegetable paella with peas, red pepper, asparagus, and zucchini. It was so creamy and flavorful, unlike any paella I have ever had!
We also stopped by Cafe Vertical for lunch to go (“para llevar”) because it’s located a convenient 0.1 miles away from the Prado Museum. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the beautiful Retiro Park, which was not far away from the cafe. The cafe was adorable with little nooks filled with pillows; it was so tempting not to curl up with a book and stay for the afternoon! They also had free wifi, which was a major perk. I stayed behind while sipping my smoothie for a few minutes to take advantage of the opportunity to check email and post to Instagram (you know, life’s essentials).
My absolute favorite spot of all my Madrid eats was the Mercado de San Miguel. Mercado de San Miguel is an indoor market filled with permanent vendor stalls of some of the best food Madrid has to offer. We actually came here to just walk around the first time to become acquainted with all the different options before returning the next day to eat there for lunch. Locals come here to shop for fresh produce, seafood, and meat. There are also plenty of options to grab tapas portions of tons of food for an affordable price. I chose to eat a burrata on toast, garlic gulas (yep, those guys again!), ratatouille empanada, and fruit-topped sangria to wash it all down. I left feeling wistful about all the food I didn’t get the chance to sample.
Madrid Eats: Desserts
I would be remiss not to also share all of the delicious sweets we indulged in during our time in Madrid. We made admirable progress covering the dessert terrain of Madrid during 2.5 days, but I can’t say that was hard! The number one dessert I wanted to try in Madrid was churros con chocolate, which includes churros with rich, decadent dipping chocolate. Churros con chocolate ended up being the first thing we ate when we arrived and the last thing we ate before leaving. There are a few different places to get churros con chocolate throughout Madrid, so we decided to try two: Cafe Valor and Chocolateria San Gines. Both churros were really delicious and the chocolate dipping sauce tasted virtually identical. We did find the churros to be a little crisper from Chocolateria San Gines (which happens to also be the more popular option), so my recommendation would be to go there if you only plan to eat churros once. Based on descriptions we read beforehand about the dipping chocolate, we were expecting it to taste like melted chocolate. However, we found the chocolate to be closer in both consistency and taste to a thick chocolate pudding.
Another highlight in our Madrid adventures were almond cookies from Monasterio del Corpus Christi. These cookies are especially unique because they are baked by cloistered nuns in a convent. We first learned about the experience of how to attain cookies from the Rick Steves Madrid walking tour, and we were eager to try this for ourselves. If you try this yourself, be forewarned that they do not speak English and I found their Spanish accents harder to understand than any other Madrileño we encountered. After successfully purchasing our cookies, we enjoyed snacking on them while people watching at the Plaza Mayor. This experience was truly unique, and I highly recommend ordering “nun cookies” from the Monasterio del Corpus Christi.
Once we arrived at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, we enjoyed helado (ice cream) from Rodilla, which was a welcome cold refreshment after all of our walking. If you get the chance, be sure to check out the super cool lounge area available upstairs where you can relax or hook up your laptop. After exploring all the excitement at the Puerta del Sol, we went to the adorable La Mallorquira, which boasts an impressive array of freshly-baked goods. There was a short line of people, but La Mallorquira was very well-staffed. We opted for the famous napolitana chocolate pastry, which was so, so good. I’m actually not that big of a pastry person, but the napolitana chocolate makes me a believer. I highly recommend you stop by for a treat there, especially due to its proximity to Puerta del Sol. Plus, the packaging is pink and super chic.
So, there you have it! A foodie’s guide to the best Madrid eats. For more detailed reviews of each place we dined in Madrid, check out my Yelp reviews. For real-time updates of all my recent travels, food, and fun, stay in touch on my Instagram (don’t forget to say hello)!
Are there any amazing places I missed? Do you have any insider knowledge to share about Madrid eats or any corrections to make? Let me know in the comments. I’m always happy to hear from my readers (especially if you’re in the midst of trip-planning)!
Until next time, tastechasers!