Tapas are an integral part of the Madrid lifestyle. By the end of your time in the Spanish capital, you’ll have consumed more boquerones, tortilla, jamón ibérico and tostas than you ever thought possible. To familiarize yourself with these and other tapas classics, get a group of friends together for a tapas bar crawl. At each stop, order a few cold cervezas or a bottle of Spanish vino and sample some of the different tapas on offer. In some bars, the tapas will come free with the order of a drink and can be as simple as a plate of olives; in other places you can order tapas in bigger quantities to share (also known as raciones) with a basket of bread. To get you started on your tapas discovery quest, here are our top six tapas restaurants in Madrid.
Top tapas restaurants in Madrid
Where: Calle León 12, Madrid
This is the quintessential Spanish tapas bar, with a quaint, postcard-perfect façade and a lively, atmospheric interior. Founded in 1931, the traditional establishment, with its charming tiled floors and vintage posters on the walls, has remained firmly in the family with the original owner’s friendly grandson now running the show. It’s always crowded so head there early (note: the Madrileños usually eat between 9pm and 10.30pm). Grab a table near the window and order some raciones of jamón ibérico and queso manchego, a bottle of fruity Rioja and watch the world go by on the picturesque cobblestone streets outside.
Where: Calle de los Cuchilleros 6, Madrid
This crumbling little bodega might not look like much from the outside but don’t let appearances deceive you, as this is a great spot for cheap wine and tasty home-cooked tapas. Steeped in history, it’s been around since 1867 and is another quaint family-run affair. Order a glass of vermouth on tap and sample some of the classic dishes prepared by the family’s mother in her tiny little kitchen. Favorites include the boquerones en vinagre (marinated whitebait) while braver souls can try the callos (tripe stew).
Where: Calle de las Huertas 12, Madrid
If you want to up the ante on your tapas tasting, head to Vi Cool, which as the name suggests, is one of the more hip, stylish tapas restaurants in town, located in the heart of old Madrid. With famous Catalan chef Sergi Arola at its helm (who used to run Michelin-star restaurant Sergi Arola Gastro), the tapas are a cut above the norm and the menu offers more inventive twists on the usual sharing plates such as stewed meatballs with manchego cheese fondue or octopus carpaccio. If you can’t decide what to order, then order the tapas tasting menu and try a bit of everything. The Vi is short for vino and there are some top-notch Spanish wines on the menu to go with your food. While it’s more expensive than your typical tapas joint, it’s a treat worth having at least once.
Where: Calle Libertad 1, Madrid
This historical tasca (tavern) turned modern day tapas bar has a touching story behind it. The place is fondly named after its predecessors, who selected the current owners to carry on their lifelong tradition and passion for serving delicious regional food to the locals. The original marble bar is still intact and the space features other stylish retro trappings, making it a very aesthetically pleasing spot to hang out on a Friday night. The extensive tapas menu focuses on locally produced ingredients, with a whole section devoted to Spanish tomatoes, including their must-try chuletón de tomate, featuring sweet Huesca tomatoes and other fresh ingredients.
Where: Calle Cava Baja 38, Madrid
The Calle Cava Baja bar strip comes alive at night and at the top of everyone’s list is the tumbledown El Tempranillo bar and restaurant. Since it’s a popular haunt with both locals and tourists, you might have to wait for a table (or sit at the bar and admire their giant wall-to-wall wine rack filled with only Spanish wines). Order a few pinchos (slices of toasted baguette with different choices of toppings — we like the salty bacalao) and enjoy some velvety tempranillo or an ice-cold beer (or both). If you’re still hungry, you can move onto trying the larger main dishes on the menu.
Where: Calle de Don Ramón de la Cruz 109, Madrid
In the trendy Salamanca barrio, this characterful neighborhood bar attracts hoards of punters every night of the week for its free tasty tapas, served with the purchase of an alcoholic drink. You can either gather around one of the giant wooden barrels or squeeze into a spot standing at the crowded bar. When we say tapas, we mean generous portions of local dishes such as paella, fried calamari, papas bravas and chorizo, all complimentary. And if you get enough rounds of drinks in, you might just be able to sample everything on offer that evening.
Come across any other great tapas restaurants that you’d like to recommend in Madrid? Share them with our readers in the comments section below!