The Madrid food scene was the highlight of our recent trip to Spain. This city, and this country, sure know how to eat!
When you take into account the reasonable prices along with the tasty adult beverages, you soon realize that a visit to Spain’s capital city could be all about eating. Fortunately, there are several great museums here to break-up the food fest, but be sure to come here very hungry.
And if you’re headed to Catalonia, don’t worry, we have plenty of great suggestions for What To Eat In Barcelona as well.
Secret Food Tours Madrid
Our family loves food tours. (Check out our previous food tours in New York's Chelsea Market and Venice Beach Los Angeles). A good food tour will offer not only delicious, local food, but also some history and perspective of a city that’s hard to get on your own--especially for a first time visitor. Afterall, food is a critical part of any culture.
For our Madrid food tour, we selected Secret Food Tours, a company run by locals with a passion for their city and it’s food. Jason and I, along with our daughter, Jessica, met our guides, Jorge and María José, in Puerta del Sol and began our three hour feast.
We started with cake and coffee at a bakery founded in 1855 and rumored to provide sweets to the Spanish royal family. Next we found ourselves at a deli where we learned about the famous jamon iberico. This highly prized ham comes from black pigs fed acorns for the final weeks of their lives. We sampled two types of jamon, manchego cheese, bread and organic olive oil.
After a stop in Plaza Mayur for a quick Spanish history lesson, we then moved on to La Campana for Madrid’s most famous food, boccadillo de calamares. These fried calamari sandwiches were originally the food of Madrid’s poor, working class families, but today are wildly popular with all locals. These delicious sandwiches typically cost just 3 Euros or about 3.25 USD.
A popular stop for many tours in Madrid, including ours, is Sobrino de Botín, the oldest restaurant in Madrid. And according to the Guiness Book of World Records, this is actually the oldest, continually operating restaurant in the world. We did not eat here, but had the opportunity to hear about its history and most famous patrons. Ernest Heminway was a regular here and it’s said he preferred a table in the corner with his back to the wall due to his increasing paranoia later in life.
Next up was a fun lesson about Spanish sidra, or cider. This popular alcoholic beverage made from apples originated in Northern Spain, but today can be found anywhere in the country. We had the opportunity to add carbonation to a bottle of cider and then enjoy drinking it while snacking on cheese.
We ended our tour at a restaurant specializing in la tortilla española, or Spanish omelette. This traditional Spanish food is made of potatoes, eggs and onions, and can be found in any tapas bar or restaurant. Our guide, Jorge, was kind enough to send us a recipe for this dish after the tour.
Jason, Jessica and I all enjoyed this experience with Secret Food Tours immensely and hope that when you visit Madrid, you’ll be sure to add this to your itinerary.
Food Markets in Madrid
There are many food markets in Madrid serving typical Spanish food, but the most famous is Mercado de San Miguel. This upscale market was originally built in 1916 and after a major renovation re-opened in 2009. Today it’s packed with locals and tourists enjoying a wide variety of food and beverages.
We spent an afternoon here and enjoyed both browsing and eating. We began with a selection of cheeses, moved on to fried sardines with cava, and ended with a selection of croquettes. There’s a nice selection of sweets here as well, but we were too full after all the savory items to sample them.
Mercado de San Miguel gets very crowded around the lunch and dinner hours, so come early. We were fortunate enough to snag a few stools at a table, but most people stand along the counters ringing the exterior windows. And it is true that food here is more expensive than other markets, but it’s worth the experience at least once.
If time permits, try to visit another market in Madrid. We were staying in the Huertas neighborhood, so the closest one to us was Mercado Antón Martín. Clearly this is a market for the locals, which we appreciated. In addition to the many butcher counters and produce stands, there are also many small restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. After browsing we opted for some ramen and sushi from Yokaloka.
Where to eat in Madrid–its all about tapas
Any conversation about where to eat in Madrid must start with a tapas restaurant or bar. If you’ve never been to Spain, you may be wondering, “What is a tapas bar?” It’s a place that serves ‘tapa’ or appetizers to accompany drinks.
You’ll know you’ve entered a tapas bar if most people are standing at the bar or nearby counters enjoying their appetizers and drinks--people rarely sit at tables here. Tapas (also known as pinxtos) are some combination of meat, seafood, cheese or pickled vegetables on a slice of bread and all held in place with a toothpick (large plates of these will be in glass cases on the bar). Ordering plates of jamon and cheese, or sardines in olive oil, is also popular. The most common drinks to accompany tapas include beer, wine and cava--cocktails are pretty uncommon during this time.
You may be wondering where to get the best tapas in Madrid, and the answer is whatever place is within walking distance of your accommodations. Enjoying the tapas experience should include wandering around your neighborhood in the evening and popping into any place that looks busy and lively. Have a drink and a tapa and then repeat at another bar.
I love to research restaurants in advance when I travel, but I encourage you not to do this when it comes to tapas. Instead, follow the locals in the neighborhood into their favorite spots. Even if you don’t know Spanish, ordering at a tapas bar can take place by pointing, so go ahead and be brave.
Other Traditional foods in Madrid
I’ve covered some of the traditional foods in previous sections, but I want to add a few more. First, don’t leave Madrid without a few rounds of churros con chocolat. If you are from the U.S., you’ve likely eaten the Mexican version of a churro which is thicker and rolled in sugar. However, in Madrid, the churro is served plain and the sweetness is added through a cup of rich, dark chocolate. Sometimes this is enjoyed for breakfast, but more often as a late morning or afternoon snack. No matter when you eat it, it’s delicious!
We were fortunate that our AirBnB was around the corner from an excellent restaurant called Chocolat Madrid which is renowned for their churros con chocolat. Made fresh several times a day, this is a popular stop for some Madrid food tour companies.
Broken eggs or huevos rotos is a classic comfort dish in Madrid. Typically it’s fried eggs over potatoes. Variations of the dish may include the addition of jamon or chorizo. I tried this once, and wasn’t too excited about it, but I certainly understand how this would be an easy, filling and inexpensive meal to feed a hungry family in Spain.
A popular concept in Madrid is the “menu del dia.” This price fixed menu, often available for lunch or dinner, is an ideal way to enjoy a reasonably priced meal that includes three courses and a beverage.
Best Paella in Madrid
It’s important to start with the fact that paella is originally from Valencia, Spain, not, Madrid. However, this dish has become synonymous with Spain, and is definitely worth enjoying on a visit to the capital city.
After doing some online research about the best paella in Madrid, we selected the restaurant, La Paella de la Reina, which means paella of the queen. How could we go wrong with such a worthy name? This place offers several different versions of the dish, but we ordered the house specialty which included crawfish, prawns, fish, squid and chicken. To be fully Spanish, we ordered a pitcher of sangria. The food was delicious and the service excellent.
What To Drink In Madrid
What to drink in Madrid is almost as important as what to eat. This country takes its adult beverages seriously.
At home I’m a Chardonnay drinker, but after two trips here, I’ve really learned to love Spanish white wine. Albariño has become my personal favorite. But that is just the tip of the iceberg of Spanish wines. For wine lovers I recommend the wine tasting tour offered by Secret Food Tours. One of our guides, Maria Jose (Joe) will be leading these tours and is a level three sommelier.
Spanish cava is another popular beverage here. Similar to French champagne or Italian prosecco, cava is a sparkling wine. I described sidra or cider, early, but I should mention that in Spain this beverage is far less sweet than versions commonly served in the U.S.
In the U.S., Vermouth is commonly thought of as an addition to other cocktails, but Spanish Vermouth, is usually served on its own. Essentially its a fortified wine, often served over ice with a slice of orange or lemon. Be sure to give this beverage a try at least once while in Madrid.
Finally, there is beer, or cerveza, which is served everywhere. However, in Spain, most restaurants will serve only one beer. So no need to ask for the beer menu, or check out what’s on tap--there will be just one.
An increasingly popular way to enjoy your drinks in the capital city is at a Madrid rooftop bar. Our daughter, Jessica, had done research about this and came with a list of options for us to consider.
If you have time for just one rooftop bar then I highly recommend Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes. This bar overlooks the iconic Metropolis Building and Gran Vía. There is a fee of 5 Euros to enter, but the stunning views are well worth it. If possible, arrive shortly before sunset and you’ll be rewarded with great light in addition to lovely views of Madrid’s downtown.
The Madrid Food Scene
Even with a full week in Madrid, we barely scraped the surface of the food scene. In fact TripAdvisor lists 8,000 Madrid restaurants! That could take a lifetime of foodie exploration. So when you get to Madrid, be sure to allow plenty of time to eat and drink your way through this gorgeous and tasty city. I hope we’ve given you some ideas of where to get started.