Madrid is an amazing place to eat. Between serving up traditional Spanish food and dishing out international-style grub, this dynamic city has a lot to offer. After living in Madrid for a year, I’ve drawn up a list of some Madrid must-eats, organized by category (I’ve actually added to this list since moving back to Madrid in the summer of 2019!). I’d say these places meet the Spanish criteria for a good restaurant: “Bueno, bonito, y barato!” (Good, nice, and cheap!) Cheers to delicious food, cold beer, and tasty Rioja!
These are the kind of spots that have something for everyone. They’re cool places with good, well-priced food that ranges from fun international options to twists on Spanish dishes.
80 Grados Malasaña. 80 Grados Malasaña is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Madrid. I love going here with friends or taking visitors who are in town. 80 Grados specializes in small tapas that include both contemporary cuisine and Spanish go-tos, so you’ll get to try a variety of dishes throughout your meal. The combination of cool ambience and great prices makes this spot a hit, so be sure to arrive early for a table! (For the Spanish, early is around 8:30 pm when the restaurant opens for dinner). Must-orders include “ñoquis cremosos con salsa de setas” (gnocchi with a creamy mushroom sauce that is literally one of the most delicious things I have ever consumed) and the “huevo trufado con patatas y jamón” (basically a cooked egg that is beaten so that the egg yoke makes a sauce, topped with crispy potato sticks and savory Spanish ham, served in an egg-shaped cup for spooning or dipping). For drinks, a DisTinto de Verano is a must. It’s a spin on a traditional Tinto de Verano (red wine and lemon Fanta or soda) in that the standard drink is topped with a tart-sweet lemon foam. Delish. Another dish I enjoy there is the salmorejo, essentially a thicker version of traditional gazpacho, served with weird but tantalizing parmesan ice cream.
Palo Santo. This cozy restaurant in the heart of Chueca dishes out a mouth-watering creation: a bread bowl filled with sliced potatoes in a mushroom truffle cream sauce. It is to die for. The sauce is amazing and even better on the soft bread bowl once you’ve finished digging through the potatoes. The bread bowl is quite large, so this dish is good to split as a meal between two really hungry people or as an appetizer for a bigger group.
Frida. Nestled between the trendy neighborhoods of Chueca and Justicia, this restaurant features a chic tropical accent wall and cool decor. On the menu, you’ll find Spanish tapas as well as other options like tacos, spring rolls, and carpaccio.
Tanteo. Tanteo is good for a one-on-one meal as well as for larger parties – I’ve always gone with groups of friends. The restaurant, located in the north of the Salamanca neighborhood, is well-decorated and features a solid menu. We usually order the risotto and huevos estrellados, among other things. Tanteo is actually where I first tried the magical dish that is huevos estrellados, and my life changed forever. This dish is common in Spain but can really awe a newcomer. It usually consists of thickly cut french fries topped with fried eggs and Spanish ham. The egg yoke makes a kind of sauce that blends perfectly with the ham and potatoes. Que rico!
Typical Spanish Spots: Tabernas Andaluzas
The two taverns I describe below specialize in food from Andalucía, Spain’s most populous autonomous community. I love these taverns because they’re the kinds of places that you don’t really find outside of Spain. These are the places where locals crush beers with free tapas while standing at barrels converted into tables. These restaurants are described as “castizo,” which means they are true to traditional Spanish food and culture. You’ll see a “pata de jamón” on the bar, from which ham is sliced, and the walls are covered with pictures of Andalucía’s most beloved customs and celebrations, like bullfighting and Holy Week processions. The decor is complemented by animated shouts from the waiters: “Otra cerveza! Another beer!” Typical orders include raciones, or large servings, of pescaito frito (an assortment of fried fish and squid, and, yes, I left out the “d” of “pescadito” in good Andalusian fashion), huevos estrellados, and a juicy solomillo, or sirloin. Yet, since plentiful tapas are often served with almost every drink order, a few rounds of beer may just fill you!
El Rincón de Jaén. This was one of my favorite spots during my time in Madrid – I ate here a lot with friends. This lively tavern is named for Jaén, a province of Andalucía, and is usually full of people. Due to the abundant complimentary tapas served with each drink order, sometimes we wouldn’t even order food!
Typical Spanish Spots: Pintxos Vascos
These two restaurants feature food typical of the Basque Country, or El País Vasco – an autonomous community of Spain. One of the Basque Country’s claims to fame are its pintxos (or pinchos in Castilian Spanish), tapas-like portions often placed on sliced bread and pinched together with a skewer (hence the name). Both restaurants I describe below feature great pintxos, but each has a different vibe.
Sagaretxe. This cozy Basque sidrería specializes in cider and traditional pintxos, which you select right from the bar. The vibe is rustic and traditional, as evidenced by the wooden beams at the entrance and the large barrel where cider is served. The pintxo options are varied and tasty – wash them down with some cider or txakoli, a slightly sparkling Basque white wine that is typically poured from a few feet above the glass when served. The wine is fun to order just for the presentation!
PerrextiCo. This Basque restaurant is an iteration of the original in the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. A bit swankier than the sidrería I mention above, this place is acclaimed for its unique interpretations of traditional pintxos. I recommend choosing the pintxos tasting menu, which includes a bottle of wine for two and PerrixtiCo’s well-known savory donut pintxo.
Pre-Meal Aperitifs: Vermut, Jerez, y Cañas
Vermouth is totally a thing in Madrid. I knew very little about it before living here, but now I’m in love! If you’re not so into vermouth, Madrid’s got plenty of other options to get your appetite going before a meal, like Andalusian sherry, or Jerez, and typical cañas.
Casa Camacho. This small yet popular bar in the heart of Malasaña is well-known for its vermouth – hence why it can be almost impossible to get in on weekends. Popular here is a drink called a “yayo” – vermouth, gin, and soda.
La Venencia. With its dusty bottles and old sherry barrels, this jerez bar looks straight out of another century. The folks here are serious about their jerez, and you’ll find all manner of it here, from manzanilla and fino to an oloroso or a palo cortado. I also recommend ordering a tapa of bread slathered with blue cheese and sherry paste, made in-house. If you’ve never tried sherry, I highly recommend La Venencia as a place to start and get a glimpse into Andalusian sherry culture. You won’t find many places like it!
Los Gatos. “Gatos” aren’t just cats: they’re Madrileños whose parents and grandparents are also from Madrid. The gatos are a relatively rare bunch, since Madrid is home to many Spaniards from other parts of the country that come to the capital for work. Serving beer, typical jamón, and other tapas among matador suits and other cultural decor, this little bar in the heart of the city does justice to its name.
Bodega de la Ardosa. The tiled facade of this neighborhood bar in Chamberí will immediately catch your attention. The pockmarks in the tile are actually alleged to be shrapnel holes dating back to the Spanish Civil War. Try the vermouth on tap or a caña while savoring the patatas bravas or torreznos (essentially another version of a chicharrón). I enjoy having this castizo gem right next to my apartment!
Vinos 2. Vinos 2, also known as Sagasta Vinos, is a cozy bar for a before-dinner drink. The walls are covered in castizo memorabilia, and the service is warm and friendly.
Sifón. This cozy vermouth bar is located on the quaint Plaza del Rey in the south part of Chueca, one of my favorite areas in the city. After having a vermouth or two as an aperitif, head next door to Revoltosa for dinner!
Don’t be put off by the name of this category – these spots are no Mickey D’s. Although these restaurants have various locations throughout Madrid, they’re still as good as any other more “unique” restaurant. I mean, they’re chains for a reason…
Lateral. This is probably one of the most popular chains in Madrid – and rightfully so. Lateral serves up traditional tapas with a twist and never disappoints!
La Musa Latina. La Musa Latina is part of the Lamusa Group, but this location is my favorite. There is a La Musa in Malasaña, but what sets La Musa Latina apart is its location right on a picturesque plaza in the hip neighborhood of La Latina. This place is great for eating outside on a sunny Saturday before or after hitting the bars of La Latina.
Lamucca. The Lamucca company has several locations around Madrid. Some are called Lamucca, while others, like La Pescaderia, have different names. Anything called Lamucca will pretty much have the same or similar menus, and they are good go-tos for dinner. La Pescaderia has a different menu and is equally delicious. I loved the burger and the risotto there!
Makkila. Makkila is not as widespread a chain as some of the others in this list, but it’s still very popular. One of Makkila’s most central locations is right between the neighborhoods of Chueca and Malasaña, placing it in easy walking distance of bars for copas, or cocktails, afterward. I really like the pinchos there!
Goiko Grill. Madrid locals literally don’t shut up about this place. This joint is known for its out-of-this-world burgers. And, yeah, they’re as good as people say they are. Popular options include the “Kevin Bacon,” which includes a tender beef patty topped with bacon, crispy onions, and American cheese . When I went, I had a burger topped with spinach ricotta, mushrooms, and bacon. Needless to say, it was divine.
A good mercado, or market, is common in many Spanish cities. These markets are basically large venues that house various food stalls. Hopping from stall to stall while sampling various tapas is the move here.
Mercado San Anton. This is probably my favorite market in Madrid. It focuses mostly on Spanish food – croquetas (croquettes), Spanish ham, bocadillos, (sandwiches on a baguette-style bread), pinchos (slices of baguette-style bread topped with almost anything), cheese, seafood, and more – but also has some international stalls offering things like sushi and burgers. Once you’ve roamed the two floors of the market, head to the rooftop for drinks with a view over the neighborhood of Chueca.
Mercado de San Ildefonso. This market in the heart of Malasaña distinguishes itself from its counterparts because it offers a greater range of international cuisine. You’ll see things like Peruvian ceviche, Venezuelan tequeños, Mexican tacos, and French crepes. However, you’ll be able to find some Spanish favorites as well, like rice and seafood in black squid ink, yummm.
Mercado San Miguel. This market is probably the most well-known in Madrid and is located right in the center of the city near Plaza Mayor – hence its popularity with tourists. However, this market is still a good call and has tons of tasty food to choose from.
Wifi + Work-Friendly Cafes
If you’re anything like me, you need to know where the good work-friendly cafes are in any city. Here is a list of some spots with reliable wifi and tasty bites to fuel you through that work sesh.
Bicicleta Cafe. In the center of Malasaña, Bicicleta Cafe is a work hub by day and a hip bar by night. You can easily go from sipping espresso in the afternoon to sipping a mojito in the evening as you work here throughout the day.
Cripeka. Tucked right by the popular Plaza Santa Barbara in Malasaña, this cute cafe is a great place to work. It’s popular for brunch-style items but also has good snacks, like natural energy bars and bananas.
Magasand. Magasand is an awesome place for lunch, but in the off-lunch hours it’s also a wonderful place to work. Teas, acai bowls, and sandwiches make nice accompaniments to a few hours on a laptop.
Plenti. This cute cafe tucked away in El Barrio de las Letras near the popular Calle Huertas is one of my favorite low-key finds in Madrid. Plenti serves open-faced sandwiches, a Danish specialty that to the unknowing eye will simply look like a piece of toast with a variety of toppings, like an avocado toast. Plenti does their version of the avo toast on wholesome grainy bread and also offers other toasts, including a hummus and feta option as well as a banana and peanut butter toast topped with honey and walnuts. I love the various overnight-oat bowls they have as well. These kinds of dishes make Plenti popular for weekend brunch, but it’s usually fairly easy to find a table to work at.
I love eating in Madrid, so hopefully this list of must-eats will ensure you love it too! Besides, I’m confident that you’ll love the prices in addition to the food – Madrid is QUITE cheap in comparison to the US. A meal in one of the places above will probably only set you back between 10-20 euros – drinks included! For that kind of meal, you’re probably paying between $40-70 in the States. Plus, tipping is not common practice in Spain, which is nice on the wallet. Buen provecho!