Looking for restaurants in Madrid? Want to know where to eat in the Spanish capital? olive’s sub editor Hannah Guinness shares her insider tips for the best restaurants in Madrid, along with where to find the best salt cod, artisan cheeses and squid sandwiches.
olive’s must-visits for foodies in Madrid
Casa Labra – for salt cod
In Madrid’s central Sol district, Casa Labra (going strong since 1860) is packed with locals who throng the restaurant’s elegantly austere, high-ceilinged interior for the house speciality – salt cod. Served by efficient, white-jacketed staff, it’s best eaten deep-fried or cooked in plump, creamy croquetas, paired with a little glass of vermouth.
Quesería Cultivo – for artisan cheese
Enter cool, charcoal-grey Quesería Cultivo for shelves stacked high with hefty wheels of cheese, and a counter home to even more. It’s a collaboration between three master Spanish cheesemakers (they’ve recently opened a second branch on Carrera de San Francisco), who wanted to showcase smaller, artisan producers from across Europe. Try nutty Catalan Puigpedrós or buttery Asturian Rey Silo, paired with a freshly baked loaf from new wave bakery Panic, just a few doors down on Calle Conde Duque.
Taberna La Bola – for cocido
Cocido madrileño is a beloved local dish, and at the venerable Taberna La Bola this hearty chickpea-based stew made with sausage, bacon, chicken and potatoes is slow-cooked over charcoal for hours in serried ranks of individual clay pots, before being served over two or three courses. First the intense, savoury broth, eaten with noodles; then the pulses and tender meat, alongside cabbage fried with garlic.
Toma Café – for speciality coffee
Toma Café was one of the pioneers of Madrid’s burgeoning coffee scene, and remains a must-visit if you’re craving something beyond a traditional café con leche. Its Malasaña site comes with airy, high ceilings, trailing hanging plants and white-tiled walls, making it a pleasing spot for a hipster caffeine fix. Their speciality coffee is the main draw – from orange cappuccinos to espresso tonics and overnight cold brews, but do also try the subtly bitter hot chocolate, spiked with warming chilli.
La Casa de las Torrijas – for Spanish eggy bread
Colourful tiling, plates of huevos rotos (‘broken eggs’) with crispy potatoes and slivers of jamón, and chilled cañas of local beer are all reasons to drop into La Casa de las Torrijas. But the clue to the chief attraction lies in the name. Torrijas is an Iberian take on French toast, and this restaurant’s version – thick slices of bread soaked in milk, egg and sugar (and sometimes sweet wine), then deep-fried until deliciously wobbly, with a creamy centre – is irresistable.
910 25 29 02; 4 Calle de la Paz.
Mercado Jamón Ibérico – for Ibérico ham
Mercado Jamón Ibérico is a temple to one of Spain’s finest exports. Pick up a few hand-carved slices or a whole leg of cured ham, as well as artisan cheeses, wines and olive oil. It’s also worth sitting at the tiny bar for a platter of silky, ruby-red, acorn-fed bellota diamante (the very best), with a glass of velvety crianza.
La Campana – for squid bocadillos
Madrid loves its seafood, despite being landlocked, and one of its favourite on-the-go meals is a bocadillo de calamares. Queues can snake out of the door at La Campana (located on a side street off the Plaza Mayor), but the wait is worth it for a baguette stuffed with freshly fried tender calamari, a lemon wedge its only necessary adornment.
6 Calle de Botoneras; 913 64 29 84
Santos y Desamparados – for a gothic cocktail bar
The team behind the acclaimed 1862 Dry Bar opened Santos y Desamparados in Huertas last year. It’s a warren-like collection of dimly lit rooms with a quirky gothic vibe (rock music and a Catholic iconography-heavy décor) – try offbeat cocktails such as Pearl Harbor, a delicate, Asian-inspired twist on a piña colada with umeshu, rice milk, coconut, lime and sesame oil.
Taberna La Carmencita – for authentic madrileño dining
Though pretty, Taberna La Carmencita feels traditional, with its classic tiling and zinc bar (it’s one of the city’s oldest taverns). Owner Carlos Zamora introduced a focus on farm-to-table ingredients when he bought the restaurant a few years ago, giving a new lease of life to traditional Spanish dishes such as grilled razor clams with sherry, slow-cooked oxtail stew and roast kid goat. Even the simplest dish is elevated, like his tomato salad: thick, steak-like slabs of perfectly seasoned giant tomato, drizzled with peppery, grassy olive oil.
Devour Tours – for a gastronomic guide
Devour Tours has a team of engaging and friendly guides, who are armed with hyper-detailed local knowledge on the history, gastronomy and culture of Madrid. For a useful introduction to the city’s eateries, try the Ultimate Spanish Cuisine tour – you’ll get hot chocolate at a 162-year-old family-run pasty shop; a tasting of Madrid’s most expensive cured hams; and a chance to see one of the city’s oldest kitchens at work.
La Venencia – for sherry
With its walls burnished by decades of tobacco smoke and faded posters, La Venencia hasn’t changed much since its 1930s heyday, when it was a watering hole for Ernest Hemingway and Republican Civil War soldiers. The bar’s strict house rules – no photos and no tipping – date from that period: the first to deter fascist spies, the latter in accordance with the socialist character of the bar’s patrons. There’s only one thing to drink here, and that’s sherry – there are five different varieties available. Sit at the long, rustic wooden bar with a bone-dry fino or manzanilla, served straight from the barrel, with the tab written up in chalk on the bar.
7 Calle Echegaray, 7; 914 29 73 13
La Tasquería – for fine dining
Javi Estévez’s elegant offal dishes earned the chef’s restaurant, La Tasquería, a Michelin star in 2019. Surf and turf-inspired plates especially impress – order crispy, golden lamb sweetbreads with sweet slices of raw scallop and creamy egg yolk; or tender pork cheek and red prawn tacos. And, if you’re feeling confident, tackle the whole deep-fried suckling pig’s head.
Vinoteca Vides – for unique wines
Wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero dominate most of Madrid’s bars, but to explore other varieties head to Vinoteca Vides in the lively Chueca neighbourhood. Bottles line every wall, and owner Vicente champions lesser-known vintages and regions – he’s produced a carefully curated, lengthy and diverse wine list, with plenty available by the glass. Perch at one of the high wooden tables with a glass of something special and a platter of cheese, soaking up the chatty, friendly vibe as you sip.
La Hora del Vermut – for vermouth
Vermouth is a national institution in Spain and it’s available on tap throughout Madrid (traditionally served with ice, a slice of orange or lemon, an olive and perhaps a splash of soda water), but vermuterías are neighbourhood bars that actually specialise in this bitter fortified wine. La Hora del Vermut started out as a stall in the Mercado San Miguel, but has since branched out to a second location in the Ibiza barrio, a few streets away from Retiro Park. It’s a brightly coloured art deco-style bar that stocks some 80 different types of red, white and pink vermouth from across the country.
Where to stay in Madrid – Only YOU Hotel Atocha
Usefully positioned opposite Puerta de Atocha railway station, Only YOU Hotel Atocha impresses with its buzzy industrial-chic lobby (complete with barber, patisserie and restaurant) and complimentary glass of fizz on arrival. Spacious rooms have a sleek mid-century feel, and the hotel’s rooftop Sép7ima bar (with panoramic views of the city) puts on a lavish buffet every morning that includes pastries and churros, charcuterie and cheeses, fresh juice, fruit and cooked breakfasts.
Written by Hannah Guinness in February 2019
Photographs by Diego Puerta
More places to eat and drink in Madrid
La Bodega de la Ardosa
A typical Spanish taverna, La Bodega de la Ardosa is set in the lively Malasaña district and has been open for more than a century. Within its beautifully tiled walls, sit and enjoy salmorejo, croquetas and pincho de tortilla.
Sala de Despiece
At Sala de Despiece Javier Bonet has created a cool tapas bar decorated along the lines of a fishmonger’s, with an open kitchen, a bar counter and a smart young team. Choose between beef carpaccio with truffle, octopus or simple marinated tomato topped with crispy basil.
El Corte Inglés restaurants
Head to the seventh floor of the El Corte Inglés shopping centre for its Gourmet Experience collection of restaurants. StreetXo, the tapas bar from David Muñoz (of three Michelin-starred DiverXo), stands beside Cascabel, informal sister of Punto MX, and there’s an ice-cream cart by Jordi Roca, of El Celler de Can Roca. On your way out, stock up at the sixth-floor food hall.
One of the best places in Madrid to try a proper Spanish tortilla (which should be creamy and still a little liquid) is Sylkar. The recipe hasn’t changed at this family-run cafeteria in over 45 years, and with good reason.
Calle de Espronceda 17, 00 34 915 545 703
Il Tavolo Verde
An antiques and homewares shop as well as an organic café, stylish Il Tavolo Verde, near the Retiro Park, is the perfect place for a relaxing lunch or afternoon tea. The menu changes daily, but there’s always a good selection of homemade cakes, cheeses, soups, salads and quiches.
Opened just last Christmas, Cristina Oria stocks a wide range of foods from around Spain. It’s the ideal place to pick up gourmet gifts, from delicious ibérico hams to wines, flavoured oils and lemon cakes, all stylishly packaged.
At beautifully designed Triciclo three young Spanish chefs have created an affordable but polished restaurant serving clever twists on traditional dishes using fresh-from-market produce. Try the Nikkei ceviche made with corvina fish, lime and yuzu juices, soy and coriander, or the roast pigeon with mushrooms, truffle and liver pâté.
For a quick sandwich or salad, Magasand’s three coffee bars are a cut above the competition (try a Hot Vegas sandwich – rye bread, hummus, chipotle, avocado, tofu, dried tomatoes, spinach and red onion). They also serve great weekend brunches.
B de J
The main attraction at this upmarket sandwich bar is its five-star produce. Though it also sells cheese plates and gazpacho, the focus is on the ultimate Spanish ham sandwich, made with freshly baked bread and fabulous Ibérico ham. All to be enjoyed with a glass of cava if you like.
HOW TO GET TO MADRID
Return flights from Birmingham, Manchester and Stansted to Madrid start at around £50 (ryanair.com).
Trust olive: Marcela de la Peña writes the My Little Madrid blog and guidebook with her sister Almudena.