What a difference a day makes.
Madrid needs no introduction in the food travel circle. Spain’s capital has it all- historic tapas bars, hip cocktail lounges, medieval food markets, cool rooftops, Michelin restaurants, and everything in between. To truly discover and appreciate everything its culinary scene has to offer you’d need to stay at least a month. Heck, many Madrileños don’t manage to explore it all in a lifetime.
But a day is better than nothing. Just enough time to get a taste of the city’s highlights. Inevitably, in this case expect our recommendations to be somewhat touristy and revolving around the city center. Think of it as the right of passage to Madrid’s food scene for a first timer.
We planned the day to be walkable but with venues not too close to each other so you have an excuse to explore what’s in between and burn off those calories as you go. It’s also designed to be shared – it’s a lot of food! Get comfy shoes on and don’t forget to fast the day before, just a friendly reminder. 😉
Spain’s capital has it all- historic tapas bars, hip cocktail lounges, medieval food markets, cool rooftops, Michelin restaurants, and everything in between.
Whether you’re on a layover, a day trip or attending one of the city’s numerous conferences, as we did, we suggest the following gastronomic itinerary:
7:00 AM Breakfast at San Gines
“Churros for breakfast is a bad idea.” Said no one, ever. It’s a well known Madrid tradition to have churros con chocolate on New Year’s Day. Madrileños swear that it cures New Year’s Eve hangover. Either way, every January 1 the place is slammed. Actually, the place is slammed every day. Opened in 1894, San Gines has served chocolate to the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Tina Turner. Understandably, 125 years and almost 10 million (!) cups of hot chocolate later, everyone and their mother wants to get a taste.
Go early to not only avoid the crowds but get a taste of the January tradition. The cafe is open 24/7 so you won’t be the first nor only person there at any time of day. The thing to order is churros con chocolate if you want to keep it pure and traditional. However, locals usually opt for porras instead of churros as they are thicker and more absorbent. Personally I agree – I like porras a lot better because they soak up a lot more chocolate. It’s all about efficiency, right? So much to eat, so little time!
9:00 AM Second Breakfast at La Mallorquina
It’s not just a Lord of the Rings thing. I grew up in Europe and I confirm second breakfast is legit. They fed it to us at kindergarten every day. So don’t feel bad. Head to La Mallorquina and brave the lines to get your hands on their napolitanas. Choose between cream and chocolate (de crema and de chocolate). They are famous nationwide for a reason. You can have the napolitanas to go or sit down upstairs.
If you’re not the kind of person who can eat sweets for breakfast, believe me – I hear ya! My perfect breakfast is a california burrito… Still, when in Rome.
It’s not just a Lord of the Rings thing. Second breakfast is legit.
Top tip: if you need to have your morning cuppa, the coffee here is slightly better and stronger than at San Gines (it’s not specialty coffee at either but good enough), so you may want to hold on till you get here. Let San Gines focus on chocolate. 🙂
11:30 AM Pre-lunch Snack at Cerveriz
Now that you’re on sugar high tone it down with a slice of freshly made tortilla de patatas at Bar Cerveriz. As any Spaniard will tell you, tapas bars tend to specialize in a particular tapa. In n the case of Bar Cerveriz house specialty is tortilla de patatas which many consider the queen of tapas, and I agree.
There’s an art to making a tortilla, and shockingly few bars even in Spain get it right. Cerveriz is one of those gems so don’t miss it (two more you may want to note is Casa Dani and Pez Tortilla).
There’s an art to making a tortilla, and shockingly few bars even in Spain get it right.
You will be tempted by their other goodies but just order a portion of tortilla and a caña of beer – that’s the local way – and save space for proper lunch. Arrive between 11:30 and 12 for the freshest tortilla straight out of the pan.
12:00 PM Pre-lunch Aperitif at Mercado San Miguel
This indoor market dating back to 1916 is a quintessential Madrid food experience. You’ll be tempted by good looking and very inviting snacks on all fronts but we’re only here to take pictures, look around, and have a traditional aperitif at La Hora del Vermut – The Vermouth Hour. Pre-lunch vermouth is one of those unique culinary experiences that one must experience when visiting Spain and La Hora del Vermut at Mercado San Miguel is a good place to try it.
They have an array of vermouth varieties on tap and a wide selection of pickled items beautifully arranged on skewers. This pairing is awesome and very much part of the tradition, especially up north in the Basque country. They all look pretty but for purists I recommend ordering un marianito y una gilda.
Getting a space at the bar can get tricky when it’s busy but at 12pm you should be fine – local lunch crowds start to arrive around 1pm.
2:00 PM Tapas Lunch at Casa Toni
Time for more tapas at one of the city center’s many historic bars. There are way too many good ones to name in the neighborhood but Casa Toni has a good mix of cozy vibe and solid food. Other names you may want to check out instead of or in addition to Toni is Taverna La Descubierta, La Fragua de Vulcano and Matador. But honestly there are so many good ones (and not so good ones so check reviews).
You’ll be surprised how many of the traditional Spanish tapas available on most menus are meatless. Our favorites include: pimientos de padrón (pan fried green peppers), patatas bravas, berenjenas fritas (fried eggplant drizzled with honey), champiñones a la plancha (garlic mashrooms), and boquerones (local anchovies that you will find fried fritos and/or marinated al vinagre).
You’ll be surprised how many of the traditional Spanish tapas available on most menus are meatless.
Remember that whatever you see on the tapas menu is usually a full portion and can be ordered as a half-portion (media ración). This way you can sample more dishes, and the price will be halved too.
4:00 PM Coffee at Misión Café
Let’s head up north to the hip and happening neighborhood of Malasaña.By now you most likely need caffeine. Misión Café is one of numerous specialty coffee shops that have been popping up around Madrid like mushrooms. This one stands out as it has one of the only two Modbar espresso machines in all of Spain – a little fun fact for coffee enthusiasts.
If you don’t know or care what a mod machine is, you’ll still enjoy their excellent cortado. Misión Café is a little slice of coffee heaven. Also note MÜR Café and Toma Café for caffeine fix in vicinity.
6:00 PM Pre-dinner Appetizer at Bodega La Ardosa
Malasaña may be avant-garde but the barrio also hides some of Madrid’s most traditional tapas bars. Croquetas de cabrales is all you need to order at the tiny Bodega La Ardosa. Cabrales is a type of heavenly blue cheese from the province of Asturias in the north of Spain. Think Spanish equivalent to gorgonzola. As you can imagine, it’s even more heavenly when melted and turned into a croqueta.
Get a portion of those tasty morsels (una ración de croquetas de cabrales) and a caña of beer or house made vermouth and let’s move on. Arrive no later than 6pm or else you may not even find a place to stand let alone sit.
Malasaña may be avant-garde but the barrio also hides some of Madrid’s most traditional tapas bars.
PS. Nearby is the often overlooked Iglesia de San Anton (Calle de Hortaleza) which is somewhat randomly home to the relics of Saint Valentin. That’s right – the Valentine responsible for Valentine’s Day rests there. Go pay homage if the church is open.
7:30 PM Second Appetizer at Casa Labra
May the tapas crawl continue. Make your way back down towards Puerta del Sol. The square may be the ultimate tourist central (literally – it marks the center of the city and the entire country – you can find the plaque outside the post office building). But it’s also home to a few locals-only gems.
One of them is Casa Labra where Madrileños gather nightly to munch on cod fritters and that’s what we’re going to sample. Opened in 1860, it is famous for being the site for the foundation of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party by Pablo Iglesias in 1879.
Order a couple of tajadas de bacalao with a glass of wine, beer or vermouth, pay at the bar and then enjoy your tapa standing outside and watching the shoppers go by. The other house specialty here is croquetas de bacalao. We already had croquetas de cabrales though, save space for the entree. 🙂
8:30 PM Dinner at La Campana
“Bocadillo de calamares is Spain’s answer to Italy’s Vitruvian Man”, a friend of a friend used to say. I can’t disagree – a fresh baguette stuffed with deep fried calamari and a drizzle of lemon juice is pretty genius indeed.
In it’s simplicity, it also has to be made just right and using the best ingredients. Many bars all around Plaza Mayor will tempt you with theirs, but walk right past them and onto the beloved by the locals La Campana.
The thing to order here is of course bocadillo de calamares, and it’s traditionally washed down with a beer. If you have space, the potato salad is a delicious side dish. Order food and drinks at the counter, pay and wait for your food, then take it to your table if you’re lucky enough to find one, otherwise do it like the locals do and eat standing and chatting.
If it’s so packed it feels claustrophobic (it often does), get the bocadillo to go (parra llevar) and eat at Plaza Mayor.
10:00 PM Night Cap at Salmon Guru
Where better to end your day than at one of the world’s 50 best bars. Salmon Guru with their fun decor and a menu full of inventive cocktail creations definitely deserves the place on the coveted list.
Bocadillo de calamares is Spain’s answer to Italy’s Vitruvian Man.
Save some battery as you’ll definitely want to take pictures, the drinks are very pretty. We appreciated unusual ingredients that make the drinks less sweet, such as yerba mate or chilli. Try Chipotle Chilon! Just don’t try to get in on a Saturday night…
If you manage to eat your way through the full itinerary let us know in the comments or better still take pictures and tag @eightyflavors on social as you go along! Buen provecho!