The Best Food in Madrid (A Food Photo Love Story)

Spain is one of my favourite countries. Barcelona, in particular has absolutely captured my heart and when I travelled there a couple years ago, I didn’t want to leave. Actually, we ended up flagging Madrid to spend another week in Barcelona, as Festa Major de Gracia was on, and I can’t even begin to tell you how fun that was (think massive street festivals, one euro cerveza and fireworks being shot straight at you by people dressed like devils.) That same trip we also stayed in San Sebastian, beaches, food, cheap cheap, but yep – we missed out on Madrid.

So when we had a week between Rugby World Cup games this year in the UK, we decided it was time, (especially since EasyJet flights are so damn cheap). I’m SO glad we finally visited. Spain is big – no kidding, and the three cities I’ve been to are VERY different from eachother. The people speak different forms of Spanish, the layout of the towns are not at all similar in size, feel, transportation, etc. (don’t even try to figure out the queuing system in Barcelona, honestly it boggles my mind), and the FOOD is so different. In San Sebastian (and the whole Basque region) it’s Pintxos, mostly little morsels served on pieces of bread, with short pours of beer. You don’t order, rather everything is displayed on the counters and you help yourself and tell the barman how many you ate when you settle the bill. In Barcelona, it’s tapas and everything doesn’t even start rolling until late evening (which suits me well). Typically you grab a seat at a busy bar and order from the cabinet.

Madrid is more restrained than the other two cities, and we found it to be more expensive as well. People dine earlier, and the food, drink and people don’t spill out onto the streets. However, what Madrid has totally mastered is the stand up, (or if you’re lucky, find a seat and sit down around the bar) kind of tapas bar. Lots of things are served on toothpicks. Lots of fresh seafood. Lots of vermouth. And with every drink, the give you complimentary tapas – cheese, warm olives, jamon. Tiny little doorways, that when you enter, the places are PACKED to the brim full of what I can only expect to be locals since only my best hack Spanish and charades got us what we ordered.

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I didn’t take many photos of the cool tapas bars (as I was also trying to play it cool), but the photos below capture some of the fun food places we visited. We also did a four hour food tour with a company called Devour Madrid while we were there which I would highly recommend, although try and time it to do on your first day as we couldn’t fit it in until halfway though the week and by that time had already found and eaten at half the places on the tour.

Madrid is awesome. Check it out.

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Tapas from the San Miguel market. Think less chaotic and more modern than La Boqueria on Las Ramblas if you’ve been. It’s also licensed to you can walk around with a drink and nibble from all the stalls which is the best.

 

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One of the drink stalls at the San Miguel markets. I mostly drank the draft vermut which is not at all what vermouth in NZ tastes like. This was sweeter, usually served with lemon and olives on ice.

 

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Pimientos de Padron – one of my all time favourite tapas. Little green peppers, flash fried and served with generous amounts of rock salt. Sort of like Russian roulette with spice. About every eighth pepper is blow your socks off spicy, and the rest aren’t spicy at all.

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Tapas bar in San Miguel.

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Bacalao – dried and salted cod. Served in croquettes, mashed up on fresh bread or with pieces of crispy polenta. I adore it. To be honest I’ve eaten it more in Venice, but YUM.

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All the jamon! The price of ham changed dramatically depending on the type of pig (black footed was the priciest), and the age. I did a tasting of a few different kinds of varying prices and I have to admit, I actually like the mid range priced jamon the best.

We only visited one restaurant for the entire week we were in Madrid, as it was easier and more fun to jump from tapas bar to tapas bar. The one restaurant we decided we had to try was StreetXO. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s renowned Spanish chef David Muñoz more “accessible” restaurant as he also runs Madrid’s only 3 Michelin star restaurant, DiverXO. As nothing was planned ahead of time for this leg of our trip, there was no way we were getting into DiverXO on no notice, but we read that there are no bookings for StreetXO (the more casual sister restaurant which served tapas) and you just rock up and wait in line (I had read the queues were ridiculously long some times) until a table comes free.

We decided we would give it a go. At 9pm that night. Nothing like last minute right?

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The Korean Wonton Lasagna from StreetXO

 

We needed to take a taxi to Calle de Serrano, and the restaurant was on the top floor of what looked like a twelve story Smith & Caughey’s. After walking through a bunch of construction and getting in what looked like a service lift, we made our way to the top floor. There were a couple restaurants on the rooftop, and we walked to the very back to find StreetXO. It was only about 30% full inside so we started congratulating ourselves as we tried to figure out where the entrance was. I know, this should be relatively simple, but the only entrance we could see was sort of blocked off by this gate thing. So we just moved the gate thing, and walked in.

This was seriously one of the weirdest restaurant experiences I’ve had. All the staff were wearing “straight jackets”, the lighting was intentionally harsh, they were playing trance music, and there were badly translated english swear words and phrases all over the walls and ceiling. And the food. Well.

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If you say so, StreetXO.

So we took a seat at the bar and one of the servers came over and looked surprised to see us but gave us menus and poured us each a glass of wine. He then went away and what looked like a more senior staff member started giving him a bollocking. It turns out that the gate by the door was just that. A gate. To like, keep people out because they had closed the kitchen. But us New Zealanders just waltzed in, disregarded the sign, sat down and the server mistakingly served us as he though someone had sat us. Oops. We honestly didn’t realise until it was too late,and they handled it brilliantly, explained that all the food would have to come out at the same time as they were closing the kitchen, and recommended some dishes for us since I couldn’t understand the menu at all. Pig ear dumplings in strawberry sauce. Korean wonton lasagne.  And some dish that I can’t explain the taste or texture of and I Googled with all my heart to try and figure out what it was we ate, but… no luck.

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Pig ear dumplings in strawberry sauce. Pretty much one of the weirdest combinations I’ve ever eaten.

Honestly, I’m glad we went, because it was weird. But I really didn’t get the food at all. The flavour combinations didn’t really work for me and it was all really saucy and sweet. However, we did manage to push our way in and not have to wait for a table, and the straight jacket staff served us efficiently and were nice even though I imagine they wanted to go to bed. It was definitely worth the taxi ride, I just wouldn’t probably… eat there again.

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The unknown dish at StreetXO. Wanna have a guess?

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StreetXO

As mentioned, we also did a food tour with Devour Madrid, which started in Plaza Mayor which was located just around the corner from the Air BnB we were staying. We had a lovely guide and tucked into lots of yummy food.

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El Riojano is a very famous 150yr old bakery with lots of yummy goodies inside.

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“Hot chocolate” and pastry. Madrid looooves it’s chocolate in a cup. For breakfast it was pretty full on. But, chocolate so I powered through.

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More goodies from El Riojano

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Sneaking into the kitchen at Taberna La Bola and watching the cooks make Cocido, a really beautiful ham and noodle stew cooked in individual clay pots.

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The Cocido at Taberna La Bola. The restaurant has been around and the menu unchanged since 1870.

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Taberna La Bola

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La Despensa de Carmen, this tiny little takeaway restaurant that served the most incredible nonna-style food. No menus, whatever they feel like making that day is what you will eat. And you won’t ask questions because it’s so damn tasty.

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La Despensa de Carmen (and Clark Gable)

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Meatballs from La Despensa de Carmen

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Empanadas filled with cheese and tomato sauce, oh my lawwwwd.

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Bar Ferpal, one of several gazillion places you can find jamon.

 

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ALL THE JAMON. We went back to this particular place a few times and tried about 12 different kinds.

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We met the lovely family that run Bar Cerveriz, literally right across from San Miguel.

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And he taught us how to pour cider properly. I was the only one brave enough to try although I don’t seem to have photographic evidence of this. Ps. I nailed it.

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Spanish tortilla. Like the best omelette you’ll ever have. This one was served with onion.

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Something we ate a LOT of in Madrid was calamari (calamares). Typically served deep fried, in a bun with a squeeze of lemon. Delish.

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This particular calamares place, La Campana was heaving every time we visited (the only way to gauge as a non-local if it’s any good, right?)

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All the turron (nougat).

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Speaking of queues, this one was out the door no matter what time or day at Chocolateria San Gines.

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Because of this: ALL OF THE CHOCOLATE CON CHURROS!!! (Notice it’s chocolate before churros?)

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I may or may not have felt sick after eating all the churros. I may or may not have done this several times.

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A sneaky pic from one of the awesome tapas bars we discovered.

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Really yummy dish of ox tail parcels, roasted capsicum and this really beautiful jus.

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I love Madrid.

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Any food suggestions you would add to the list? Share below!

Comments 13

  1. Thank you so much for sharing! I went to Barcelona (and Spain for that matter) for the first time last August – it was truly magical! So this year I am doing a Contiki around Spain and have two days in Madrid. Can’t wait to devour your post! 🙂

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  2. So much yum! I haven’t been to Spain, but the food looks delicious. Thanks for taking us on a food tour 🙂 Tapas bar hopping sounds food. That is considered exercise right?

    StreetXO looks…interesting. I do wonder if they were punishing you for coming in late or if that was how they serve all their dishes.

    Charades is a great way of traveling if you don’t speak the language. When The Koala and I travel, we also draw pictures to describe what we want. Our drawings of snakes convinced our driver to take us to a snake restaurant, which was exactly what we wanted. I guess these days we could just google image search a picture, but that’s not nearly as fun.

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      I would LOVE to hear more about the snake restaurant. That’s something I’ve never even come close to encountering! You would love food. They just eat all the time, any time of day. And that would suit us both juuuuust fine.

  3. My mouth started watering while reading this post – bringing back my own memories of salt cod fritters in Madrid and the lobster paela at the beachside restaurant in Barcelona that Gwyneth Paltrow recommended on Goop – AMAZING!

    It was also in Spain that my love for proscuitto was shaken; the sweetness of spanish Jamon being NEXT level. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Love Love Love the pictures and story!!! I too ABSOLUTELY LOVE MADRID! One of my favourite cities in Spain!!! I didn’t get to nearly as many restaurants but the ones I did visit were wonderful!!!

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