A foodie’s guide to Madrid

Emer O Hanlon 26 February 2017

Get yourself to Madrid right now, a trip you won’t regret and your taste buds won’t forget.

After graduating from school two summers ago I, like many other people my age, decided to take a year off before starting university (yes, I too went on a gap year). Perhaps the most exciting and without doubt the most educational part of my year was living abroad for 4 months in Madrid. From January through till April I worked as an au pair for a delightful family who live smack-bang in the centre of Madrid, in arguably the most stylish of Madrid’s ‘barrios’, Malasaña. With its countless vintage shops, bookstores, retro bars and boutique cafes, which populated the street art-adorned alleys and squares and were frequented by crowds of intimidatingly-cool madrileños, this bustling cultural haven was just one of the regions which enabled me to experience a fascinatingly different life in the heart of Spain’s capital city.

For me, this was a fantastic opportunity for many reasons, but primarily to fully immerse myself in what I consider to be the most important aspect of any culture; the food scene. And this I did with full exertion. I made it my personal mission to taste the culinary splendours of a rather impressive number of Madrid’s cafés, restaurants, bars and stalls (if I do say so myself). Below I’ll recommend just a few of my favourite spots to eat and drink in one of my favourite cities in the world…

 

Cafés

You can’t truly appreciate Madrid without embracing its rich café culture. Cafés line the streets and are a crucial feature of the innumerable picturesque squares. Coffee is at the heart of the Spanish social scene; ‘tomar un café’ is more than merely a way of starting a day, it is a social event, and, particularly in the region in which I lived, also a fashion statement. It’s safe to say my trusty box of PG Tips was frowned upon.

 

Café de la Luz

The rustic décor, cosy atmosphere and similarly quirky drinks selection always made for an enjoyable outing. I also really like that they serve little homemade nibbles with every drink you order. Very thoughtful.

 

Café Bico

Bico is famed for its latte art, and it did not disappoint. Ambitiously, I asked for them to attempt an elephant latte, and it may have been one of the best moments of my life when they brought it to me. Then again, I am quite easily amused.

 

Gourmet Experience, top floor of El Corte Inglés

This is a must for any tourist in Madrid. The Gourmet Experience is an open floor of various food stalls, ranging from tapas to sushi bars. Granted, everything is a bit pricey, but it’s worth going just for the stunning views of Madrid (and the Palmera pastries).

 

Restaurants

The term ‘restaurant’ here is loose. Unfortunately, and rather unsurprisingly, I wasn’t raking in the cash as an 18-year old au pair, so I had to make do with a slightly limited budget. The ‘restaurants’ below are more like affordable and delicious lunch spots.

 

Federal Café

Federal Café is renowned for its hipster vibe and tasty plates of food. Located in the heart of Malasaña, the food is almost as quirky and attractive as its clientele (myself included of course…) Must tries: Shakshuka eggs, salmon and spinach omelette and the cacao smoothie

 

Meat

Unsurprisingly, Meat is a burger joint which focuses on the quality of its beef. The title is as simple as its general approach; ‘el Cheeseburger’ is the only option on the menu, and it does the job very well.

 

Bosco de Lobos (Hortaleza, 63)

Situated in what appears to be a university building, Bosco de Lobos is a library-inspired pizza restaurant which left me in awe. The pizza was ridiculously good, and the décor was wonderful. It almost made me excited to start university. Almost.

 

Arúgula

Meaning ‘rocket’ in English, this sandwich and salad bar provides some of the tastiest, best value and healthy make-your-own lunches out there. It’s also in very close proximity to the beautiful Parque de El Retiro, Madrid’s most famous park.

 

Street Food and Food Markets

As well as countless boutique cafes and restaurants, Madrid also offers some hugely vibrant and atmospheric food markets, the best of which are listed below:

 

Mercado de San Isidro

Madrid’s most famous and popular market. The tapas and wine are very good, once you get past the heaving masses of tourists spilling out of every door.

 

Mercado San Idelfonso

This indoor, upstairs food market is hidden off one of Madrid’s busiest retail streets. The stalls offer quintessential Spanish dishes. My favourite stall was the crepe stall, which offered 2 crepes for €10. Go and try their Quatro Queso crepe, for your own sake.

 

Churrerías

It goes without saying that churros are a big deal in Spain, and this 24-hour churreria is Madrid’s most famous one. Yep, churros are the best drunk food on earth and for this reason alone you should go to Madrid. That is all.