Madrid is a city with a cultural richness that is palpable, and it has cuisine to match! Summer is one of the best times to visit Madrid, with the city opening up to entertain citizens and tourists alike during the warmer months. The weather is intoxicatingly sultry in summer and Madrileños make sure to get the full experience with unparalleled nightlife, the city only settling down to dinner at around 10pm.
It is a common sight to see the streets covered in seas of revelers until the early hours of the morning; socializing is an integral part of the daily life of the people of Madrid, to the extent that it seems often as though the entire sum of their efforts is to afford them the best environment for them to relax, unwind and catch up with friends and family.
The food in Madrid is the perfect expression of this culture with the most popular foods, such as tapas and paella, designed to be shared amongst groups. In this Madrid food guide, I’ve shared a list of the best places to visit if you intend to eat like a local in Madrid. There’s a bit of old, a bit of new, some fancier joints and also some of the best places to eat in Madrid on a budget.
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This list kicks off with dessert - for a change - citing one of the best local restaurants in Madrid. If you have a sweet tooth then you’re going to love churros. Churros are reminiscent of doughnuts - deep-fried fingers of dough that are then dipped in molten chocolate served with cinnamon and sugar, or even both. While typically eaten for breakfast, these are great at any time of day. So, where to eat churros in Madrid?
The best spot for these is St. Gines Chocolateria, the most famous chocolate shop in Madrid. With its iconic green wooden panels and furniture and the thick sweet scent of melting chocolate, St. Gines delivers an ambiance that is authentic and deeply comforting.
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, St Gines caters for partygoers, late risers and everything in between. Considering that they have been serving churros and chocolate since 1894, you might say that they have a knack for getting them just right.
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Sobrino de Botin
Listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botin has been around and active since as early as 1725. That’s nearly 300 years of serving traditional food the right way, and the family owned and run restaurant still uses the same recipes that it always has.
One of the most remarkable features of the restaurant is that the flame burning in the oven is alleged to have been burning right through from 1725, never to have gone out. Not only is the restaurant very old, it is also rather good at preparing food. An alleged haunt of the writer Ernest Hemingway, traditional food at a high standard can be expected here. Typical dishes include roast suckling pig (yes, the whole thing), various lamb dishes and then a few imports like filet mignon.
It helps to bear in mind that traditional Spanish food is often subtly flavoured, so don’t be surprised if it isn’t spiced as exotically as you may have liked. Of course, being a major attraction, the restaurant is not quite as affordable as some of us might like, but then again, how often do you get to eat in the oldest restaurant in the world?
Photo credit: Lafabrica.com
A slightly more affordable choice, La Fabrica provides excellent value for money; a modern establishment that serves Spanish classics. An art and exhibition space, and restaurant, there is a great variety on the menu with pasta and an assorted grill offering, but La Fabrica is best known for its excellent tapas.
In fact, in my opinion, the best tapas in Madrid. Of course, this is a very contentious subject as every Madrileño thinks that they know the best tapas places in Madrid – unfortunately, we have usually all got different spots in mind.
When ordering tapas, the key is to get the right amount for the group. My recommendation is to get two to three tapas per person. Pro tip – don’t order all the tapas at the same time. Space it out so that everyone is able to get their fair share of sangria in before concluding the meal.
Photo Credit esmadrid.com
San Fernando Market
Standing in one of Madrid’s most iconic urban spaces and just a stone’s throw away from the popular Malasana neighborhood, the San Fernando Market is a must see! Hidden behind an ornate facade, the market is a buzz of activity. This is another great place for tapas, but you can get all sorts of amazing delicacies here.
The Spanish are well known for their cold meats and sausage and the food market is a great spot to try a little of all of them. There is a great selection of craft beer to accompany the food, and some cocktail vendors to cater for those who aren’t fans of beer.
In 1998 the space underwent major renovation as part of an urban renewal project so it is relatively well kept. There are other stores in addition to food, selling clothes and other wares that you can browse while enjoying the fare.
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Casa Jacinto is closer to the pricy end of the spectrum, but it makes the best cocido, hands down. It is definitely one of the best local restaurants in Madrid. Cocido is essentially just stew, but it tells the story of the local people. Traditionally eaten by laborers as it contains all the necessary nutrition for a complete meal, cocido is now an expression of the regional nuance.
Wherever you are in Spain, you will find a slightly different take. It has one or more of several proteins that include chicken, beef, mutton, or pork, and then any of a huge variety of vegetables, but in some regions the protein is seafood. Even in Madrid, you will find a huge diversity of options. Cocido is actually served in multiple parts even though it is considered a single meal.
The first is usually just the soup component of the stew, followed by beans and potatoes, and then meat and vegetables. In between each section, the pot is emptied and filled with the new part. These can get quite elaborate with up to fourteen of these sections in a single meal.
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With delicious vegan and vegetarian offerings, La Pescaderia truly has something for everyone. Most noteworthy are the myriad seafood dishes served up in this casual, trendy neighborhood bistro. Madrid is an inland city but don’t let that put you off; the seafood is as fresh as it is at the coast!
La Pescaderia has more modern finishings than you typically find in Madrid, with a hip and youthful vibe, while still maintaining the essential bits of traditional Spanish aesthetic. The food itself continues this, with a more modern take on Spanish cuisine. While not cheap, the restaurant is generally considered good value for money thanks to high quality, thoroughly tasty food.
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Sidi is one of the most laid back choices on this list – something akin to your neighborhood pub and grill. It has the classic European format of a bar and cafe, with a modern atmosphere that is comfortable and easy-going. It’s great for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and if you’ll be doing breakfast I highly recommend the eggs, toast, and Jamon.
Jamon is a cured meat similar to parma ham and – being one of the staples in Spain it is incredibly well done – one of the best accompaniments to your classic eggs and toast. The staff will typically slice this off one of the many legs of Jamon hanging in the restaurant (something you’ll be seeing all over Madrid and will quickly grow accustomed to, taking it as a sign for the delicious meal to come). Nighttime brings along with it a festive, local crowd and, with service that is excellent, and affordable prices, this one won’t break the bank either!
Photo credit: the restaurant website
Los Montes de Galicia
Full disclosure – this one should be kept in the bank for when you are feeling bougie and ready to splurge a bit, because it is quite pricey. If you’re looking for a fine dining experience however, then Los Montes de Galicia is one of the best in Madrid!
It is not exactly traditional, but certainly has a strong Spanish theme with a menu that is a snapshot of contemporary Madrid, and really has a bit of all the different influences going on in the city. The staff are friendly and super helpful, especially if your Spanish is not up to scratch.
They also cater to vegans, vegetarians and those gluten free types – nobody need be excluded from this stellar experience (unless your budget says otherwise, of course). The wine pairing is perfect and the cocktails are out of this world, so if you go, I suggest you go all in.
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El Tigre sits at the opposite end of the spectrum and is probably good to lift you out of a budget slump the night after visiting Los Montes de Galicia. Cheap and cheerful, and thoroughly local! El Tigre interprets Spanish hospitality as being cheery, with robust service and, best of all, bounteous portions!
Primarily a tapas bar, they have excellent drink specials and an all-you-can-eat set up with the tapas. Fortunately, the tapas is also really very good. It is rustic, but of great quality, with very traditional and flavorsome dishes.
A great one to enjoy with friends, they are immensely popular – which is great, but it also means that you may struggle to find a spot on a Friday night so come early if you don’t feel like standing; which is fine to do as well! Be sure that when you do visit, you try the patatas bravas; or anything you can dip a delicious, crusty slice of bread into!
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