The Madrid Pub Crawl Dinner: Tapas!
|For a real stand-up dining experience, try a variety of tapas.|
By Rick Steves
Tapas! For maximum fun, people, and atmosphere, go mobile for dinner: Do the "tapas tango," a local tradition of going from one bar to the next, munching, drinking, and socializing. Tapas are the toothpick appetizers, salads, and deep-fried foods served in most bars. Madrid is Spain's tapas capita — tapas just don't get any better. Grab a toothpick and stab something strange — but establish the prices first, especially if you're on a tight budget or at a possible tourist trap. Some items are very pricey, and most bars push larger raciones, rather than smaller tapas. The real action begins late (around 20:00). But for beginners, an earlier start, with less commotion, can be easier. In good old-fashioned bars, a drink comes with a free tapa. The litter on the floor is normal; that's where people traditionally toss their trash and shells. Don't worry about paying until you're ready to go. Then ask for la cuenta (the bill).
If done properly, a pub crawl can be a highlight of your trip. Before embarking upon this culinary adventure, study these Tapas Tips. (Check an up-to-date guidebook before you go to make sure these places are still open.)
Prowl the area between Puerta del Sol and Plaza Santa Ana. There's no ideal route, but the little streets between Puerta del Sol, San Jerónimo, and Plaza Santa Ana hold tasty surprises. Nearby, the street Jesús de Medinaceli is also lined with popular tapas bars. Below is a five-stop tapa crawl. These places are good, but don't be blind to making discoveries on your own. The more adventurous should read this crawl for ideas, and skip directly to the advanced zone (Lavapiés), described below.
From Puerta del Sol, walk east a block down Carrera de San Jerónimo to the corner of Calle Victoria.
1. Museo del Jamón (Museum of Ham), tastefully decorated — unless you're a pig (or a vegetarian). This frenetic, cheap, stand-up bar is an assembly line of fast and simple bocadillos and raciones. Photos show various dishes and their prices. The best ham is the pricey jamón ibérico — from pigs who led stress-free lives in acorn-strewn valleys. Just point and eat, but be specific; a jamón blanco portion can cost a couple of euros, while jamón ibérico may cost several times that. For a small sandwich, ask for a chiquito. If on a budget, don't let them sell you the ibérico (sit-down restaurant upstairs, air-conditioning).
Nearby are two options. Across the street is the touristy and overpriced bull bar, La Taurina. (I wouldn't eat here but you're welcome to ponder the graphic photos that celebrate the gory art of bullfighting.) And next door, take a detour from your pub crawl with something better for grandmothers:
2. Lhardy Pastelería, offering a taste of Old World charm in this district of rowdy pubs. This place has been a fixture since 1839 for Madrileños wanting to duck in for a cup of soup or a light snack with a fortified wine. Step right in, and pretend you're an aristocrat back between the wars. Serve yourself. You'll pay as you leave (on the honor system). Help yourself to the silver water dispenser, a line of elegant bottles (each a different Iberian fortified wine: sherry, port, and so on), a revolving case of meaty little pastries, and a fancy soup dispenser (add a splash of sherry...local style — bottles in the corner; non-smoking, Carrera de San Jerónimo 8).
Next, forage halfway up Calle Victoria to the tiny...
|Madrid is Spain's tapa capital.|
3. La Casa del Abuelo, where seafood-lovers savor sizzling plates of tasty little gambas (shrimp) and langostinos (prawns). Try gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimp) or gambas al ajillo (ahh-HHEEE-yoh, shrimp version of escargot, cooked in oil and garlic and ideal for bread dipping) and a glass of sweet red house wine (Calle Victoria 12).
Across the street is...
4. Oreja de Oro ("Golden Ear"), named for what it sells — sautéed pigs' ears (oreja). While pigs' ears are a Madrid specialty, this place is Galician, so people also come here for pulpo (octopus), pimientos de Padrón (green peppers...some sweet and a few hot surprises), and the distinctive ribeiro (ree-BAY-roh) wine, served Galician-style, in characteristic little ceramic bowls (to disguise its lack of clarity). Jaime is a frantic one-man show who somehow gets everything just right. Have fun at this place.
For a perfect finale, continue uphill and around the corner to...
5. Casa Toni, This memorable little spot, run by Toni, has a helpful English menu and several fun, classic dishes to try: patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy sauce), berenjena (deep-fried slices of eggplant), champiñones (sautéed mushrooms), and gazpacho — the cold tomato-and-garlic soup which is generally served only during the hot season, but available here year-round just for you (Calle Cruz 14).
More Options: If you're hungry for more, and want a trendy, up-to-date, pricier tapas scene, head for Plaza Santa Ana, with lively bars spilling out onto the square. Survey the entire scene. Consider Cervecería de Santa Ana (tasty tapas with two zones: rowdy, circa-1900 beer-hall and classier sit-down) or Naturbier, a local microbrewery. Vinoteca Barbechera, at the downhill end of the square, has an inviting menu of tapas and fine wines by the glass (indoor and outdoor seating).
Gonzalez, a venerable gourmet cheese and wine shop with a circa 1930s interior, offers a genteel opportunity to enjoy a plate of first-class cheese or meat and a fine glass of wine with friendly service and a fun setting. Their €13 assortment of five Spanish cheeses — more than enough for two — is a cheese-lover's treat (lunch buffet, nice wines by the glass, three blocks past Plaza Santa Ana at Calle Leon 12).