Category Archives: barcelona

A Gourmet Guide to Barcelona

Helpful Notes
First, a few helpful pointers to avoid disappointment.  Most places are closed on Sundays.  There are a few cafes open, but they mostly cater to tourists.  Consider getting out of Barcelona on a Sunday and pack a picnic on the beach or grabbing something on the go while visiting Tarragona, Montserrat, or somewhere up the coast.   Second, some places are closed or have shorter hours on Monday as well.  The best time in Barcelona is Teusday through Saturday.  Lastly, most places are closed August.  La Boqueria and the markets are ghost towns.

Gourmet Walking Tour

If you want to spend a few hours taking in the gastronomic sights of Barcelona, a good introduction is to roughly follow the route of the Gourmet Walking Tour.  You can’t eat everywhere, but mix in various shops.  My favourites from the tour

  • La Boqueria for breakfast, lunch, or supplies for a picnic
  • Escriba for the best chocolate croissant in Barcelona
  • Carrer de Petritxol for a stop at a Granja La Pallaresa or Dulcinea for hot chocolate and a pastry
  • Xurreria – for churros
  • Caelum – a perfect stop for tea, chocolate, and a delectable cake or chocolate snack
  • Oroliquido – for the best olive oils and sherry vinegars
  • Mercat Santa Caterina – for lunch at La Torna, a stop at Olisoliva, or a kiosk for Jamon

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Breakfast in Spain starts late, from 9-10am and generally comes in two forms.  The first, is generally a coffee (caffe) and small snack, a “mini” sandwich de tortilla (or jamon) or a pastry like a xuxo or ensaimada.  The second is a hearty and filling meal, for example a stew of beans and sausage or seafood a la plancha.  Typically, the big meal is accompanied by a generous quantity of red wine or cava.  Here are some of my picks for breakfast:

Bar Pinotxo – The best cortado, xuxo, ensaimada, or a larger plate of the day.

Xuxo at Bar Pinotxo
Tapas24 – Patatas Fritas con Huevos y Jamon


Escriba – Coffee or Hot chocolate and the best chocolate croissant, recommended by Ferran Adria.

Almuerzo (Lunch)

Lunch in Spain is typically a sit down multi-course meal that starts around 1:30-2:30pm and lasts until 3 or 3:30pm.  If you see people eating before that, stay away because it’s for tourists.  You may also do an earlier “brunch” on a Saturday, but this is less typical.  There is a Catalan tradition on weekends “Fer el Vermut“, a snack before lunch.

  • Lunch (or brunch) at a kiosk in La Boqueria.  My favorites are El Quim for chipirones con Huevos (Baby octopus with eggs),  Bar Pinotxo for a special of the day and some red wine or cava.  I’ve also been told good things about kiosk Universal.chipirones con huevos
  • Cova Fumada – A typical local place in Barcenoleta.
  • Picnic stop at one of the markets above and buy 100 grams of Jamon, 200 grams of manchego (or other cheese), a baguette, and a bottle of red wine.  Eat it in the Citudella parc, Parc Guell, or the Grec Parc near Montjuic.
  • Consider Alkimia for an unforgettable and leisurely high-end lunch near the Sagrada Familia.  The next two options are cheaper alternatives also near the Sagrada.
  • La Paradeta for cheap seafood (closed Mondays).  It has three locations in Barcelona and one in Sitges.
  • Origen 99.9% – A small chain focusing on local Catalan cuisine.  The quality varies by location, but it offers a reasonable value for lunch.  It has outposts near the Sagrada Familia, Santa Maria del Mar church, and Universidad metro.
  • Cafe Viena is the local fast food and one of the few decent places on Las Ramblas.  It serves burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches.  It was made famous by Mark Bittman in the NY Times, laying claim that the flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo is “the best sandwich”.  It’s not even close to the best in Barcelona, but it is tasty and relatively inexpensive.

Lunch largely depends on your plans for the day, but I would recommend taking a leisurely lunch somewhere with a menu del dia.  Go with one that it is off the main tourist streets or squares.  Typical meals should cost between 10-15 euros and include wine or water.

Snack

  • Xurros from a Xurrerria – The quality can be hit and miss.
  • A macaroon or pastry from Bubo (near Santa Caterina del Mar church)
  • Olives or anchoas and “una caña” (a beer) on a terrace.  Moritz is the best local beer brewed in Barcelona.  They have a stronger and darker “epidor” if you can find it.

For wine, consider one of the several locations of Vila Viniteca and pick up some local cava from Penedes, or a red wine from Priorat or other local DOC.

Cena (Dinner)

In Spain dinner is a smaller meal because many people have a big sit down meal at lunch time.  Dinner also starts late, from around 9pm and goes until 11 or midnight.  I don’t recommend eating before that unless it is for tapas which run a bit earlier, from around 7-10pm.  A few suggestions:

  • See my previous posts on tapas restaurants and fine dining.
  • Bacoa, a tiny place behind the Mercat Santa Caterina serving some of the best burgers in Barcelona.   Have the “Bacoa” which comes with manchego, onion jam, and bacon.
  • Pizza – there are several great Italian restaurants in BCN if you want a break from Spanish food.  For example, Bella Napoli is famous for its pizzas and its sea urchin pasta.  Another good choice is Ravalo for cheap thin crust pizzas.
  • For super-cheap or late night eats, stop at one of the ubiquitous Frankfurter joints, like “Otto Stylt” for a Hamburgesa Completa, a Frankfurter, and some fries.

Dessert

  • Bubo for a pastry
  • Gelato in Gracia.  See the Gelato guide.  My favorite is Gelateria Cafeteria Italiana for the dark chocolate.
  • Crema Catalana  or Tarte Crema Catalana from a local shop with dinner

Spanish and Catalan Food and Restaurant Resources

I’m not an expert on Spanish or Catalan cuisine.  But, I’ve been asked to give a list of some resources that I use, so here they are.

Restaurants in Barcelona (and around)

  • Local restaurant review websites: 11870.com and Salir.com, similar to yelp or opentable in the US.
  • Metropolitan food and drink section – A Barcelona based english language magazine, with a large expat following.
  • Chow Barcelona – A forum website for foodies.  It can be a bit touristy at times.  It also emphasize high-end and gourmet food.

Food and Cooking
Barcelona Bites
– Run by Johanna Bailey, the wife of a friend and colleague of mine from Yahoo! Research. She pointed me to the The Catalan Country Kitchen cookbook.

Eat Catulunya – an English language website devoted to promoting Catalan food and cooking.

DELICOOKS – An English language version of a Spanish food website, pointed out to me by Johanna.

Spanish Recipes Pic by Pic

World Flavors of Spain – A website devoted to Spanish cuisine by the Culinary Institute of America. Don’t miss the videos for making some of the famous dishes from the kiosks in La Boqueria. The co-chairs of the organization are Ferran Adria from El Bulli and Jose Andres from Jaleo.

Made in Spain by chef Jose Andres who runs the famous Jaleo tapas bar in Washington DC. He also runs a high end “art bar” called mini bar which is more experimental. Jose is one of the best Spanish chefs in America and a big proponent of its cuisine in America.

Other blogs

Best Tapas Restaurants in Barcelona

NOTE: This post on the Best Tapas Bars in Barcelona are moving to my new Cooking Phd.  See my post on Ferran Adria’s new 41 Degrees and Tickets tapas restaurants.

Shortcut: Jump straight the Tapas and Pintxos in Barcelona Google Map.

There are many tapas bars in Barcelona. First, it’s worth nothing that Barcelona is in Catunlya, an area not known for tapas or the Basque version, pintxos.  Instead of hopping from bar to bar eating small bites, the tapas restaurants in Barcelona tend to be sit down affairs that encompass a whole meal in small dishes.  Here are a few classic tapas dishes:

  • Pa amb tomaquet (bread rubbed with tomato)
  • Patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy sauce)
  • Tortilla de patata (A thick Spanish potato omelette)
  • Bombas (fried “bombs”.  These are usually meat and mashed potatoes all fried; think a fried shepherd’s pie ball)
  • Croquetes de pernil ibèric (a croquette with jamon iberico)
  • Ensalada Russa (Potato salad, typically with seafood)
  • Pimientos del Padron (A favorite, small fried green peppers, most are not spicy, but there is an occasional kicker).
  • Anchoas del Cantábrico (anchovies) and of course,
  • Local olives

Here are a few of my picks for tapas bars in BCN.  These tend to be bars that serve slightly “upscale” tapas as the classics found in many local bars are often cheap and unremarkable from a food perspective.  Several of these were written up by Mark Bittman in an article in the NY Times, Choice Tables in Barcelona.  Note: I do not include the kiosks in La Boqueria in this list, but they are among my favorite restaurants.

Els Tres Porquets – served the best tapas I ate in Barcelona.  The highlights here were the beef carpaccio, and the foie amb setas (mushrooms) .  The secreto (pork cheek) was also fantastic.  The seafood is another (pricey) standout.  This is great for a special occasion as it is on the expensive side: expect to pay 25-40 euros depending on your wine and selections.  It also has the benefit of being off the tourist path on the Rambla de Poble Nou near Torre Agbar.

Quimet & Quimet – is my favorite “every day” bar.  I love it because it is a quirky hole in the wall bar specializing in canned seeafood.  It is recommended by the Adria brothers.  The highlights here are the montaditos, small bite sized sandwiches. Some of popular ones are the smoked salmon with cream cheese and honey, the mussels and tomato confit topped with caviar, and lastly the bacalao. Expect crowds and to jostle yourself in to find space to stand. For drinks, the walls are covered in wine.  However, I would recommend the house belgium style beer and Vermut Roja. Both are the best I had in Barcelona.  The prices are very reasonable: expect to pay 15-20 euros per person.

Comerc24 – Is a “luxury” tapas bar that focuses on tapas done in the molecular gastronomy/technoemotional style.  It has one Michelin star.  See my post fine dining restaurants in BCN.  Because of its price, I stuck to its cheaper brother, Tapas24.

Tapac24 – Tapac24 serves quality tapas in a casual atmosphere at reasonable prices.  Tapas24 is run by Carlos Abellan of Comerc24 fame, and it maintains the standards of its more expensive brother.  Tapas24 has a convenient location just off the Passeig de Gracia near Placa Catalunya with great hours: from 8am to 12am, which makes it unique in that you can go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  It can get busy at peak dinner time, so consider going in off hours. In pictures,

Ajo Blanco (a cold Garlic Almond Soup)

McFoie Burger (burger with foie gras sauce)

Bikini Comerc24 (Grilled ham and cheese)

Inopia (now Bar Lolita) – Inopia is closed, read the story.  The restaurant is now under new ownership, and has reopened as Bar Lolita. Inopia was a modern tapas bar run by Albert Adria, the brother of Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame.   Inopia was famous for its “classic” tapas. Some of these classics will be preserved at Lolita, but the famous Adria brand is gone.  The new name and atmosphere may be an improvement, because the previous exclusive “club” atmosphere was not inviting. The restaurant used to open sharply at 7pm and severely restricted the number of people allowed inside. Be sure to call ahead to check on details.  Here are some pictures from the Inopia classics:

The Wall

Famous San Nicasio potato chips and ensalada russa
(The best part is the “salsa picante” that is smoked spanish paprika and vinegar)

Bomba del Eixample

Patatas Bravas
(The best I had in Spain)

Truita (mini ham and cheese baguette, with truffles)

The cherries (with an anise liquor)
The biggest, juicest cherries ever.

Pineapple with molasses and lemon zest.
Simple brilliance.

La Torna – A very untouristy small bar located in the Santa Caterina Mercat, which is a favorite for local chefs looking for a casual bite.  See this writeup for details on La Torna, Cal Pep, Paco Meralgo and other restaurants in BCN.



Txakolin
– Txakolin is a classic Basque pinxtos (pinchos) bar.  It gets its name from the drink Txacoli, a slightly sparkling white wine with a low alcohol content.  Be sure to try the Txacoli and a glass of the famous basque cider.  The pintxos are served on small toothpicks, which you save and the waiter counts up for your bill.  I like this better than the popular Euskal Etxea which is just around the corner.

Others on my list that I didn’t get a chance to try:

Cata 181 – Is a small less well known tapas bar that is a known for its extensive wine selection.  It has a reputation for serving solid and pioneering modern tapas.  See this recent writeup.

Can Paixano (La Xampanyeria) – The “Champagne Bar” is a cheap wine bar serving tapas and sandwiches.  It is very popular with locals and tourists alike.  I want to go back and try it.

El Xampanyet –  is another small family run champagne bar that is known for its cheap cava.   It is similar to Can Paixano, so try both and compare.  It is located just off the Santa Maria del Mar square .

El Vaso de Oro – A small popular cerveceria and tapas bar in Barcenoleta.  I would stop by for Pimientos del Padron and a beer.

Cal Pep – Is one of the most well-known Barcelona restaurants.  It is less tapas bar than restaurant.  It sounds overhyped and overpriced.  It’s famous reputation means tourist crowds and long waits.  I eschewed it in favor of less known and cheaper restaurants in the area.  It is famous for its seafood, which is supposed to be quite good, but a bit pricey.

Places to skip

  • Anywhere with pictures of the food
  • Places on Las Ramblas, Carrer de l’Argentina, and Passeig de Gracia
  • Taller de tapas (a touristy chain)
  • Any place featuring sangria (with the exception of Tapac4) or paella prominently

Top picks for fine dining in Barcelona

Here are my top choices for haute cuisine in Barcelona. This is not an exhaustive list as Barcelona is a city that is rich in fine dining restaurants. These are the ones that stood out to me for being good values for the level of cuisine. They also speak the uniqueness and innovativeness of Barcelona and Catalan cuisine.

Celler Can Roca – Is the fourth best restaurant in the world, according to the famous San Pellegrino list.  CCR is an excellent value for a three star michelin restaurant. It is a less famous neighbor to El Bulli, where you can actually manage to get reservations. For a recent post on the restaurant, see Tamarind and Thyme. This restaurant is a bit of a trek outside Barcelona, in Girona, which makes an excellent day trip.

Espai Sucre – Sweet Space was my last meal in Barcelona. The chefs, Jordi Butrón and Xano Saguer opened it 10 years ago with a daring vision to be the first dessert only restaurant in the world. See my post on it for details.

Alkimia – I really wanted to visit this restaurant. It was between this and Espai Sucre for my last meal. The Chef Jordi Vila, updates catalan classics in a technoemotional framework with classics like Bacalao and a deconstructed Pa Amb Tomaquet. It is a Michelin one star, and an excellent value near the Sagrada Familia. A perfect stop for a leisurely lunch.

Comerc24 – Chef Carlos Abellan is reinventing “luxury” tapas in the technoemotional (molecular) style of El Bulli, but sticking a bit more down to earth with “classic” foods.  Comerc24 has one Michelin star and is recommended by Ferran Adria.  Abellan worked for 9 years at El Bulli and knows the style and heart of the food served there.   If the price is a bit much, you can check out the scaled down, more relaxed version, Tapac24 which retains a bit of the character.  See my post on Barcelona Tapas Bars for details.

Can Pineda and Els Tres Porquets – Two restaurants that are off the beaten path near the Torre Agbar in Eixample Derecha. These are not touristy and are true reflections of the best local cuisine. Can Pineda is a fine dining restaurant specializing in Catalan cuisine. It was featured in On the Road Again with Mario Batali, and Mark Bittman. Els Tres Porquets is a tapas bar by the same owners. Reservations are a must, although you may get lucky since it is out of the way. Els Tres Porquets was the best high end tapas I had in Spain. For a review of Els Tres Porquets, see this metropolitan review.

Cinc Sentits — CS, the “Five Senses”, offers high-end contemporary Catalan cuisine.  The Canadian-Catalan chef Jordi Arta focus on simple presentations of the best locally sourced products.  CS specializes in 6 and 8 course tasting menus.  It has one Michelin star.  It has been featured in many press publications, including the NY Times.  See also the detailed writeup by Aidan.

There is also a trend towards creative cuisine at slightly lower prices, which has been labeled bistronomia, read the article at the NY Times.  Some of the restaurants in this category include Hisop, Gresca, and Embat.

For other resources, this article is informative. You can also read the restaurant writeups of Aidan Brooks.

Espai Sucre: Last meal in Barcelona

I picked Espai Sucre (Sweet Space) to be my last meal of my summer in Spain.  I wanted it to be somewhere unique and memorable, and Espai Sucre delivered both.  It is known for being one of the top dessert restaurants in the world.  The chefs, Jordi Butrón and Xano Saguer opened it 10 years ago with a daring vision to be the first dessert only restaurant in the world.  Their cuisine blurs the definition between sweet and savory cuisine with daring flavour combinations.

I managed to convince my work colleagues from Y! to join for my going away dinner.  It wasn’t your typical after work drinks goodbye!  Eight of us went: Myself, Diogo, Neill, Peter and Dirk, Eraldo and Valeria, and Ivan. We split the tasting menus between us to enjoy the full range of what they had to offer.

My favorite dish by a small margin was the ”Ginger ale”, cucumber and pineapple-tarragon sherbet, from the first tasting menu. The “ginger ale” was an effervescent foam that was astounding with the cucumber. I also really enjoyed the first two meet dishes from the second tasting menu. The cheek of Iberian pork with onion ice cream was the overall favorite among everyone at the table. The first controversial dish is the “Idiazábal” cake with cherry + beet and black beer, with the bitter beer foam that was dividing.  Another dish that divided tasters was the Truffle mushroom, butter, hazelnut, cocoa, which was perhaps overwhelmed by the truffle flavor.  Here are the photos from the night:

Espai Sucre Starters
Sundried tomato sesame sticks

Cracker with chorizo-like sausage and pear

Pumpkin soup with sour cream and pumpkin seeds on the bottom.
(The best pumpkin soup I’ve ever tasted.)

Tasting Menu 1

Cod rice with tomato ice cream, artichoke and honey

“Ginger ale”, cucumber and pineapple-tarragon sherbet
(My favorite dish overall)

Extra virgen olive oil cake, white peach, green olive and “San Simón”

Truffle mushroom, butter, hazelnut, cocoa
(A controversial dish)

Tasting Menu 2

Scallops with dewlap, algae and ginger
(another favorite, a fun take on sushi)

Cheek of iberian pork, onion ice cream, wheat and liquorice
(the overall crowd favorite of the evening)

Passion fruit-coffe, “lemon-cress” and mint sorbet keffer

“Idiazábal” cake with cherry + beet and black beer

Empyreumatic 2

The petit fours at the end of the meal were also not to be dismissed. The curried biscotti was a relevation. The sour cream and black pepper “haribo” melted into an efferfescent foam in your mouth with an exposion of unexpected spiciness. I really enjoyed it, but others didn’t. One thing that drew a lot of interest was the “bacon chocolate stick” which turned out to be chocolate with smokedlapsang duschon tea. It was astoundingly good. The coffee was the best I had in Spain.

Honey sesame round and cocnonut popsicles

Candied ginger, sour cream and black pepper “haribo”, and lapsang duschon chocolate “bacon” sticks

Honeydew melon soup palette cleanser

Curried biscotti
(a personal favorite for a daring combination)

We sat down for dinner at 10pm and didn’t leave until almost 1am. It was a truly memorable experience. Thank you to all my friends who shared it with me.

I would highly recommend going to Espai Sucre for a romantic special occasion.

Favorite Restaurants in Barcelona

Els Tres Porquets – A tapas place off the normal tourist routes on the Rambla de Poble Nou.  It is run by the owners of the well-known Can Pineda restaurant.  This was the best tapas I’ve eaten in Barcelona.  The highlights here were the beef carpaccio, and the foie amb setas (mushrooms) .  The secreto (pork cheek) was also fantastic.  The seafood is another (pricey) standout.  This is great for a special occasion as it is on the expensive side: expect to pay 25-40 euros depending on your wine and selections.  It is open in August, which is a big plus.  Thanks to my friend Vanessa for the tip.

Quimet & Quimet – This is a well-known tiny hole in the wall bar specializing in canned seeafood.  The highlights here are the montaditos, small bite sized sandwiches.  The best are the smoked salmon with cheese and honey and the mussels with caviar.  Expect it to be crowded and to push yourself in to find space to stand.  They also serve house belgium style beer and Vermut Roja.  Both are the best I’ve had in Barcelona, grab a bottle or two to take home.  The best part is that the prices are very reasonable: expect to pay 15-20 euros per person.

Bar Pinotxo – A famous small bar near the entrance to La Boqueria.  The patient server, Juanito, is a character that shouldn’t be missed.  At B ar Pinotxo, the highlight for me was the flawless Xuxo, a cream filled donut traditional to the region served with a cortado coffee.   A great cheap breakfast, roughly 4 euros.  The hot food, like chickpeas with murcilla (a blood sausage) are also well-known.

Xuxo at Bar Pinotxocortado

El Quim is another bar burried in the middle of La Boqueria.  It is known for it’s less traditional, simple preparations of food.  I had the huevos con chippirones  (fried egg with baby squid).  It is topped with two fiery red peppers, unusual for Spanish food.  Served with a glass of cava, it is the perfect brunch. It is a bit pricey at about 20 euros for a dish and a glass of wine.

chipirones con huevos