Ah, Madrid. So many places, so little time. And the most wonderful thing? You can make a progressive dinner out of almost any street. Or not have dinner at all, and fill yourself up with complimentary tapas at each stop along the way. (This might require a bit of strategizing, lest you eat nothing but potato chips all night. Madrilenos love crisps.) Last year, my colleagues introduced me to Cava Baja during a trip to Madrid, so this year, we recreated my 2011 tapas crawl. (Which oddly, I never wrote about.) If you’re planning a trip to Madrid, you could do worse than spending an evening skipping from one tapas bar to another on Cava Baja. So here’s where we ate, including some places on Cava Baja. (Listed roughly in order of deliciousness.)
Casa Lucio, Cava Baja 35. Go early and if you plan on dining here, don’t go without reservations. This is an old-school institution. We stood at the bar and fortified ourselves with rose, olives, and anchovies. I liked the multi-generational-ness to it all, and we particularly enjoyed the ladies of a certain age standing beside us. Always wear eye shadow, ladies. Always. Especially when you’re 80+.
Casa Alberto, C/Huertas 18, close to Plaza de Santa Ana. We were initially attracted here by the promise of vermouth on tap, but once we entered, we knew we had to settle down and relax for a while.
Why? The Casa Alberto pork scratchings! Not good for the cholesterol, but wonderfully good for the soul. As is the vintage interior and lovely onyx bar and sweet and gentlemanly service.
Bar Raypi, Mercado Maravillas. Unbelievably inexpensive and delicious to boot. We could barely finish the huge sandwiches they put in front of us or the heaping platter of patatas bravas. This was one of those lunches where you spend the rest of the day saying, “Boy, lunch today was really good. Wasn’t it good?” Short on atmosphere as it’s a cafe in a busy, working food market. But long on everything else.
Casa Lucas, Cava Baja 30. We were lucky to get a table in this place that’s half stand-up in the front, half sit-down in the back. We ordered a bottle of rose (surprise!) and I got my vegetable fix through one of the best salads I think I’ve ever had. (I never eat enough vegetables when traveling, so I always try to order the occasional salad.) This was a cut of pork (solmillo?) accompanied by pears, ginger and dried figs. Absolutely fantastic. Oddly, we were not (that I recall) given any tapas. Service also a bit harried, but they got the job done. Lovely female chef came out to say hi when we were so complimentary and inquisitive about the pears.
Mercado San Miguel. It’s not Spain without the obligatory jamon. We whiled away a couple of hours at the lovely Mercado San Miguel, which seems perfectly oriented towards the tourist crowd. The hardest part is finding a place to sit, so I’d recommend 1. getting a glass of wine before you do anything else and 2. waiting until you find a place to sit to order food. (I ordered three glasses of rose to start us out and they cost, um, 9 euros. I love you, Spain.) We made multiple trips up and back to the market stalls for oysters, empanadas, olives and more. The nice part is that there is something for everyone. The only flop was the croqueta guy. His croquetas were undercooked and, well, just not very good.
Casa Botin, Calle de los Cuchilleros, 17. A guidebook stalwart. Lots of atmosphere, but also lots of tourists. Not necessarily a bad thing, but this was one of our most expensive meals and the price/value and price/taste ratios were out of whack. The artichokes were good though. I would skip this one, but I list it here because it’s so popular and you’re bound to read about it and I want you to skip it.
Hotel Urban, Glass Bar, Carrera de San Jeronimo 34. I had “dinner” twice at the Hotel Urban bar. I loved my tomato, rucola and mozzarella sandwich so much the first night, I ordered it again the second night. At 10 euros, this is a pretty expensive sandwich for Madrid, but it was still pretty delicious. The Glass Bar sort of looks like it was designed ten years ago, forewarned.
Cerveceria Alemana, Plaza Santa Ana 6. Another guidebook stalwart, but worth it for the woodwork, the Hemingway connection, and the low prices.
Do you know how sometimes, you think you took at on of pictures, but then when you actually review what you took, you didn’t take many at all? That was my trip to Madrid. Not enough photos! Next time…