When compared to Barcelona and San Sebastián, the dining scene in Madrid has rarely been considered on the same culinary level. But Spain’s capital has become a wonderful place to explore wine from the country’s many different regions alongside traditional cuisine and modern dishes.
With destinations that range from the world’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation to a hip rooftop bar, palates are sure to be pleased. Take advantage of midday siestas and plan to be out late, as city-dwelling Spaniards don’t even think about sitting down for dinner until 10 pm.
No trip to Madrid is complete without a meal at Casa Botin. It holds the Guinness World Record as the oldest restaurant, established in 1725. Wood-beamed dining rooms and ceramic tile floors are the backdrop for a sumptuous traditional meal. House specialties include roast suckling pig and roast baby lamb. The wine list features standouts from across the country, which includes a selection of Grandes Vinos Españoles. Insiders Madrid offers a daily tour, “The Botin Experience,” includes anecdotes and a visit to the kitchen and dining rooms, followed by a six-course dinner.
The brainchild of acclaimed Chef David Muñoz and his wife, Ángela Montero, this restaurant puts art on the plate with its two tasting menus. The first, at 195 euros ($225), is described as “hedonistic and lustful,” while the second, at €250 ($288), is called “your crazy gastronomic bacchanal.” The edgy, circus-like atmosphere provides a fun backdrop for plain white plates—which Muñoz refers to as “canvases”—that offer playful, modern takes on traditional Spanish dishes. There’s no printed menu and dishes change frequently, but diners can expect creative elements and a juxtaposition of flavor and texture in every dish, if a plate is used as all. Muñoz’ more inventive dishes have included edible “crumbs” scattered across the tabletop, a spoonful of wasabi sorbet fed by a server into diners’ mouths, and shrimp that dangle overhead and meant to be eaten without utensils or hands.
Marisquería Ribeira do Miño
This Galician-focused restaurant offers enormous seafood platters served alongside Albariño and Treixadura from Rías Baixas and Ribeiro, respectively, which are northwestern Spain’s two main wine regions. The brightly lit space, with its aqua-colored walls, nautical décor, and blue and white tablecloths, is a hive of activity. White-jacketed waiters scurry with ceramic trays covered with simply prepared but delicious shrimp, lobster and crab. Although the space’s rooms seem to go on forever, weekend nights can be quite busy. The best bet for a table with no wait is midweek.
This sommelier-owned wine bar in the downtown neighborhood of Chueca features more than 150 wines from small producers that come from a wide range of Spanish Denominaciónes de Origen (D.O.s). This is truly wine-geek heaven, with no large wineries represented. Nestled among the shelves is a map of Spanish wine regions with pins marking the vineyards where bottles are sourced. It gives an idea of the scope of owner Vicente Herrero’s passion. “I prefer to trust small producers who take maximum care of their product, rather than big brands that make wine that tastes the same every year,” he says. A full range of tapas and cheese are also offered.
Calle Cava Baja
In a city overflowing with tapas bars, this street in trendy La Latina offers something for everyone and has been described as “50 bars in 300 meters.” Popular with in-the-know locals, or Madrileños, it’s home to modern bars, traditional restaurants and comfortable lounges. Enjoy a “tapas crawl,” where you can savor a glass of wine and small plates at several different bars. Hot spots include Tempranillo (no. 38), Casa Lucas (no. 30), Taberna Txakolína (no. 26), Taberna Casa Curro (no. 23) and La Martina (no. 10).
Mercado de San Antón
Spread over three floors, the Mercado de San Antón offers groceries, gourmet products and a variety of tapas bars and restaurants. The lower two floors brim with fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, cured meats and conservas, or canned delicacies. The top level features a rooftop bar that serves cocktails and on-tap vermut (Spanish for vermouth). Also on this floor is Cocina de San Antón where, in addition to lunch and dinner, patrons can eat food purchased from downstairs for a €4 ($4.62) charge.
Chocolatería San Ginés
After a late dinner, churros with chocolate are considered the preferred snack of locals. The delectable deep-fried crullers come with cups of super-thick hot chocolate for dipping. Chocolatería San Ginés, located near the Puerta del Sol, has served what many consider the ultimate version since 1894. Take in the sights on a late-night stroll, and take all the time you need to get there. Madrid is truly the city that never sleeps, and the shop is open 24/7.