Barcelona Favorites

Barcelona Favorites

Our dinner at El Bulli last week was bookended by a few days in Barcelona. This was our first time in the city, and we had a splendid time strolling around, admiring the architecture, dodging pickpockets, and wondering where to eat next.

Our diet over those few days was mostly composed of tapas and pintxos, eaten at casual restaurants. If you are unfamiliar with pintxos (pin-tchos), they are the little morsels of food, plopped on a slice of bread and secured with a toothpick, that you find lined up on the counter at tapas bars. It is originally a Basque concept, but it has spread across other parts of Spain in recent years: you ask for a plate (usually one per party), help yourself to some pintxos, wash them down with a drink, and pay at the end, based on the number of toothpicks you have left on your plate. It is a system based on trust — I wonder how many people walk away with half a dozen toothpicks in the back pocket of their jeans — but it seems to work. As for tapas, they are usually ordered from a menu (or, if there is no menu, with much gesturing and mangling of Catalan and Castillan words), and they are served on small plates that you share with your dining companions. Raçiones are similar to tapas, only they come in larger portions.

One thing you should know if you ever want to visit Barcelona is that you should avoid August if you can: the city is teeming with tourists then (80% of them French), most Barcelonians have understandably fled, and some of the dining destinations that locals favor are closed. Of course, in our case, this time of year wasn’t a personal choice, since the El Bulli reservation was the pivot of our trip; I certainly don’t mean to spit in the proverbial soup, I just thought I would pass on this little piece of advice.

One other thing I strongly recommend is to check the detail of your bill, always: in all restaurants but one, we were charged for more than what we had ordered and eaten. Perhaps this only happens to foreigners, and perhaps this is their way of making up for the disappearing toothpicks, but it was a bit annoying. They never made any difficulty in correcting the mistakes however, so there was no harm done, and we simply got used to the custom.

Without further ado, let me recommend the places we enjoyed the most:

~ La Boqueria
Barcelona’s world-famous food market. Fruits and vegetables, hams and sausages (which they can vacuum-seal for you), cheese and eggs (as you can see, the lighting played stroboscopic tricks on my camera phone), and an impressive display of seafood (including razorshells [navajas] and barnacles [percebe]). Many stalls sell fresh fruit juices but I was unimpressed by them — I much preferred the little containers of candy-sweet mango, or the pitahaya (a Vietnamese fruit, said the sign) on the half-shell.

There are several tapas bars inside the market, where you can snatch a few barstools if you’re early, or patient. We ate twice at one that is called Bar Boqueria: razorshells, sardines, baby squid (chipirones), and squid (calamares), all of them perfectly cooked — a la plancha, with much olive oil and garlic — and very cheap.

The market is off La Rambla, close to the Liceu metro station, on your left-hand side when the shore is in your back.

~ Taller de Tapas
A popular tapas bar that has several locations in the city. We loved their patatas bravas (potato wedges served with a garlic mayo and a hot pepper sauce), fried baby squid, and cod croquettes (bacalao croquetas, similar to accras de morue from the French Caribbeans). The desserts weren’t as good, except for the crema catalana, the Catalan version of crème brûlée.

Argenteria, 51 – 08003 Barcelona
+34 93 268 85 59

~ QUQU
In the Gracia neighborhood, a convenient stop before or after checking out two of Gaudí‘s most famous buildings — La Pedrera and Casa Batlló. QUQU is a modern and quite spacious tapas bar, with a large terrace. Despite the trendy look, the food was delicious: they served the tastiest pan con tomate we’ve had in the city, excellent croquetas and ham flautas, and a very good escalivada (grilled bell peppers, onions, and eggplant) topped with goat cheese.

Paseo de Gracia, 24 – 08007 Barcelona
+34 93 317 45 12

~ Sagardi
A pintxos bar in the Santa Maria del Mar neighborhood. They have another location called Irati, with an identical and equally tasty selection of pintxos, topped with cheese, ham, botifarra (blood sausage), and various preparations of meat, fish, and vegetables. (The restaurants in the back of both are good, but overpriced — stick to the pintxos.)

Sagardi: Argenteria, 62 – 08003 Barcelona
+34 93 319 99 93
Irati: Cardenal Casañas, 17 – 08002 Barcelona
+34 93 302 30 84

~ La Vinya del Senyor
A wine bar with a good selection of Spanish wines, which you can enjoy with a few nibbles (we tried the assortment of cheese, which was good, but the bread that came with it was frankly stale). Perfect little terrace facing the church.

Plaça Santa Maria, 5 – 08003 Barcelona
+34 93 310 33 79

~ Gelaaati!
Not very Spanish, I know, but a little tub of Italian-style ice-cream is quite welcome after an afternoon of walking. There are gelaterias all over the city, of varying quality of course, and we loved this one: the flavors tasted natural, the ice-cream wasn’t overly sweet, and the texture was just right. (I especially enjoyed the hazelnut, the fig, and the white chocolate.)

Calle Llibreteria, 7 – 08002 Barcelona
+34 93 310 50 45

~ Juicy Jones
A funky juice bar (and vegan restaurant, but we didn’t dine there) that serves a wide selection of freshly squeezed fruit juice cocktails.

Cardenal Casañas, 7 – 08002 Barcelona
+34 93 302 43 30

  • http://www.marketmanila.com Marketman

    My family and I spent a week in Barcelona last May and had an absolutely wonderful time. We stayed 2 minutes away from La Boqueria and quickly fell in love…I eventually wrote about a dozen posts on our food and market experiences there…what a fantastic city…unfortunately, we didn’t get to El Bulli. Perhaps next time!

  • http://www.superfood.blog-city.com Richard Leader

    I’ve yet to go to Barcelona, but have been to a number of other places in Spain (I think I was meant to be born Spanish…). Love the pics of the razorclams – they’re difficult to buy here in the UK (despite being on every beach you go to) – I think people find them too chewy. The best place to buy them is Chinatown as far as I can tell.
    I tried the barnacles when I was in Andalucia last year – I wasn’t so keen on them – if razorclams are chewy, I don’t have a work for barnacles!

  • EL

    Pitahaya — they’re also called dragonfruit! :)

  • http://www.fewofmyfavourites.blogspot.com Cin

    The toothpick idea is similar to how they charge at satay stalls – based on the number of satay sticks on your table.

    Pitahaya is also known as dragonfruit and is commonly found in South East Asia. In fact, we have them in Australia too if you go far enough up north.

    Thanks for the pictures of the razorclams. I saw them at a Chinese restaurant in London and the dish had me scratching my head wondering what they were.

  • http://adelices.canalblog.com/ Adèle

    Barcelona is a wonderful city! The atmospher is so special eeven during the night… Marvellous tapas too!

  • http://www.cforcooking.com Jeff

    Tapas here are so damn expensive, it really makes me want to boycott them..but they taste so good!

  • http://80breakfasts.blogspot.com/ joey

    Thanks for this post! I have been to Barcelona a number of time but will be going for my honeymoon there soon…nice to have lots of feedback for places to go and see…and eat at! :)

  • Jennifer Klinec

    Reading this post made me hungry!

    Some other spots in Barcelona worth knowing about include:

    Quimet Quimet. A tiny, stand up bar serving great pintxos in the Poble Sec district.

    Abac for contemporary Catalan cooking and great wine.

    Cal Pep is a well-established and respected tapas restaurant which uses only the freshest seafood, fish and ingredients. A must visit!

  • anonymous

    There was an article about overcharging happening in restaurants in Rome in the NYT. The claim was that it happens only to foreigners. This is in part true in many parts of the world…people take advantage of foreigners. However it also happens to Italians as well, as an itemized bill happens only in ‘modernized’ restaurants. The small family-run places just write down *prices* not even menu items (names of dishes), and so you always have to ask for an itemized bill, and they usually come back with no less than a 10 euro disparity if you call them on it!!!

  • Snoop

    Recommendations for places in Barcelona where you can try Catalan nova cuina. Comerç 24 sounds like a great place:

    http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/food_and_drink/reviews/article1171364.ece

    If you’re on a limited budget, try a menú del día (fixed-price set menu) at lunchtime. These are usually excellent value for money (anywhere between €8 and €12). Juicy Jones, which you mention, is great for lunches in a city where it’s hard to find good vegetarian food.

    Another excellent lunch spot (around €16 for the set menu) is the Laie bookshop café (on Carrer Pau Claris, about a five-minute walk from Plaça Catalunya). And for an odd recommendation, try the Maison du Languedoc a little lower down from Laie. The set menu is 29 euros but excellent.

    Set Portes (in a porticoed building on Passeig d’Isabel II, down at the bottom of the Ramblas, turn left and keep going on the main road until you get just beyond the marina area) is said to serve the best paella in town. I haven’t tried everywhere (obviously!), so I don’t know if it’s the best but it is pretty good. Booking essential: 93 319 30 33

    Desserts are a weakpoint in food in restaurants in Barcelona. I tend to do what you suggest, have a meal and then make a little space for dessert by going for a stroll and then taking in an ice-cream on the way.

    As for foreigners being overcharged, it happens everywhere I guess. But there is one thing that happens here that I’ve never seen anywhere else: change is carefully doled out starting with the small coins. Any notes you might be due are left in the till until the very last moment. Make sure you don’t walk off before you’ve been given all your change.

    And if you’re a vegetarian, don’t eat pastries for breakfast. Croissants, ensaimadas (round doughy buns dusted with sugar) and similar items are nearly always made with lard, not butter or even margarine.

  • http://na-zdravi.blogspot.com/ Dianka

    Thank you for all of your wonderful tips and reccommendations! I just love the idea of a pintxos bar, it sounds so fun! Glad you had a great time in Barcelona.

  • http://www.aminglingoftastes.com Julie

    I am planning to visit Spain next spring or summer. Thanks for the tips! I have never heard of the toothpick custom…funny. Your El Bulli was also very helpful and enjoyable. Did you write down what each course was as well as photograph them?

  • http://www.dessertfirst.typepad.com Anita

    Clotilde,
    Everything sounds marvelous – I’m definitely writing down the names of those places when I ever make my own trip to Spain!

  • itroussel

    Barcelona, what a lovely city, (although I find it a bit messy to drive around… all those scooters are accidents waiting to happen!)and the gothic neighbourhoud…
    Anyway, you should know that overcharging is pretty usual at the Costa Brava (Catalonia)and the Costa del Sol (Andalucia)… The excuse for the first ones is that Catalonians are the equivalent of French Auvergnats… In Spain we consider them money-grubbing (not a personal opinion, just the general feeling)! For Andalucian, well, it is a totally different story: here in Spain we have what we call the “picaresca” (picaresque)which is part of the Spanish nature… and the Andalucians have mastered that art! This said, I would suggest everybody visiting a foreign country to always check the accuracy of their bill!

  • alisa

    …so that’s where all the French go in August!

    Love the egg photo

  • http://blueVicar.com Anne

    When we moved to Europe 4 years ago, Barcelona had been our first choice of cities. But, alas, primary school children there learn not only Castilian but also Catalan, so our daughter would have had to face two new foreign languages when one was already a great challenge. Nice, France was the second choice city and I”ve never regretted it; and now we are in Antibes. Migrating west to end up back in Barcelona?

    I wish I had had your list of suggestions during our visit to that amazing city…we didn”t eat well there. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

    Meilleurs vœux!
    Anne

  • barbara

    I am a regular visitor of Barcelona, and Cal Pep is an absolute must for fish-lovers.
    Fresh, delicious small dishes with the best seafood you can imagine. There may be a queu, and you sit at the bar, but in good company, you’ll have an excellent night.

  • Emily

    Ohhhh you have made me so excited. I am going to Spain next year to visit my sister who has just moved there. I will have to print this post out and try some of your suggestions when I am there- thank you.
    I love dragonfruit too- when I lived in Vietnam I used to have it for breakfast every morning I really liked its semi-sweetness.

  • Kristina

    We went to Barcelona last Easter and ate at a branch of Taller de Tapas, following a recommendation by the Time Out guide (but against the advise of our holiday flat landlord). I still haven’t written my letter of complaint to them, so I am quite glad to have the opportunity to say what I think here. The food wasn’t in any way exciting, pretty average, but their service was unbelievably bad. I wanted a glass of Cava with my lunch, and despite reminding them 10 times, it never arrived. Dishes arrived cold at the table and staff had a very bad attitude. It was not particulary busy at the time, so that can’t be the excuse. A real dissappointment, and I would not recommend it.

  • http://www.eyepreferparis.com richard

    sounds like the pinxtos are like Italian crostini?
    Are they?

  • http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com Homesick Texan

    I concur about Cal Pep–not quite an El Bulli experience, but it’s another mad chef gleefully making decisions for you. And La Boqueria (after Tsujiki) is one of the most amazing markets in the world. Such fantastic photo ops, not to mention delicious food.

  • Sophie

    http://www.espaisucre.com/

    How come you missed this one ;-)?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Alas, Cal Pep was closed for the whole month of August…

  • http://aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com Alice Q. Foodie

    That’s so interesting about the bill – we’re planning a trip for next fall, and I will definitely keep all of this information in mind – thanks for sharing Clotilde!

  • http://juliettesclog.blogspot.com Juuuliette

    I’m very pleased to see that you also enjoyed the Bar Boqueria and Taller de Tapas! I visited Barcelona (and Spain) for the first time two weeks ago, and absolutely loved it. And I have the extreme good fortune to be going back to the Costa Brava in another couple of weeks! I was not aware of the frequence of getting overcharged… hopefully I didn’t get hit too bad. In a couple weeks I’ll make sure to keep my eyes open ;)

  • http://www.mercadocentralvalencia.es/ Daniel

    Thank’s for the inspiration Cotilde!

    If you enjoy the central market in Barcelona I’m quite convinced you will do the same in Valencia, where the Mercado Central offers pleasuers for all senses (see link).

    Another sweet tip if you happen to go on a roadtrip from Barcelona south to Valencia is to pass by the small village Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, which boast around 75 percent of all Cava made in the world. Here you may find monster makers Freixenet and Codorníu along with cavistas hosting less than 10.000 bottles in their small cellars! (Try visiting family cava maker “Torrellardona”, for instance. Located in the central village), less than an hours drive from Barcelona. While there, enjoy a rustic meal at Cal Xim with glocal specialities (calxim.com) in an even smaller village nearby.

  • http://chezchristine.typepad.com Chez Christine

    I went to Taller de Tapas and enjoyed it immensely. It seemed more upscale than the other tapas bars, but I still liked the food.

    Pinotxo in La Boqueria was the best meal I had in Barcelona, we just pointed at what was good!

  • Jennifer

    Does anyone have recommends on places to stay in Barcelona – my husband and I are taking our moms next month.

  • Hannah

    Hi Jennifer,

    I live in Barcelona so am relatively ignorant about hotels here…but friends have stayed in two of note. Both are right in the centre, barely steps away from La Boqueria and the Barri Gotic. One is an efficient, clean and friendly 3 star hotel (i.e., no restaurant but en suite) and the other is top class, 5 star and gorgeous with it. The first is called Duc de la Victoria and is an NH hotel (kind of like Holiday Inn over here): http://www.nh-hotels.com The second is the Hotel Neri: http://www.hotelneri.com. I can highly recommend both hotels for their location, service and comfort.

    hope that helps,

  • http://gourmetymerlin.blogspot.com gourmetdeprovincias

    I am from the other side of Spain (from Santiago de Compostela) but Barcelona in one of my favourite cities too.

    If you were surprised by the “extra-charges” don’t ever go to Andalucia. If it is common in Barcelona, as in all the major tourist places, in cities as Sevilla or Granada is almost a trademark. And yes, sadly it usually happens to foreigners. They call it “picaresca” (don’t know if it has a translation). It should be something like a Mediterranean tradition, because if in Spain its bad, in Italy is just terrible (or maybe it is just I’m a native here but a foreigner in Italy).

  • Jennifer

    Thank you!

  • Jennifer

    Hannah – my husband and I are traveling with our moms. Could you recommend any fav. spots to eat and places we could party late night?

  • http://gourmetymerlin.blogspot.com gourmetdeprovincias

    Last time I stayed at an aparthotel, Aparthotel Calabria (www.aparthotel-calabria.com), located in Calabria Street, in the left part of the Eixample, near Plaza de España and it was just fine, as well as one of the least expensive places in its category in the whole city.

    It is not the most luxurious place in town but it is acceptably comfortable, conveniently located in a very popular midtown area, 20 minutes walking from Old Town and near a subway station (300 m.). It is also great to have a kitchenette when you are travelling to Barcelona. It is the only way to enjoy fresh products from great markets as La Boquería.Probably is not the best place in town, nor the best located, but it will save you an important amount of money.

  • http://gourmetymerlin.blogspot.com gourmetdeprovincias

    A good place, and not too expensive, if you want to have a truly authentic japanese meal in Barcelona is Shunka restaurant, 200 metres from the Cathedral (Sagristans Street). You could easily find Ferrán Adriá (from El Bulli Restaurant) eating there, if you go in the low season, when El Bulli is closed and Adria is working at the Bulli Taller, in that street. Another good option is Thai Garden, www-thai-gardens.com, probably the best thai restaurant in Spain. The food there is good, but the place is really nice, ideal for a romantic dinner or a quite meal with friends. Their Menú is a good option and certainly not too expensive (around 30 euros). If you want to taste some local fish cooking, why don’t you try at the popular area of La Barceloneta, just over the port and the beach? There are a lot of small restaurants, bares de tapas (a kind of bar where you cant eat tapas) to eat fresh seafood and fish.

  • Hannah

    Hi Jennifer,

    I could recommend lots of places to go…but if I’m being honest, the best places for a first visit have already been listed : Set Portes for a fabulous paella or fish dishes (the sopa de rape, monkfish soup, is amazing) http://www.7portes.com I also like most of the places in Barceloneta for good quality fish and “rice” i.e. paella etc. Catalan food is also very very good…ask your hotel to recommend a good barbacoa or if you’d rather go more upmarket they’ll be able to point you in the right direction. (I would recommend, but I tend to stick to my own barrio for stuff like this…and believe me it is soooo good!)
    For drinks, El Vinya Del Senyor is an ABSOLUTE MUST for a wine lover…you can sample pretty much anything from Northern Spain, and they have some French vino too. Go either in the afternoon or evening, though don’t look for much to eat there, this is a wine-only type of place but with a fabulous setting right in front of Barcelona’s only public basilica and current main character in a thriller novel (La Cathedral del Mar). The area is quite good for night life too…wander past either side of the basilica to find a buzz. There’s the Born on one side with an almost village life, if village life included chic bars etc; it has outdoor cafes, fashionable boutique shops etc. On the other side you can wander towards the Picasso museum, but stop first at Euskal Etxea (the Basque social club) for top class pinxos. Also, for more of a club atmosphere (but keep in mind that here club life begins around 1am) go along the beach in Barceloneta. All the bars there provide a late night atmosphere…for me the best are closer to the Hotel Arts, or indeed the bar there…but jacket and tie required. Or you could visit a keystone in Barcelona’s music nightlife, the Luz de Gas club, http://www.luzdegas.com well worth a visit…

    hope that helps…looking forward to hearing about your visit!

  • Natalie

    Just came back from Barcelona this morning :) I also love La Boqueria and had real nice tapas in Taller de Tapas. Anther favorite is Origen 99,9% – nowadays a chain, that serves little tapas-like dishes but all from ancient Catalan recipes. It has 3 restaurants at 1, c/Vidrieria (Sta Maria Del Mar, Born), 2, just around the corner from the first one, 3, c/ Enric Granados, just below Placa Dr Letamendi. Another recommendation is El Xampanyet at c/Montcada, Born. Cava and tapas and lots of people, yummy! Also for Japanese food, a really cool place is El Japonès at Passatge de Conceptión (between Rambla de Catalunya and Passeig de Gracia, east-to-west and c/Provenca and c/Rosselló north-to-south. Barcelona is definitely a place to come back to, since there’s never enough time to try everything.

  • louise

    Juicy Jones is excellent for vegetarian food, and their smoothies (including one made with a real vanilla bean and one made with don’t-baulk-just-try-it avocado). They do a great set menu and a mean tofu sandwich to takeaway which is great when you’re doing some city exploring.

    Bahia (plaça George Orwell) does a mean coffee, and there is a good pizza restaurant opposite.

    If you happen to find yourself in the plaça George Orwell at 3am, besides the dudes selling ‘cevezaaguafantasprite’, there is a lady that sells simple home-made baguettes that, at that hour, will rock your world.

    Oh, and there’s an excellent gelateria (called “Sirvent’, I think at the corner of Parliament and paral.lel, on the other side of the Ramblas, where you take a number deli-style. Nice coconut ice-cream

  • Jennifer

    Thank you all for your wonderful recommendations! We have just returned from Barcelona and tried several of the recommended spots, including QuQu and Taller de Tapas, as well as a few other places that were awesome! These are the musts: Anima, Inopia, Cal Pep and I would highly recommend Irati b/c it was fun with delish tapas on slices of baguette and Mama Cafe. We loved the food in Spain, moreso that France. have fun.

  • Al

    It´s nice to get out of the centre of town and the crowds. Try supping a drink on the Plaza del Sol in Gracia. There´s a very reasonably priced and popular restaurant close by called Can Punyetes, serving very simple Catalan food, ie. toasted bread and tomato and grilled meats amongst a very untouristy crowd.

    It´s been mentioned alot here but Taller de Tapas is worth a trip. You won´t find the same range and freshness of quality tapas anywhere else. Good wine too, and reasonably priced. We´ve always found the service and atmosphere excellent.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/geraldineliquidano/PhotoAlbum35.html geraldine

    I love this site and I making scones au gouda vieux et poires sechees tonight.!

  • jak hayim

    Regarding my visit to Barcelona, it is nice to have restaurants information in advance.
    Can anyone recommend a nice family run pansion or residence which we can live some local culture.

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