So, you’re headed to Barcelona. Most likely, you’re coming here to do some eating, and you probably have some tips that your friend who spent a semester here ten years ago gave you. Or, maybe you Googled some things in advance of your trip. Good luck with that.
Luckily, you have us, and by “us” I mean “me,” a person who spends a few months a year in Barcelona and knows where to find the good stuff. This is going to be LONG, but it’s also going to be all you need for your next visit. Let’s start with some general tips:
- The best jamon (or pernil, in Catalan) is called Iberico de Bellota, and you should eat as much of it as you can – it’s much cheaper and easier to get than in your home country.
- They really do eat dinner at 9 or 10 p.m. here.
- They drink dark vermouth on its own – it’s a precursor to a meal and an accompaniment to early evening tapas. It’s better than it sounds. Do it.
- Order the local wine: Priorat, Montsant, El Penedes, Terra Alta, and L’Emporda are a few Catalan regions. Cava, Spain’s answer to Champagne, is produced in Catalonia. The house wine is always good, and you can definitely sneak in some Rioja, considering you are technically in Spain. Whatever you do, don’t come looking to drink pinot noir.
- You’re in the Catalan capital of Barcelona: they speak Catalan and Spanish here. There is a peaceful but strong nationalist and separatist movement here, so just keep that in mind, and if someone doesn’t understand your 5th grade pronunciation of “la basura,” try not to resort to just saying it louder.
- By nature, many things are touristy in Barcelona, but the key is knowing which ones are worth braving the crowds. That’s where we come in.
Now let’s dive a whole lot deeper. Grab your highlighter.
There will be a wait here, no matter what. However, when you finally sit, you’ll be treated to all the classics on any Spanish tapas menu, along with many other things you might not have known about before in the form of Catalan cuisine. Everything is good, so get a few staples, like jamon and patatas bravas, but make sure you order off the written specials menu as well.
Rice, rice, and more rice. Paella is native to Valencia, another Catalan-speaking region just to the south, but Catalans have adopted it in their own way. While you’ll find plenty of locals eating here, many will write it off as being too touristy. You do it regardless. The rice here is among the best.
The less-touristed sister restaurant to Can Travi Nou, Can Cortada is an old Catalan cuisine staple near the top of the hills above the city. Expect excellent grilled meats and vegetables, cannelonis, and other Catalan specialties.
Els Pescadors will set you back a few Euros, but they are the kings of traditional and delicious Catalan seafood, and being out of the city center means only the determined will get there. Get at least one suquet.
Some of the best food you can find in Barcelona, period. La Cova Fumada is in the Barceloneta neighborhood, situated among many other tiny, signless places. La Cova Fumada’s claim to fame is that they invented the bomba, so get one of those, as well as the tiny tallerines, which, in the words of Zoolander, are “clams for ants.” They are so, so good. Note that they have wacky hours, as most tapas places do, so make sure you check first.
This is one of the best bars for vermouth and conservas in the city, also in Barceloneta. Don’t be freaked out by seafood in a can – it’s a Spanish specialty, and if canned correctly, the quality and flavors actually improve over time. It’s the perfect way to start off your tapas bender.
A more famous bar for conservas and montaditos, which are tapas served on bread. This place gets packed out, but that’s half the fun, shoving food in your face while juggling your drink and trying not to elbow the guy next to you, as everyone tries to talk over everyone else and blows smoke in your face. Oh, yeah, you’re also probably standing in the middle of the street. Welcome to Spain!
On your walk back from Park Guell, stop at this bar that probably sees about two tourists a year, and get any seafood labeled “fresca,” especially the berberechos, which are small cockles. There are thousands of bars just like this all over Barcelona that serve tapas and full plates, so if you see a crowded one while you’re walking around and you want to stop for a quick tapa and a drink, do so. It’s how the locals do.
One of the most famous tapas bars in Barcelona, serving up creative new dishes like the “McFoie burger" and also more traditional Spanish, Catalan, and Basque tapas. It will be packed, but the food will be good. Also worth trying: Tapas 24 at Carrer de la Diputació, 269.
This restaurant is something of a game changer in Barcelona. Newly obsessed with Mexican food, the famous Adria brothers have a new inventive Mexican restaurant with a taqueria, Nino Viejo, just next door. For being so academic, it’s not stuffy at all, keeping with the overall vibe of the city. There isn’t one thing on the menu that isn’t mind-blowingly good. This is a good alternative if you can’t get a reservation at their famous tapas restaurant, Tickets, but you still want the Adria experience while in Barcelona.
Kaiku is on the sea, flanked by cheesy tourist joints serving frozen paellas. Don’t be fooled, though. The food is so good and creative here that you should go at any time of year, but if you can go for lunch and sit outside, you’ll be eating right on the sea. Make sure you get at least one rice dish.
This restaurant is a little off the beaten tourist path in the Poblenou neighborhood, and that’s a great thing. Poblenou is a cool place, with its very own Rambla that is just as beautiful and 100% less packed with tourists and pickpockets than its famous counterpart in the city center. This alone merits a visit, but check out Can Recasens for its selection of Catalan cheeses and cured meats, which are among the best in the world. They actually just serve you planks of the stuff, piled six inches high. The salads are really good, and trust us, after a few days in this town, you’ll be dying for some greens.
A fine dining powerhouses not to be missed, if you’ve got Euros to burn and that’s your thing. Catalans are known for their innovation and creativity in fine dining, so if you ever needed an excuse, merely being in Barcelona is good enough. In this category, skip Roca Moo, of El Celler de Can Roca pedigree. It’s a hot mess, and a waste of time and money. But do try Comerç 24 (Carrer de la Diputació, 269) and Moments (Passeig de Gràcia, 38).
People go absolutely effing nuts for gintonics here. As a foreigner who is likely used to a gin and tonic being a bottom of the barrel well drink it can be confusing at first, but once you encounter your first menu of 20 gintonic varieties, you start to get the picture. It’s always served in a giant goblet, and the preparation is akin to that scene in Love Actually where Mr. Bean won’t stop adding ribbons and herbs and add-ons to the gift he’s wrapping. Embrace it, because they’ve actually made the gin and tonic a refreshing and creative drink worth drinking.
Barcelona locals are admittedly allergic to anything touristy; the consequence of living in one of the most visited cities per capita in the world. Once a train station, El Nacional is now an open-concept, truly gorgeous space that has several different high quality bars and restaurants. Its newness and location near Plaça de Catalunya ensures tourist traffic, but many natives are going there and have admitted that they think it’s a great addition to the city. It’s a perfect post-sightseeing option, whether for your early evening vermouth and tapas or for dinner.
The whole crew at this restaurant comes straight from Italy, which is Italy’s loss and Barcelona’s gain. The southern Italian style pizza here is excellent, as is anything else off the rest of the limited non-pizza menu.
Asian food has become a recent obsession in Barcelona. This inexpensive Asian restaurant is all about the dim sum. Skip the duck dumplings, but get everything else.
Run by the same people as Mosquito, Red Ant is noodle and rice focused. The ramen and bibimbap are on point and even come with the right amount of heat, which is unusual for Asian food in Spain, as Spaniards and Catalans can’t really handle picante.
Tacos. FINALLY. It’s taken years, but Mexican has finally arrived in Barcelona. La Taqueria is really good, too, evidenced by the fact that it’s consistently packed with Mexicans. It’s also conveniently around the corner from the Sagrada Familia, should you become so inspired.
In Barcelona, Syrian and Lebanese food has been a staple alternative for many years. At Amrit and its sister restaurant Ugarit, located on a quintessential street in the heart of the Gracia neighborhood, you can get great Syrian food. If you haven’t yet nursed a hangover with a huge, flavorful pile of couscous, now’s your chance.
This is filed under non-Spanish food, but since breakfast sort of doesn’t exist in Spain, it’s really in a league of its own. My only true gripe with Spanish culture and food is the lack of breakfast options, and no matter how much time I spend there, I can’t really ever shake the urge to have eggs when I wake up. If you’re the same, head to Brunch & Cake, where the food will rival any good brunch-as-religion establishment in New York City. Note: this is NOT a local experience, in fact, I have not met one local in all my years who has ever heard of it. Instead, it’s packed with American study abroad students in various stages of hangover and undress, and it is absolutely hilarious (and delicious).