My family and I just spent two weeks in Spain: Barcelona and several locations in Andalucia. As I try to avoid a rambling discussion about the wonders of the nation at large, a summary of findings is below. Travelling with friends and several kids, we did not attempt haute cuisine/molecular/prix fixe joints and stuck to bars and traditional or specialized places.
La Tasqueta de Blai (BCN): Wildly inventive and popular pintxos joint, with constantly revolving platters of wonderful bites ranging from Basque classics, to diner-inspired mini sunny-side-up egg/sausage combos, to beef soft tacos with guacamole. My favorite was a tempura prawn over a roasted pimento padron. Pay by the spent toothpick at 1-1.5 euro per; we had 39. Image attached.
Taberna Jovenes Flamencos (Arcos de La Frontera): Probably the best overall meal of the trip was served at this modest place in the beautifully situated c"pueblo blanco" of Arcos. The recommendation came from the owner of our nearby rental. I’ve attached an image of the menu. We had approximately 1/3 of the slate, and literally every dish was delicious; even the kids’ croquettes had a hand-made savory quality to them. The server espoused the taberna’s preference for local products and wines (which is not always the case in Andalucia unfortunately). It did not hurt to have a bar-goer break out into spontaneous flamenco singing as we were being seated.
El Xampanyet (BCN): Crowded and atmospheric, this traditional joint specializes in house-brand cava and tapas. The braised beef cheek, xipirones (baby squid) with salsa verde, razor clams, and braised leeks with tuna were all outstanding. Image attached.
Bar Pinotxo (BCN): Small place in the Boqueria serving delicious Catalan fare. Spiced chickpeas, beef stew with peas, xipirones with white beans, boquerones; all great.
Bar Marsella (BCN): Tears came to my eyes as they surveyed this nearly 200 year-old Raval bar, ancient bottles coated in dust and mold, paint stripping off the ceiling. Nearly automatically one orders absinthe, served in a plastic cup with sugar cube, spoon, and water.
La Freiduría de Tere (Granada): A lovingly tended take-out counter that is the cheap alternative to the upscale neighboring seafood house, Cunini. Shiny, fresh seafood on display is dredged and fried to order, along with slices of eggplant, and served in a paper cone. A good paella and the local version of migas are also on offer.
Boadas Cocktails (BCN): Though frequented by tourists (being so close to La Rambla) a drinker is transported to an earlier time when the front door shuts. The tuxedo-ed bartenders I met at Boadas did not really speak English, and I was amused to overhear a few different drink orders that were completely lost in translation. This is not to say that my Spanish was good enough to make my preferences totally clear, but what emerged from a theatrical long pour out of the tin was tasty and strong.
Can Paixano (BCN): Tasty bocadillos from a bare-simple cava house with extremely cheap (4 euros/bottle) but good rosat. I would recommend any of the house specialty sandwiches that include pimentos.
Viena (La Rambla, BCN): Mark Bittman is at times too “minimalist” for me, but he is on to something here in naming the Catalan chain’s $6 flaute Iberic de gla the “world’s best sandwich.” Not sure I’m yet prepared to go quite that far, but I did eat 2.5 of these on my visit to the city, a masterwork of crusty pan amb tomate and perfectly sliced shards of the planet’s most coveted variety of ham (and in the case of this Americano, a squeeze of mayo). Very cold cañas as well.
Meson El Yunque (Granada): On the lovely Plaza San Miguel Bajo, I can only highly recommend the view and the sangria “de la abeula”, definitely the best version of this oft-botched punch that I have tried. Free tapa too.
Freiduria Las Flores 1 (Cadiz): A busy joint specializing in fried seafood, with the surtido “frito Gaditano” (Cadiz-style sampler) being a very good value. Especially good were the pjiotas (small hake) and cazon en adodo (dogfish in spicy batter), the latter reminiscent of a first-rate baja fish taco.
Ciutat Condal (BCN): A user-friendly tapas joint that seems to cater to the international crowd, without sacrificing in terms of quality. It might prove excellent on a later visit, with a chance to browse and sample the seafood salads on display at the bar. Very good pescadito frito, roast artichokes and baby clams.
Bodegas Castaneda (Granada): Behind the bar sits an impressive array of barrels, some with vermouth, some apparently with pork-spiked chicken broth. The vermouth I sampled did have an elusive savory component (the broth?) plus a splash of gin. The free tapa was a cold octopus/potato salad that was quite good. The “tabla castaneda” caliente (hot items) included a variety of local specialties.
La Confiteria (BCN): Friendly, old-style place serving updated craft cocktails. They did a nice job with a negroni incorporating the house vermouth.
The fare served at at least one of the very few public casetas (tents) at the Feria de Abril in Seville was mostly uninspired. But perhaps this is to be expected considering the crush of the crowds and the limits of the facilities. I longed to sample what the private casetas where snacking on.
Bread: The bread - and pastries - served and sold throughout Spain struck us as average at best. Even the loaf we bought at a multiple-vendor-recommended specialist stall in the Boqueria in Barcelona serving a deep line of customers was “meh.” Just as with Italy (more than a decade ago), it is a mystery why this food-obsessed nation can’t seem to do better.
Ales: The upstart Spanish nano-brewed “IPAs” and “Pale Ales” being sold at beer-geek places tasted like novice homebrews compared to their U.S. counterparts. Especially considering the pricing, I’d stick to the icy cañas for the time being.
Shawarma/doner/maghrebi-style bocadillo: Truth be told, I only ate from two iterations of this genre, but I looked at many more - especially along Granada’s Calle Elvira, which has many of them - and there appears to be a generic approach to overdone, low-quality meats, insipid sauces and oddly assorted condiments (sweet corn? cold shredded cheese?) By all accounts other European nations have far, far better options in this regard.