I’ve just arrived from California for a tapas “fix.” Each time I visit Madrid I stay at the same hotel because of its central location; but, I also stay here because I’ve got my tapas route perfectly planned from the hotel…even on jet-lag I can auto-pilot to and from my three pet tapas stops.
First, it’s the upscale Mercado San Miguel, one of Madrid’s oldest and most architecturally stunning food markets. Reminiscent of the old Les Halles market in Paris, the glass & steel masterpiece was built in the Beau-Arts style in the early 1900’s. After two world wars and a failing economy, the structure fell into disrepair and was nearly abandoned. Shortly after the millennium it was rescued from the wrecking ball and today, there’s not a more chic place in Madrid to nibble on tapas.
The crowd at the Mercado San Miguel is young, well-coiffed professionals so expect the prices to match. The food-centric emporium boasts >30 shops, most of which sell only tapas. The wine selections match the sophisticated crowd. BTW: don’t even consider this place on a Saturday night--- you’ll not be able to even move, let alone order tapas or vino.
Mercado San Miguel---market extraordinaire
From the Mercado San Miguel, it’s just a minute or two walk to Plaza Mayor, one of my favorite squares in all of Madrid…the architecture, alone, is worth a visit. Moreover, how could one come to Madrid without paying homage to the Bullfighter’s bar? While the food at my other two faves are more upscale, there’s something compelling about this little spot.
Torre del Oro (AKA Bullfighter’s Bar) boasts a huge array of famous bullfighting regalia…from elaborate matador capes to even a bull’s head. But what always captures my attention is the collection of photos, especially the ones showing gored bullfighters on the operating room table and in various stages of recovery in the hospital. The best tapas? Order the mild padrone peppers…they are available by special order only. (The men who work behind the bar are engaging, spirited and quite fun. They usually sneak in a couple of free tapas if you’re equally so.)
Atmospheric Torre del Oro
I’ve saved the best for last. Head out of the Plaza Mayor to Calle Cava Baja, a 10 minute stroll. This pedestrian-only two block street, often referred to as the “street of tapas,” is lined with tapa places. Look no farther than Txakolina at #26 which just might offer the best morsels in the city. Definitely a cut above its competitors, this place offers the most impressive looking and tasting bites. If you’re a crab lover, do not miss the cangrejo--- they are rich and fabulous. For meat lovers there is a huge array of gorgeous tidbits. The only downfall of this tony establishment is its limited wine selection...definitely drinkable but don’t expect the earth to move. Txakolina fills early and quickly, so go early.
Txakolina rocks it with tapas!