Madrid is both massive and divided into 40+ overlapping neighborhoods - it’s a giant jigsaw puzzle of a city. Which means that planning a trip’s worth of meals can feel like you’re trying to pick something to watch on Netflix - there are too many options.
Whether you’re visiting Madrid for three days or seven, we’re here to help you prioritize where to eat - from pintxos to paella to Madrid’s take on ramen. This is a city where you won’t find people inhaling mediocre salads between meetings or rushing through a meal. Madrileños actually enjoy their lunch breaks outside of the office, have leisurely dinners, and gather in easy-to-miss bars to share tapas with friends. And you should do the same. Remember, that almost every place closes for a siesta between 4-8pm in Madrid, so double check a restaurant’s hours before heading anywhere.
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WHERE TO STAYSure, you could fall asleep in your bowl of paella, but if you're looking for a hotel here are three options near many of the restaurants on this guide.
IF YOU’RE HERE FOR THREE DAYS…
You can chomp your way through the city’s tapas spots like a game of Pac-Man, but you’ll be missing out on some amazing Spanish meals. Aside from lots of tapas, three days in Madrid is plenty of time to visit a local market, enjoy a cocktail with a view, and have your fill of churros.
You could dance flamenco in the street with a glass of sangria fused to your hand, but if you really want to pretend to be a true Madrileño, eat at Casa Dani. The family-run stand is found in Mercado de la Paz, a market in the heart of Salamanca - considered Madrid’s fancier neighborhood. Order a pintxo de tortilla, a slice of runny egg and potato omelette with the perfect amount of caramelized onions - the Spanish equivalent of a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich. Drop in for a casual breakfast or for a quick afternoon snack to refuel after a visit to Retiro Park.
With its old photographs and vintage flamenco posters, Bodega la Ardosa looks like a place where you would have found bullfighters in the 1900s eating tapas and drinking a doble. By 9pm, this popular restaurant can get crowded, leaving you standing while you eat. Stick around. Their tortilla is one of the best in the city, their croquetas follow not far behind, and both can be paired with vermouth on tap. When you’re done head to nearby 1862 Dry Bar or Del Diego Cocktail Bar for more drinks.
This tiny, bar-seating-only spot is where you’ll find some of the most creative food in Madrid. Sala de Despiece sources its food from all over Spain and the rest of the world, which you can see as you scan the hand-written daily menu. Ingredients like tirabeques - a type of field pea - come from as far as Kenya and are served in creative ways, like the “Rolex” - a slow-cooked egg yolk rolled in pancetta, topped with truffles and finished off with a blowtorch. Pricier than other tapas spots and about a 15-minute cab ride north of the city center, the dishes are well worth the trip. If you’re with more than two people and trying to eat after 9pm, don’t forget to make a reservation.
There are just some things you should experience while in Madrid. Visiting Plaza Mayor is one of them and another is eating tapas and drinking a clara (half beer, half lemonade) at Mercado San Miguel, a popular covered food market in the city center. Take a five-minute walk to La Mallorquina afterwards for their famous chocolate napolitanas.
The rooftop of the Circulo de Bellas Artes - a historic cultural building dating back to the 1880s - has some of the best views in Madrid. With those views come lines and a $5 admission price, but even in peak tourist season you shouldn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes. There are high tops and a covered seating area, but if you’re lucky enough to grab one of the 10 or so lounge beds, we suggest hanging out with some wine because you just snagged the best seat in the city.
If you’re grabbing dinner in the Centro neighborhood, Chocolatería San Ginés (open 24 hours) is the place to go for dessert. Take your pick between thin and crunchy or thick and soft churros (Spain’s answer to donuts), which come with a bittersweet dark chocolate sauce that’s so good you’ll want to drink it straight from the cup. You can take everything to go, or grab a seat downstairs - where it tends to be less crowded - and chug your chocolate without judgement.
Amazónico looks like the European version of Rainforest Cafe - minus the mechanical gorillas and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Most people come for the giant steaks, but there are also plenty of seafood dishes that are just as impressive. After dinner, head downstairs to their ’20s inspired jazz club where you’ll find live music and dim lighting paired with tropical-inspired cocktails. Amazónico is one of the more popular restaurants in the city, so make a reservation as soon as you book your flights.
With its fluorescent lightning bolts and neon signs, walking into Salmon Guru is like stepping into a comic book while high on mushrooms. Although the name of this bar suggests you’ll be meeting salmon experts, you’re actually here for cocktails made with ingredients like nori seaweed syrup and baked apple froth. If you’re hungry, walk the nine minutes to La Barraca for a traditional paella, and then end the evening with mojitos at nearby Lateral or a glass of wine at the ME Hotel rooftop.
When you’ve had your fill of tapas and are ready to ditch the cutlery, head to Juana La Loca. Possibly the best spot for pintxos - bite-sized dishes often on bread, usually served by the skewer - Juana La Loca’s pintxo de tortilla (think Spanish omelette) with confit onions is one of our favorites in the city.
IF YOU’RE HERE FOR FIVE DAYS…
Continue your no-tapas-left-behind tour of the city by visiting Calle Cava Baja, and treating yourself to fancy seafood.
After you spend your first few days searching for the best traditional tortilla and croquetas in Madrid, head straight to Pez Tortilla. This restaurant serves creative takes on tapas, like a carbonara and a nutella croqueta. This place also carries international beers in a country that mostly rotates between the same three Spanish cervezas.
From tapas to pintxos to ham cones (yes, this is a thing here), there are plenty of casual food options in Madrid. But, for an upscale dinner, we recommend El Paraguas, a white-tablecloth restaurant that serves an Asturian (northern Spanish) menu. This place is definitely pricey, but worth it if you’re looking for an elegant dinner involving dishes like spinach-stuffed king prawns and crab lasagna with sea urchin caviar. For a slightly more relaxed atmosphere, you can also eat on their covered patio.
You’ve come to the right country if your go-to drink is gin and tonic, and while you can order one at any bar, Macera makes the best G&Ts in Madrid. Stop by before dinner if you want a quiet drink, or come around 1am when the bar becomes more of a party.
Calle Cava Baja is one of Madrid’s best-known streets, packed with about 50 tapas places and bars. It’s overwhelming enough that you’ll be tempted to close your eyes, spin around, and head into whichever one you’re left pointing at. Don’t do that. Some of those places definitely aren’t worth your time - but Taberna Tempranillo is one of the best on the street, with high-quality, fresh food. You’ll find traditional tapas here such as duck thighs and grilled, salted artichokes - all of which pair nicely with one of the hundreds of domestic wines that line the back wall.
If your dreams of Madrid involve sipping sangria under the Spanish sun, head to El Viajero. People come to this rooftop for the views and the location, just 10 minutes from the Royal Palace. Sit in a bright red bistro chair next to an ivy-covered balcony as you take in a perfect view of Madrid at sunset.
Paella is native to Valencia, so if you’re traveling to the coast on your trip, there is no need for you to keep reading. If not, then make sure to try the paella at La Barraca, which makes the best version in Madrid. There are 17 types to choose from - including a traditional Valencian paella with chicken and rabbit. If you’re with a group (and therefore have more stomach space), we’d also order the baby squid over risotto.
Fide is the kind of place you could easily miss while walking by. And inside, the linoleum floors, bad lighting, and few tables in the back might have you awkwardly moonwalking away. But stay the course - because Fide is home to some fantastic seafood, like smoked sardine pintxos, marinated scallops, and razor clams served out of the shell.
IF YOU’RE HERE FOR A WEEK…
If you’re visiting Madrid for less than a week, then you’ll want to focus your meals on traditional dishes such as pintxos and tapas. But if you have more time, we recommend exploring Madrid’s international restaurants and non-traditional bites.
Chuka is one of our favorite Asian restaurants in Madrid. The Asian menu includes creative mashups like chicken tikka masala gyoza and cochinita pibil bao buns. It’s one of the few places in the city where you can sit down to a great bowl of ramen, which is a must-order here.
Madrid isn’t a brunch city. To fix that, a couple of Australian expats opened up Federal, and now have two locations serving what is probably the best brunch in town. Stop by Federal if you need an eggs benedict or French toast fix.
If you were to stop by any cafe in Madrid and ask for an iced coffee, they’d hand you a mug of hot coffee with a glass of ice on the side. Toma Café serves cold brew, which is exactly what you need in the middle of a Spanish summer. Not only do they have high-quality coffee, but they also carry non-dairy milk (which is as hard to find here as a restaurant open during siesta). On a typical afternoon there isn’t a ton of seating, so ask for that flat white “para llevar” or to-go.
Your trip has been one big patatas bravas tour around the city and now you’re left hunting for salads much like the way Tom hunts Jerry. Head to Honest Greens for lunch at one of their four locations around the city. This fast casual spot has salads, grain bowls, and protein platters that you can pair with plant-based sides - all made with locally sourced ingredients and seasonal produce. Their whole-roasted cauliflower with lemon yogurt sauce might just make you feel like you’re ready for more patatas bravas.
Religion Café is one of the newer coffee spots in the city, that also serves vegan and vegetarian-friendly breakfast and lunch dishes like açaí bowls and bagels. It’s a 15-minute cab ride if you’re based in the city center, but you should add it to your itinerary if you want a healthier breakfast spot before checking out the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (home of Real Madrid) or Museo Sorolla.
Mistura is our spot for homemade gelato and vegan milkshakes. Pick from a selection of toppings and watch as the ice cream is hand mixed in front of you on a slab of frozen marble. There are five locations around the city, so you can easily stop by one while out sightseeing.
Charrúa cooks most things on an open flame, and almost everything here - from the many cuts of beef to the vegetable sides - comes out perfectly charred. The comfortable space makes you feel like you’re on a ranch in the Spanish countryside, even though you’re right in the middle of the city.