Pinotxo Bar, Marinated Snails
I have gushed about Barcelona's amazing tapas on more than one occasion. (Can you blame me?) On many of these occasions, people have informed me flat out that Tapas is a tourist thing. I don't buy it. True, tapas originated from the Basque region of Spain, and not Catalonia where Barcelona is capital. But looking at the myriad tapas bars springing up in nearly every corner of the city and the locals weaving in and out constantly for a perk-me-up, how can anyone not believe that tapas has become an essential part of the Barcelona lifestyle? If affordable bubbly (Cava) and snack-sized indulgences (a McFoie burger, maybe? or Sirloin pincho?) are your kinda thing, this one is for you.
#1 Pinotxo Bar
Grilled Clams, 10€, Ham Croquette and Fish Croquette, 1€ each
Everyone who visits Barcelona visits the La Boqueria market, but not everyone knows that tucked in one corner of the market is a legendary tapas institution (playfully named Pinotxo). If Ferran Adrià of El Bulli calls this place a culinary temple, I don't know what it is for the rest of us... culinary heaven? The praise is actually spot on, since those clams up there, grilled and coaxed with nothing but a splash of olive oil and some wine, were some of the best tasting things I've ever put into my mouth. Seriously, top 10. So incredibly fresh, clean and beautiful. Leagues above the usual clams. You can easily tell from the picture - the plump and firm meat, the picture-perfect shells. The marinated snails were unique and plenty of fun to eat, though nowhere near as impressive as the clams. You get to choose between salt cod and ham for the croquettes - both were thinly breaded, perfectly golden and utterly delicious, with almost creamy centers. Other amazing dishes include the baby squid flash-fried with white Santa Pau beans, chickpeas sauteed with botifarra (white Catalan sausage) and their hearty carne or tripas (beef or tripe) stew.
Café con leche, Xiuxo
Dining at Pinotxo is a fantastic experience in itself. Juanito Bayan, the amiable and energetic owner-chef, is an incredibly warm host. How many times in your life will you be able to see a chef this marvelous putting his spell on the ingredients right before your eyes? I had to return the next day for breakfast, this time for their smooth Café con leche and famed Spanish donut, Xiuxo (pronounced choo cho). Biting into the crisp pastry was bliss - specks of sugar leaped like fairy dust, air, then the comforting taste of custard. I often dream of returning to Barcelona, and truly, Pinotxo is a major reason why.
#2 Taller de Tapas
Taller de Tapas, Chilled Steamed Prawns, 4.65€, Steamed Mussels, 4.95€
After brunch at Pinotxo, there is just enough time for a quick spin around town to marvel at Gaudi's work before beginning tapas hopping proper at night! Conveniently located at Rambla Catalunya, Taller de Tapas is a good place to start. Here's the bonus: the food is surprisingly affordable. The steamed mussels with Mediterranean herbs was a generous portion for 4.95€ (fresh and completely delicious to boot). The chilled steamed prawns (loosely dubbed langoustines) served with a delicious chunky mayo were firm and sweet, though not exactly a stand-out dish. It's out of the menu now, but there are plenty of other dishes to try: seared foie gras with sweet sherry reduction (8.90€), grilled razor shells (7.80€), Andalusian style fried squid rings (4.35€), Jamón de bellota (6.95€) and chorizos braised in red wine (3.85€).
#3 Tapas 24
Tapas 24, Moritz Beer, 2.50€, Lamb Skewer, 5.50€
Tapas 24's bright decor and mostly counter seating might fool you into thinking that the food is no-fuss, but the offerings are actually pretty gourmet. It's a gastro-tapas bar of sorts, and drinks are a must. A glass of Moritz beer on tap or cava hovers around just 3€ - it's hard to resist. And why should you? For tapas, we got ourselves a spicy lamb skewer, which was surprisingly tender and tasted fantastic.
McFoie Burger, 9.50€
But of course, the real highlight was the McFoie burger. It tasted incredible. By the way, there's also an El Bulli connection, since owner-chef Carles Abellan was a former protégé under Ferran Adrià for a whopping fifteen years. While there isn't any molecular gastronomy to speak of at Tapas 24, the inventiveness shows in the way ingredients are put together once they veer from traditional offerings. The burger may be puny (something so delicious should be super sized) but they've gotten everything right here. Crisp, toasted buns, hand-chopped beef patty and a ball of foie gras ganache so smooth it looks like ice-cream. Spread it well, smack the buns together and enjoy! Don't worry, that's only half a burger, it isn't that puny. The bikini, which sounds like the best sandwich ever invented, is made with black truffles, cured iberian ham and buffala mozarella (9.50€). Other dishes widely raved include their arros negra de sipia (black rice with squid, 14€), jamon croquette (2€ each), paAmb tomaquet (3€) and chocolate mousse with coarse sea salt (6€). Check out the menu here courtesy of The Picky Glutton.
#4 Cerveceria Catalana
Cerveceria Catalana, Cava, Tortilla
Cerveceria Catalana is so popular with locals and tourists alike that it's almost a given to queue for a table. I'll say it's best to arrive when you're all full and use the queue as a quick break! The interior is dark, sleek and trendy. Since it's practically a beer hall, it's also a fantastic place to come with a bunch of friends. Their menu is so extensive, it's almost like a tapas dictionary. We got hungry after waiting and went for a tortilla to fill ourselves up while we sipped on cava. I swear the Spanish knows how to live. The tortilla was slightly runny on the inside and surprisingly good. It also came with paAmb tomàquet (bread rubbed with garlic, tomato and drizzled with olive oil), which I completely loved. Bread never tasted this good.
Sirloin pincho, Cod fish pincho
Prices for the individual tapas hover around 4€, which is great value given that the food scores well on both taste and quality. Both the sirloin and cod tapas were terrific! The former a glorious miniature steak, the latter a fresh sliver of cod topped with savoury raisin compote. There were so many other things I wanted to try but the potato and egg dish was top on the list - shoestring fries nestled on spicy sauce, topped with a poached egg and mixed in on the spot sounds almost too good to be true.
P.S. I did this post partly to explain to M in words why I loved Barcelona so much (he missed all of it!). I don't know if he'll be sold but now I'm obsessed all over again and currently consumed by a burning desire to fly to Barcelona for tapas alone... Have you been to these places? Were there amazing places that I missed trying? Sound out in the comments!
2 Fantastic Online Guides
#1 Mirabel's Guide to Barcelona
#2 Jamie Magazine: Barcelona Guide
Mercat Sant Josep (La Boqueria), La Rambla 89, Barri Gòtic, Barcelona
Open: Mon-Sat, 06:00 to 16:00
Taller de Tapas
Rambla Catalunya 49-51, 08003, Barcelona
Open: Mon-Sat 7:30 to 1:00, Sun 12:00 to 1:00
Diputació, 269, 08007, Barcelona
Open: Mon-Sat, 08.00 to midnight.
Carrer de Mallorca, 236 (Barcelona). Between Rambla de Catalunya and Balmes.
Open: Mon-Fri, 08:00-1:30, Sat-Sun, 09:00-1:30
Pin It Now!