In Barcelona, more than most other European cities, eating out on a budget can mean dining in style – as long as you know where to go. Here are Time Out's recommended places to find great food with minimal outlay.
The Mosquito Group, champions of Asian food and craft beer, have already opened six spots, and they've done it backwards: take care to make good food that's priced well, and the customers will do the rest. Did we say six? Make that seven: Cal Cuc has now opened in Poblenou. The cuisine isn't always the same at each restaurant either: the ramen here is perhaps more dense than that at Grasshopper but both are great. The 'pho' at Cal Cuc is maybe a bit more citric than the one at Mosquito. They kicked off with a menu that features Asian 'tapas', big bowls of dishes to be eaten with a spoon, and wok dishes such as a green curry with squid that's tender, just the right touch of spicy, and pays tribute to a classic Catalan dish that combines squid with soft meatballs made with bits of shellfish.
Escairón is particularly remarkable for its Galician entrecot (sirloin steak) and 'caldo gallego' (Galician broth). Jorge and Pilar make you feel at home, while the clientele are mostly regulars. Aside from the entrecot, main dishes include barbecue, stews, and especially the eponymous dessert, Escairón (crème caramel with a kind of nougat ice cream). Unforgettable fried potatoes accompany the meat dishes. This is the perfect place to delight your palate with the very best of Galician cuisine and fresh, quality market fare at reasonable prices and with excellent service.
Ofis started out as the daytime-only version of Sifón, the cocktail bar next door. Choose your midday meal at your leisure: six dishes, of which you can pick two, with no restrictions on which comes first or second, with a lovely glass of wine and fantastic desserts. Enjoy the Italian-Argentinean ambience with a creative meal that gives you fantastic value for money. The wilder ones may go for pizza and 'vacío' (a mouth-wateringly tender meat), but you can also try the sautéed vegetables with soy sauce or the classic 'vitello tonnato', roast veal with tartar sauce. And the time was finally right: after establishing one of the best set lunch menus in Barcelona, Ofis took the next step and now they're open for dinner as well.
If the economic crises have a silver lining it's the rediscovering of humble products. Or maybe instead of rediscovering it would be more correct to talk about reclaiming less-than-noble raw materials. Starting from a 'radically organic, seasonal and local point of view', which is what Pere Carrió says applies to Gat Blau, the results can be wonderful: 'An organic pork jowl costs €4 euros; a kilo of chickpeas, €3. The entrecôte is expensive, but we can make tartare from less superior parts.' And they manage to do it. They offer an organic, traditional and creative set lunch menu for under €12 where six of the eight options are vegetarian – and it varies every day! You won't miss fancy things done with prawns when instead you've got before you gorgeous veal cannelloni wrapped in courgette, or a traditional Catalan potato coulant ('patata emmascarada'). For dinner you can dig into haute cuisine for around €25.
Xavi Montes is a tavern owner by trade, the type who's much nicer than he is funny. And Bar Casi, with a façade that hints at dive-bar status, is where he shows off all his natural charm. When you're strolling through a quiet part of a neighbourhood and you see a bar full of customers, they must have something pretty good to offer. You might not be wowed by the ambience, thinking the best thing you can say about the bar with its six tables is that it's clean enough. But what you'd be missing is its warmth and dynamic and positive vibe: Every day Montes serves up complete lunches as well as a generous and home-made set lunch menu for a tenner. His charisma won't cost you a cent. On your first day you're treated like a regular customer who's been having lunch here every day for decades.
This family establishment was modernised when the children inherited it from their parents, resulting in one of the best lunchtime menus in the Marina area. For less than €10 per person, you can choose between four starters and four main dishes, made from simple ingredients but created with great expertise and originality. Like upside-down macaroni stuffed with chicken and bechamel. It’s become a real magnet in the area.
The Mexican owners say they make 'Mexican street food'. And they do it well: their tacos are phenomenal and their quesadillas are made with care and without industrial cheddar. The repertoire is informal Mexican food, and weekends are reserved for more-traditional fare such as aguachiles and chicken with mole sauce. The ambience is also a cut above the norm, with modern Mexican and colourful decor.
One of those bar-restaurants that are few and far between nowadays, ideal for tight budgets and good eaters. The fork breakfast is a memorable experience. And at lunchtime, get ready for a communal meal with some delicious starters and main dishes. The capipota, shoulder and cod are excellent. Wash it all down with a fine wine from Gelida.
A comic metaphor for modern-day Barcelona, Himali moved into what was a local boozer, but has retained the silhouettes of famous Catalans – Dalí and Montserrat Caballé among them – on the windows; inside, meanwhile, there are Nepalese prayer flags and tourist posters of the Himalayas. The alien and impenetrable menu looks a bit daunting, but the waiters are useful with recommendations. If you want a global sampling of Nepalese cuisine, order the 'tahli'.
Juan Antonio Miró is an omelette guru. He opened this restaurant in 1985, and from the outset he focused on these 'truites' ('tortillas' in Spanish). You can try simple culinary works of art here such as caviar, crab or smoked salmon omelettes. There are even omelettes for dessert: try the cherry and banana creation.
Down a little street right near Plaça Catalunya you can enjoy a lunch menu that offers so many dishes to choose from, it's not nearly as limiting as many lunch specials. Bear in mind the restaurant is open only for lunch and a drink is not included. Their 'timbal' (pie) of potato and 'botifarra negra' (black sausage) is already a classic.
Senyor Vermut is a local spot in the Eixample Esquerre whose menu of tapas and small plates may not be so different from other restaurants of its ilk, but here in the Miralles family business, everything has the Miralles touch. A peach gazpacho, lovely croquettes – the wild mushroom ones are phenomenal – a 'capipota' just like Grandma Josefina used to make, good but not stellar patatas bravas, and a tasty shish kabob marinated with oil and spices. Whatever you choose, you'll get excellent options that cost less than €5.
The three Fernández sisters from Bierzo in the north-west of Spain have been in the heart of El Raval for years, where they offer an experience that combines the produce of their land with a deep red decor, a bit like an Almodóvar film. All dishes are for sharing. It’s quite small and has its hardcore clientele, so you're advised to book well in advance.
Tarannà is a special place. The light is magnificent in the afternoon, no joke. When night falls, there's nothing like ordering one of the many beers on the menu to go with an organic chicken and avocado sandwich. Breakfast, vermouth, lunch, gorgeously sweet snacks, dinner, quality drinks... The combination of versatility, modernity, quality and simplicity, and surprisingly attentive and fast service make it impossible not to be seduced by this oasis.
This quality fast-food chain won the Time Out Amsterdam prize in 2010 for the best fast-food restaurant. What makes them so great are their stir-frys, made with fresh ingredients in an open kitchen where the masters of the wok play with fire to cook up your made-to-order dish. The result is a crunchy, healthy meal bursting with flavours. As you step up to the counter, first you order your base of either noodles or rice, and then you choose as many as you like from among the 15 ingredients (including fresh vegetables, chicken, tofu, prawns, etc.) and a special sauce. The average dish is about €8, but you can eat for as low as €4.95. The long operating hours make Wok to Walk a great place to grab a bite without having to look at your watch, especially late nights out on the town.