There are menus listing tempting tapas just about everywhere you turn in the Catalan capital. The choice can be overwhelming, and nowhere else but Barcelona boasts tapas in such variety – but this can apply to quality as well as the dishes on offer. Here are the restaurants, cafés, bodegas and tapas bars serving the best mini-meals in Barcelona...
Packed to the rafters with dusty bottles of wine, this classic but minuscule bar makes up for in tapas what it lacks in space. The specialities are 'conservas' (shellfish preserved in tins), which aren't always to non-Spanish tastes, but the 'montaditos', sculpted tapas served on bread, are spectacular. Try salmon sashimi with cream cheese, honey and soy, or cod, passata and black olive pâté. Get there early for any chance of a surface on which to put your drink.
Poblenou needed a creative and youthful tapas bar that didn’t play bait and switch. El 58 serves a quality product with some imaginative recipes like the langostine and sweet chilli brochette. A big draw is the great value for money, seen in plates like the grilled prawns; while the phenomenal patatas bravas are a tribute to and variation of those at Bohèmic. El 58 is quite the pleasant spot with a splendid interior courtyard.
Think of it not as a trek to the less-than-central neighbourhood of Nou Barris, but as a quest; queues outside are testament to the great value of the tapas. On especially busy nights you'll be asked to take a number, supermarket-style. Waiters will advise first-timers to start with 'chocos' (creamy squid rings), patatas bravas with allioli, 'llonganissa' sausage and 'tigres' (stuffed mussels). After which the world is your oyster, cockle or clam.
Polleria Fontana isn't just a common chicken eatery. It's also not that close to the Fontana metro station. Instead it's a tapas bar/restaurant between the Fontana and Joanic metro stations. Owner/chef Nil Ros and his team are committed to traditional Catalan cuisine and home-made dishes using his granny's recipes. Everything is made fresh, and we found both the classic dishes and the tapas were well executed. They even do paellas.
This tavern frequented by those who work at or near the sea has got to be a favourite for hearty lunches in Barcelona. Among the iron-and-marble tables, you can get lunch specialities every day that will put hair on your chest: stewed garbanzos, 'capipota' and salted cod are just some of the stars on the menu. La Cova Fumada is said to be the birthplace of the spicy potato and mince meat 'bomba', and as Josep Maria tells us, it was here where, over 60 years ago, his grandmother Maria Pla invented this local delight. It was later popularized by Magí, Josep Maria's father, who added a touch of charisma, a dash of fun, and a powerful spicy sauce to the secret recipe to create a legend.
Enrique Valentín, with success stories such as Casa Paloma and Chez Cocó on his CV, brings good taste and quality as well as a lovely ambience and good decor. But what really matters is the food. The home-made crisps that are made to order are a blissful place to start. I ordered what I consider to be the litmus test of tapas: anchovies, Russian salad, a croquette and a creamy potato-and-onion omelette. And they all pass with honours. Valentín also had me try the pairing of a very well-dressed whitebait with an anchovy and accompanied with a stately olive. The omelette wasn't only cooked to perfection but it also had a soufflé effect: when pierced with a fork it deflated just a bit, a sure sign that the eggs were beaten well.
The restaurant gets its name from a series of dishes from around the world that you'll find on the menu, and which are all adapted with imagination, respect, and a talent that dares to play with textures and flavours without damaging the essence of the raw materials. For example, the fresh and fun tuna tataki with Asian aromas; octopus with Iberian 'tocino' (bacon fat) in thin slices, and saffron rouille sauce; or the skewer of Duroc pork and hummus with turmeric. Meats and fish, like the octopus, are cooked on the grill. If you love more typical tapas you'll also find cold tapas and the usual tinned accompaniments, along with croquettes, calamari and patatas bravas. And you'll find a good selection of meats that are smoked in-house.
Xavi Jovells, from the family behind Can Pineda and one of the founders of Els Tres Porquets, has his own space in the heart of Poblenou. The name Floret – which comes from the blossom of the pea plant – can throw you off a bit, because Jovells creates virile tapas and small dishes that are familiar and traditional, but with a haute cuisine and professional twist, plus linen tablecloths. The craft is evident in tapas such as the delicate cod fritters, substantial 'salmorejo' and a skewer of marinated lamb. The best bit is that most of the items on the menu are as affordable as those at a greasy-spoon tapas bar, but here you've got high quality products and expert preparation behind them.
From outside, this Galician bar might look like it's about to crumble down at any minute – in fact, the sign is falling apart, so you might never even think about crossing the threshold. But take the chance, and at the bar is where you'll find all the action. For one thing, you get a free tapa with your beer! Plus, you can sample dishes made from excellent products and brilliantly executed, including an out-of-this-world Galician octopus and a ridiculously fresh hake. You'll also be happy with dishes that are more Barcelona's versions of pub grub tapas, such as the Galician tripe, sow's ear, etc. And while you might be iffy about places that have pictures of their dishes on the menu, rest assured this is the exception.
It's worth getting to know Balius, a cocktail bar that specialises in top vermouth and cocktails made with vermouth, and when you're feeling peckish you can order from a repertoire of cured foods, tapas and small dishes that have their origins mainly in Aragon and Castilla. For example, the 'lomo de orza' is finely cut pork loin marinated with 'alioli' (garlic mayonnaise) and lemon, and the 'atascaburras' is a salted cod dish that has the fame of being mentioned in 'Don Quijote'. During its operating hours, the kitchen is open non-stop, and they use quality local products that are organic whenever possible. They're also specialists in sustainable fish.
Xampanyet cava and vermouth all help to wash down their tapas which are simple but effective. Lined with coloured tiles, barrels and antique curios, the bar, popular with both tourists and locals, chiefly functions as a little slice of Barcelona history, and has been in the hands of the same family since the 1930s.
This deli bar, which is reminiscent of Paral·lel in its heyday, is a great place to eat wonderful tapas – try the patatas bravas, the chicken salad and the cured sausage – while sipping on good wine. It’s also a nice place to sit on the terrace and do some serious people-watching.
In the heart of the Sants neighbourhood, this tapas bar gets back to roots of Catalan tradition with a playful and creative touch. And they actually do it very well. Their signature dishes include their tapas – including patatas bravas whipped up and served in a glass – and a highly recommendable set lunch menu.
Few people head up to Carmel unless they live there, which is a shame because there’s more authenticity in the steep streets and houses carved from the rock than in Passeig de Gràcia and such places. The terrace at Las Delicias is a miracle in itself. It twists and turns all over the place because, just like the rest of Carmel, it’s on a slope. But so what? Their anchovies will make you forget all your worries. They serve delicious squid, excellent 'ensaladilla rusa', patatas bravas and a long list of other tapas in generous servings. You can see the gate to Guinardó park from Las Delicias, and it's a great place for before or after your visit to Park Güell.
Juanjo Martínez, renaissance man and former executive chef at the Hotel Arts, runs this space for creative tapas that they speak for themselves. There's a lot of thought behind tapas like a burrata cheese with rosemary smoke and tomato and muesli compote, but you'll also find classic tapas with original presentations, such as the Olot potatoes served with a metal mesh that evokes the mountains of the Garrotxa.
El Cañota is a Galicia-inspired seafood tapas bar, and it comes with a pedigree. It's the younger brother of the renowned Rías de Galicia, one of the greatest Galician restaurants in the city and the country. El Cañota serves traditional dishes: fried fish and seafood, patatas bravas, Galician octopus, 'ensaladilla rusa', and draught beer and wine. All of it is top-quality, and served in a laid-back venue that's perfect for a celebratory meal, or for dinner after taking in a show at the Teatre Lliure, Mercat de les Flors or BTM, which are all nearby.
Here you'll find very well-done classic tapas and Catalan cuisine with a touch of creativity. Though Tapeo is in C/Montcada, a street with loads of foot traffic thanks to the Picasso Museum, the prices are as friendly as if it were out of town. It's not a tourist trap but a top-class tapas bar, with Dani Rueda (former head chef at Tapaç24) at the helm. Enjoy cannelloni stuffed with 'morcilla' sausage, calamari 'a la Catalana', Santa Pau beans... Ask for a seat in the dining room if you want something a bit more tranquil than sitting at the lively bar.
It might sound like a cliché, but it's true: Vaso de Oro is one of the best places to get a draught beer in the entire city. This translates into quite a busy bar, where you have to fight just to get your elbow down to order, let alone stake out a spot. But join the struggle, as it's well worth it for the quality and variety of their beers. And their tapas – among them patatas bravas, anchovies, meatballs with cuttlefish – are a beer's best friends.
Not that long ago, Betlem was a corner store that helped train the palates of those who lived in the post-Olympics Eixample neighbourhood with a variety of products that showed that there was life outside big supermarkets or small shops stranded in time. With a well-accustomed clientele, Víctor Ferrer, a chef trained in great kitchens, made the logical decision to close the store and make it into a tapas and tasting bar called Betlem Miscel·lània Gastronòmica. For a time Barcelona was a place where tapas had all the flavour and texture of asphalt, but Betlem is a good example of the slow and exquisite transformation that happened here.
La Xula Taperia presents us with high-spirited offering that Madrid's renowned for in the shape of a draught beer and a tapa – that's a free bite with each drink – and mixes it with creative cuisine. Their beers are poured to perfection, and their small and casual tapas are well-suited to their creative style. Examples include the tuna tataki and mustard tart, and the 'pringa' burrito made with Andalusian grilled beef, spinach and cheese.
Albert Adrià provides the brains behind this spot, and his restaurant Tickets is just across the road. You know that with an Adrià at the helm in the kitchen, it's an innovative cuisine they're serving up, even though they try to be true to the flavours that dominated in local food from the early 20th century: the smoked, the salted, the grilled and the pickled. It's a pleasing trip to the past without leaving behind the modern mindset for the 21st-century palate.
La Taverna del Clínic sums up much that is good about the Spanish sense of priorities. The lighting is hideous, the decor is cheap and crappy, the TV is permanently on, the walls and floor are tiled in the ugliest terrazzo imaginable, and yet the care that goes into the food is the match of many a luxury dining room. The menu concept is somewhere between tapas and restaurant, so you'll probably order a stack of dishes to share. Try the creamy morels with foie; a sticky oxtail stew made with Priorat wine; or a tiny skillet of chips, fried egg and crispy 'jamón'. The octopus 'igloo' is also superb, and their patatas bravas are a work of art.