Big cities are much like marmite: You either love them or hate them. Since there is always too much going on, it can be easy to feel lost and without a place to call your own. Sometimes we all desire a small town, a simple place where we can perch ourselves under a mango tree or something of sort and just relax. However, something conjuring up similar sentiments can be difficult to find in an urban metropolis. Having a restaurant that you frequent and you know is guaranteed excellent all the time can remedy this situation. However, in Madrid, never has this been more difficult given that the preferred past time of our Spanish friends appears to be either opening an eatery or being found in one. So, obviously the city is teaming with bars, restaurants and cafes. Choosing the one to call your own is a somewhat foreboding endeavour.
Over the years, a definitive list has appeared and this list has the favourites that should form part of your stay in Madrid. These places are found in the realm of indescribable epicness with fantastic guaranteed every time. They do exactly what they say on the tin. This means you can go there yourself to enjoy these places or you can take your visitors and wow them with the delights of your vida loca in España.
Therefore, in no particular order, here is the list…
The home of fine cuisine from the Canaries, this place has it all. The favourites here would be the cheese selections, in particular, baked goats cheese with rum caramelised onions, the papas arrugadas – course salt-boiled new potatoes served with a red pepper sauce and coriander sauce both known as Mojo, the rabbit stew and croquettas. The recipes for all the dishes served are derived from the owner’s grandmother, so its hearty food with a grandmother’s love at its core. Many of the ingredients, from the cheeses to the cured meats are all sourced from the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are a delightful mixture of cuisines from around the parts of the world surrounding the islands. Influences come from the West Coast of Africa and the Mediterranean Peninsula. So you can be sure to find a flavourful melange at El Escaldon.
No. 2 – Le Comptoir de la Crepe
A charming, French-owned creperie making crepes just the way you would imagine them to be in France. Le Comptoir follows the typical set-up of a creperie in Paris with the kitchen at front of house facing into the streets. You can choose between savoury and sweet crepes meaning you can make a whole dinner event of your visit to Le Comptoir. Since crepes are best served hot, the owner is very fussy about giving them to you for take away as he wants to ensure you enjoy them the way they should be. As the place gets busy and being so passionate about his product, he will try his best to find you a table to enjoy your crepes. Always a must visit even if it’s just for dessert at the end of your meal. Particularly love the caramel breton crepe; otherwise you can choose from flambeed crepes, ice cream crepes; the list is endless.
No frills Mexican dinning at its best. Serving tacos, quesadillas, margaritas and Mexican beers, Takos Al Pastor is a good find just behind Gran Via, especially for days when the purse strings need tightening. Tacos start from just 1 euro so you can guarantee to eat well for less that 10 euros, including a drink or two depending on how insatiable your appetite is. This place is sure to be a hit on your quest for flavour and place to frequent in Madrid.
A good, earthy Spanish experience away from the glitz and glamour of the centre. La Manduca can, at best, be described as the quintessential Spanish bar serving the famed amazing Spanish food. Here you will find waitresses who will know you and call you by your name. At the same time, you will find that no frills Spanish service with no smiles but big plates with good food slammed on the table. As they get to know you, you can ask for a tinto de verano with a shot of gin for those especially hard days. Apart from this, patatas bravas here are next to none, the canapes of meat, smoked cod or salmon with brie are yum-my. They always have a hearty selection of dishes of the day which you must ask about otherwise you’ll miss it. This can be stewed pig ears, octopus, filled peppers, albondigas, etc etc, just don’t knock it till you try it. Always remember, when in Spain…
Put simply, burgers the way they should be. Possibly the best burgers in Madrid, made freshly everyday in each of the kitchens of its various locations. So no frozen meat or frozen potato wedges. Due to this, the meat is packed with flavour and very juicy. The spuds are served with different homemade sauces which are specialities of Goiko Grill, making everything even more tasteful. Choose from adventurous burgers with fillings such as peanut butter, plantain, goats cheese or the usual burgers with bacon, cheese and guacamole. Rum cocktails then take your meal from HERO to HEEEERRRRROOO! Not to be missed
An amazing mix of Persian flavours made by the owner, Bani. In a few words, the food can only be described as magic in the kitchen. At any time of the day, you are sure to find the breakfast or lunch of Persian royalty, with the likes of toast with fresh avocado, mint, olive oil, some Persian spices, and rice and couscous dishes courting with saffron, cumin, dates, walnuts and prunes and everything else from the Persian world. Banibanoo offers a wide range of dishes that to list them would be impossible, one just has to try them. To then complete the package, all can be washed down with great coffee and/or an Iranian drink made with cucumber, mint and rose petals. Need I say more?
When breakfast is otherwise unexciting, or you want a real cake, or you need a good cup of coffee, or you need an escape from Madrid, or you need a pick me up, you always have Federal Cafe. This place will quickly become a favourite because at its core, it transports you back to way back when or helps you to chill out. Of particular interest here would be the brunch menu or the flat white coffee and a personal favourite, the Guinness and chocolate cake that is rich in chocolate and carries a tangy/tingling taste thanks to the Guinness. Sit back with a friend or two or a laptop and some books and do what you gotta do
A gluten free bakery with amazingly delicious cakes that are gluten free but the gluten freeness of the cakes is somehow called into question because they’re soooo good. They have tasty brownies with walnuts, white chocolate brownies with macadamia nuts, red velvet cupcakes, gluten free beer, to name but a few things. All of these are served in a cosy restaurant just off busy Gran Via. They have beautiful, square mood lights on the ceiling and acoustic covers play in the background. It’s a guaranteed hit for everyone, celiac or otherwise.
You cannot be told to go to this place fast enough. Flavour packed Asian food, from curries to noodles and soups. Tuk Tuk has a fantastic array of fresh flavours, put together to make awesome dishes, most of which are freshly prepared while you wait. To try would include the Bicol Express rice dish and the Malaysian Chicken Satay skewers. Everything on offer is akin to a flavour bomb fiesta on your tongue. For those days that you need an authentically spicy dish, your destination should only be Tuk Tuk. The restaurant has the street food feel to it and carries the Asian theme throughout very well. The owner, as he tells me, spent a long time in Hong Kong where he learned how to use the Asian ingredients and spices as they should be. As you dine, you can do so safe in the knowledge that you’re with the professionals.
The place that makes you feel as though you’ve actually left Madrid and landed in New York in a jiffy. Panela and Co has so much to offer that it will become a point to visit regularly. On any given day, you can try something new. Bagels taste just as they would in New York (fact has been tried and proved), pancakes, waffles and wraps delight your tastebuds as and when you desire. You’d be mistaken to not try the amazing meatball wrap which is nothing short of amazing. The great thing is that the service is so good, so for sure Eugenio will welcome you with you a smile and a “Hello Bob,” if that’s your name. Don’t forget, that the piece de resistance at the weekend is the brunch menu offering, fresh juice, yoghurt and fruit, eggs Benedict, coffee, and so on and so forth.
With this list, Madrid will turn into a place that you would hate to leave. Every place has its all charm and je ne sais quoi that you have to discover for yourself. Take yourself, your friends and visitors and be sure to be reminded of the reason why you love Madrid and your life here.
P.S. It is impossible to close this post without mentioning Toma Cafe. Whenever you need a good cup of coffee in a quaint cafe and an easy to get to location from anywhere, you always have Toma. In fact, many a meals from a lot of the above mentioned places have been sealed off with a Toma Cafe finish.