AOL PICK from our Editors
Barcelona’s winding, narrow streets are home to dozens of hidden culinary gems and some of the world’s great culinary masters. This is not a town for dieters or unadventurous eaters—after all, an estimated six million tourists travel to Barcelona each year for “gastro-tourism.” The same demand for high-quality, fresh and flavorful food prevails at all of the best Barcelona restaurants, whether you're talking about an upscale establishment or a tiny tapas eatery. We recommend that you do as the locals do: if a place is packed with Barcelonins it might be worth a stop. Keep in mind that things are done slightly differently in BCN—for one, there are often added charges for things you might otherwise believe are free, such as bread and water. Additionally, it might be wise to check if prices include tax up front, or if that is tacked on to your bill later on. Another note: expect to eat late here. Lunch service typically begins around 1PM. And while most restaurants open for dinner around 7 or 8PM, locals don’t typically sup until 9 or 10PM. As for tipping, it’s customary to leave five to ten percent.
Neighborhood: Northern Barcelona
While in Barcelona why not do what the Spanish royals do and dine at ABaC? This two-Michelin star restaurant is helmed by master chef Jordi Cruz and is part of the ABaC gastro-hotel, which is located in the northern tip of the city. Cruz’s “cuisine d’auteur” aims to push the boundaries of the traditional palate. And yes, its fans include the Spanish royal family. Cruz loves playing with his food so the menu changes often, but expect dishes that are challenging, surprising and, above-all, delicious.
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Neighborhood: La Ribera Price: Expensive
Yes, there are a zillion tapas restaurants in Barcelona, but Cal Pep brings a little extra to the table in the form of seafood-heavy tapas (expect dishes bursting with fresh fish, clams and shrimp, all wrestled from the nearby Mediterranean waters). Of course, you can sample more traditional tapas morsels like Spanish tortilla, and Iberian ham. A couple of our favorites include the savory clams and the chickpeas with cuttlefish.
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Neighborhood: Cala Monjoi
Yes, it’s around 175 kilometers from Barcelona proper, up the Costa Brava in Cala Montjoi, but real foodies won’t want to miss the chance to get a table at chef Ferran Adrià’s restaurant El Bulli. Often ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world (no, we’re not kidding) and awarded three coveted Michelin stars, El Bulli serves up molecular gastronomy, a science-heavy subsect of cooking that aims to deconstruct and de-contextualize food as we know it. It’s not like there’s a room full of food geeks using microscopes and machines to make your dinner but it is pretty scientific. Foods trade textures and shapes—for example, almonds are served powdered and curry is served as “air” (it's all dreamed up in Adrià’s expansive workshop). El Bulli is typically booked up six months to a year in advance, so definitely plan ahead.
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Neighborhood: Port Vell and La Barceloneta Price: Moderate
This restaurant is miles above anything else in Barcelona—literally. The sky-high Torre d’Alta Mar is located in the former Torre de Sant Sebastián cable-car tower, 75 meters above ground and offers panoramic city views. The cuisine is upscale seafood with Catalan and Asian flavors, but you won’t be paying much attention to what’s on your fork when you take a look out the windows. Torre d’Alta Mar is pricey, but worth it—you’re paying per square foot of view, after all. They do offer a still-rather-expensive prix fixe lunchtime menu at €48 per person, but make sure to call ahead for reservations: tables go quickly.
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Neighborhood: L’Eixample Price: Moderate
The owners of Origen 99.9% were on the locator bandwagon before the term “locator” even existed: Their two Barcelona restaurants specialize in Catalan dishes, with an emphasis on fresh and local ingredients. The menu is primarily vegetarian—and served tapas-style—but offers carnivore friendly options, too. Of its two locations we prefer the one on Vidrieria, though both have adjacent shops where you can purchase all the Catalan wine, walnuts or cava you desire.
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Neighborhood: La Ribera Price: Moderate
And now for something completely different—patrons at Euskal Etxa are charged by the toothpick. Yeah, seriously. Customers are encouraged to serve themselves from the bar-top pintxos (the Basque word for tapas) presentation and servers count up the toothpicks from customers’ pintxos to determine the bill. Euskal Etxea draws upon Barcelona’s Basque heritage, serving traditional regional recipes like ox roast and stuffed peppers, all of which go great with a glass of Txacoli, a great local white wine. Show up early—the line for Euskal Etxea often winds around the block by 10pm.
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Neighborhood: Barri Gòtic Price: Moderate
Once you’ve eaten your fill of tapas, and you never want to look at another Spanish tortilla again, try Restaurant Pla. Pla features Mediterranean cuisine with simple Asiatic influences, like an arugula salad with mushrooms, seaweed and sautéed pear. And while meat eaters dine on octopus carpaccio, their vegetarian friends can try cheese carpaccio (which is just a fancy name for a cheese plate.) Pla also has an affiliated bar of the same name, located just a couple of blocks away.
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Neighborhood: La Rambla and El Raval Price: Budget
Located inside the Mercat de la Boqueria, Bar Pinotxo is a well-loved local spot. Chef and owner Juan Bayen cooks from morning until late into the evening, while wearing his signature bowtie, and entertaining guests at the restaurant’s 14 spare stools. Tapas—as you might imagine—is on the menu, but so is Bayen’s delectable signature dish, chipirónescon mongetes (baby squid with light beans). It’s one of our favorites so give it a try.
Neighborhood: La Rambla and El Raval Price: Budget
Generally we suggest that you stay off La Rambla when it comes to dining and instead sneak away to one of the side streets for a tasty Lebanese falafel or quick sandwich, but we’d be remiss not to mention La Rambla’s Café Viena. Despite its plastic menus and an atmosphere reminiscent of a chain restaurant, Viena has what New York Times critic Mark Bittman calls “The World’s Greatest Sandwich.” Bittman’s one true love is the flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo, a simple ham sandwich served on crispy bread. And judging from the thick lunchtime crowds, he’s not the only one. The secret is the jabugo (salt-cured) ham, which adds a depth of flavor that’s better than any cold cut we’ve ever had. Viena is open until 11:30PM making it perfect for an afternoon snack or late evening rendezvous.
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Quimet & Quimet
Neighborhood: Montjuic and Poble Sec Price: Budget
Austere surroundings belie some of the best tapas in all of Barcelona (some say all of Spain). Family-run Quimet & Quimet is especially well-loved for its cheese selection so leave your diet at the door. Flavors are simple, fresh and delicious—try a smattering of their regional cheeses. We like cabrales, a Spanish goat cheese and zamorano, a nutty sheep’s milk queso. Or opt for their traditional and seafood-heavy take on tapas. Whatever you do, don’t plan to visit during August—they’re on holiday all month and you’ll likely be knocking on the door for a long time. It’s also closed on Sundays and Saturday evenings.
Neighborhood: Barri Gòtic Price: Budget
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For those of you who thought
for some reason you’d be eating tons
of Mexican food while you’re in Spain, well, we have an option. Rosa Negra, and
its sister restaurant Rosa Raval, offer tasty traditional Mexican dishes and
drinks at low, low prices. Munch on chips and salsa verde under a canopy of
uber-kitschy Mexican design (hand-picked by designer Lorena Zertuche). The food
is made by actual Mexicans who understand traditional Mexican flavors, but even
if you’re not hungry, the €3.50 margarita happy hour (from 6 to 8PM
Monday – Friday) will please.
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