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Best Madrid Restaurants

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Spain has one of the world’s great cuisines, but Spaniards have different eating habits that take some getting used to. Breakfast is small, while lunch—eaten at around 2 or 3PM—is huge. Dinner comes late, often around 10PM, and is moderately sized. If you go into a restaurant before 9PM, chances are you’ll be the only customer. The kitchen may not even be ready yet. Restaurants in more visited areas, such as Sol, are usually open at all times. Lunch and dinner almost always include a meat dish. The Spanish specialize in serving up ham in an infinite variety of ways—even an order of peas will usually come with ham mixed in. While the cuisine does not inherently cater to vegetarians, there are a growing number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Madrid. A good budget option for lunch is the menu del día, generally a three-course meal with a few choices for each course and a drink included. These will generally set you back €9-12, with quality not always going up with the price. Spaniards are a bit weird about tipping. They generally tip, but only token amounts. If the waiter brings you a bill for €24.50, it’s perfectly acceptable to leave €25. Yes, that’s a 50 euro-cent tip. People usually just round up or leave a euro or two. What in New York would get you beaten up will go perfectly unnoticed here. What the waiters do with all the little coins they get is anybody’s guess. Another oddity is that at cafes and bars it’s not unusual to throw used napkins, toothpicks, etc., on the floor. If you see this, don’t assume you’ve walked into some trashy place. The theory is that it’s cleaner to have all that stuff on the floor and not on the eating surfaces. Beware of thieves, who prowl in all but the top Madrid restaurants. Never hang your bag or purse on the back of the chair or leave it out of sight. Thefts are common, and visitors are a prime target.

Asador El Molino Jonathan Buffard

Asador El Molino

Neighborhood: Rosales Price: Expensive

Meat lovers should really try a good Spanish asador (roasting spit) during their stay. El Molino ("The Windmill") is popular with Spanish families and wedding groups for its location next to Parque del Oeste and the park’s centerpiece attraction, the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple saved from the rising waters of the Aswan High Dam project. But let’s get to the food—hearty meals of duck, chicken, beef and game birds. A high point is a dish from Segovia called cochinillo, suckling pig with a sweet crackly skin and super-tender flesh. The décor makes you feel like you’re in an old-style hacienda. Reservations required.

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Asador El Molino  
Restaurante Botín Jonathan Buffard

Restaurante Botín

Neighborhood: Austrias Price: Expensive

The oldest restaurant in Madrid, Botín has been serving up traditional Spanish cuisine since 1725. It attracts a large proportion of out-of-towners and a good showing of locals, as well. The product of its wood-fired oven (which also dates to 1725) is traditional Castilian fare such as roast lamb. There are four dining rooms, from the upper story with its bright tiles and high windows, to the cozy old cellar with its brick arches. The food, décor and service are as good as any in the “traditional Spanish” category, but the crowds of loud foreigners mar the atmosphere a bit.

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La Manduca de Azagra Asador Jonathan Buffard

La Manduca de Azagra Asador

Neighborhood: Chamberi Price: Expensive

This rising star in Madrid’s culinary scene is tucked behind a traditionally ornate 19th-century façade. The interior designed by Patxi Mangado is modern and spare, with plain walls and subtle lighting. The quiet, almost hushed atmosphere is at odds with normally riotous Spain. Perhaps this is due to the crowd, which represents the upper crust of Madrid society, both old and new money. The meat and fish dishes are standard Spanish fare, although well prepared. What everyone really raves about are the appetizers, little delicacies that don’t rely on modern twists to make an impression, but rather top ingredients and skilled preparation. Simple offerings such as green beans, peppers and anchovies take on a whole new level of quality at this place. Closed Sundays. Reservations required.

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La Manduca de Azagra Asador  
El Espejo Jonathan Buffard

El Espejo

Neighborhood: Barrio de Salamanca Price: Moderate

“The Mirror” is one of the most popular and established restaurants in Madrid, and not just for its art nouveau interior (with lots of mirrors, of course) but also for its moderately priced menu. Their wine list is excellent, the waiters are child-friendly even by Spanish standards, and the menu focuses on local specialties such as callos a la madrileña (tripe) and gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimp). Reservations suggested, especially on weekends. On sunny days, try the glass pavilion nearby, called Pabellón del Espejo, for drink, snacks and lunch. It offers a grand view of the tree-lined street and the imposing National Library.

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Casa Granada

Neighborhood: Tirso de Molina Price: Moderate

“Hidden gem” is a horrible cliché, but this rooftop restaurant really is a gem, and it sure is hidden. Look for the address carefully because there’s nothing to distinguish the front door from the entrance to any other apartment building. Ring the buzzer for access and enter a dreary front hall before going up an antiquated elevator. At this point you might feel like turning back, but forge ahead. The elevator opens and suddenly it all gets better. A sun-soaked dining room and terrace offer sweeping views of tiled rooftops, 19th-century spires and towers, and the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of Lavapiés and Tirso de Molina. The terrace is the best place to be, but you should make a reservation. There’s not much décor—none being needed with a view like this—but the atmosphere is friendly, with a mostly over-30s local crowd. People often rave about the tapas, but they might be confusing it with the view; while the kitchen does a good job, they do not do a great one. Still, it’s value for money, with a memorable location thrown in for free.

Lhardy

Neighborhood: Puerta del Sol Price: Moderate

Since 1839 this classic Madrid restaurant has been serving well-to-do madrileños and international visitors. Downstairs is a little shop selling Spanish delicacies such as olives, berberechos (cockles) and preserves, many in sealed containers so you can bring them home. Upstairs is one of the most-respected restaurants in Madrid for its traditional menu at moderate-to-high prices. Their seafood menu is especially fresh and well prepared, and they have a fine selection of cheeses that make a good appetizer or shared side dish. The six dining rooms have different themes, such as “Isabelline” (dark wood, chandeliers), “White” (looks a bit like the Royal Palace) and, oddly, “Japanese.” Reservations suggested, especially on weekends.

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Isla del Tesoro Jonathan Buffard

Isla del Tesoro

Neighborhood: Malasaña Price: Budget

Vegan and vegetarian travelers will have a tough time in meat-hungry Spain, but “Treasure Island” is an oasis of meat-free fine dining. In fact, the food is so good many meat eaters come here regularly. The menu is an eclectic and constantly changing mixture of North African, Indian and Asian dishes meticulously listed as to whether they are vegetarian, vegan or gluten free. The décor is similarly varied, with lots of art from around the world bathed in a soft light that makes for an intimate setting. Reservations suggested, especially on weekends.

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Isla del Tesoro  
El Tigre Jonathan Buffard

El Tigre

Neighborhood: Chueca Price: Budget

Want to eat well and cheaply in Madrid? This is your place. Actually, it’s everybody’s place, so don’t come here if you’re claustrophobic. Once you make your way through the throng of shouting Spaniards to the bar, buy a caña (small beer) for €1.50 and you get a plate of tapas. No, not the usual bite-sized offering, but a plate of them. The tapas are filling—lots of sausage, cheese, seafood and ham on thick slices of bread—and you won’t need many before you’re full. There’s not much décor besides a bunch of stuffed animals on the walls, but that doesn’t matter because people come here to chat, and it’s usually so crowded after about 8PM that other people are really all you’re going to see anyway. The few chairs are so entirely inadequate for the crowds that many people who have been coming here for years have never had the chance to sit down. Cheap and friendly it is; relaxing it is not.

La Camocha Jonathan Buffard

La Camocha

Neighborhood: Malasaña Price: Budget

Spain has several distinct regional cuisines, and this crowded bar/restaurant serves up dishes from the country’s northern Asturias region. Seafood and cider are the main standouts. The alcoholic cider is smooth and strong and can catch up with you if you aren’t careful. It makes it into a fair number of recipes, as well, such as chorizo con sidra, wonderfully rich sausages soaked in cider. The “appetizers” here are almost full meals in themselves, and only the heartiest eater can finish off more than two on their own. The crowd is mostly local and older than 30. Many stand at the bar, since the few tables fill up quickly at night. Lunch time is more relaxed, with a thinner crowd that actually lets you see the walls decorated with photos and knickknacks from Spain’s Celtic north.

Museo del Jamón Jonathan Buffard

Museo del Jamón

Neighborhood: Puerta del Sol Price: Budget

At first glance this looks like a tourist trap, and to some extent it is. You’ll hear lots of English, German and French here, but you’ll hear an equal amount of Spanish. That’s because the “Ham Museum” is a traditional cafeteria where the few seats are almost always taken and everyone just sidles up to the bar for a beer and some tasty tapas. Ham is their specialty, of course, but you’ll find a good variety of other food too, all of it good quality and cheap. An excellent choice, if you don’t mind standing in a crowd while you eat. There are several scattered around town; check out the website for a map.

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Museo del Jamón  
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