Tenerife has its beaches and La Gomera has its unadulterated nature but Gran Canaria is the king of cuisine. In Las Palmas, the capital and largest city (population 382,000) in the archipelago, I made up for every step I hiked in La Gomera with forkfuls of grilled cheeses, mojo-drenched potatoes, creative croquettas and luscious cookies.
Very unlike Madrid where there is nearly a bar or restaurant on every corner, the foodie goodness is concentrated along one main street in Las Palmas: Calle Mendizabal. The best spot we tried over our three days in Las Palmas was also the first, La Champiñoneria (roughly translated: The Mushroom Place) at Mendizabal, 30.
The goodness of our lengthy dinner began with bottle of local wine. Throughout my week-long trip to the Canary Islands, I was blown away by how unique (in a good way!) the islands’ wines are. It may sound crazy but there is no other way to describe it: they tasted positively volcanic. As the soil in both Tenerife and Gran Canaria is black from the island’s tumultuous creation, the wines here have a distinctive and powerfully earthy taste that takes the boldness of Spanish wine to a whole new level.
During our first night of our seven nights in the Canaries, the wine gods were on our side. While furiously attempting to capture the adorableness of Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, through my camera lens, I stumbled right into a local wine festival. Tents offering tastings of dozens of Tenerife reds, whites and blushes were clustered along a seaside cove. For 1€ per half-glass tasting I delightedly sipped my way through the island’s fermented offerings. The winner of the night was Suertes del Marqués’s La Solana. This explosive, smokey red is made of Listan Negro grapes (one of the most popular grapes in the Canary Islands) which were grown on 100-year-old vines. That old vine goodness was then aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. Everything about it made the wine lover in me melt.
With a keen taste for Canary wines firmly planted in my tastebuds from day 1, I had every mind to taste as much of these curiously spunky reds as I could while on the islands. In Gran Canaria, that meant a celebratory bottle of La Vica from Bodega Plaza Perdida a few short hours after our ferry landed.
Accompanying this excellent wine at La Champiñoneria we had my new favorite Canary Island dish: grilled cheese (queso a la plancha), but not the kid-friendly, glowing yellow stringy kind. In the Canaries they take a thick slice of semi-soft local cheese and press into onto a sizzling griddle until each side is seared to a crisp, leaving the center warm and melty. La Champiñoneria’s version came liberally drizzled with local palm honey. I’ve been dreaming of it ever since.
I’d like to say that I spent my days in Las Palmas pouring through the museums or taking a walking tour to learn about the landmarks. But let’s be real. While I did peak into the Santa Ana Cathedral (remarkable gothic ceilings, I highly recommend ogling it from the inside) and the Columbus museum (everything I learned in elementary school was a lie), I spent the vast majority of the time wandering the gorgeous streets that took me from restaurant to restaurant. After all, travel diets include 6 meals a day, right?
A dinner at the Mercado del Puerto, or Port Market, on Calle Albareda, 76 was spent flitting from stall to stall of this iron market, gathering goodies to build a feast of croquettas, more scrumptious cheese, local “partidas de la abuela” sytle olives, and papas arrugadas. We accompanied it all with Hoyos de Bandama’s Caldera red wine, easily the best of all the reds I tasted throughout the week. Although it sold almost exclusively on the island, I dream of the day I find it in a wine store here in Madrid. I’d buy an entire case.
After days of potatoes and cheese, we ended our island eating extravaganza on the lighter side at La Heirba Luisa on Calle Mendizabal, 39, a vegan spot with stellar gluten free options and an impressive local beer list. As I sat at our outdoor table watching the sea breeze ruffle our shade umbrella, a bottle of craft “Social Beer” in my hand, I couldn’t help but start plotting my return to these quixotic islands.
Logistics: We took to cushy seats of the Naviera Armas ferry from Santa Cruz de Tenerife to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria one-way for 24€. The ferry took about 2.5 hours but was super comfy and had wifi (along with a super loud rendition of Cheaper By the Dozen dubbed into Spanish and then subtitled in English blaring from every tv). We took a taxi from the port to our AirBnb apartment, easily the best Airbnb I have ever stayed in. We flew from Las Palmas back to Madrid.