It’s bold statement, I know. But it’s true. León is the best city in Spain to go out for tapas. Let me explain…
León’s tapas prowess stems from its two-pronged exceptionalism: a large variety of fantastic wines and big portions of creatively scrumptious food.
First, the wines. If all of my favorite Spanish wine regions were the planets, León would be the sun. Just to the west is the pleasantly surprising and intense Bierzo, to the south is bold and big-bodied Toro and to the east lies the powerhouse Ribera del Duero. Not to mention León is a wine region in of itself, meaning those smooth and fruity Prieto Picudos you see as “house wines” for 1.50€ all over the city are grown, bottled and aged just miles from the old town bars that are selling them.
Unlike Madrid where Ribera or Rioja are casi siempre your only red wine options, in León even the smallest bars offer a minimum of four D.O.s to choose from, usually adding a couple Bierzos and Prieto Picudo or two to the list. Being that this is not Madrid, the price of a glass is typically about 1€ cheaper than in the capital. Yep, that’s right. In León you get more, often better, wine options for a lower price. Helloooo heaven.
And then there’s the food. There’re tapas, and then there are tapas. In my fresh-off-the-plane naivety last year, I thought that the tiny dish of french fries with some well-seasoned pork chunks was the greatest four bites of free food in the country. A year and a half and a lot of traveling around Spain later, I have seen the mind-blowing potential of comes-free-with-a-drink food. I can never go back to America, aka land of those-chips-are-four-dollars.
In León tapas land includes the best of both food worlds: traditional staples (croquetas!) and imaginative creations (couscous!?!). While the pintxos of the Basque Country may be more elaborate and the tapas of Granada may be bigger, León makes an impressive showing on variety.
The city’s tapas epicenter is separated into two neighborhoods: Humedo and Romantico, each with their own style and flare. In Barrio Romantico chic meets rustic in the best kind of way. Here is, by and large, where you’ll find the more creatively elaborated tapas using more unique (for Spanish cuisine at least) ingredients and flavors. In Barrio Humedo tradition reigns whether it’s in the stone-laid streets, the antique farm tool decor or the generations-old recipes. And with the city center being so nicely compact (after all León is a city of only 130,000), you can easily stroll from style to style, barrio to barrio in one tapas spree.
A night out in León therefore takes the best of each of Spain’s renowned tapas cities and rolls it into one. For a spectacular night of authentic tapeando here are the seven places I highly recommend trying:
1. El Palomo
In El Palomo you never know what small creation of scrumptiousness they will set next to your wine glass. Each day they only serve one type of tapa. But in Palomo tapa roulette no one ever loses. Their offering tends to be more elaborate than the norm and always ridiculously flavorful. We savored our tapas at a beautiful stone table on the terrace, watching our fellow tapa land revelers stroll down the ancient narrow street.
Calle de la Escalerilla, 8 (Barrio Humedo)
Rebote is famous for one thing: croquetas. And ay dios mio can they make a stellar croqueta. One marvelous croqueta comes with each drink you order. While wine is my drink of choice at every other place on this list, at Rebote I go for a corto (very small beer) to maximize my croqueta-eating potential. More tiny beers = more delicious croquetas. While they’ve got some original flavors (pizza) I can’t recommend enough the cecina croqueta. Made with the region’s famous cured beef (think jerky but juicier), this croquette is the perfect blend of creamy, abundantly flavorful interior and crisply fried exterior. It is, I dare to say, the best croqueta I have ever had.
Plaza de San Martín, 9 (Barrio Humedo)
3. Jamón Jamón
At Jamón Jamón it’s all about the meat, cured meat to be exact. While they have a pretty good list of wines by the glass, I go for the 1.10€ house wine. It’s pretty tasty and goes quite nicely with the triple-stacked embutido extravaganza that comes for the tapa. This is a stellar place to try some of León’s traditional cecina and León-style chorizo, which is significantly spicier than chorizo throughout the rest of Spain!
Platerías Cardiles, 8 (Barrio Humedo)
4. El Rincon del Gaucho
We happened upon this small, homely bar by a stroke of massive good fortune. Here you can choose your tapa from a list of four or five options. Whatever that list says, disregard it. Order the sopa de ajo. This traditional Leónese soup is served in a small clay pot and chock full of aromatic garlic, pueblo-style crusty bread and a broth that puts all other broths to shame. If I could have one of those little cazuelos of goodness delivered hot to me every day at tapas time I would be one felicísima foodie.
Calle de la Azabachería 1 (Barrio Humedo)
5. El Colibrín
El Colibrín, or the little hummingbird, encapsulates all the style and spunk of Barrio Romantico. With a DJ mixing jazzy tunes in the corner, a strong, smokey Casis red in my glass and a salmorejo-drenched slice of tortilla española on my plate I couldn’t help but sit back and think yep, this is what my life has been missing.
Calle Fernando G. Regueral, 2 (Barrio Romantico)
Any place that gives a good boquerone en vinagre (vinegar-conserved white anchovy) as a tapa will always be at the top of my list. Beyond their stellar tapas options (yes, that plate of whole seared shrimp comes free with my glass of Bierzo), El Tizón has fantastic raciónes, for those moments with the wine count gets a bit too much higher than the food count. I highly recommend the pimientos de Bierzo, or olive oil drenched red peppers with garlic.
Plaza San Martín 1 (Barrio Humedo)
7. Restaurante Boccalino
Boccalino makes this list not as much for a blow-your-mind tapa, but for the setting in which you can enjoy it. Situated in Plaza San Isidoro, the terrace tables of Boccalino overlook the Basilica of San Isidoro, an 11th-century mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles where the ancient kings of León and Castilla are laid to rest. The pizza at Boccalino that they give as their tapa is nothing to write home about, but mixed with a healthy pour of Prieto Picudo and an idyllic León sunset out in the plaza, Boccalino makes for an ideal kick-off to a tapas adventure.
Plaza San Isidoro, 1 (Barrio Romantico)
Heading to León? I’ve added all of these awesome tapas spots to my Inviita account so they are easy to find and follow along. If you download the Inviita App on a smart phone or tablet you’ll find this tour “Tapas Hopping León” in the Featured feed. Click on the tour and the app will lead you from bar to bar. Be sure to follow me “Amy @ Restless Fork” to see all of my tours! Happy tapas crawling!