Living in Spain is amazing. But sharing all the wonders of this glorious country with a first-time visitor, now that is truly joyous. When one of my oldest friends, Andrew, said he could make a four-day pit stop in Madrid on the front end of his Spanish work trip, I was — to say the least– ecstatic. As this would be Andrew’s first time in my pais de maravillas I was determined to enlighten him on all of the reasons why I feel in love with Spain in the first place. Somewhere near the top of that list: tapas!
Within hours of being reunited at Barajas’ T4, Andrew and I were on the hunt for Madrid’s top tapas.
Google translate tells me “tapas” in English means “finger food” or “savories” but both of those words seriously underestimate both the scope and the vibrance of Spanish tapas. At it’s most basic level, a tapa is a size of a dish. They are always small, about the size you create by touching your two forefingers and thumbs together to make a circle.
But more importantly, tapas are meant to be shared. Going for tapas is as much about tasting a smorgasbord of scrumptious food as it is about socializing. In Spain, evenings revolve around going out to the calle, reconnecting with old friends, striking up conversations with new ones and soaking in the vibrance, beauty and life of the city. Tapas are the method (you could even say the excuse) for meeting and mingling. And with heavenly options like croquetas and jamón on the menu, there are few things in life I love more than an evening of tapas. So without further pontificating, here are the top 6 tapas we fell in love with in Madrid.
6. La Zapateria- Patatas caseros con morcilla (Boiled potatoes with blood sausage)
My notoriously bad Spanish is to blame for Andrew and I discovering this new gem of a tapa at La Zapateria. While I intended to order us some of my favorite huevos rotos con chorizo (directly translated: broken eggs with sausage which come served over Spanish-style french fries), I instead ordered us patatas caseras con morcilla (homemade potatoes with blood sausage).
Luckily, it was still delicious! Large medallions of blood sausage, which was hearty tasting with a speckling of rice inside, were nestled among perfectly cooked potatoes drenched in an array of red spices. I was apparently too intent on devouring this new dish (and the perfectly delicious pitcher of Sangria) to snap a picture of it (so unlike me!). Pictured above are the huevos rotos that made me fall in love with La Zapateria the first time I came to Madrid in 2010. This cozy hole-in-the-wall style tapas bar is also where I was first introduced to the tastiness that is caracoles, aka snails!
Where to find this deliciousness: La Zapateria – about 5 minutes walking from Puerta del Sol on Calle Victoria #8
5. El Almendro- Huevos Rotos con Jamón (Broken eggs with cured ham)
El Almendro is nestled slightly off the beaten path in the La Latina district of Madrid, the oldest part of the city. Inside, the first floor of the restaurant is dedicated solely to tapas-goers. It’s an order-at-the-bar style affair where the bartender was extremely patient while helping me decide between the fruity, semi-dry or dry white wine (I’d DEFINITELY go with the dry).
The huevos rotos(a Madrid specialty, if you hadn’t noticed yet) at El Almendro came highly recommended by a friend who used to live in Madrid and they were absolutely not a let down. This restaurant takes their own spin on the traditional dish, serving it with chip-style potatoes instead of the usual french fry style. While I prefer the more chunky potatoes, the chips made it much more of a finger food, which lightened the atmosphere and turned into a fun evening of catching up and chowing down!
Where to find the deliciousness: Calle Almendro, 13 in the La Latina district.
4. La Pasa- Croquetas de Boletus (Mushroom Croquettes)
Croquetas being one of my all-time favorite tapas, I was stoked when a friend recommended La Pasa as the best place to grub on the best croquetas in Madrid.
The vibe at La Pasa can only be described as a mezcla. The tables are glass, the walls are covered in modern-ish art and the best of the 2000s is playing at just the right loudness over the speakers (oh yeah they played Jack Johnson!).
Being, as always, excruciatingly indecisive at ordering, we opted to get half boletus (a type of mushroom) and half seafood croquetas. Initially, I was surprised at how large these La Pasa croquetas were! Usually croquettes are about the size and shape of a thumb – long, skinny and small. These, on the other hand, were slightly larger than golf balls and perfectly round! One bite into these globos and I understood perfectly the reason behind their unusual shape.
By making them round, La Pasa increased the amount of the gooey delicious filling you get in one bite while decreasing the amount of fried outer shell. The result was a mouthful of fantastic flavor with just a hint of that oh-so-familiar fried olive oil taste. Can you say delicious! These easily put my feeble attempt at homemade croquetas to shame.
After a careful taste test, I have to recommend the boletus croquettes. They were muy suave and packed with flavor!
Where to find this deliciousness: La Pasa, calle La Pasa, 4 (also in La Latina district)
3. Potente- Tortilla y Empanadilla (Spanish Omelet and Empanada)
Deciding which amazing Spanish tapa should be Andrew’s inaugural taste of Spanish food was obvious: the classic tortilla. And just as perfectly, a friend had recommended the perfect place to savor the best tortilla Madrid has to offer: Potente. This Latina-area bar not only has traditional Spanish tortilla (heaven in of itself) but has three or four specialty types of tortilla as well! We opted for the caramelized onion version over one with mushrooms, one with chorizo and one with peppers. It was slightly sweeter than a normal tortilla but just as fantastic. While it may be seriously breeching Spanish traditionalism, I could definitely get down with tortilla innovationism. Yum!
We paired this tortilla heaven with a carne empanadilla, or beef, potato and pea filled pocket of joy. It was the perfect blend of sweet and savory wrapped in a breading that was neither too dense nor too flaky. Galicia needs to get some of these on their menus. I want more!
Slices of bread topped with olive oil, tomato paste and jamon came for free with our glasses of tinto de verano. One of the most refreshing drinks on the Iberian Peninsula, this beverage is a mix of red wine and lemon Fanta. Just try it. It’ll change your life. And yes, they do sell it in juice boxes at the grocery stores. (See why Spain = heaven?!)
Where to get this deliciousness: Potente – Calle Cava Baja, 42 in La Latina
2. La Mallorquina – Napolitana con Chocolate
There are few things in life that are better than napolitanas con chocolate. And there are few (if any) chocolate-filled croissants better than this marvel from La Mallorquina bakery right off of Puerta del Sol in the very center of Madrid. This place was packed with fellow dessert-lovers like myself. While there was seating upstairs, we opted to grab and go for this sweet version of a tapa. (Okay, so technically napolitanas, or any desserts really, are not tapas. But I think they should be and this is my blog so here all things chocolate will forever be considered tapas.)
The croissants in the napolitanas con chocolate at La Mallorquina somehow manage to find the sweet spot between too fluffy and too flat and bread-like. Unlike many napoltianas that have only a thin smattering of chocolate inside, this delicacy was equal parts chocolate and croissant. It was, without question, the second best napolitana con chocolate I have ever tasted (which is saying something considering my 5-month long goal of tasting every chocolate-filled croissant in Spain while I was studying here!) The best is, and always will be, from my horno in Sevilla….
1. Taberna los Huevos de Lucio- Huevos Rotos con Chorizo (Broken Fried Eggs with Chorizo)
In poetic fashion, our last tapa before leaving Madrid was, without question, the most amazing. At least six Spaniards independently recommended I eat at Lucio’s while in Madrid. That recommendation was always followed by some version of “It is the best place in town!” “The king eats there!” “Bill Clinton ate there!!” Oh yeah, we had to eat there. So after a few unbelievably cheap Mahou cervezas (the beer of Madrid) we squeezed our way into a table at the back of this llena establishment.
If we would have done as the true Spaniards do, we should have ordered our huevos rotos at the bar, along with a couple more cervezas, and parken in this perpetually stunning dance/balancing routine in which you have a beer in one hand, a purse and jacket precariously perched against a wall/wooden nook and a fork in the other hand. Then, the group passes around the plate and somehow the whole thing is devoured over a 30 minute time period all while talking, laughing jostling and drinking. Spaniards are a truly gifted people when it comes to tapas.
Instead, we took our huevos with a side of bread, a seat and glass bottle of water (the only way water comes in Spanish restaurants. Que fancy). They arrived with the smell of heaven: sausage pleasantly smokey and perfectly crispy, eggs fried to exact moment when the whites are solid but the yolks are ready drench a bed of freshly-cut, freshly-fried potatoes in a yellow bath of flavor. It’s official. I could eat huevos rotos every. single. day.
Where to find the deliciousness: There are two Lucio’s – one is the restaurant (the more expensive option) which is called Casa Lucio. The other is across the street and is more for tapas, such as the joyousness pictured above. That one is called Taberna los Huevos de Lucio, which is located in La Latina district on calle Cava Baja, 30.