Historically, Salamanca is the barrio with the most expensive real estate in Madrid. It’s home to European embassies, upscale restaurants, prestigious fashion brands and some of the wealthiest residents in this city. But amid the opulence and glitz, there are plenty of down-to-earth and recommendable Spanish restaurants.
Classic and contemporary tapas bars sit side-by-side in Salamanca so where you choose to eat depends a lot on vibe and how much you want to spend. If you don’t want to be faffing around with side-plates and toothpicks, most tapas bars also serve up full raciones (portions).
Tucked into a corner of one of the longest and oldest streets in Madrid, Los Timbales is a typical Spanish tapas bar, with thick wooden tables, tiled walls and mounted bulls’ heads for decoration. Even in a fiercely competitive market like Madrid’s, this spot is famous for its Rabo del Toro (braised oxtail stew). If you fancy something a little less meat-heavy, tortillas, gazpacho and Spanish rice dishes are heartily recommended by the waiters.
Calle de Alcalá, 227
If looks could deceive. With its upscale decor and fashionable location, you’d be forgiven for worrying about elevated prices. But this two-story, tapas bar is genuinely good value and as a result pulls in as many large families as bourgeois couples. Gooey fried brie, battered calamari, magret de canard and a selection of creative tortillas are a just a few of the tapas on the long and eclectic menu. The service is snappy and polite and the waiters speak good English – not always the case in Spanish restaurants.
Calle de Hermosilla, 46,
Part of a popular chain of Madrileño tapas bars, the consistently long queues outside this establishment are testament to its success. The interior is warm and modern while a terrace, with large cushioned chairs, is the place to be in the summer. The menu cleverly fuses old with new; expect tapas like duck in mango sauce, artichokes fried with ham, salmon rolls and crispy mushroom croquettes. Each table is equipped with an ingenious electronic device, allowing you to buzz waiters and order the bill.
Calle de Velázquez, 57
This neighbourly joint – specialising in tapas and Andalusian food – is a great spot to take friends when in town. The ambience is warm and the portions generous; seared pork, tomato salads, sizzling shrimps and mashed potatoes bathed in olive oil make for colourful and delicious tapas. A breezy, professional service and a large selection of full-bodied reds round off a fine dining experience.
Calle Castello, 99
Platea Madrid, Arriba.
It might be pushing limits to include an international food hall in an article about tapas, but it feels pedantic to omit an establishment with six Michelin stars, a capacity for 1,000 diners and cuisines from all over the world. In this über-modern food hall, Spain is best represented by Arriba; a swanky, two-star Michelin restaurant run by its outstanding chef, Ramón Freixa. If this tapas bar is full (and it often is), there are plenty of other options on the ground floor.
Calle de Goya, 5-7
El Velázquez 17
El Velázquez 17 is a cozy, dimly-lit restaurant in the heart of the luxurious shopping area, fondly termed, La Milla de Oro. With black and white floor tiling, high ceilings, hanging deer busts and individual lamps on each table, it looks more Parisian than Iberian. The menu offers up a mix of Spanish staples with forays into other cuisines, namely Italian, French, American and even Colombian. El Velázquez 17 might play it safe, but it plays it very well.
Calle Velázquez 17
The older brother of celebrated Gaztelupe, Goizeko Wellington is an elegant, Basque restaurant close to the Parque de El Retiro. Like at Gaztelupe, there are plenty of Basque staples with cod and rice dishes domineering a long list of menu options. But here you’ll also find more adventurous dishes like calamari cooked in its own ink, eggs with truffles, and for dessert, bizcoche (Spanish sponge cake) in Baileys. Co-owner and chef, Jesus Santos, is often to be found in the salon, asking clients for feedback and recommending new dishes.
Hotel Wellington, Calle de Villanueva 34