I wasn't quite sure where to post this as there are a number of posts that address Madrid in some respect, but since this is the most recent, I figured I'd give this one a whirl. Earlier this month, I spent a long weekend in Madrid -- had hoped to get to Toledo too, but not enough time.
I'd say most of my time was spent eating tapas, much of it on Cava Baja, where it is one tapas bar after the next. Except that on Sunday and Monday when the tapas bars on Cava Baja are closed, I found that Mercado de San Miguel attracts quite the crowd and makes for an eating extravaganza.
Having visited a few of the markets in Madrid, it's obvious that Mercado de San Miguel is more tourist focused - far more prepared foods and tapas and fewer produce/meat/seafood stands, whereas other markets are exactly the opposite. I don't intend to create a negative impression of Mercado de San Miguel at all; rather, you should just know that if you visit other markets, you will find they offer far fewer options for dining.
But back to Mercado de San Miguel, along with some fresh produce, meat and seafood options for the home cook, there are rows of counters for tapas and wine. Here's an example of the well populated market on a Sunday or Monday night, where it can be difficult to find a seat:Mercado de San Miguel
So what to eat at Mercado de San Miguel - well, pretty much everything. You'll find homemade potato chips everywhere (and damn good too). I had no idea how much they loved their potato chips in Madrid. Other finds:olivessea urchin
The sea urchin was one of those regret moments - I had difficulty comprehending the menu and by the time I saw it served I was full. It looked beautiful . . . but it wasn't mine. Instead, I had a merely decent order of pimientos de padron, quickly pan fried and served with sea salt (not as flavorful as others I've had, and few spicy ones):pimientos de padron
Of course, plenty of ham, chorizo and meats, croquetas, tortilla espanola, etc. And don't forget dessert. I'm a sucker for the Portuguese egg custard tarts, pastel de nata (this one was quite good):pastel de nata
And as I noted above, there are plenty of choices for the home cook at Mercado de San Miguel, including the largest f'in red peppers I have ever seen. For reference purposes, the green pepper in the photo was normal sized:big ass red pepper
Moving on to the principal (and not to be missed) tapas row in Madrid, Cava Baja. I had a list of places I wanted to hit, but I'm not sure you even need such a list. You can see in each bar, they're all right next to one another, you can judge if there are crowds or not (and they're largely filled with locals) and if you have any doubts remember that you only need to have a bite and maybe a drink in any one place.
So, some of what I ate. First, Taberna Txakolina offers largely pinxto, Basque-style tapas. Most of what is available is in viewing range, and depending upon what you order, they may heat it up.tapas at Taberna Txakolinamore tapas at Taberna Txakolinabeef and potato filled croquetas at Tabern Txakolina
Not pictured is the Tortilla Espanola I had here which was as good a version as you can find, runny egg making it the creamiest and most delicious interior I've ever found in one of these.
Moving on, next up was Casa Lucas. I can't recall what I ate here (although I remember liking what I had quite a bit) and no pictures to remind me, but here are some recommended items listed on the menu:Menu at Casa Lucas
If you're looking for top notch jamón ibérico de bellota, look no further than the wonderful Taberna de Goyo:
I was told the guy slicing the jamón is a master slicer. What I observed was pure intensity:slicing jamón ibérico de bellota at Taberna de Goyojamón plated
(oops, so good I dug in before remembering to take the picture)
If you go to Taberna de Goyo with your non-jamon-eating friends, don't worry . . . there's food for them too:menu at Taberna de Goyo
Haven't had enough jamon? Jamones Julian Becerro is to jamon what Willy Wonka's factory is to chocolate.
Cue the Willy Wonka music:Inside of Jamones Julian Becerro
I can just hear the LTHers now inside this place: "the wallpaper even tastes like jamon."
One last tapas bar of note on Cava Baja, Posada del Dragón:
Much of the menu here was posted above your head:menu at Posada del Dragón
, although you can see some of the items right on the counter
At Posada del Dragón, they start you off with a complimentary bowl of some great olives. I then had a pretty tasty miniature hamburger, but the star of the show was this foie gras with arugula and apricot marmalade (and maybe nuts too?) on bread . . . outstanding:foie gras, arugula and apricot marmalade on bread
Straying away from Cava Baja, I stopped at the restaurant La Maralla for a bite. They had outdoor seating and it was a beautiful day.
Food didn't quite match the atmosphere. Patatas bravas were decent, but the sauce was just a little bit timid:patatas bravas
The albondigas fared worse - they looked beautiful, but were awfully bland, including the sauce which deceived me into thinking there would be saffron. I went to Madrid expecting saffron in dishes where there should be saffron and didn't find it. Well, at least I brought some home. Anyway, the pretty yet bland albondigas:albondigas
While touring Madrid, if you get hungry, don't feel bad about dining at the smallish chain Museo de Jamon:interior of Museo de Jamon
Museo de Jamon is good for a quick bite and a beer or glass of wine. In particular, I really enjoyed this sandwich of a perfectly fried egg, tomato, cheese, ham and bacon on toast:sandwich at Museo de Jamon
I had heard that Madrid was not really the place to seek out paella, but I decided to find out the hard way. La Barraca was often recommended as the best Madrid had to offer. However, the paella was just decent. Nice soccarat, the lack of which was my biggest problem with the paella at Tapas Gitana in Chicago. And it was all beautifully cooked. But it lacked flavor, and in particular, despite the yellow tint, there was no saffron flavor, inexcusable in my book. Once again, I had been deceived in Madrid by the color yellow - where saffron should have been used, instead food coloring or powdered turmeric was used.paella at La Barraca
I tried paella one more time at lunch. I was very hungry after a visit to the Prado, and against my better judgment, ate at a cafeteria across the street. The seafood smelled fishy, and it didn't get much better after that.
In between touring, tapas, dinners and drinking, there was time for snacks. I learned that the Spaniards make the very best French toast in the world, torrijas, and this version from La Mallorquina was about as good as it gets:torrijas from La Mallorquina
There was also plenty of time for chocolate and churros, a famous Madrid treat. Valor was pretty darn good, but it was blown away by Chocolateria San Gines. The churros fresh from the fryer, the chocolate so thick a spoon could lie atop, so rich and nicely spiced:chocolate and churros from Chocolateria San Gines
And for gelato, don't miss the terrific gelato from Giangrossi, an Argentinian gelato store. I had the sabayon and turron and both were great, with the sabayon reminding me of that great stuff from the sadly departed Penguin on Lawrence.list of gelatos from Giangrossi
Finally, in addition to exploring Mercado de San Miguel, I found some time to visit a couple of markets that were more for locals. One was Mercado de la Paz:
Another was Mercado Maravillas:
Visits to both of these markets will take you a good distance away from most tourists. At Mercado de la Paz, I picked up some olive oil, saffron and sweet paprika. And both markets offered a ton of produce, fish, meats, offal, you name it:
Does Spain have the happiest pigs or what! I swear this guy smiled at me:
This guy . . . not sure, but didn't appear to be as happy:
I should note that I had lunch at a small sit-down place inside Mercado Maravillas and it was quite good. If you go to this market, you won't have trouble finding it. I believe this was the only sit-down spit within the market. They first delivered a complimentary platter of delicious and beautifully fried fish (anchovies and squid I believe):
I then had some excellent croquettas de jamon:
Finally, a delicious sandwich of chorizo and bacon on some delicious bread with a great crust:
When you're finished, the trash goes in its proper place . . . on the floor. I noticed this at pretty much every tapas bar in Madrid . . . when in Rome . . .:
All said, a great (but short) trip, my very first to Spain and Madrid. I'm already looking forward to a return trip and exploring much more of Spain.