Spanish food is considered a Mediterranean diet – not Mexican. So while you might be expecting amazing amounts of salsa and refried beans when in Madrid, you’ll be in for a (hopefully pleasant!) surprise. You won’t find tacos and nachos on every menu– instead, you’ll be delving into little appetizers that make up a big meal – with a multitude of ingredients from shrimp, to eggs, to ham croquettes. Spanish food uses fresh, high quality local ingredients, and can vary depending on the particular region you’re in. Here’s a rundown of the top places to go to grab a bite while in Madrid.
Study abroad students are always looking for a good deal on a good meal, so try these two spots for some cheap eats:
El Tigre– The best of both worlds: pay for a drink and get a huge, and I mean HUGE sampler plate of free food for everyone who orders. El Tigre is a local favorite, so you’ll be rubbing elbows (literally, it’s always crowded for good reason) with some authentic Madrileños while enjoying the best croquetas in Madrid.
Cien Montaditos– Perfect for a before class, after class, or instead-of-class snack. Choose from 100 montaditos (snack-sized sandwiches) that are all just one euro on Wednesdays. I highly recommend pairing any montadito with a tall glass of tinto de verano to get that authentic Spanish experience.
Head to the market
Looking for a way to spend your afternoon that involves food? Look no further than the Mercado de San Miguel, located just beyond Plaza Mayor. A foodie’s paradise in Madrid, this market is loaded with vendors selling every tapa you could imagine. From seafood, to olives, to sweets and wine, you’ll never go bored (or hungry) here.
Tapas Cheat Sheet
Tapas, or small snacks/appetizers, are perfect for saving money while sampling a host of different dishes and sharing with friends. Here’s a list of the most common tapas that you’ll see around Madrid– make sure you try them all!
- Croquetas- Small bread-crumbed fried rolls of potatoes, cheese and/or ground meat.
- Spanish tortilla- A quiche-like dish made from potatoes, eggs, and onions and served in slices. Great in a sandwich or on its own.
- Paella- Savory saffron rice mixed with a choice of seafood, vegetable or meat.
- Patatas bravas- Fried potatoes served with a spicy tomato sauce or mayonnaise.
- Jamón ibérico & queso manchego- Spain is known for its cheese and cured meats, and you can often see the legs hanging in store windows.
- Olives- Spain is famous for its olives, and they are often served with drinks in bars. You can get a variety of olives with different stuffing and sauces
Toma Café– Skip Starbucks and immerse yourself in the rich coffee culture of Spain, starting at Toma. Arguably the best cappuccino in Madrid, this cozy little coffee shop has friendly staff, cheap prices, and a delectable selection of homemade (and gluten free) desserts. Try the carrot cake!
La Mallorquina– Operating in Puerta del Sol since 1894, this dessert heaven is always crowded but worth the wait. La Mallorquina is famous for its cream filled pastry called the Neapolitan, but pretty much everything on the menu will satisfy your sweet craving.
Chocolatería San Ginés – Chocolate and churros are acceptable at all hours of the day, for breakfast, afternoon snacks or even late-night munchies. This particular chocolatería is one of the oldest and most famous in Madrid, and its history can be seen in the old photos displayed proudly on the walls.
For when you’re missing home
With all of this ridiculously awesome Spanish food all over the city, you won’t be craving a burger and fries too often. But sometimes, the cure to a little bout of homesickness is a good bagel or a Chipotle-esque meal. Get a taste of the US at one of these options.
Juicy Avenue– Not only is Juicy Ave. one of the few spots to find bagel sandwiches in Madrid, but also it is famous for sweet (usually with nutella or other sugary spreads or syrups) or savory (usually with cold cuts, cheeses and veggies) crepes and smoothies.
Tierra – Tierra is the closest thing you’ll find to Chipotle in Spain. So if you’re craving that burrito, this is where your heart may be content…but no promises.
There are times during your study abroad semester when you’ll be willing to shell out a little extra cash for a nice sit-down meal, such as a date or a birthday. Try one of these restaurants and you’ll be happy you splurged.
Doña 59– A good quality restaurant that’s a step up from the norm, specializing in paella and seafood dishes. Excellent atmosphere and ambiance.
El Buey– A specialty steak house a little pricier than the average Madrid eatery, so keep this reserved for parents visiting or if you’re feeling a little fancy.
*Madrid eating tip– It’s not expected to tip in Madrid for breakfast, coffee, or cocktails (or in taxis), but if you’re feeling generous, round up to the next euro. You’ll make a new friend!
Do you have any suggestions for where to eat while studying abroad or visiting Madrid? Leave them in the comments!