The Catalonian capital is one of the most popular European destinations with over 5.5 million visitors a year. But what is really amazing is that Barcelona can fulfill its visitors’ expectations in every respect. Once you are there, you wish you could stay longer, and, once you have left, you cannot wait to return.
Although some may consider Andalusia or San Sebastián (Donostia) to be the original, authentic locations to go de tapeo, my top-notch choices for Barcelona are basically spots to enjoy the art of tapas. I say art, because the ones I have chosen know how to make things special. Despite tough competition, they have been stupendous every time, maintaining their food quality, authenticity, and friendly service at the highest levels for years. Three of them are located in the gentrified neighborhood El Born.
I will start with my family’s favorite, Cal Pep. For sure, it is not a secret in Barcelona as it is one of the best-known places for fresh tapas and has been running for more than forty years. You will find not only many locals but also tourists queuing to get inside, since it is mentioned in most of the travel guides. Nevertheless, waiting is part of the experience and totally worth the effort.
Once you have managed to get a seat at the tapas bar – glorious moment! — order your drink, enjoy the atmosphere, and just let the staff advise you about their specials, which are always seasonal-oriented. With no doubt you will be delighted with the freshness and tastiness of every plate you get, dish after dish, or, better to say, tapa after tapa. Mediterranean cuisine at its best.
I ordered a Protos Reserva 2009; the ‘riberita’ was wonderful!
You can find details about Protos in my Foodie Route The Rivera del Duero, a Delightful Route for Every Wine Lover.
The almejas con jamón (clams with ham) is another classic, a dish where Mar i Muntanya (sea and mountain) perfectly harmonize. Sea and mountain products combined, so prevalent in the Catalan cuisine.
Vegetables are not underdogs at Cal Pep. Try garbanzos con espinacas (chickpeas with spinach), and you will agree with me.
Cuttlefish with vegetables
- If your party is of three or less, you will have to sit at the bar. Be there twenty minutes before they open, and you will find a queue but still get in with the first or second batch.
- They only take reservations when your party is of four or more, and their tiny dining room accommodates very few. To get a table, email them well in advance.
- If you have somebody to stand in the queue for you, there is a Custo store a few steps away (Plaça de les Olles 7). Have a look!
- 4 min (350 m) walk from Metro L4-Jaume I
Another in El Born, that I really like, is Tapeo. A fantastic tapas place — as they portrayed themselves ‘with a huge passion for cooking’. You will feel that passion when you try these tapas, because the traditional recipes taste and look amazingly with the innovative twist they are giving them. Let’s leave the pictures tell you the story:
Acorn-fed pur Extremaduran 08* jamón ibérico (Iberico ham), with artisan picos (bread sticks)
Aubergines with honey an lime
Iberico pork ribs with honey and mustard
Broken eggs with black butifarra sausage
Oxtail with Santa Pau beans
Spanish omelette with potatoes and chorizo
Black fideuá with cuttlefish
After the array of savories, I usually have little space left for desserts, but at Tapeo I cannot resist ordering them, because they are absolutely delicious. You will notice that creativity is also reflected in the way they plate the food, especially desserts.
They looked so nice that we had to try them all: Catalan custard mousse (left), torrija de pan de leche (top), piña colada (right), and creamy chocolate with bread, oil and salt (bottom).
They were all fabulous, being my favorite the torrija de pan de leche. This is a popular dessert in Spain, and it is some kind of French toast. The Tapeo’s version is more like a homemade fluffy pancake, served still warm, with the right amount of sweetness and not soaked in any syrup. Wonderful!
- 5 min (400 m) walk from Metro L4-Barceloneta
- 5 min (400 m) walk from the Mercat de Santa Caterina. This traditional food market, identified by its wavy roof, is nice to visit (not so touristy).
My third and last sneak peek in El Born is ESPAISUCRE, which means ‘sugar space’. Oh, yes, this is a unique restaurant. Their whole menu (all the courses from starters to the actual desserts) consists of solely desserts!
The only thing is that, after coming from tapas at Cal Pep, we did not take ‘the big dessert menu,’ consisting of five dessert-courses. We were eight and decided to have the dessert tasting option at their sweet-tapas bar, a private dining room at the back of the restaurant. We received a list of ingredients and the explanation that we could individually choose from there, which ones we wanted to be included in our desserts. We ticked our preferences, and the waiter took the lists to the kitchen. While waiting, we could see the active team working on our orders. These were some of the creations:
The end product was well elaborated, some flavors and textures were unexpected. It was a different experience in an interesting restaurant. If you are a dessert lover and want to indulge yourself in an unusual way, this is your spot.
- 6 min (500 m) walk from Metro L4-Jaume I
In the heart of the fishermen’s district Barceloneta, we found Can Ramonet (1753), the oldest tavern in the port. Definitely a house with tradition; apparently, it was the first house built in Barceloneta.
We decided to stay at the inviting bar and found seats around wine barrels that were used as tables. One had the feeling of being in the old-time wine canteen. The catch of the day is exhibited at the entrance as well.
Boquerones (White anchovies)
The menu includes a good choice of Catalan dishes: tapas, salads, seasonal food, rice, pasta, seafood, fish, shellfish, meats, and desserts. Coming straight from spending some relaxing hours at the beach, we ordered quite a few things. The tapas as well as the main dishes were all really fresh and well prepared. The staff was attentive and friendly, and we enjoyed a delicious time in this tavern so full of tradition.
My favorite was the fideus a banda, noodles cooked in fish stock and served with fish and shellfish, in flavor very similar to a paella but with noodles instead of rice. Heavenly!
Also the dessert was delicious: puff pastry with cream and raspberries.
The cherry on top before leaving were the Galician herbal chupitos (shots).
- 6 min (450 m) walk from Metro L4-Barceloneta
Foodie Sneak Peeks’ Hints:
- The 5 rooms – The perfect B&B in Barcelona, located in the modernist L’Exaimple district, just 5 min (400 m) walk from Plaça Catalunya.
- Papirum – A special place in the heart of the Gothic quarter (Barri Gòtic). Check it, especially if you are fond of old-school stationery. Those who know me might remember that my passion for stationery started at an early age …
- Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau – Both iconic samples of Catalan Modernism.
- Mercat del Born – You will not find a market here but, surprisingly, lots of relevant Catalan history and a cultural center.
- Sagrada Familia Tower View – Discover the Sagrada Familia and Barcelona from a bird’s eye view. Get to the top of one of the towers for amazing sights. Do not go if you do not like heights. I even had the chance of exchanging a few words with some of the construction workers who were up there, committed to the giant task of completing Gaudí’s cathedral.
- Nineteen – Just thought I would also mention this spot. Located a few steps from the Ramblas, inside the Olivia Plaza Hotel in Plaça Catalunya (hub of tourist buses, including those serving to/from the airport). This restaurant/bar can be like an oasis to get away of the hustle and bustle. Get a table on the charming little patio, order your drink, perhaps some tapas, lay back, and relish in fascinating Barcelona.