One the most wonderful traditions in Spain, which you need to explore as much as possible during your trip, is “tapas”. Tapa is a snack or appetizer served to you with a drink, and most importantly, it’s served to you FOR FREE. It can vary from a small bowl of potato chips or olives (which is the most common) to a full serving of a specialty tapas meal of the place. Tapas are usually served every time you order a round of drinks – wine, beer or beverages. Tea or coffee don’t count as valid for tapas, sorry! Also, although you may be used to drinking beer in pints, I really recommend you order it in “cañas”, the smallest size there is. It’s going to be a little less than half a pint, but remember that you will be getting tapas with each round! Be strategic! Another typical Spanish drink which you should try (at least once) is “clara con limón”. This will get you a caña of beer mixed with lemon fanta. Just give it a try! “Clara” can also be served with “casera” instead of “limón”, which is beer with soda. I prefer it with lemon, but it’s your call.
Very important: avoid places that advertise themselves as “Tapas bar” – that’s mostly to attract tourists and they are not what is considered a real tapas bar in Spain. You will probably be able to try the typical Spanish appetizers there, but you will also have to order them.
The best tapas places, where you can expect to eat only by ordering drinks, will not necessarily look inviting from the outside. These are usually places that, as the Spanish would say, are “de toda la vida”, meaning they have been there forever. They may look shabby or old, and usually they will be crowded with the locals and, of course, they will be noisy. They may also look dirty to you, as in traditional Spanish bars people throw paper napkins on the floor. Don’t get discouraged and alarmed because of these signs and give them a chance. You will not be disappointed.
Below you will find a few names of my secret (and sacred) tapas places in Madrid. I hope you will love them as much as I do. Some of them are further away from the center, but that does not take away their value.
El Ñeru. C/ Bordadores 5. Closest metro: Opera / Sol.
El Ñeru is an Asturian bar and restaurant, and even though the food in the restaurant is great, I usually stick to its always crowded and noisy bar area. As it’s an Asturian place, cider is also great there, so you may give it a try. What I really like about Ñeru, is that you can choose your tapa there, which is not common at all – usually the bars have their own rules on which tapas to serve you and when. Still, the best is the traditional air about the place, the environment and the mix of the old and the young locals. Don’t expect to get a table, unless you are in for the restaurant experience. You’ll be lucky if you get a little space at the bar for your drink and tapa. And don’t forget to tip the waiters and you will see them ring a bell to announce it – another Spanish tradition I really love.
La Bodega. Pje. Pradillo 2. Closest metro: Cartagena / Prosperidad.
La Bodega or “La Bodegita” how the locals fondly call it is by far my favourite tapas bar in the whole city. It’s located further away from the center, on a small side street, and it does not look really inviting from the outside, so you can be sure that every single one of its visitors is there on purpose. Nobody ventures in “La Bodega” by accident, tourists are very rare, and it’s always crowded with local people of all ages and social standings. The first tapa Patro, the owner of “La Bodega”, will serve you is his special vinegar potato fries – I promise I have never tried such delicious potatoes anywhere else, and almost everyone I know who has been to “La Bodega” agrees with me. It’s also one of the few places where “cañas” are still cheap and where you can hardly have more than three-four of them, as you will be full by then – the tapas are really BIG there. Keep ordering and you will get to try the “tortilla de patatas” (the typical Spanish potato omlet), little hamburgers, lacón (cooked ham), and more. And, if you are really lucky, you may get a table, but better be ready for fighting for your corner at the bar.
Bar Chacin. c/ Santa Hortensia 27. Closest metro: Alfonso XIII.
Here’s another of my true favorites. At Chacin you can usually find a table, as it has two floors, so there’s space for everyone – of course, depending on the day and the hour. What I love about this place is that the waiters keep passing by with trays full of tapas – usually small canapes or other appetizers – so the quantity of tapas you get during your stay in the place does not really depend on how fast or how much you drink. Just stick around and tapas will find their way to you.
El Tigre. c/ de las Infantas 30. Closest metro: Chueca / Gran Vía.
Although when El Tigre II has been opened, the place lost some of its former charm for me, I still think that everyone who visits Madrid must go to El Tigre at least once. El Tigre is a cider place as well, and although the drinks are a little more expensive than in some other bars, what it offers is a huge amount of tapas with each one of them. I think this has changed a little as well, but usually the place tends to be so crowded that you literally have to fight your way over to the bar, in order to get yourself a drink. I know it may not sound inviting, but you should do it for the sake of a crazy Spanish bar experience. This place is also about quantity, not quality. Expect to be full after your second drink.
Have you discovered an amazing “tapas” place while visiting Madrid? Feel free to share your favourite ones in the comments!