As befits a leading European capital, Madrid boasts an abundance of restaurants serving traditional and contemporary Spanish cuisine, alongside practically all types of international cuisine. The locals eschew the more tourist-focused offerings of central Madrid, where quality varies, for the trendier Malasaña, Chueca, and La Latina neighborhoods which generally offer better quality and better value. If it’s true home-cooked delights you’re after, try the humbler locales of Casa Ciriaco, Casa Botín, and Casa Paco for hearty, unpretentious cooking.
Spaniards are known for their almost fanatical devotion to quality ham, known as Jamón Iberico (the best kind comes from pigs raised solely on acorns; look out for Pata Negra) and cured meats such as chorizo or morcilla (black sausages generally made with rice or onion).
Beef steaks are generally sourced from free range cows, and are thus highly recommended, as are the presa Iberica and secreto Iberica pork cuts.
Most cuisine in Madrid is largely meat-based and often heavily spiced, with a few favorites surfacing in both traditional and reinvented forms. For some truly authentic flavours, sample the callos a la Madrileña, a spicy beef tripe hot pot. The more adventurous may try the ever popular oreja de cerdo, a pig’s ear, fried in garlic.
Fans of soups and stews might opt for the cocido Madrileño, a chickpea stew whose distinguising characteristic is that its constituents — soup, chickpeas and meats — are served and eaten separately. If you can’t get enough garlic, try the sopa de ajo. This garlic soup is rich and oily, spiced with paprika, and served with grated Spanish ham, fried bread and a poached egg.
Of course, Madrid’s bars and cafés also serve other Spanish favorites, such as tortilla de patata, also known as the Spanish omelette. Other traditional snacks include bocadillo de calamares, fried battered calamari served in a ciabatta sandwich with lemon juice; and the mainstay of many a tapas platter, patatas bravas.
Another foundation of Madrid’s cuisine is seafood. Ironically, landlocked Madrid is known in the country as the "Best port in Spain", as you are more likely to find higher quality seafood here than in most coastal regions. The quality comes at a price, and for locals, splurging on seafood, known as a mariscada, would be considered a rare luxury, but well worth the cost.
The adventurous diner might try the Galician regional specialty Pulpo a la Gallega, boiled octopus served with paprika, rock salt and olive oil. More sedate seafood dishes include gambas al ajillo, garlic shrimp; pescado frito, fried fish; or buñuelos de bacalao, breaded and deep fried cod.
Other regions lend their flavours to Madrid’s cuisine; paella from Valencia, gazpacho from Andalusia, and surprisingly, a potato salad of Russian origin which is wildly popular in Spain.
Travesía de San Mateo 4, Chueca (and Malasaña)
Asiana is uniquely set in the basement of an Asian antique furniture store belonging to chef Renedo’s mother. Renedo and his Japanese colleague Takashi produce their 10-dish fixed menu for evening diners only, combining Spanish and East Asian cooking traditions. The wonderfully intimate ambience is complemented by the wine list, managed by one of the best sommeliers in Madrid.
Puerta Cerrada 11, La Latina
Casa Paco is a quintessential Castilian tavern and one of the best steak houses in the city — though it offers many other traditional Spanish delights, such as the sopa de ajo or the house version of the classic cocido Madrileño. It’s incredibly popular with the locals, who flock to have their taste of steaks prepared the classic way; seared in boiling oil and served on plates so hot the steaks continue to cook as they reach the table.
Sergi Arola Gastro
Zurbano 31, Chamberí (and Salamanca)
Sergi Arola Gastro is the solo project of celebrity chef Sergi Arola, considered to be one of the leading lights of Spain’s ‘second generation’ of chefs. The restaurant is intentionally small, designed to cater to only 30 diners at a time. Arola offers three sampler menus and an extensive wine list boasting 600 different wines, all available by the glass.
Villanueva 34, in the Hotel Wellington, Salamanca (and Chamberí)
Tucked away in the Hotel Wellington, Goizeko is the fruit of the union between chefs Jesús Santos and David Marcano, and part of the Goizeko Gaztelupe group of restaurants in Madrid and Bilbao. Goizeko serves innovative and seasonal Basque haute cuisine, and will be a dream for seafood lovers. Try the percebes de Cedeira (goose barnacles) for a special treat.
Hotel Ritz, Plaza de la Lealtad 5
Goya Restaurant at the Hotel Ritz Madrid is the epitome of fine dining, with an impressive gourmet menu crafted by head chef Jorge González, combining traditional Spanish recipes with a variety of innovative dishes influenced by French and Basque cuisine. Palatial decor, attentive service, a superlative selection of wines, and a beautiful outdoor terrace overlooking the Museo del Prado completes the setting for a truly memorable and sophisticated soiree.
Juana La Loca
Plaza Puerta de Moros 4, La Latina, Madrid
Ideally located in La Latina, the heart of old Madrid, Juana La Loca is widely known as the place for tapas. The fantastic array of tapas on offer, many of which are inspired by the pintxo in the Basque region, is complemented by the restaurant’s vibrant atmosphere. For a special treat try the tortilla de patatas (Spanish Omelet made with caramelised onion), or the famed Ravioli Relleno de Pisto Con Berenjen.
La Terraza - Casino de Madrid
Alcalá 15, Sol (Santa Ana and Barrio de las Letras)
La Terraza gets its name from its location, on the rooftop terrace in one of the oldest, most exclusive clubs in Madrid, though the restaurant is open to all. Chef Francisco Roncero’s menu is inspired by Ferran Adrià and carries the trademark Adrià mousses, foams and liquid jellies, as well as unique tapas. There is also a sampler menu.
Paseo de la Castellana 57, Chamberí (and Salamanca)
The very popular Santceloni is the Madrid branch of chef Santi Santamaría's Racó de Can Fabes (near Barcelona). Expect the service to be as impeccable as the food. Much attention is paid to the ceremony of dining, so meals here last several hours. The menu features exquisitely paired Mediterranean ingredients, complemented by a daring wine list. Meat lovers must sample the jarrete (veal shank).
Alvarez de Baena 4, Salamanca
Zalacaín pioneered nouvelle Basque cuisine in the 1970s, and is an established classic of the gourmet dining scene. The menu features the best, freshest and rarest seasonal products available, yielding unsurpassable and unique cuisine. The Basque and French dishes are served with flair against a backdrop of dark wood and gleaming silver, giving the impression of being in an old, elegant mansion.