Barcelona is a bit of an enigma, a chic European city that somehow maintains the vibe of a laid back seaside town. A mix of extraordinary architecture and culinary excellence, particularly when it comes to seafood. In between exploring soul-stirring masterpieces like the Sagrada Família and Casa Batlló by the city’s most revered son, Antoni Gaudí, take some time to immerse yourself in the culinary artistry that awaits seemingly around every corner … if you know where to look. Below are some of my “can’t miss” highlights.
Best Gourmet Market in Barcelona
My favorite place to start an exploration of any new city is the central market. To me, there is no other way to quickly dig into the language, social customs and culture of a new place. Barcelona counts perhaps the best market in the world, Mercado de La Boqueria, as one of its crown jewels. You can spend hours meandering around the various stalls, sampling Spanish cheeses, olives and jamón, but be sure to allocate enough time to actually take a seat at one of the food stalls and settle into Spanish daily life. Peaking at what the locals are ordering and following suit is almost always a fool-proof plan. One of the best stalls in the market is Pinotxo Bar. Their house speciality is the chickpeas (which we missed twice, so arrive around opening time to have a fighting chance to try them), but everything is extraordinary. Order a crisp glass of cava and pair it with a hearty dish of white beans and baby squid; wild mushrooms with Iberian pork sausage; or grilled shrimp with butter and garlic — or maybe all three like I did! From there nestle in at nearby Ramblero for impossibly fresh and expertly prepared seafood. Order the “pescadito frito” — tiny little fish fried into ethereal briny bites (pictured above) — with a squeeze of fresh lemon. You won’t believe it when you finish the whole basket.
Great Tapas Bars in Barcelona
Of course, no review of Barcelona’s food scene would be complete without a mention of the city’s incredible tapas bars. It would take a lifetime to give them all their fair due. So let’s just agree to settle on two that won’t disappoint. Don’t let the descent into the basement fool you, a surprisingly convivial atmosphere awaits at the other end at Tapas 24. Lots of beautiful Spanish wine available by the glass. Pair a nice glass of Ribera del Duero with the “bikini,” a tiny little Spanish ham and cheese sandwich cut into triangles and hot-pressed to a golden crispness; mind-bending flavor in a seemingly humble bite. The housemade cheesecake — baked to a bubbly brown and nothing like what you’ve had outside of Spain — is equally intoxicating. Then, head on over to Cal Pep. Don’t be discouraged by the long line; grab a drink from the bar and start studying what those before you seem to be enjoying. Order a plate of the teeny tiny clams with white wine and garlic and slurp your way to seafood nirvana.
Best Cocktail Bar in Barcelona (and Maybe the World!)
I don’t say this lightly: I had THE best cocktail of my life at Paradiso, crowned one of The World’s Best 50 Bars. Pass through the tiny storefront pastrami shop and traverse through the freezer door (cynics note: yes, just do it). A carved-wood tropical utopia awaits on the other side. Grab a seat at the bar, and let the cocktail spectacle unfold before your eyes. If the “Aire de Jalisco” is still on the menu, consider yourself a lottery winner: premium silver tequila with coriander, fresh mustard and daikon sprouts, toasted corn syrup, lemon, ginger, red pepper, chili, cinnamon bitters and apple air. West-central Mexico in a glass.
Great Restaurant in Barcelona
Not too far from Paradiso in the funky El Born neighborhood, you’ll find Llamber. A sit-down restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere for those that need a break from the frenzy of the tapas bars. We had a front-row view into the open kitchen and every single dish was an eye-catcher, evoking exclamations of “ooh, what’s that one?!” Standout dishes were smoked sardines with yogurt and caramelized figs; beet carpaccio with king prawns, raspberries and pistachios; and the seared beef entrecôte with mini potatoes in dill butter. The young Italian bartender at Paradiso — who insisted we go to Llamber —declared this restaurant to be the producer of the best gnocchi outside Italy.
Best Wine Bar in Barcelona
If you are a foodie like me (and I assume if you are reading this you are), there is nothing that sends a warm wave of euphoria through your body like stumbling upon a hidden gem like Bodega Maestrazgo. An unassuming little wine shop and bar in the heart of the El Born that’s been pouring curated glasses of wine since 1952. Thousands of bottles line the walls and lead the way to the rustic wooden tables at the back. Nearby, the butcher expertly carves perfect slices of jamón Ibérico. Candles flicker. Service is friendly. Everyone is smiling. This is the kind of place you can linger for hours, sampling an array of Spanish wines by the glass paired with generous platters of cured meats and cheese.
Great Coffee Shop in Barcelona
Ironically, selecting Satan’s Coffee Corner for my list is probably the antithesis of the ethos of this establishment, which proudly displays a sign that snarkily proclaims “fuck Yelp and TripAdvisor” (among other things) near the front door. Satan had me at hello. But if the coffee sucked, it would have been a distant memory. It doesn’t. Go.
Best Chocolate Shop / Bakery in Barcelona
On an afternoon stroll intended to distract us from nonstop eating so we’d be ready for our next meal, a chance encounter with Chök The Chocolate Kitchen crushed those plans (at least temporarily).The smell of melting chocolate and toasting pastry is intoxicating. An homage to the mighty cacao, the chocolate bars are some of the best I tasted in our multi-city tour of Spain. Buy a stack of them for gifts; if you’re lucky you’ll have at least one to actually give away (they are pretty much irresistible on long-haul flights).
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—Taste of Adventure