Best of Barcelona: Tapas, Wine & Cocktails

 

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 BarWhite Beans and Baby Squid at Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria Barcelona SpainTheir 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.  Bikini Tapa at Tapas 24 in Barcelona SpainPair 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. Baby Clams with White Wine Garlic and Herbs at Cal Pep in Barcelona SpainThen, 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?!” Smoked Sardines and Figs at Llamber in Barcelona SpainStandout 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 MaestrazgoScreen Shot 2020-02-23 at 5.21.43 PMAn 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.

Satan's Coffee Corner Barcelona Spain

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).  

Chök The Chocolate Kitchen Barcelona Spain

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Best Food in San Miguel de Allende: Two Day Itinerary

Magical and mysterious, San Miguel de Allende is nestled in Mexico’s central highlands, a 90-minute drive from Guanajuato International Airport (BJX).  Its twisting cobblestone streets somehow seem to always crawl uphill.  The flow of traffic is a polite dance between vehicles and pedestrians—there are no stop signs or lights marring the picture-perfect vistas.  While San Miguel de Allende has gained attention in recent years—the city was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008, and Travel + Leisure named it “The World’s Best City” in 2017—it seems to be preserving both its beauty and its identity as an epicenter of art, culture and cuisine.  Legend has it that the city sits atop a bed of healing crystal quartz, which casts a spell of enchantment over visitors.  Legends aside, there is an undeniable “vibe” in the air—perhaps supernatural, perhaps the altitude.

The comparison to New Orleans makes sense, with the locals’ reverence for and celebration of the dearly departed (particularly during the first week of November for the Festival La Calaca—the Skull Festival); the ornately carved wooden doors that obscure fantastic open-air courtyards around the city (there are said to be over 2,000 of them); and the serious food scene.  But San Miguel de Allende is an original, particularly when it comes to its food.  World class coffee, mezcal, tequila and farm-fresh Mexican fare—at shockingly affordable prices—make San Miguel de Allende a “must” on every traveling foodie’s list.

Below is a two day food itinerary that will take you around the Centro, easily done by foot, and give you a glimpse of this enigmatic destination.

Day 1

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Lavanda Cafe.  Lavanda, a charming little cafe tucked away on Dr. Ignacio Hernández Macías street, is serious about coffee.  Indeed, their coffee options take up twice the menu real estate as the food.  Don’t miss your chance to try one of the infamous lavender-infused coffee creations.  And while chilaquiles can be found on most menus around town, Lavanda has some of the best—crunchy tortilla chips atop black beans, smothered with salsa verde, cotija cheese and a perfectly cooked sunny-side up egg.

 Almuerzo (Lunch)

Dôce-18 Concept House, Taco Lab and Casa Dragones The Dôce-18 Concept House is a ritzy collection of eateries and boutiques, including a coffee bar, chocolatier, florist, library, art gallery and more—all under one roof.  Though most of the treasures found here are on the pricier side for San Miguel de Allende, head toward the back of the building and check out Taco Lab, started by California chefs Joe Hargrave and Donnie Masterson.  135 pesos will get you 3 tacos.  Don’t miss the charred octopus (pulpo) with avocado, fresh lime and cilantro on a hand-pressed corn tortilla.  The reasonably-priced lunch will allow you to splurge on a tasting at Casa Dragones (20 steps away), the small batch 100% blue agave sipping tequila with a cult following (it has landed on Oprah’s annual king-making list of “Favorite Things” for six consecutive years).  Taking home a bottle of the Joven will set you back about $180 USD; $100 less than retail in the States.

Cena (Dinner) 

La Mezcaleria.  Everything on the menu at La Mezcaleria is incredible.  Everything.  The restaurant was born out of owners Monica and Alexander’s passion for cooking and entertaining for their friends and family.  When you dine here, you are eating at their table.  The decor—from the handcrafted obsidian Oaxacan light fixtures to the art on the walls (painted by Alexander himself)—is reflective of the artifacts you will find in their home.  The short yet highly curated menu is filled with unique and inspired Mexican dishes.  The quality is impeccable.  The flavors are bold.  After landing from your 3-part flight of the house mezcal—served with fresh orange slices and chile salt—work your way through the menu.  You can’t go wrong.  Don’t miss the arugula salad with grilled pear and goat cheese; fresh tuna tartare with thinly sliced red onion, black and green olives and habanero chiles; grilled jumbo prawns with roasted cherry tomatoes and rosemary; coffee and dry herb crusted beef with grilled guava; the platter of grilled zucchini, pickled beets and roasted sweet potatoes; and the vanilla panna cotta and fresh berries drizzled with local honey.

Day 2

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Ki’bok Coffee.  What began in hip Tulum has made its way to San Miguel de Allende, thanks to owners James and Veronica. The beans are 100% Arabic, grown by a co-op of organic farmers in Veracruz.  The preparation is elite—the manager Joel honed his skills serving discriminating Italian customers in the original location.  The atmosphere is relaxed boho chic.  Don’t miss the double Americano with hand-mixed chocolate (a heavenly blend of cacao and fragrant spices like cinnamon); the poached egg in a ham cup served on a bed of vegetables and quinoa, topped with hollandaise; the halved avocado stuffed and baked with eggs and manchego cheese; and a selection of locally-made pastries.

Almuerzo (Lunch)

Don Taco Tequila.  If you walk too fast, you might just miss it.  And that would be a tragedy.  The dining room is stylish, yet understated.  The hand-shaken margaritas are frothy and fresh.  The house salsas (four of them) are addictive.  But don’t miss the restaurant’s eponymous taco: tequila flamed ribeye, caramelized onions, and garlic wrapped in cheese crust.  Thank me later.

Cena (Dinner) 

La Parada.  An authentic taste of Peru in San Miguel de Allende.  A variety of fruit and spice infused pisco sours? Check.  Assortment of interesting ceviches? Check.  But don’t miss the hidden gems on the menu, including the incredibly fresh salad of chopped tomatoes, peas, lima beans, sun dried tomatoes, sweet corn, queso fresco and a light drizzle of pesto; and the Que tal lomo, a masterfully prepared fillet of beef sautéed with onions and tomatoes, served with sweet corn jasmine rice and crispy smashed gold Peruvian potatoes.

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Top 10 Beach Bars and Local Restaurants in the Caribbean

da Conch Shack, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

(Last Updated March 30, 2017) Warm turquoise water, gleaming white sand, umbrella drinks and the tropical beats of a steel drum band.  This is the typical scene that springs to mind when people think of the Caribbean; lazy days of sun and surf, straight out of central casting for the next Corona commercial.  However, those willing to venture outside the grounds of their resort or vacation rental will be rewarded with warm people and the delightful, unmistakable flavors of Caribbean cuisine.  Each of the inhabited islands in the chain that stretches from Miami to South America has its own vibe, and its own specialty when it comes to food and drink.  The Caribbean is blessed with unique spices, produce, spirits and, of course, fresh seafood.  In addition to Taste of Adventure’s recommendations below, food tours like Tru Bahamian Food Tours in the Bahamas are a great way to discover and support local eateries, specialty food stores and authentic, family-owned restaurants.  Discover the magic and soul of Caribbean food.

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Boots Cuisine, St. George's, Grenada

1. Boots Cuisine (St. George’s, Grenada).  Nestled in the hills above the hustle and bustle of St. George’s is the five-table gem run by the affable Boots and his wife, Ruby.  A nightly five-course prix fixe menu of Grenadian specialties like pumpkin soup, chicken curry, grilled mahi mahi with guava sauce, goat stew, and nutmeg ice cream are offered, along with some of the best homemade rum punch in the Caribbean.  Complimentary transportation to and from the restaurant make a visit a no-brainer, just be sure to book ahead.  Vibe: Home away from home.

Bugaloo's, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

2. Bugaloo’s (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos). Far away from the tourist center of Grace Bay is a pastel-hued beachside restaurant named after Berlie “Bugaloo” Williams, credited as the originator of the first “conch shack” establishment on Providenciales.  And the fare that his namesake restaurant is turning out does not disappoint.  Stop by for conch salad ‒ a perfect balance of salt, spice and zesty lime juice ‒ and the puffy conch fritters, chock full of meat and served with a spicy aioli.  Vibe: Local hangout.

da Conch Shack, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

3. Da Conch Shack & Rum Bar (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos).  One of Patricia Schultz’ “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” Da Conch Shack specializes in preparing the tropical marine mollusk (extracted from the large pink shells found in tourist shops) in a variety of tasty ways ‒ cracked, curried, fried and ceviche-style with peppers, onions and lime.  But the fresh grilled lobster might just be the dark horse of the menu.  Stop by early and enjoy sweeping ocean views and live music on Wednesday evenings.  Vibe: Laid back.

The Hideaway (Chez Andy), St. Jean, St. Barth

4. The Hideaway, Chez Andy (St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy).  Although the parking lot location isn’t the most spectacular on the tiny French island, this local joint run by English ex-pat Andy, and his business partner Hafida,  turns out seriously awesome wood-fired pizzas. Everything from classic Margherita to more exotic creations like the “Indienne” with curried chicken, mushrooms and onions.  And even the most cynical diner won’t mind the “Sweet Caroline” sing-along after a shot, or three, of the complimentary (and dangerously drinkable) housemade vanilla rum. Vibe: Lively dinner party.

Just Grillin', Barbados

5. Just Grillin’ (St. James, St. Thomas and Christ Church, Barbados).  Don’t be fooled by the casual look of this trio of eateries on Barbados (two brick and mortar and one food trailer); the grilled seafood, beef and chicken rivals that of many of the posh (and uber expensive) restaurants on the island.  All the spice blends, sauces and dressings are made in-house.  The char-grilled swordfish, a Bajan specialty, is out of this world.  Vibe: Packed.

Maya's To Go, St. Jean, St. Barth

6. Maya’s To Go (St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy). Top quality local ingredients are combined in unexpected and creative ways at this little shop in the nondescript Les Galeries du Commerce near the airport in St. Jean. The menu changes daily, but expect expertly prepared French dishes with an island flair like wahoo ceviche, peppered shrimp, mango salad, and fluffy pastries rivaling the best boulangeries in Paris. MTG is a great place to pick up extras to round out your beach barbeque, or to stop for a quick (and relatively affordable) lunch on St. Barth. Vibe: Seaside deli.

Papa Zouk, St. John's, Antigua

7. Papa Zouk Fish ‘n Rum (St. John’s, Antigua). Tucked away on an unremarkable street, this tiny little shack is the kind of place foodies dream of: a quirky, local joint with superb homemade food and the personable, passionate staff to match.  Impeccably fresh fish ‒ grilled, fried or sautéed ‒ is their forte. The whole fried snapped is transcendental. Don’t forget to sample the spicy, garlicky house sauce in the glass bottle on every table. The bar is stocked with enough varieties of rare rum to make a pirate envious.  Although destroyed by a fire in mid-December 2014, the owners re-built and re-opened in February 2015. Papa Zouk will undoubtedly return better than ever. Vibe: Roadside shack.

Scotchies, Jamaica

8. Scotchies (Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, Jamaica).  Popular with visitors and locals alike, Scotchies turns out what many believe is the best jerk in Jamaica.  Pork, chicken and fish is slathered in a secret recipe of chiles, cinnamon, garlic, nutmeg and more, and roasted in open-air barbecue pits over flaming pimento wood.  Traditional side dishes include breadfruit, roasted yams, rice and peas, and festival (fried corn fritters).  Your order is bundled up in foil for takeaway or eating in under the thatched roof.  Grab a seat at the bar, order a crisp Red Stripe, and make friends with the unique cast of characters that filter through every day.   Vibe: Heart and soul.

Smiling Harry's, Freetown, Antigua

9. Smiling Harry’s Thirst Quencher (Freetown, Antigua). The trek to Smiling Harry’s is half the adventure.  Set inside a national park, just steps away from breathtaking Half Moon Bay ‒ which feels deserted (in a good way) much of the time ‒ Smiling Harry’s is a welcome respite from the Antiguan sun.  Although the beloved Harry passed away in August 2014 and will be sorely missed by those who spent countless hours listening to his amazing stories, drinking bottomless rum and cokes, and enjoying his infectious smile, his family re-opened the place in December 2014. Harry’s char-grilled hamburgers and house made ginger beer were second-to-none.   Vibe: Beach shack.

Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, B.V.I.

10. Soggy Dollar Bar (Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands).  Set on one of the most idyllic beaches in the Caribbean on the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke, the Soggy Dollar Bar is the “originator and perfector” of the iconic Painkiller cocktail.  A blend of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice and orange juice, topped with fresh grated Grenadian nutmeg, this Caribbean cocktail has had boaters from around the world jumping overboard and swimming ashore to White Bay since the 1970s.  Those who overindulge can grab one of the palm-shaded hammocks that dot the property.  Nearby Foxy’s, and Bomba’s Surfside Shack’s infamous “Full Moon Party” on neighboring Tortola, are also worth checking out.  Vibe: Bohemian.

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