Top Tips for Finding Authentic Spanish Tapas in Barcelona
Tapas may not be a traditional Catalan specialty, but they’ve become a staple in the Barcelona dining scene. In a city as busy and popular as the Catalan capital, not all restaurants are created equal though. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with options, fear not. We sat down with Maria Astrand, the food blogger behind Barcelona Food Experience, for advice on how to avoid the tourist traps and eat well during your trip.
Choose the right neighborhood
It’s important to remember that quality can vary when it comes to tapas in Barcelona. A good rule of thumb is to avoid restaurants in the most heavily touristed areas (we’re looking at you, Las Ramblas), and opt for more local neighborhoods instead. “Gracia is a great neighborhood for tapas bar hopping,” Astrand says. “Locals love to come here in the evenings and weekends for delicious, authentic tapas and a glass of wine or beer.” The tapas bars of Sant Antoni and Poble Sec are also popular with locals.
Know when to go
Spaniards generally eat late, and many restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 7 or 8pm. If you’re sitting down for a tapas dinner any earlier, you’re probably at a restaurant geared toward tourists. Show up right when places open, however, and you can snag a seat at even the most popular restaurants. But don’t limit yourself to dinner. Some authentic tapas bars, particularly in the beachside Barceloneta neighborhood, open early. “The best kind of breakfast,” Astrand says.
Go with a local
Nothing beats insider knowledge when it comes to meal time in Barcelona. Guided food tours offer an excellent way to visit numerous restaurants, including hidden gems and local favorites that might otherwise be difficult to find or lack English menus, and try a wide variety of tapas dishes. Travelers can find a food tour through any number of popular foodie neighborhoods—Sant Antoni, El Gotic, L’Eixample, or the Raval among them—and they almost always include some local wine.
Eat seasonal (and local)
“Make sure to ask for what’s in season when you’re ordering tapas,” advises Astrand. Some staples will always be on the menu—patates braves, seitons (anchovies in vinegar), croquetes—but seasonal offerings give diners a chance to “try new dishes and experience new flavors.” Be sure to look for local specialties as well, dishes such as pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato), bombes (fried potato croquettes stuffed with ground beef), and canelons (stuffed pasta covered in creamy bechamel sauce).
Don't forget the vermouth
A meal isn’t complete without something to wash it down. While wines from the Rioja region or a class of sparkling cava are both popular options, there’s another local choice: vermouth. This fortified wine, typically infused with a range of botanicals, has enjoyed a resurgence in Catalonia in recent years. “Many tapas bars have their own, homemade version,” says Astrand. “Do like the locals do and go for a glass of vermouth and a snack before lunch.” For a traditional vermuteo experience, order your drink with olives, potato chips, pa amb tomàquet, or tinned seafood.
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