On your next visit to Madrid, earmark at least one of your evenings to take part in the tradition of tapeo, or going out for tapas. It is a ritual that is part of the fabric of life for young and old alike throughout Spain.
There is no better way to feel the pulse of a vibrant city like Madrid than standing shoulder to shoulder in a tapas bar enjoying the specialty of the house and mingling with the locals. Don’t be shy if you don’t speak the language or don’t know what to order, as you can always look around at the crowd and see what everyone else is eating. Since most bars display their tapas, when in doubt you can always you can always just point to the food to get what you want!
To get you started, we have outlined a tapas tour route that covers many of our favorite places in Madrid. The distance from the starting point to the end point is just a little over a mile, and each place is just a short 5-10 minute walk from the next one. The route starts out near the Prado Museum and ends near the Plaza Mayor. You can flip the route and start near the Plaza Mayor, but then you will probably want to omit the last stop (Chocolatería San Ginés), since that’s where you’ll top off your evening of savory treats with some sweets.
Before you start out, remember that Madrileños are night owls and tend to eat later than in most other cities in Spain. They will often meet up with friends to have an aperitif and some tapas before heading to dinner around 10:00 p.m. So the tapas bars will be most crowded later in the evening. Keep that in mind if you want to experience the bars at their peak time. Since most of the bars operate continuously from the late morning until well after midnight, you can go a little earlier (before 8 p.m.) if you want to avoid some of the crowds.
Tapas bars serve a selection of beverages, such as vermouth, sherry, wine and beer. People typically order wine or beer to accompany their tapas. The wine is referred to as a chato, which is a red house wine served in a small glass. The beer is referred to as a caña, which is a small glass of draft beer. You’ll be glad the servings are small after you’ve visited a few places…
If you are a spirits or cocktail drinker and like to start off the evening with a drink or a glass of champagne, then we recommend that you kick-off your evening at the Glass Bar, located in the chic Hotel Urban (Carrera de San Jerónimo, 34 – corner of Ventura de la Vega). From there it’s a short 5 minute walk to the start of the tapas route. Buen provecho!
Stop 1: Taberna La Dolores – Plaza de Jesús, 4
Established in 1908, La Dolores is one of the classic tabernas in the city. They offer a variety of tapas, including anchovies, boquerones (anchovies pickled in vinegar, olive oil, garlic and herbs), and Roquefort cheese. But the “must have” tapa that you have to try here is the jamón de pato, which literally translated means “duck ham.” The “ham” is actually a duck breast that has been cured and sliced, and it’s served like a sandwich on a small roll. The duck is so tasty and buttery it practically melts in your mouth.
Stop 2: Viva Madrid – Calle de Manuel Fernández y González, 7
Viva Madrid is included in the route not just for its food and drink, but also as a visual treat. Established over a century ago, this tapas bar boasts some of the most beautiful tile work you’ll see – both inside and out – so it is not to be missed. There are a variety of tapas on the menu, including ravioli de rabo de toro (oxtail ravioli), croquetas de jamón (ham croquettes), and chipirones a la plancha (grilled squid), to name a few. Viva Madrid is one of the tapas bars that is actually known for its drinks and cocktails, so go ahead and order a Mojito, Martini, or a Gin & Tonic and enjoy the beautiful tiles that surround you.
Stop 3: La Casa del Abuelo – Calle Victoria, 12
Established in 1906, La Casa del Abuelo (grandfather’s house) is another classic tapas bar. The location on Calle Victoria is the original, and they also have one around the block (Nuñez de Arce, 5), and in the Serrano neighborhood (Goya, 57). At Casa del Abuelo you’ll figure out pretty quickly that it’s all about the gambas (shrimp). The most popular dish is the gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), and as soon as you try them you’ll know why. Be sure to use your bread to sop up every drop of the delicious olive oil and garlic that will be left in the dish after you polish off the shrimp – it’s almost the best part.
Stop 4: Mesón del Champiñón– Cava de San Miguel, 17
As the name of this taberna implies, mushrooms reign supreme at the Mesón del Champiñón. They serve them a variety of ways – a la plancha (grilled), al ajillo (with garlic) filled with chorizo (Spanish sausage), or served with grilled pimientos del padrón (green peppers). The selection of tapas may be limited to a few simple dishes, but they are so well prepared.
Stop 5: Mesón de la Tortilla – Cava de San Miguel, 15
Just a few doors down from the Mesón del Champiñón you’ll find another tapas bar devoted to a single dish – Spanish tortilla. Tortilla is an omelet that is made with eggs, potatoes and olive oil. It is a dish that is found in many tapas bars and is made in just about every home in Spain. At the Mesón de la Tortilla you can have it the traditional way, with onion, or with chorizo. Both the Mesón del Champiñón and the Mesón de la Tortilla are a throw-back to when the tabernas were originally established in Madrid and served just one specialty dish.
Stop 6: Chocolatería San Ginés – Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5
This is the last stop on the route – and hopefully you’ve paced yourself and left room for dessert, as this stop will surely satisfy your sweet tooth. The route ends where many Madrileños have ended their evenings of tapeo and merriment for over 120 years – at the Chocolatería San Ginés.
Established in 1894, San Ginés is known for its specialty, chocolate con churros. Churros are light, crispy sticks of dough (think donut in the shape of a stick) that are deep fried and served with a cup of very thick hot chocolate. There’s nothing like dunking the golden, lightly salted churros into the thick, hot chocolate after a night of eating and drinking. Once you’ve tried this delicious combination you’ll understand why this is a Madrid institution, and why you will find the place teaming with people at all hours of the day and night (it’s open 24 hours). If you happen to be in the area at 4 a.m. on the weekend, don’t be surprised if you have to queue up to be served.
Ending the evening at Chocolatería San Ginés is a perfect way to end an evening of tapeo in Madrid. We hope you enjoyed the route.
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