I’ve heard it said that Barcelona has more bars and restaurants per capita than any other European city. After we had the opportunity to roam the streets and eat our way through the city for three days straight, I absolutely believed it. I’ve actually never struggled so much to narrow my must-try list down to only 10 spots. I wanted to give you the most variety as possible in the top 10 so there is something for everyone, but I obsessed about it a lot--in fact, it was actually impossible for me to narrow it down to only 10, so I added some honorable mentions at the end that shouldn’t be skipped just because they didn’t make the list.
Barcelona is an incredibly easy place to get around on foot. Its an absolutely beautiful city with wide, spacious sidewalks. We were there for three days and the only bus we had to take was to and from the airport; we never wanted a taxi because walking is so easy and enjoyable. Honestly, you do so much eating, you need to do all that walking to burn some of it off. Culturally, as a foreigner, there were just a couple things to adjust to.
First, as a non-smoker, the sheer amount of smokers is difficult to handle. There are all these adorable al fresco dining areas and the weather was perfect, but if you are eating outside, just know you will be right next to someone blowing cigarette smoke right into your face and food. Sadly, even though we wanted to sit outside, we often opted for indoor options to avoid smoke.
Secondly, the Spanish eat dinner SO LATE. Like so, so late. When you are walking down the street at 10:30pm, you see grandmas & grandpas hand in hand, young children out & about with their families. At 6pm, the time when most Americans are eating dinner, the Spanish are having an afternoon snack to tide them over until 10 pm when they actually eat their dinner. And please know that this isn’t an exaggeration. Most restaurants are open for lunch, then close for a few hours during siesta; some don’t open back up for dinner service until 8 or 9pm. We made a reservation for dinner for 9pm once and felt like such rebels eating so late, but when we walked in the restaurant, it was still completely empty. By 11pm when we were leaving, it was completely filled. And this was mid-week. So just embrace the late eating and have fun with it.
Without further ado in no particular order...
PINCHOS J TAPAS
This was the very first place we dined upon arrival. There’s a very famous street, frequented by locals that has tapas bar after tapas bar, block after block. It can be hard to choose one, and in theory you don’t really need to. You can walk in, help yourself to one or two tapas, and move on to the next place. We tried quite a few on this street, and we enjoyed this one so much that we came back a second time a few nights later.
So here’s what happens:
You walk in, they hand you a plate and a small glass. You go up to the bar where all the tapas are displayed, pile what you want on your plate. They will warm ones that are intended to be served hot. You eat to your heart’s content, putting your toothpicks in the glass they gave you. At the end, they tally up your toothpicks (usually ranging from $1-3 Euros per tapa) and that’s what you owe. Its that simple.
I suggest doing a tapas crawl along Blai street, but definitely don’t miss Pinchos J. The staff was unusually helpful, the price was right, and the tapas were quite delicious. My favorites were the boquerones with egg & tomato chutney as well as the mushroom croquettes.
This bar was one of our most memorable experiences and treasured finds. Yolanda, the owner/head waitress was so fun to talk to. The bar belonged to her grandparents, and has been running for 80 years. She grew up above the bar and remembers trying to go to sleep with the sound of people downstairs into the late hours of the night. We ordered a bit of everything on the menu, washing it down with copas de cava and ice cold beer served in frosty mugs as we went. There was a set, non-rotating menu of year-round dependables, as well as the more seasonal, daily offerings visible at the bar. We ordered a bit of everything from both menus: a bomba (a mashed potato encased, deep fried meatball, this was all my husband’s doing), oven roasted artichoke (highly seasonal but maybe my favorite thing all night), olive oil soaked bread with crushed tomato (the most classic a Spanish appetizer can get), roasted squash with blue cheese and pepitas, a fried brie situation (this was all my doing), a salad with pesto style dressing (was hoping the lettuce would make me feel better about all the carbs, but then I sopped up the salad dressing with extra bread), and then we finished off the evening with complimentary digestifs: orujo (a Spanish grape brandy) and licor crema d’arros (a creamy rice based liquor that tasted like a mixture of baileys and horchata? no complaints there). We left stuffed and happy as can be, just an all around fabulous dining experience. Reservations recommended.
VILA VINATECA LA TECA
This was the neighborhood grocery store and wine bar of my dreams and if I lived in Barcelona I would try to make my home inside this shop if they let me. First of all, #pantrygoals am I right? All the oil packed tuna and pickled white asparagus you could ever want on the shelf near the cute little step down into the wine bar area. First things first get yourself a bag of truffle chips. They are one of the best things i’ve ever had and they sell them here. Then walk towards the back where they have more cheeses and jamon than you’ll know what to do with and take it all in. Ask to sample a few cheeses, they will happily slice off whatever you are interested in. I got a smoked semi soft cheese there that I’m still dreaming about, wish I could remember what it’s called now. But anyways, grab a bottle of wine, your paper wrapped cheeses, the truffle chips and maybe some olives or boquerones walk on over to the Parc de la Ciutadella nearby and enjoy your picnic lunch there. It doesn’t get much better than that.
This was a brunch spot recommended by our friends Dallas and Sabrina who are amazing photographers from Vancouver, Canada currently living in Barcelona. It was a welcome change of theme as we’d basically been eating nothing but tapas and empanadas for days. The decor was vintage chic and very on trend, the plates were mismatched, and there were dozens of cakes and pies for sale by the slice displayed on glass domed cake platters to catch the eye. Right away I felt at home. Though expecting to have to wait for a table, we were seated right away. From the start I had nothing but good vibes and that continued as our brunch arrived.
The food options were different from the typical Spanish fare we’d been consuming all day every day; apparently “ugot” means cake in Hebrew and they definitely put a modern middle-eastern twist on quite a few classics. I ordered the “benedict Jerusalem”— brioche, tomato confit, caramelized onions, chickpeas, creme fraiche, za’atar, & mint. It was a lovely. We also tried the famed brioche french toast with caramelized pears and mascarpone and washed it all down with cortados and mimosas.
QUIMET Y QUIMET
I feel like you’ve truly 'arrived' when you’re a restaurant that can choose to be closed on the weekends. There was a line already formed at the door when we arrived a half hour before opening and this is the pace until closing. It’s a landmark that apparently remains virtually unchanged over the last 100 years and as far as I’m concerned an absolute must. It’s an extremely tiny bar with no seating so you will for sure be standing at a bar or table with barely enough elbow room to bring the tapas to your mouth but even though its slammed from the moment it opens, the staff is extremely attentive and efficient. They have been doing this a long time and it shows.
We had some of the most elegant and delicious tapas of the trip here, not your average potato and cheese stuffed and fried fare. They serve what they call montaditos, or two bite tapas, open face sandwiches on a super toasty, crisp round bun. We started with fois gras & volcanic salt, smoked salmon on yogurt with truffled honey, goat cheese with tapenade, boquerones and some kind of white balsamic vinegar glaze. They were so mind blowing, we had confidence ordering another round, and another, house made thick cut potato chips, artichokes with caviar, nispero (loquat) with soft goat cheese and anchovy, washing my tapas down with cava and sparkling rose, my husband sampling various scotches by the ounce at an extremely reasonable cost. In fact, none of the tapas were over 3 Euros, which for the quality of ingredients and presentation was remarkable.
This was recommended to me by an instagram friend, Ele, who owns etsy empire Elehandmade. She's an Italian shoemaker living in Barcelona so you already know she’s cool, and as an Italian, knows her gelato. And what can I say, this gelato rivals any gelato I ever ate in Italy as the best I’ve ever had. They had other gorgeous desserts but we stuck to the gelato and although we tried a few flavors and they were all delicious, hands down the cappuccino gelato was in a league all its own. It was the smoothest texture, I can’t even begin to express.
No Top 10 list of mine is going to be without at least one specialty coffee shop. If you only have time for one, let this be it. Nomad was a little piece of the Seattle artisan coffee scene I look for everywhere I go. A true coffee bar and “lab”, with slow coffee options (hello, pour over) with that genuine, intense interest in coffee culture and origins clearly visible. True, you can get a cortado or a cafe con leche at just about any cafe or bar in Barcelona, but coffee at this level of quality you don’t find just anywhere. There are three locations throughout the city (we went to Nomad Every day), so there’s a pretty good chance you can work a stop into your schedule just about wherever you are.
We came here on our very last night and I was disappointed we hadn’t discovered it first because it was definitely a highlight of the trip. This is a vermouth bar, and I for one, I had no idea I liked vermouth so much. They are famous for their Vermut Negre, with a proprietary blend of herbs and spices, served with an olive and orange peel. It was absolutely delicious. Not to mention the incredible tapas, which I appreciated weren’t fried or carb-heavy, but beautifully presented variations of pickled or stuffed peppers, marinated artichokes, anchovies & olives, cheese; basically all the things Sami loves. You could begin your evening here before you meet up with friends for dinner (at 11pm, remember) or let this be your last stop before going home. If I lived in Barcelona, this would be my regular spot. Bonus: the bartender told us there are 5 locations, so it makes it that much easier to swing by one of them.
LA XAMPANYERIA (CAN PAIXANO)
Okay so I won’t sugar coat it, this place is crazy. From open to close, this place is slammed. Can Paixano is the Barcelona equivalent of Katz’ Deli in NY: you are, in a sense, paying for the mistreatment. Not at all that the staff are rude, in fact I found them to be quite patient, but it’s just not a relaxing place. It’s standing room only like being at a general admission concert. However, the upside is that because this is the equivalent of Katz’s but in Spain, instead of cherry soda, they make their own cava. For two dollars a glass, with brut, sweet or rosé options, it’s hard to beat. They are famous for their assortment of sausage, so my husband had a mixed grilled sausage plate that he quite enjoyed (note: if you are not a fan of blood sausage, this would be the time to say “Sin morcilla, por favor” or it would be included). They also have assorted jamón, fois gras, and cheese sandwiches and can fill them with any combination you request. I don’t do much meat, so I opted for a warm caramelized onion and cheese sandwich that was delightful. The portions were nice for the money, but not huge, so you wouldn’t have to make this a main meal or long stop if you didn’t want to. Cash Only.
We came here for our last meal in Barcy, breakfast before we headed to the airport. We had passed it many times walking in our neighborhood and the idea of a proper western breakfast really appealed to us. We loved the cozy, eclectic aesthetic as well as the fact that the space was so roomy and open after days of cramming ourselves into small, crowded bars. I ordered what ended up being one of the best breakfast sandwiches of my life, a grilled vegetable ciabatta sandwich, add fried egg, add goat cheese, duh. The goat cheese came as a medallion deeply caramelized on the outside; it was absolute perfection. We also ordered the pancakes and they were spot on, fluffy and soft with a perfect density. Highly recommended as a chill spot with western options when you need a break from the tapas lifestyle.
Famous for their churros, though I personally found the Crema Catalana here to be more the standout, one of the best I tried in Spain. It’s essentially the Catalan version of Creme brûlée, with a subtle and unique addition of citrus to the custard and that classic burnt sugar crust you break with a spoon.
This place is a must, albeit absolute sensory overload so go when you have the energy to tackle it. It also won't hurt to show up hungry, as it’s a great place to eat your way through, picking up treats or stuffed olives or an endless array of snacks as you go. Any food related souvenirs you may be interested in taking home such as saffron, paprika, olives, olive oil, etc etc etc this is the place to get it.
A gorgeous 100 year old candy store converted to bar: the century old interior is virtually the same and creates an incredible atmosphere. It’s a fun place to stop with friends to have a creative & beautifully presented cocktail. I felt so classy without feeling touristy here.
Another tapas bar on that famous street of the locals. Except this time I ordered Patatas bravas and they were maybe the best I tried anywhere in Spain (and I’ve sampled a surprisingly vast amount in a relatively brief amount of time, thus I consider myself somewhat of an expert). Patatas bravas always come with an aioli of some kind, and with fried potatoes this can feel heavy. This version had a whipped, aerated and very light aioli, unlike anything I have ever eaten before. It was the texture of whipped cream but savory and garlicy.