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12 restaurants in Spain you need to dine in least once in your life

For globe-trotting foodies, this is the ultimate bucket list: the best restaurants in the world chosen for their elegant dining rooms and delicious cuisine.

12 restaurants in Spain you need to dine in least once in your life
Amelie Vincent with Joan Roca, one of the 12 restaurants in Spain she included in her book. Photo: The Foodalist

In a new book, 150 Restaurants You Need To Visit Before You Die (Lannoo Publishers), foodie, author and influencer Amélie Vincent, travels the world to choose the best dining experiences and of course that included a stop in Spain where she chose 12 Spanish eateries.

Six of them are located in the Basque Country, another four in Barcelona and one in Girona, and the last in Madrid.

Let’s take a look ar her choices.

Etxebarri in Atxondo, Basque Country


Photo: Anders Husa

Writing about the chef Victor Arguinzoniz, Vincent writes “He is one of the most respected and inspiring chefs of his generation using exclusively the fire, live coal. And embers from oack and vines to cook the very best of the regions ingredients.

Nerua in Bilbao, Basque Country


Photo: Andoni Epelde

Housed in the legendary Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, overlooking the river, Michelin starred Nerua serves innovative Basque cuisine in a sleep contemporary setting with fresh white walls and swirl-backed chairs.

All the audacious dishes by Chef Josean Alija are served on simple white plates with just two or three ingredients, using Mediterranean produce to which he is not afraid to add unusual flashes of inspiration, like green coffee essence, pumpkin seed praline and ‘spicy marzipan sand’.

Mugaritz, Errenteria,  Basque Country
 


Photo: José Luis López de Zubiría / Mugaritz

 

“You will be surprised by dishes that make sounds and appetizers that melt in the mouth,” writes Vincent on her reason for including this restaurant on the list.

“Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz’s philosophy is to balance his theatrical instincts with technical cooking and to touch on all of the senses by playing with perceptions,” she writes.

Elkano in Getaria,  Basque Country


Photo: Amelie Vincent
 

“The best time to visit Elkano is in April or May,” writes Vincent, “when wild Atlantic turbot is at the peak of its season and you can hear chef Aitor Arregui’s passionate stories about the fishing season and the work they do with the local fisherman.

Azurmendi in Larrabetzu,  Basque Country


Photo: Amelie Vincent
 

Perched on a  hillside, Azurmendi tells the story of the Basque Country’s finest produce through an all-encompassing culinary experience.

“This environmentally friendly restaurant recycles its own waste, as well as harvesting rainfall and cooling itself using geothermal energy,” she writes.

Arzak in San Sebastian,  Basque Country


Photo: Amelie Vincent

Another restaurant in the Basque Country, this time in San Sebastián, Vincent says “It is beautiful and quite unique to watch a father and daughter combination in a kitchen.”

El Celler De Can Roca in Girona, Catalonia


Photo: Amelie Vincent

Celler de Can Roca the Catalan restaurant has scooped the title of Best restaurant in the world several times, and maintains three Michelon stars is not surprisingly on the list. Run by the three Roca brothers, who blend their skills of chef, pastry chef and somellier, it is considered one of the best restaurants in Spain.

Disfrutar in Barcelona, Catalonia


Photo: Adria Goula

Disfutar meaning enjoy in Spanish is a beautiful Mediterranean restaurant in Barcelona, with clay ceramics and a white dining room that flows out onto the terrace, referencing the small fishing villages of Catalonia.

It is here where you can enjoy the spheres that look exactly like olives but which are filled with mandarin flower essence, a famous dish inherited from El Bulli.

Enigma in Barcelona, Catalonia


Photo: Pepo Segura

Albert Adrià, brother of world-famous chef Ferran and former El Bulli chef is behind the restaurant “located in a majestic space that combines Japanese minimalism with vintage science fiction, Enigma is definitely not a conventional restaurant.

“Diners do not remain static during the unique experience: they move through the seven  distinct dining spaces, each one with its own theme, from La Plantxa, featuring a teppanyaki-inspired set up with a flat-top grill, to the 41º cocktail bar.”

Hoja Santa in Barcelona, Catalonia


Photo: Amelie Vincent

“Hoja Santa is the perfect place to discover the savour of cactus nopal juice mixed with an oyster, pinapple, lemon and olive oil”.

Another restaurant opened by Albert Adrià, here Mexican chef Paco Méndez showcases the very best of what contemporary Mexican cuisine has to offer, thanks to his experience at El Bulli and Tickets.

Koy Shunka in Barcelona, Catalonia


Photo: Pedro Cortacans

“At Koy Shunka, local products are prepared in an inventive Japanese way,” writes Vincent of this gourmet Japanese eaterie in Barcelona's Barrio Gótico. “The main selling point is the produce which is precisely cut and cooked with purity and simplicity”.

DiverXO in Madrid


Photo: DiverXO

The author warns that “to book one of the 30 seats at DiverXO, the hottest restaurant in Madrid, is  not without challenges.” But those luckily enough to secure a reserveration “will have a surprising Spanish-Asian arty performance in a wittily decorated room.”

For more take a look at the '150 Restaurants You Need to Visit before You Die', Amélie Vincent, € 25,99, published by Lannoo Publishers and available HERE

 

 

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FOOD & DRINK

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Not everywhere will offer you free tapas in Spain, but there are some cities where the tradition lives on. Read on to find out where they are, how you can get a free 'tapa' and the slight differences between each place.

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture, not only because of the gastronomical aspect but because of the social aspect of sharing dishes too. 

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

A ‘tapa’ was a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink and usually came free. 

The tradition of free tapas has died out across much of Spain, but there are still some cities where it is alive and well. Most of these cities can be found in three regions – the eastern part of Andalusia, Castilla y León and Galicia. 

READ ALSO: Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day

Granada

Granada is the undisputed king of free tapas in Spain, famed for its offerings which can be anything from a piece of Spanish tortilla to almost a whole meal, such as a mini burger and fries or small fried fish. It works like this – each time you buy a drink, you will be given a free tapas dish. If you order consecutive drinks in the same bar, each of the tapa dishes you get will be different. Free tapa will come with everything from beer and wine to soft drinks and sparkling water, but not with coffee or tea. Keep in mind that the price of drinks in Granada is slightly higher than in some Spanish cities, which helps to cover the cost of the food.

Calle Navas, Calle Virgen del Rosario and the area around the Cathedral offer some of the best tapas in the city. Remember that if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, ask for una tapa vegetariana o tapa vegana. While most bars in the city should have a suitable alternative, some of the more rough and ready ones might not, or you may just get something simple like bread and cheese. One of Granada’s best-loved vegetarian tapas dishes is berenjena con miel (deep fried aubergine drizzled with treacle). 

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain

Almería

Just southeast of Granada on the coast, Almería is another of Spain’s great free-tapas cities. The tradition is a little different here than in other Spanish cities because you get to choose your tapa instead of just getting a surprise. Many of the tapas menus here are vast and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It could be anything from a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion montadito (small sandwich) to paté on toast. Almeríans love their toast, so don’t be surprised if you find many different variations of topped toasts on the menu.

You’ll also have to speak up here, waiters will often come over to ask for your drink order, but not come back and ask for your tapa order. It’s best to tell your waiter what you want when your drinks arrive.

You may be able to get a free pulpo (octopus) tapa in Galicia. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Jaén

The city and province of the same name to the north of Granada is also known for its tapa gratis when ordering a drink. Like in Granada, here you’ll be given the tapa of the house and generally won’t be given a choice in what you get. The prices of beers here are not as high as in Almería, but tapas portions are generally pretty generous, meaning you can easily have enough for dinner by going to just a few places.

Dishes here may include a plate of migas (fried breadcrumbs or flour with pieces of meat and fried peppers) or morcilla (blood sausage or black pudding). You can try asking for a vegetarian or vegan tapa here too, but the bars may not be as accommodating as the ones in Granada and may not have so many options, although they will try with what they have. 

León

It’s not just the eastern provinces of Andalusia where you can get free tapas. One of the best foodie cities in northern Spain that has carried on this tradition is León. Some of the most typical tapas dishes you may be served here include patatas leonesas (León-style potatoes), or morcilla de León (blood sausage or black pudding from León).

During the pandemic, a few bars in León started charging around €0.30 to €0.50 for tapas, but you’ll be happy to know that the majority of them still offer it for free. Bars will generally charge less for the wine, beers and other drinks here than in Granada too. The best places to go are around the famed Barrio del Húmedo or the Barrio Romántico. There are even some bars that will offer free tapas with your coffee order for breakfast here, which is unheard of elsewhere. 

Ávila

In almost every bar in Ávila you will be served a free tapa along with your drink. You’re unlikely to be served a simple piece of bread with a topping, here the dishes are almost like mini meals. Much of the cuisine here is based on meat, so you might expect a small plate of stewed wild boar or kidney with potatoes.

You will also find that they’re pretty big compared to free tapas in some other cities and filling too, but along with that, you will be paying slightly above average for your drink. The best street to head to for free tapas here is Calle San Segundo.

Alcalá de Henares

There may only be some bars left in Madrid that will offer you a free tapa with your drink, but head just east to the student town of Alcalá de Henares and you’ll find that they’re given out freely. Lots of places here will let you choose what you want too. You’ll pay above average for a caña here, around 3, but for that you’ll get a fairly decent tapa which could include patatas bravas, burgers or scrambled eggs with potatoes.

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Santiago de Compostela

When you’ve finally completed the Camino, what could be better than sitting down to a nice cold beer and plate of free tapas? The majority of bars here offer simple tapa such as a piece of bread with some type of meat on top, such as jamón or sausage or a small slice of tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette).

Lugo
Another Galician place, known for offering free tapas is the walled city of Lugo. Here you’ll be given a free snack with your glass of Albariño wine or beer. Lugo’s tapas scene works differently from elsewhere too, here a waiter will come around with a tray of various types of dishes and you’ll select the one you like the look of best. These may include anything from pulpo (octopus) to empanadas (Galician-style pies), tortilla rellena (filled omelette) or anchoas (anchovies).

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