Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is one of the city’s major attractions, but many of the square’s restaurants are more tourist trap than authentic dining experience. But if you know where to look, the streets surrounding the square are full of excellent tapas bars and restaurants just waiting to be explored.
This slice of living history is located just off Plaza Mayor and is the oldest continually running restaurant in the world (see the Guinness World Record certificate in its window for proof). Sobrino de Botín was founded in 1725 and counted Spanish painter Francisco de Goya as a waiter. It was a favourite spot of Ernest Hemingway, who used to come and write in its quite dining room in the morning before enjoying a long, leisurely lunch with friends. Try the restaurant’s speciality: roast suckling pig.
This modern tapas bar, next to Mercado San Miguel covered market, does a good range of classic tapas dishes served in raciones – slightly larger portions ideal for sharing. It is also a great place to try a menu del día, a lunchtime set menu very common in Spain. A drink, starter, main course and dessert of coffee comes in at a very reasonable €12.60.
If you fancy a change from tapas, consider this family-run taco restaurant, just across Calle Mayor from Plaza Mayor. The decor might be slightly no-frills, but you’ll soon notice this place is incredibly popular with locals and fills up early. Tacos are €1.50, while the restaurant also does a range of other Mexican favourites from quesadillas to guacamole and tortilla chips.
Just a little way down Calle de Segovia is a warren of cobbled streets that hold restaurants and cafés missed by most tourists. Bahiana Club has a lovely outdoor terrace that could be in a little village, not the centre of one of the biggest capital cities in Europe. It offers a range of tapas and international dishes and a good wine and cocktail list.
Along the popular Calle de Cuchilleros is the Meson del Champiñon, or the House of the Mushroom – if you like garlic mushrooms this is a must-visit. The intense aroma hits you as soon as you walk through the door. Look to the right and you’ll see the chef cooking the mushrooms, each topped with a piece of bacon, on a grill in the open kitchen. You can sit in the back or order your plate of mushrooms and eat them tapas bar-style, standing at a wooden counter at the front of the restaurant.
This cheap and cheerful bar/restaurant is a bit of a Madrid institution and, despite its name, is not a museum, but a place in the midst of a serious love affair with jamón (Spanish cured ham). Ham legs hang behind the bar and are available to buy from the deli counter if you want to take a particularly Spanish souvenir home with you. If you want a quick snack, then order at the bar, which offers incredibly cheap beer and plates or baguettes full of jamón. There is also a restaurant and a terrace on the Plaza Mayor.
This stylish bistro, just steps away from Plaza Mayor, was founded by Matías Smith, an Argentinian chef who fell in love with Spanish cuisine when he first arrived in Spain aged just 21. The restaurant has a simple philosophy of using prime ingredients to make the best Spanish dishes, all with a modern creative twist. Try the seven dish tasting menu for €38 per person or order individual dishes from the menu.
Not exactly a restaurant – there are no tables and chairs – Bodegas Ricla is a mother-and-son-run little tapas bar that stands out because of its bright green facade. It’s a great place for a glass of Spanish wine straight from the barrel and some tapas. It’s packed full of locals most nights, but don’t worry, just elbow your way in and enjoy the atmosphere.
This little Italian restaurant has an unusual location halfway up the steps leading off Plaza Mayor and through the Arco de Cuchilleros archway. It’s not the place you would expect to find an authentic Umbrian trattoria, but here it is. The restaurant is so small it feels like you could be sitting in an Italian’s dining room (in a good way). The owners are passionate about Umbrian produce and are eager to chat about the dishes. Try the pasta: bellisima!