Beneath the layers of bright yellow paella and oversized pitchers of sangria that tourists stumble upon along the now infamous Ramblas, there is a strong and distinct food culture in Barcelona. Here’s a list of 10 places to try Catalan food at its finest.
There are places for tapas, and then there’s Bar del Pla, which offers up some of the most classic Catalan dishes in true form. The space, full of tourists and locals, is cozy and the waitstaff reliably no-nonsense. They don’t expect their customers to dilly-dally, and you shouldn’t. Order anything on the menu because it’s all equally delicious. From the thinly sliced crispy eggplant, to the coca bread with sardines, to the monkfish with a creamy garlic allioli, there’s a lot to delight in. The mother of all Catalan dishes, pa amb tomàquet – that crisp bread with fresh tomato and flaky sea salt – is also some of the best in town here.
A small but elegant gastro-bar on the border between Eixample and Gracia, Bar Mut is a simple and unpretentious place to enjoy small plates and excellent wine. The cozy space calls to mind an old zinc bar. Its interior is all dark wood and marble and brass, a familiar old neighborhood friend. The name plays on the word vermut – the ubiquitous aperitivo here in Spain – a specialty of the house. But its incorporation of the word mut, Catalan for mute, is a brilliant little move. It calls to mind that wordless moment when you bite into something stunning. Bar Mut is like this, full of moments where something as simple as a perfectly cooked scallop on the half shell, renders you silent. The daily menu leans heavily toward seafood, and the dishes change by the moment, depending on what’s fresh. The website sports only an art house film, but it doesn’t matter because there’s something to be said for leaving an experience open to pleasant surprise.
As with most good places in the city, La Pepita is hard to get a table at, but luckily they’ve opened up a sister bar next door called La Cava, their own take on the vermuteria. This means there’s more food to love and hopefully a shorter wait list. At both, they offer their classic small plates, as well as a changing menu del dia. La Pepita specializes in their pepitas, an open-faced tartine with decidedly un-Catalan toppers like smoked salmon and dill or blood sausage with apple. Nevertheless, you’ll find a number of regional dishes like fried eggs with artichokes and cured ham, mussels cured in a vinegary sauce called escabetx, and boquerons which are anchovies marinated in vinegar. The latter is a dish that actually hails from the south of Spain but one that nevertheless makes most Catalans swoon. The gin and tonics are another specialty of the house, so make sure to leave room for one or maybe two.
La Pepita, Carrer de Còrsega 343, Barcelona, Spain, +34 932 38 48 93
When Inopia disappeared, the locals openly grieved. When Lolita took its place, a collective sigh of relief was heard through the barri, and the place has been packed ever since. This longstanding outpost of Albert Adrià’s team is a reliable favorite for local dishes. This includes many crowd favorites from Inopia and a few others from friends in the neighborhood, like the smoked salmon and truffled honey tapa from the famous Quimet and Quimet. A frenetic experience of light and noise, this is a place where eating is the main agenda, which is good because there’s a lot of that to be done. The beer on tap may be German – every chef has his quirks – but the spirit is wholly Catalan. They offer all the classic appetizers found on a vermut menu, and a host of heartier tapas. The tapas include tomato and tuna belly salad, roasted rabbit ribs with garlic mayonnaise, ham croquettes, and all manner of fried fish.
Lolita Tapería, Carrer Tamarit, 104, local2-4, Barcelona, Spain, +34 934 24 52 31
It’s not a bad idea to head to Jordi Cruz’s restaurant, Ten’s, at the Park Hotel in the Born neighborhood. The menu is a lively play on the traditional with fairly modern touches. Despite clear Asian influences, there are plenty of locally sourced delights like oysters from the Delta del Ebre. These are served up with a local arbequina olive oil, apple and celery or perfectly prepared octopus served alongside a potato puree served under a glass cloche infused with wood smoke. Try the lobster rice, which is made extra decadent with a topping of foie gras. Or, keep it simple with a coca bread served up in the most Catalan of ways, with fresh tomato and a drizzle of local olive oil. While the desserts are hard to pass up, it’s a good idea to try the cheese plate for dessert.
Ten’s, Carrer del Rec 79, Barcelona, Spain, +34 933 19 22 22
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