Bar del Pla
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.
Bar Del Pla, Carrer Montcada 2, Barcelona, Spain, +34932 68 30 03
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.
Bar Mut, Carrer Pau Claris 192, Barcelona, Spain, +34932 17 43 38
Petit Comité is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. It’s hidden down the beautiful little passageway, Passatge de la Concepció, in the Eixample area. This bastion of Catalan cuisine offers Michelin-starred chef Nandu Jubany’s fresh contemporary take on the classics. Every classic dish is dressed to its finest under Jubany’s deft hand. The fresh seasonal cuisine features locally sourced regional staples such as the famous Catalan sausage from Vic, red shrimp from Blanes, anchovies from L’Escala, and the red Vera-pepper infused sobrasada sausage from Cal Rovira. Each dish on the continually changing menu is artfully created to present the simple, fresh flavors of the ingredients. Shrimp is paired with a rich and aromatic creamy rice and a rich stew of veal hosts a collection of seasonal mushrooms. Meanwhile, the cuttlefish and artichoke meatballs are the best nod to the region’s staple land and sea (mar i muntanya) dish.
Petit Comité, Passatge de la Concepció 13, Barcelona, Spain, +34935 50 06 20
Xiringuito Escribà – well worth the walk down past Port Olimpica on the north side of Barceloneta – offers a view of the sea and some of the best seafood around. Crispy calamari, mussels in a rich broth, or pan-fried squid accompanied by perfectly cooked vegetables are all good choices. Those in the know come for the large pans of fragrant paella. When visitors come to town looking for a hearty paella lunch, however, they must learn that to eat it like a true local, they’re going to have to give up their rice for noodles. Fideuá pasta forms the base of the Catalan version of this Valencian staple, and what a stunning surprise it is. This restaurant is well-known among locals for their classic seafood fideuá, although they offer a vegetarian version as well. The seafood fumée they cook it in is dark and rich. The mortar full of thick garlicky allioli they serve alongside is a gift in itself. Topped with a signature sprig of smoked rosemary, the fideuá at Escribà never lets us down. Reservations are essential.
Xiringuito Escribà, Avenida del Litoral 42, Barcelona, Spain, +34 932 21 07 29
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