After 5 years of gluttony in the Catalan capital, Ben Holbrook shares his personal recommendations on what and where you simply must eat and drink in Barcelona.
From Catalan soul food perfected between the Pyrenees and Mediterranean Sea to the latest hipster eats and traditional Spanish tapas, this is your definitive Barcelona gastro guide. I’ve also included tips on Catalan craft beer and wine, which means this is the only Barcelona foodie guide you’ll ever need.
Use the links on each place to see them on Google Maps.
Churros con Chocolate – For Breakfast/Anytime
Whether it’s your first breakfast of the day – because all self respecting Spaniards have a second breakfast at around 10am – or just because you fancy something sweet and scandalous, there’s nothing better than a bag of freshly deep-fried churros double dunked in melted chocolate so thick that it drips like honey from a spoon.
Where to eat the best churros in Barcelona: For sensual seduction in the centre of the city head to La Granja M. Viader (Carrer Xuclà 4-6), an ancient churrería conveniently located just off Las Ramblas – they’ve been serving their sugar dusted devils for over 150 years! Xurreria Trebol (Carrer de Còrsega, 341) is also a safe bet, and they’re open 24/7 (because there’s nothing better than deep-fried dough and oozy chocolate after a few too may glasses of cava).
Brunch is not traditionally “a thing” in Spain, but things have changed in this ever cosmopolitan city and there are now plenty of places to fight off the unwanted effects of la fiesta.
Where to eat brunch in Barcelona: Drop into Milk Bar (Carrer Gignàs, 21), Barcelona’s original brunch spot, for eggs cooked every way imaginable, French toast, fruit-topped waffles and galvanising Bloody Marys. Or for something altogether more salubrious, visit Flax & Kale (Carrer dels Tallers, 74), a hip flexitarian (flexible vegetarian) spot in Raval, for free-range poached eggs with plant-based curry hollandaise and roasted fennel, and a freshly whizzed smoothie to wash it down with.
Check out my full post on Barcelona’s best brunch spots for more.
Vermouth and Conservas – Pre-Lunch Aperitivo/Anytime
At around midday, just before lunch, it’s time to fer el vermut – ‘to do the vermouth’. This sweet fortified wine is enjoyed with a bowl of olives and a few shellfish conservas (cockles, mussels, razor clams). Demonstrating the Spaniards’ insatiable appetite for social interaction, this aperitivo ritual is a way to stretch out the lunch period for as long as possible. Drink it “black” and without ice or sifón (the fizzy soda that comes from the cool bottles) and the locals will assume you’re one of them.
Where to drink vermouth in Barcelona: Head to Bar Calders (Carrer del Parlament, 25), my favourite spot on the trendy Parlament Street in the foodie Sant Antoni barrio – I also love Bodega Vinito next door. Bodega Saltó (Carrer de Blesa, 36) situated on the ever lively tapas street of Carrer Blai in Poblesec is also good if you fancy a bit of live music.
Check out my full post on Barcelona’s best vermouth-sipping spots for more.
Menú del Día (Set Menu) – Lunch (1pm-3pm)
Designed for life, the menú del día (menu of the day) is a set lunch menu offered by restaurants during the week. Traditionally aimed at busy workers looking for a proper lunch without spending a fortune, the emphasis lies heavily on value and most menus will consist of a starter, one or two main courses, bread, dessert, a drink (yes wine and beer are normally included) and a coffee. Prices range from €8 to €25, but you’ll be amazed at what you get in a €12 menú del día!
Where to find a good menú del día in Barcelona: Head to Gràcia for what is arguably Barcelona’s best set menu at La Pubilla (Plaça de la Llibertat, 23), a traditional restaurant serving authentic Spanish cuisine – menu changes daily and draws on the region’s best seasonal produce.
Another personal favourite is La Dolça Herminia (Carrer de les Magdalenes, 27), an elegant restaurant (it used to be a theatre) right in the city centre that serves Catalan market cuisine – be sure to order their crema Catalana for dessert and a jug or two of their excellently-priced house wine!
Paella comes from Valencia and the original version contains chicken, rice and beans; only later did chefs start adding seafood. Be aware that the Spanish generally only eat paella for lunch, because it’s considered too heavy to eat for dinner, and it’s typically reserved for special occasions such as family celebrations, Christmas, etc.. A good paella is not cheap.
Also worth knowing: the Catalans have their own versions of the classic paella…
Fideuà (“Catalan Paella”)
Hugely popular in Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia, fideuà is fundamentally the same as paella except it is made with pasta noodles instead of rice. You’ll get extra kudos points for ordering this instead of a traditional paella.
Arròs Negre (Black Rice)
Visually appealing, this Catalan rice dish consists of rice stained with squid ink, the squid itself, onions and garlic, and is served with a zesty spoonful of alioli. Again, a great dish if you want to try a more Catalan take on the classic Spanish paella.
Where to eat paella, fideuà and arros negre in Barcelona: The team at Can Solé (Carrer de Sant Carles, 4), a classy restaurant housed in a listed building in the fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta, have been perfecting their seafood and rice recipes since 1903, so it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing. Their paellas, fideuàs and black rice dishes are made with produce straight from the fish market and are all cooked the old fashioned way. Be sure to book a table as this place is always busy, both with locals and in-the-know visitors.
Tapas (and Pintxos) ~ Lunch/Dinner/Anytime
Tapas are basically bitesized nibbles that come in small portions so that you can share with others. If you want a bigger portion of something in particular, just ask for a ración (a ration/portion). Most tapas bars will have their own speciality – have a peak at what everyone else is eating to see what it is.
The idea with tapas is to hop from one bar to the other, ordering one or two dishes and a drink at each. My friends and I will normally see about four bars before it starts to get a little bit wild.
What the hell are pintxos (or ‘pinchos’)?
Pintxos are a type of tapas normally eaten in the Basque Country and throughout the north of Spain. Pintxo means “spike” and they are basically tapas that are spiked to be a piece of bread with a toothpick. You take the toothpicks up to the counter after you’ve eaten and you will be charged according to how many you show – this is an honour system that dates back longer than most of us can imagine, so don’t get any funny ideas.
Presenting a cheap, delicious and historically sociable way of eating, pintxos have become incredibly popular in Barcelona, especially along the now-famous pintxo route that runs along and around the foodie boulevard of Carrer Blai in the Poblesec neighbourhood.
Must try tapas dishes in Barcelona:
Bombas (Explosive Potato-Meatballs)
This explosive little tapas dish is actually a native of Barcelona and you’re unlikely to find it beyond Catalonia. The bomba is a fist-sized meat and potato croquette served with an extra spicy salsa sauce – similar to what comes with the patatas bravas, but much hotter – and a double dollop of aioli.
Why do bombas matter? Because they were created to resemble the little handmade bombs that the anarchists used during the Spanish Civil War.
Where to eat the best bombas in Barcelona: Deep in the heart of the old fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta, in the neighbourhood where the anarchists fabricated their homemade explosives that this dish was named after, you’ll find a hole in the wall (no sign, no menu) called La Cova Fumada (Carrer del Baluart, 56).
When the waiter asks you how you want your bombas, be sure to order it muy picante (very spicy) and be with plenty of cold beer to wash it down with.
Esqueixada (“Catalan Ceviche”)
Perfect on a sizzling summer’s day, esqueixada is basically a light salad made with peppers, onions, tomatoes, red wine vinegar and, importantly, shredded bacalao (raw salted cod). If you love Peruvian ceviche then you’ll love this.
Where to eat Esqueixada in Barcelona: Tucked away in the old Jewish quarter of El Call, which is located within the Gothic Quarter, La Vinateria del Call (Carrer Sant Domènec del Call 9) is the perfect spot to try the classic Catalan dishes. It’s also said to be the oldest wine bar in Barcelona, so do have a few slurps while you’re there!
Bacalao (Salted Cod)
If you love fish, particularly cod, you can’t come to Barcelona and not eat bacalao. Put simply, it’s cod preserved in salt, but it’s the way they soak it back to life that makes it such a delight.
Where to eat the best bacalao in Barcelona: The first place that springs to mind to try bacalao is the legendary Cal Papi (Carrer de l’Atlàntida, 65), which is, like many of Barcelona’s best seafood tapas bars, tucked away on an otherwise lifeless street in Barceloneta. Run by a mother and daughter team, their house speciality is buñuelos de bacalao (salt cod fritters). Delicious.
Escalivada (Grilled Vegetables)
A thoroughbred Catalan dish, escalivada is aubergine, red pepper, onion and tomato grilled and charred in the embers of a wood fire – the Catalan word “escalivar” means to cook in ashes – and served with a healthy splash of olive oil over bread, and sometimes anchovies. This is a vegetarian’s dream come true.
Where to eat the best escalivada in Barcelona: If you’re vegetarian (or vegan) looking for classic Catalan dishes such as escalivada and more, you’ll find salvation and seduction aplenty at Sésamo (Carrer de Sant Antoni Abat, 52) in the ever trendy Sant Antoni barrio.
Cargols / Carecoles (Snails)
This ancient and emblematic Catalan dish is typically over-looked by visitors coming to Barcelona. Partly, I assume, because snails don’t really have the same allure as, say, seafood paella, and partly because people rigidly stick to the cliche that “you eat snails in France, not Spain!”. But when you consider just how close much of Catalonia is to the French border, and, to me at least, how similar the Catalan language is to French, it’s easy to see that there may be some culinary crossover. After all, the dessert of Catalonia is crema Catalana, which for all intents and purposes is a crème brûlée (more on that later). With this said, I urge you, please, to order at least one little bowl of caracoles, or cargols as they are called in Catalan.
Where to eat snails in Barcelona: The tourist books will tell you to go to Los Carecoles (The Snails), a time capsule of a restaurant located in the Gothic Quarter, but I’m going to rock the boat a little a say that it’s become a victim of its own success: inflated prices, indifferent staff. Instead, come out to my corner of the city and order the cargols a la llauna ‘snails in a tray’ at Bodega Bartolí (Carrer del Vallespir, 41) – a favourite spot of mine just across the street from where I live).
The toothpicks they give you are for scooping the snails out of their shells, not to clean your teeth.
Butifarra (Catalan Blood Sausage)
These Catalan sausages are the real deal. Thick, juicy and just a little bit spicy, they’re great on their own as a tapas dish or wedged between two pieces of bread. This is what I found my landlord, Josep, eating for his breakfast when I bumped into him at Jai-ca Bar in Barceloneta one morning, and he was washing it down with red wine and brandy. The man’s got style.
Where: If it’s good enough for Josep, it’s good enough for me. Head to Jai-ca Bar (Carrer de Ginebra, 13) and do breakfast in style.
Fuet (Catalan Sausages)
Long and skinny – fuet means “whip” in Catalan – these delectable cured sausages hail from the charming Roman city of Vic, located halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees. They’re flavoured simply with black pepper and garlic and during the curing process a pure white powder forms on the outer casing, contrasting beautifully against the marble of the meat. Chomp at it as if it were a banana or throw a few slices on some pa amb tomaquet. Job done.
Pa amb Tomaquet (Bread with Garlic, Tomato and Olive Oil)
As a Catalan friend once explained, “The people in the country couldn’t afford to just throw away their old bread, so they rubbed it with a clove of garlic, squeezed the juice of a tomato over it and covered it in olive oil and salt.” The result is one of Spain’s most treasured dishes and there’s evidence to suggest that it hails from Catalonia. Either way, if there’s one thing that you simply must eat in Barcelona, it’s this.
Where to eat the best pa amb tomaquet in Barcelona: Everywhere and anywhere that serves it, although I particularly like it at La Bodugueta del Poble Sec (Carrer de Blai, 47).
Pimientos de Padrón (Salted Green Peppers)
Pan-fried until blistered in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt, these little green peppers are essential tapas staples. A Spanish friend introduced me to them, explaining that eating them is like playing Russian roulette due to the fact that, although they are typically mild in flavour, about 20% of them are intensely hot. As the saying goes, “Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non” (“Padrón peppers, some are hot, some are not”).
Where to eat the best pimientos de padrón in Barcelona: You’ll find them at almost every place that serves tapas, but they’re particularly good at La Bombeta (Carrer de la Maquinista, 3) or at Los Toreros (Carrer de Xuclà, 3), the unpretentious little backstreet restaurant where I first tried them.
Ensaladilla Rusa (Russian Salad)
Yes, it is strange, but “Russian salad” is one of the most ubiquitous tapas dishes in Spain. A cocktail of boiled potatoes, carrots, tuna, boiled eggs, peas, roast red peppers, green olives and mayonnaise, it’s delicious slathered over a wedge of crusty bread.
Where to eat the best ensaladilla Rusa in Barcelona: Again, you’re going to find this at every tapas bar, but my personal favourite version is at the traditional-yet-trendy Els Sortidors del Parlament (Carrer del Parlament, 53) in the lively foodie neighbourhood of Sant Antoni – seriously good olives here too and they have a particularly good wine selection, as well as plenty of craft beers. One for your to-do list for sure!
Patatas Bravas (Spicy Potatoes)
A beautifully simple dish of diced potatoes fried until golden on the outside and fluffy on the inside topped with a spicy tomato, chilli and paprika salsa, patatas bravas are probably the most famous tapas in Spain. Each place makes their own version and most locals will have a personal favourite spot – they’ll always pause conversation for a moment to discuss: “Too spicy”. “Over-cooked”. “Nope, not fresh”, as if they were deliberating over a haute cuisine meal. It’s a topic that both young and old have an ernest opinion on.
Where to eat the best patatas bravas in Barcelona: I doubt there’s a single bar in Barcelona that doesn’t serve its own version of this essential dish and they’re difficult to get too wrong, but legend has it that Barcelona’s best patatas bravas can be found at Bar Tomás (Carrer Major de Sarrià, 49), a proper no-frills bar in the chic neighbourhood of Sarrià.
Tortilla Española (Spanish Omelette)
Another simple tapas dish that has the power to divide even the best of friends, tortilla is homely and delicious. It basically consists of thinly-sliced potato and white onion fried in plenty of good olive oil and bound together with beaten eggs. Some sprinkle it with parsley or add other ingredients to fancy it up, but I like it stripped back to basics.
Where to eat the best tortilla in Barcelona: My personal favourite is at Lateral (Carrer del Consell de Cent, 329), an elegant restaurant in a trendy enclave of the Eixample barrio. Here they serve it just how I like it: gently cooked (some might say undercooked) so that it remains soft and gooey in the middle. There’s nothing better.
Big, fat, juicy, sharp, soft, hard, chewy, spiced, stuffed… olives, or “aceitunas” as they’re known in Spanish, are an art form in Barcelona. In fact, for me, there’s no better reward after a long day of tapping away at the keyboard than a so sit down in the sun with a cold beer and a bowl of olives. I like them green and stuffed with red peppers or wrapped up in anchovies and splashed in lemon juice. As I so often say, it’s the simple things.
Where to eat the best olives in Barcelona: Try the old fashioned wine bodegas; they typically specialise in conservas (preserved shellfish) and olives so they are generally more discerning about the quality (because they don’t serve much else in terms of food). La Vermuteria del Tano (Carrer Joan Blanques, 17) in Gracia is one such place and I also love Bodega Armando (Carrer del Bisbe Laguarda, 3) in Raval, as well as Els Sortidors del Parlament, as I mentioned earlier.
Jamón Iberico/Serrano (Melt-in-Your-Mouth Ham)
Cured for up to 48 months, salted and sliced silk-thin straight from the bone, Spain’s sensational hams are like nothing you’ve ever eaten from a pig before. Jamón Serrano is gold-grade cured country ham from white pigs, whilst platinum-grade jamón Iberico comes from the much lauded Cerdo Ibérico black pigs, natives of Southwestern Spain and fattened up with herbs and cereals.
Order a slither of jamón, a chunk of Spanish Manchego cheese and glass of red from the Priorat wine region (more on wine later) and you should find yourself halfway to heaven.
Where to eat the best jamón in Barcelona: In short, everywhere and anywhere, but for a real foodie experience head to El Jabalí de Ronda (Ronda de Sant Pau, 15) – “The Wild Boar of Ronda” – a rustic deli-come-charcutería-tapas bar that’s been slicing cerdos to perfection since 1958.
Bolets & Fricandó (Wild Mushrooms Cooked in a Stew)
As autumn turns the countryside to gold and crimson, the Catalans leave the city in search of their beloved bolets – a type of mushroom that grows wild. The mushrooms are used to make a hearty stew with veal and a garlic and an almond sauce called fricandó de vedella amb bolets, or to bulk up the traditional tortilla.
Where to eat bolets and fricandó in Barcelona: Eat them with poached eggs, foie gras and truffles at the unknown-by-tourists restaurant of Can Paneda (Carrer de Sant Joan de Malta, 55) or pick up a bag or two from the little stall in the Boqueria food market called Petras Fruits del Bosc and try cooking them up your holiday apartment.
Calçots (Grilled Scallions / Spring Onions)
Another incredibly important Catalan custom, calçots are similar to leeks or spring onions and are harvested roughly between January and April. The locals will either head out to the countryside or throw street parties called “calçotadas”, where they swig from bottles of cava and cook the calçots over an open fire, before dipping them into romesco sauce, a sort of nutty salsa made with almonds, garlic and red peppers. It really is something else.
Where to eat calçots in Barcelona: It’s tricky to get tickets for the official street “calçotadas” – I only managed to get mine because a friend teaches someone who organises our local event – but there are a couple of restaurants that are known for doing a great job. Visit Restaurant Carmen (Carrer de Valladolid, 44) or Restaurante Cabaneros (Carrer del Vallespir, 17), both of which are just a few steps from my casa in the down to earth Sants barrio.
I don’t think I’d ever put an artichoke anywhere near my lips before I moved to Barcelona. And if I’m honest, my first experience wasn’t good. Instead of sucking and scraping the meat off the leaves like flesh from a bone, I just chomped them down in one gristly, gum-busting go. But here in Spain they’re cooked in all sorts of clever ways: grilled a la plancha (on the grill), boiled or baked or roughed up and roasted. My favourite way is the way they do it at La Bombeta, in Barceloneta.
Where to eat the best artichokes in Barcelona: Actually, La Bombeta (Carrer de la Maquinista, 3) is probably one of my favourite tapas spots in Barcelona. The barrel-bellied, white-moustached waiters must’ve been there since it opened way back when and, even though it’s set out more as a restaurant than a bar, the vibe is informal and on the right side of lairy. Order the artichoke hearts and don’t miss their steamed mussels.
When one of the said belly-busters asks if you’d like another bottle of house wine, be sure to say yes!
Catalan Desserts / Sweets
Crema Catalana: Similar to the French crème brulée – complete with a blow-torched caramel “lid” – but pepped up with cinnamon instead of vanilla – you always want to order crema Catalana for dessert if it’s on the menu.
Ensaimadas: Spiralled pastries sprinkled lavishly with powdered sugar, these sweet little puffs come from the island of Mallorca (yep, it’s also Catalan) and are perfect with a cup of café amb llet (coffee and milk in Catalan) as a dulce afternoon pick-me-up.
Panellets: Little round balls made of almonds, sugar, eggs and pine nuts, these are as Catalan as it gets.
Mel i Mato: Strange but sensational, mel i mato is a sort of unsalted goats cheese served with honey and walnuts.
Traditional Christmas Food in Barcelona
If you’re coming to Barcelona during the Christmas period then these are the dishes you can’t miss. They’re best enjoyed as home-cooked dishes, but assuming you won’t have that luxury I’ll make a few suggestions along the way.
Canelons (Meat-Stuffed Pasta Tubes)
Another French-inspired (or should I say Italian?) dish, this Catalan landmark of a meal is typically enjoyed around Christmas time and consists of pasta tubes stuffed with meat and smothered in a rich béchamel sauce.
Where to eat the best canelons in Barcelona: For authentic Catalan cuisine with a zap of creative flair be sure to eat at Bar del Pla (Carrer Montcada, 2).
Escudella i Carn d’Olla (Chickpea and Meat Stew)
The national dish of Catalonia, escudella is a robust stew made with meat (chicken, beef and pork), chichpeas, beans, parsnips, celery, potatoes, cabbage and galets – giant pasta shells. It is made into two (some say three) courses: first the broth and pasta shells, then with the meat and veg.
Where to eat the best escudella i carn d’olla in Barcelona: This is this sort of dish you really want to eat at grandma’s house, but you can also find an authentic version at Casa Julia (Carrer Enric Granados 14). They serve escudella i carn d’olla every Thursday of the year (most places reserve it for Christmas), so you can try it no matter when you visit Barcelona.
Roscón (Brioche / Cake)
The supermarkets burst with these bulky ring-shaped brioche cakes during the Christmas season. Topped with candied fruit, which is in itself a great Spanish tradition, and piped with marzipan and/or cream, they really do bring a sense of occasion to the table.
Where to eat the best roscón cakes in Barcelona: Without question, Barcelona’s most iconic and best-loved bakery is Escribà (Gran Vía Corts Catalanes, 546), where chief baker Christian Escribà says he sells around 3,000 roscóns a day during the Christmas rush!
Known as torró in Catalan, turrón is a sweet nougat made primarily of toasted almonds. It originates from Jijona, a little town north of Alicante, but is enjoyed across Spain during Christmas. It’s served by the slab, like a huge chocolate bar, and there are two types: one is hard and crunchy, the other is soft and chewy (my favourite).
Where to find the best Turrón in Barcelona: Established in 1920, Turrones Sirvent (Carrer Parlament, 56) is said to make the best turrón in Barcelona. They also have excellent ice-creams, as well as horchata, a refreshing cold drink from Valencia that’s made with tiger nuts – another must-try!
Even dabbling wine drinkers are au fait with the joys Spanish wine – Rioja has made sure of that! – but not so many realise that Catalonia has 10 official D.O. (Denominació d’Origen) wine regions: Empordà, Alella, Penedès, Pla de Bages, Conca de Barberà, Costers del Segre, Tarragona, Terra Alta, Montsant and Priorat.
Though there are some truly excellent wines from each region, I generally tend to stick to white wines from Empordà, reds from Priorat and, though it goes without saying, cava from Penedès.
Catalan Wine Characteristics: Wines from D.O. Catalunya terroir are typically bold and full-bodied, with high alcohol levels due to the region’s mild climate.
Where to drink Catalan wine in Barcelona: You’ll find decent Spanish wine in most bars and restaurants in Barcelona, but not so many specialise purely in Catalan-specific variety. If you’re a serious sipper looking to quiff some serious wines then you’ll be in heaven at Monvinic (Carrer de la Diputació, 249), a temple of oenology that surely must be up there with the world’s best wine bars. For something a little bit more low key, Zona d’Ombra (Carrer de Sant Domènec del Call, 12) is perfect.
Catalan Craft Beer
Barcelona has long since been dominated by the ubiquitous Estrella Damm and Moritz beer brands, which are both pleasantly gluggable along with a few tapas, but craft beer has finally arrived in Spain and Barcelona is at the epicentre. In fact, with countless brewpubs, speciality bottle shops and, most importantly, world-class breweries popping up across Catalonia, there’s never been a more exciting time to drink beer in Barcelona.
Catalan Craft Beer Breweries
Taste your way through local beers from the Catalan brewers like BeerCat, Barna-Brew, Barcino Brewers, Birra 08, Hazte1Litro, Montseny, Edge Brewing, Art Cervesers, Barra, Espiga, Quer Beer, La Pirata, AS Cervesas and the Barcelona Beer Company.
Where to drink craft beer in Barcelona: I recommend brewpubs such as BlackLab Brewhouse & Kitchen (Plaça Pau Vila, 1), Garage Beer Co. (Carrer del Consell de Cent, 261) and La Gorda (Carrer de Riego, 29) to try beers brewed onsite, or visit specialist bars such as Homosibaris (Plaça d’Osca, 4), BierCab (Carrer Muntaner, 55) and La Cerveteca (Carrer d’en Gignàs, 25) to try local and international beers.
Check out my dedicated post on the best craft beer bars in Barcelona.
Nope, that’s not a typo! In Barcelona (and the rest of Spain) the gintonic is held in the highest regard and believed, erroneously I might add, to help digest large meals. What is unquestionable, however, is that they certainly help to get you in the mood for la fiesta!
Where to drink the best gin and tonics in Barcelona: They’re made pretty much perfectly at most bars, but the king of Barcelona’s G&T has to be Bobby Gin (Carrer de Francisco Giner, 47). Here they are served in giant goblets and seasoned with everything from pepper corns and cucumbers to citronella and bitter orange. They do other excellent cocktails too!
Did I miss anything? Please leave a comment in the section below and tell me what else I need to eat/drink and where I need to do it!