I’ve spent the best part of five years eating and sipping my way through Barcelona’s restaurants and tapas bars and I’ve finally got around to making a list of my personal favourites. Favourites that don’t cost a fortune…
Words and photos by your hungry inside guide Ben Holbrook
From sunny beach-front paella restaurants to the hipster haunts of Poble Sec and rowdy backstreet dive bars in the fisherman’s quarter, here are the places I consider to be the best budget-friendly restaurants and tapas bars in Barcelona.
I’ll keep adding to this list as and when I discover new favourites… Enjoy!
Can Maño (Barceloneta) ~ Dive Bar Chic by the Beach
This old world little tapas restaurant is hidden down one of the narrow streets of the Barceloneta barrio. And although it looks tired and worn out, they serve some of the freshest and most spectacular seafood in Barcelona.
The service is informal and at times a little hasty, but it all adds to what is an undeniably electrifying atmosphere. Order a drink and join the crowds waiting for a table in the street out front, and be sure to try a few slurps of the house wine, which is poured from industrial sized containers that loom from the walls. The prices are as pleasing as the food, so be sure come hungry!
What to eat: The gambas, calamaris and mussels are of course all to die for, but the beef steaks and chicken filets are equally as delicious. The pan-fried hake is also rather special.
Address: Carrer Baluard, 56, 08003 Barceloneta
Nearest Metro: Barceloneta
Malamén (Poble Sec) ~ A Modern Classic
One of the new wave tapas bars that’s blazing new trails in the ultra slick enclave of Poble Sec, this boutique dining space is seriously suave with its black and gold tones and angular lighting. The crowd is equally as hip – I met a French film director and a music producer in one sitting. But that said, it’s the food that steals the show, with creative twists on classic dishes that you won’t find elsewhere. Book in advance to avoid waiting an hour to squeeze around one of the tiny poser tables, and don’t be afraid to dress up a little.
What to eat: Don’t miss the house Russian salad with dill, and the seasonal croquettes are like little puffs of heaven. Finish with the crème brûlée with spiced rum and raisins.
Address: Carrer de Blai, 53, 08004
Nearest Metro: Poble Sec (green line)
Margarit 13 (Poble Sec) ~ Gourmet Galician Grub
Stumbling distance from the famous Carrer Blai, this unassuming little taperia serves gourmet Galician cuisine. The format is minimalist, the vibe informal, with exposed stone walls and basic wooden tables that ensure it’s the food that plays the role of protagonist in this gastronomic love story.
What to eat: Traditional tapas such as croquettes and huevos rotos are cooked simply and with care, although it’s the signature “best pulpo in Barcelona” dish that’s working everyone into a frenzied state of delirium, especially when paired with the excellent Albariño wines.
Address: Carrer de Margarit, 13, 08004
Nearest Metro: Poble Sec (green line)
Firebug (Eixample Right) ~ Beautiful Brunch, Bar and Bistro
Located on the increasingly trendy and leafy boulevard of Passeig de Sant Joan, Firebug is a chic and vibrant place to be at any time of day. Kick it Sunday style with brunch dishes like penny-farthing pancakes and breakfast burgers or a full-on fry up (there are veggie and healthy options too) washed down with galvanising juices and punchy Bloody Marys.
What to eat: Visit at dusk for fusion tapas such as “drunken prawns” smothered in cheesy garlic and herb sauce, zingy “ceviche smeviche” and spicy chicken wings coated in crunchy golden goodness. Creative cocktails and 19 different types of gin will tempt you to stay.
Address: Passeig de Sant Joan, 23, 08010
Nearest Metro: Tetuan (purple line)
O’Barquino (Raval) ~ Live Spanish Music and Galician Cuisine
With its formica tables, garish strip lighting and minimalist metal bar, you’d never know that this unassuming little Galician bar was something of a cult classic. Go for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night and you will be serenaded by old-school performers of copla, flamenco, rumba and Mexican ranchera, complete with traditional “folklórica” attire and flowers in their hair.
This is real razzle dazzle stuff. Wigs and all. You might even recognise a few of the performers from the ancient posters that adorn the walls.
What to eat: Galician classics like pulpo (octopus), pimientos de padron (grilled green peppers), lacón (pork shoulder) and, most importantly of all, Albariño and Ribeiro wines. Book a table, surprise your friends. They won’t be expecting this.
Address: Carrer del Príncep de Viana, 1, 08001
Nearest Metro: Sant Antoni (purple line)
Cova Fumada (Barceloneta) ~ Rustic Fish Tapas
Located on one of the main squares in the old fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta, this rustic little seafood restaurant serves traditional tapas dishes and some of freshest fish in town. A tiny open-fronted kitchen reveals an elderly chef who has been cooking up a storm here for the last 55 years.
Her sons and grandchildren man the bar and wait tables, joking around and dancing to the flamenco rhythms of buskers who enter via the back door and break into spontaneous song. It’s wild, delicious and simply unmissable.
What to eat: It’s said that Barcelona’s iconic “bombas” (spicy potato meatball ‘bombs’) were invented here during the Spanish Civil War. Order them ‘muy picante’ if you like hot food. There is no menu, but the friendly waiters will guide you through their fish tapas offerings, which vary depending on whatever comes in fresh on the day.
Address: Carrer Baluard, 56, 08003 Barceloneta (Barcelona)
Nearest Metro: Barceloneta (yellow line)
Lateral (Eixample) ~ Chic and Cultivated Spanish Classics
Coffee cream tones, moody lighting and velvet sofas create a dining space that’s overtly chic yet somehow manages to remain totally unpretentious. Located on the increasingly hip Consell de Cent, this glitzy tapas joint is the result of a €1.3m investment by the Madrid-based Lateral restaurant group, which already operates six immensely popular restaurants in the capital.
What to eat: All of the classic tapas and pinchos, as well as the sharing plates (meat and cheese platters).
Address: Carrer Consell de Cent, 329, 08007
Nearest Metro: Barceloneta Barcelona
Cerveceria Catalana (Eixample) ~ Sensational Catalan Cuisine
This large and lively dining space sits pride of place on the ultra chic Calle de Majorca in the Eixample neighbourhood, within stumbling distance from the Gaudi-centric street of Passeig de Gracia. It’s a firm favourite with power-lunching business professionals and local families who get together to feast on serious Catalan cuisine.
Order a bottle of Catalan wine to sip at the bar while you wait for your table, which typically takes between 20 and 30 minutes, or try one of the locally-produced craft beers. This is the real deal.
What to eat: Don’t miss the Catalan cheese platters and foie gras montaditos (little sandwiches). And if you’re a seafood lover, go for the freshly grilled razor clams drizzled with lemon juice.
Address: Carrer de Mallorca, 236, 08008
Nearest Metro: Diagonal or Passeig de Gracia (blue, green, yellow or purple lines)
Quimet i Quimet (Poble Sec) ~ A Tapas Institution
Offering sophisticated twists on classic tapas dishes and a spectacular wine selection, this tiny little wine bodega turned tapas bar has garnered one helluva reputation over the last 100 years. It’s currently run by the fourth generation of the Quimet family, who continue to offer a selective and high quality array of products. With standing room only and barely enough space for ten to fifteen people standing elbow to elbow, the atmosphere is convivial and intimate. And whilst Poble Sec is now packed with trendy tapas and pincho bars, Quimet i Quimet remains the undisputed king.
What to eat: The bar specialises in artisanal conservas, with little treats such as pickled partridges, gourmet olives, anchovies and sardines that go down perfectly with a glass or two of the house vermouth.
Address: Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes, 25, 08004 Barcelona
Metro: Paral·lel (green or purple line)
Tapas 24 (Eixample/Central) ~ Gourmet Tapas Bar
Tapas 24 is a bustling basement bar conveniently located just off Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona’s swanky Eixample neighbourhood. Opened by Michelin-starred chef Carles Abellan, who trained at the legendary elBulli (World’s Best Restaurant), he’s used his Michelin magic to create gourmet versions of classic Spanish tapas.
What to eat: Try the Spanish favourite “bikini” sandwich, which is enhanced with quality buffalo mozzarella, Ibérico ham and black truffle — simple but mouthwateringly good!
Address: Carrer Diputació, 269, 08007
Metro: Passeig de Gracia (green, yellow or purple line)
Barba Rossa Beach Bar (Born) ~ Beautiful Burgers
Leave Barcelona behind and step back in time to America’s rock & roll heydays of the ‘50s. Here, the walls are plastered in vintage Americana: California surf posters, Route 66 road signs and more Elvis and Priscilla portraits than you can shake a strawberry milkshake at. There’s even a Harley-Davidson for hog-heads to gawk at.
What to eat: Start with corn dogs and nachos with melted cheese, and chilli con-carne with jalapeños, before moving on to their belly-bustin’ burgers. The “Fat Elvis” is a hefty 3/4 pound beast with double bacon and triple cheese, and the “Big Rolling” is a half pound patty with double cheese and a fried egg wedged between two sugar-coated donuts. Meat fanatics can also feast on Texas-style T-bone steaks served with sauerkraut and corn on the cob, as well as spicy buffalo wings and Jack Daniel’s-infused BBQ ribs. They also have salads.
Address: Passeig Isabel II, 2, Barceloneta – Port Vell, 08003 Barcelona
Metro: Barceloneta (yellow line)