If you’re looking for a good place to stretch your budget a bit further, Madrid is a great option, even when it comes to food. If you’re not super picky you can just get a traditional Spanish breakfast of bread and tomato with some coffee for just a couple Euro (or churros and chocolate…), a jamón sandwich or some cheap paella for lunch/dinner in small spots on almost any street. You can also get extremely inexpensive beer (I’m talking about you, Mahou), and drink it by itself or have it mixed with a lemon drink - they call this “clara” and it’s incredibly refreshing, easy to drink, and feels nice when you’re hungover… Just saying.
If you’re looking for something more specific, or you’d rather not just wander until you find something you like, though, here are a handful of places we’d definitely recommend!
After our flight and taking the Metro to find our Airbnb, we were STARVING! Luckily, my sister-in-law knew of a great place nearby called Alimentación Quiroga, where they have great tostas, which is basically bread with stuff on top. If I’m remembering right, we got two tostas (smoked salmon and brie, and foie gras with truffle honey), a plate of meat and cheese which included jamón, and some delicious melted provolone with bread to dip. And also wine, because of course!
Later that evening, we wanted to watch the soccer championship between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid at a bar or restaurant somewhere - we happened upon a gathering of food trucks outside the Nuevos Ministerios Metro stop, and they had a ton of options including burgers, fries, lobster rolls, coffee and more! They had a TV set up outdoors for us to watch the game, so this worked out perfectly for us. Eventually it started raining and we found a bar nearby with TVs.
One of our absolute favorite places to stop by while in Madrid is Mercado de San Miguel. It’s an indoor food market with great food options for any meal. We typically find some paella, croquettas (fried balls that often have meat and/or cheese in them), and jamón that melts in your mouth (Iberian cured ham that has a nutty flavor because they feed the pigs acorns). They’ve also got wine, beer, sangria, coffee, and more, plus a good amount of dessert offerings.
If you’re into markets, another one to hit is Matadero, which is an open air market in the square of what used to be a slaughterhouse. There we also got croquettas (I found one with squid ink!), jamón and sangria, none of which disappointed. 😛
We’re lucky enough to also know a super hospitable family (they hosted my sister-in-law when she studied there a few years ago), and they always welcome us into their home for a delicious dinner. We were served jamón (no such thing as too much, I promise), gazpacho (other times our hostess has made salmorejo, another delicious chilled soup), and hamburgers! We brought a bottle of wine which we got at a grocery store nearby - one great thing about wine in Europe is that you can buy a bottle that would be crazy expensive in the US (because of import taxes) for a fraction of the price. We are partial to Tempranillos.
I wasn’t sure if I should include this one, because my Google search for a link showed that they’re currently closed… but their website seems to think they might be able to re-open, since they were closed for just being noisy, so I’m going to include it in hopes that you may get to go there someday! We went to Gau Café, which has a great rooftop. I ordered a seaweed and crab salad, risotto with peas, and Nathaniel got an empanada and meat with potatoes. We also got delicious brownies for dessert. I ordered a Tinto de verano to drink - it’s a cold beverage usually made from red wine and a carbonated soda. In addition to the great view and food, the building the restaurant is in is worth a look as well - it was a school founded in the 1700s, and has been restored and now also houses a library. The building itself is worth checking out in the Lavapies neighborhood, and hopefully the restaurant will reopen!
The best reason I can give to you to go to Bellas Artes is the view from their rooftop bar. We went at sunset and the sight was unbelievable. The service wasn’t particularly good the evening we went there - perhaps it’s because they were extra crowded because half the tables were reserved for a private party, but the couple Euro cover charge and having to grab a drink at the bar are worth the view for sure 😍
One evening we went to Nathaniel’s sister’s favorite bar to hang out with friends. I got a 6€ mojito that was enormous! Many European bars seem to bring you something to munch on even if you only order drinks (a really good thing, too, in my opinion), but El Tigre goes above and beyond. They bring plates full of bread, jamon, sausage, chicken, croquettas… I’m sure I’m forgetting something they brought, but my point is that you get A LOT of food brought to you when you order drinks. The food might not be quite as gourmet as other establishments in the city, but it tastes good, and there’s no shortage 😜
I’m a little ashamed to say I stopped at a Starbucks one morning… but also, it was exactly what I was craving, and it’s consistent, even overseas. BUT if you’re looking for a good brunch spot, I would totally recommend Carmencita Bar. I think the owner is half-American and half-Spanish, so it’s a cool mashup of cuisines. I ordered La Grace, an eggs benedict with salmon and avocado, while Nathaniel had a burger with arugula, tomato, manchego and bacon. Also, they have 1€ mimosas (or 8€ for a pitcher), which you definitely can’t go wrong with!
If you’re looking for a sweet snack near Buen Retiro Park, look no further than Moulin Chocolat - we typicially grab a half dozen (or a dozen…) macarons to share while we sit under a shady tree and people-watch. Nathaniel’s favorite is the salted caramel macaron!
Another one of our friends from high school also happened to be in the city doing the same program as my sister-in-law, so we met up with her at Macera for drinks. She recommended this place because they have homemade liquor, and they have some pretty delicious takes on a gin and tonic (which are very popular in Madrid with hipsters these days). We went in the evening, before it got busy, and really liked the atmosphere there.
If you’re looking to combine dinner and a show, Cardamomo has some really fun flamenco, and they serve dinner. We only got drinks (I love sangria!), because we had dinner plans with another friend after, but this would be a great option to eat and enjoy the music and dancing.
For dinner on our last evening in Madrid, we went to La Chalana. It is a very busy restaurant, and if you’re looking to sit down, you might have to wait a while. However, if you’re willing to be a bit pushy and don’t mind standing while you eat, you can squeeze in and belly up to their bar. You might have to wait a little bit for a spot (and be a bit of a jerk), but the menu is full service and I’d hazard a guess that it’s a bit more exciting (it was great having a Spanish-speaker to talk to the bartenders. I can understand a bit, but I can hardly speak it). You can order wine, but we stuck with La Sidra, their Asturian cider, which they pour in shots that you’re supposed to drink quickly because the bubbles and flavors are the best when freshly poured. The taps for the sidra pour it out in a fast thin stream from a spout that looks like a hand holding a bottle, from at least a foot above the glass. It’s pretty spectacular. Each shot is less than 1€, but be careful - they add up, and our waiter kept pouring them even when we didn’t specifically ask… They keep track by stacking chips on a peg, and we ended up needing two pegs because there were four of us and we had quite a bit… 😉 The restaurant serves mainly seafood, and we had prawns, shrimp, pulpo (octopus), squid, bread and olives. Even though we had quite a bit to eat, and it was one of the “fancier” places we went, we only averaged about 20€ per person for a LOT of food and drink!
Luckily for us, we didn’t have to do much research at all and we just took recommendations from Nathaniel’s sister and our friend from high school, along with going to a couple places we already knew we loved. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them, too!