My sister and I landed in Barcelona in April, ready to dance, drink and eat our way through the city, for a total of about 600 euros. These are some of my top culinary finds and Barcelona restaurant recommendations. I encourage you to take them, pick your favourites, and then go and find new ones.
For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of her. My feet walking along her cobblestone streets, my neck craning to see the tops of her Gothic spires, my mouth opening wide to contain a bite of pintxos, my tongue twisting in unfamiliar ways to produce the sounds of her native Catalan. As I read Carlos Ruiz Zafón, as I studied the works of Dali, Miro, Picasso and Gaudi, as I tasted vermouth for the first time, my heart longed to be there - in Barcelona.
And in April 2017, there I was. On a $380 ticket bought on a whim one day in October, a short month after my big break-up, without knowing who would accompany me, I arrived in Barcelona with eyes as big as saucers, ready to devour everything. My sister met me at the airport, coerced by my parents to meet me in the city of angels, devils, sin, and salvation. The only thing we knew is that we were ready to dance, drink and eat our way through Barcelona - and that we had about 600 Euros to do so. And over the next week, we far surpassed even our brightest expectations.
These are some of my top culinary finds and Barcelona restaurant recommendations. I encourage you to take them, pick your favourites, and then go and find new ones.
Carrer del Comte Borrell, 133, 08015 Barcelona, Spain
What to order: Vermouth & sardines
If I can impart just one Barcelona restaurant recommendation on you before you set on the road, it is this: order vermouth. As dark as possible (negro), served on ice, (con hielo) with a wedge of orange or an olive (con naranja / olivo, or both), vermouth is the drink of choice in Barcelona. If you thought it was sangria or red wine the colour of blood, you were wrong. And costing anywhere between 2 and 4 euros for a glass, it is also one of the cheapest drinks you can find. I had my first one at Bar Cafe Alegria, which was quaint and lovely, but it's equally good in any other corner store - while nicer places pride themselves on their unique choices of vermouth. If you ask me, happiness is drinking that first glass of vermouth in a little neighbourhood cafe that's been open since 1899 in the city you've been dreaming of visiting since you were a child. You're welcome.
Other notable places to drink vermouth: Els Sortidors del Parlament (Carrer del Parlament, 53, 08015 Barcelona, Spain), and Peixet als Encants (at the Els Encants flea market, Carrer de los Castillejos, 158) - see below.
Carrer de los Castillejos, 158, Barcelona
What to order: jamón ibérico, fried artichokes, fried anchovies and vermut
You may not have been expecting to find a flea market in the list of my Barcelona restaurant recommendations, but life is strange in this Catalan city. The legendary flea market of Barcelona (open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9am to 8pm) is a great place to find vintage jackets, new cutlery to bring back from your travels, and also, some of the best food in a city rife with good food. El Fogó de la Terra and Peixet als Encants are two legendary food stalls you can find among the six denizens of the top of floor of this market, and grabbing a bite at either one will not leave you disappointed.
Carrer de Viladomat, 23, 08015 Barcelona, Spain
What to order: baked eggs with cream, truffles and thinly shaved fries with a side of cortado
The best breakfast we had in Barcelona came courtesy of Tarrana cafe, a picturesque, hip little eatery in the St Antoni neighborhood (where we stayed). Everything we ordered was delicious, but the breakfast skillet was particularly impressive. And of course, what's vacation without a mimosa? 😉
What to do: Avoid them... But if must, guard your bag, find a cheap bar that offers specials and order a vermouth or two
If you are forced to do as all the tourists do and end up on Las Ramblas at night, trying to protect your purse from skilled pick-pockets and avoiding pushy bar promoters, make your way to the darkest, most hidden bar you can find that offers a drink special, and get yourself a vermouth (even if they don't offer it - ask if a vermouth can be included). The bartender will look at you with a fresh eye, pour you a generous glass, and assume that maybe you're not even a tourist. The good news is, vermouth tastes good regardless of where you drink it.
Just don't be fooled and tempted by one of the many dance bars lining the dark streets - the music is terrible and the crowd is suspect.
Carrer de Mallorca, 133, 08036 Barcelona, Spain
What to buy: local Catalan cheeses, kokotxas (cod cheeks) and esqueixada, a Catalan ceviche made from salt cod with tomato, fresh pepper, onions, olive oil and vinegar (at Perello)
Our loot from Mercat del Ninot included a variety of pintxos, sardines, local cheeses and a whole lot of fresh veggies and eggs (pictured above is the ENTIRE STALL of eggs that is at the market). And every single thing we tasted was divine - including the delicious freshly squeezed juice we guzzled immediately upon entry. Though lacking the variety of the much-heralded La Boqueria, Mercat del Ninot was cozier and much easier to navigate - not to mention cheaper. But don't be fooled - this market is known as a foodie destination and houses only produce from the highest pedigree. If buying cheese, don't forget to ask for queso fresca - the fresh cheese all cheese mongers in Barcelona seem to keep under the counter and serve only on request. Drizzled with a bit of honey, nuts or eaten with a fig, this will be the best cheese of your life.
Other markets to check out: Though closed for renovations during our visit, the Mercat de Sant Antoni is one of the most beautiful markets I've seen in my life - and rumored to house within it stores of goods. Don't pass this one up if you're in the area! (and if you follow my advice, you should be in the area a lot.)
Carrer del Parlament, 54, 08015 Barcelona, Spain
What to order: The tasting menu, one of the craft cocktails, and El Cactus dessert
Our best meal in Barcelona happened accidentally, and is my top Barcelona restaurant recommendation. Looking for wifi, we stumbled across Agust GastroBar, mere minutes away from where we were staying. We went in for a drink, and were so blown away by all the flavours that found their way into our glasses that we ended up booking a full meal for the next day. What followed was a feast of the outmost delicacy and balance, combining traditional Spanish ingredients with Asian flavours and attention to detail. Suffice to say, we wiped our plates clean.
For your "splurge" meal, do not pass this gem up; it is better than any restaurant you're going to find in the touristy Gothic Quarter.
Carrer de la Riera Alta, 50, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
What to do: Order arepas tostadas OR the ceviche with tostones and a pisco sour; just don't be tempted to order it all at once
Oh Barcelona, where a night can start with Cuban music at JazzSí Club Taller de Músics, peak with incredible Venezuelan food at Rabipelao Raval - Arepas y Cocteles tropicales, include an attempt at Reggaeton karaoke and end with dancing at Latin night club La Fira Club Bcn - and have every part of it be perfect.
We stumbled upon the Rabipelao around the corner from JazzSi Club, where we arrived at 9pm expecting to be let in for a concert.... only to discover that a) when they say the concert starts at 20:30, they're not kidding; b) the place has been filled to capacity since about 8pm. So we stumbled around looking for a place to eat, and found ourselves at the lively, packed Venezuelan Rabipelao.
Imagine this: you're walking on a random street in Barcelona, looking for a bite to eat, and you see a tiny little bar full of people and without a visible sign, and you walk in and discover it is a happening bar that is serving only the best of Venezuelan cuisine, and proceed to eat the best arepa and ceviche of your life. We sat at the bar, ordered too much food, got a bit too drunk and then somehow proceeded to go dancing. Then we did the same thing the following night, except managing to get in for a show at JazzSi, thus breaking one of the cardinal rules of travel (never eat at the same place twice). Trust me, the food was THAT good.
Federal Cafe Sant Antoni
Carrer del Parlament, 39, 08015 Barcelona, Spain
What to order: The salmon with poached egg
If I say that this cafe was made for the Millenial generation, I think you'll understand what I mean. Every corner of this beautiful, modern, eclectic space was Instagram-worthy, and when the only spot they had for us was on the 4th floor terrace, we didn't argue. The food here was not as good as at Tarrana , but it made us feel a bit cooler than a woman in her 30th year of life should probably feel... and for just a moment, that was worth it.
Carrer del Comte Borrell, 68, 08015 Barcelona, Spain
What to order: One of the set menus (I enjoyed the Portobello menu, which cost $35 euros and featured local cod confit in creamed spinach)
My visit to Restaurante Market in St. Antoni came at the end of my last day in Barcelona, after I had proceed to walk close to 11 hours alone through a self-designed tour of Gaudi's greatest creations. I had dreamed of finding a nice paella restaurant for my last evening; though i fully knew that paella was not regional to Barcelona, I had really wanted to have a taste of this much-heralded dish. I had researched my paella restaurants and spent 20 minutes walking to one at the end of the day, only to discover that the bustling restaurant would not serve paella for one person... Never in my life have I felt lonelier, I kid you not.
Dejected and a bit disheartened by the experience, I made my way to our Airbnb, hoping to find a good place to eat along the way. Restaurante Market, which I have seen many times while walking in the neighbourhood, appeared inviting, and the Mediterranean menu called my name. I chose a fish-centered menu, and the restaurant had no problems accommodating my gluten-free requirements. In the end, I leaned back, sipped on ice-cold white wine, and let the week's experiences play through my mind.
I couldn't have imagined a better ending for my time in Barcelona, nor for my list of Barcelona restaurant recommendations.
Other fun stuff:
Plaça Gala i Salvador Dalí, 5, 17600 Figueres, Girona, Spain
Located a train ride away from Barcelona, the Dali Theatre-Museum was an unforgettable, mind-boggling experience. Having studied Dali extensively during my art studies in high school, I was truly excited to see what his warped mind would bring to life if left to roam freely. The end result was far from disappointing.
A few words of caution: food in Figueres is a bit on the pricey side, seeing as the area is heavily frequented by tourists. We grabbed a bite in a local chain restaurant just around the corner from the museum, and for what we paid for (under 20 euros for salad, potatoes, some meat and two vermouths), it was fine. But if you're looking for a culinary experience, do yourself a favour and bring food from home. Also, the trip to the museum takes two hours each way, and is a bit heavy for a day trip (which is how we did it). If your budget allows, rent a car and use your visit to Figueres as the gateway to an exploration of Costa Brava; if your budget is tighter but the schedule is looser, spend the night in Figueres and return the next morning. We had neither option, and yet I would not have given up this visit.
08024 Barcelona, Spain
What to eat: a Catalan picnic of your making (see explanation below)
There has been enough said about Park Guell that you probably don't need to hear my recommendations. However, I'll just share with you a few words of advice: 1) getting to Park Guell by public transit to is easy, and though long, the buses have wifi. 2) If planning to visit the UNESCO-designated Gaudi part of the park, order your tickets in advance, and choose a day on which the part is open. We screwed this one up; 3) for food, bring a delicious picnic that you pick up at the deli (or two) closest to your bus stop. And by picnic, I mean a selection of pickled fish pintxos, olives, cheese and a small bottle of local vermouth. Just don't forget the napkins and plastic forks! We found our deli by going to the bus stop and asking locals where we can buy cheese and olives nearby.