I no longer live in Madrid. This is a sad fact that I’ll just have to deal with. But as a temporary resident of that beautiful city, I’ve been called on now and then to provide recommendations for those visiting. So I figured I’d put back on my Dame in Spain hat and present to you my Madrid faves.
As a vegetarian, Madrid wasn’t really my jam on the food front, but I still managed to stuff my face with plenty of delicious things. My number one food rec is actually a butcher-themed restaurant called Sala de Despiece (Calle de Ponzano, 11). Crazy, I know, but really, if you’re a foodie and you visit Madrid, you must go. Sala de Despiece can be tricky for a non-English speaker because the menu is entirely in Spanish, and seating is very limited so you’ll probably have to stand. But this trendy spot is unbeatable for the quality of food, value, and the service is pretty good too, which can be hard to come by in Spain. Order a bottle of Ribera del Duero wine (I like one called La Premier Beso, the First Kiss). If you eat meat, you must get the beef carpacio with truffles (on the menu as chuleton) and the octopus (pulpo) which I’ve been told is some of the tenderest around. And what does this meat-loving joint offer vegetarians? The best burrata (cream-filled mozzerella) you’ll ever have. Order it with the tomato (not just any tomato: an enormous, skinned tom that has been soaked in olive oil, a little sugar, and salt and dusted with flash-fried basil and sea salt). For a more sit-down experience, I love Poncelet Cheese Bar (Calle de José Abascal 61). It’s a gorgeous space, a decadently cheesy menu, and their apple crisp with stilton and vanilla cream dessert is one of the best things I’ve ever had. Also, Fanegas 29 (Calle del General Oraá, 29) is basically just a casual neighborhood bar and restaurant, but it’s a great place to try an array of Spanish specialties including salmorejo, pimientos padrones, cheeses, patatas bravas, and salads for the veggies, and bacalao (cod) and morcilla (blood sausage) for the carnivores.
For a more high-style upscale dining experience: Ten Con Ten (Calle de Ayala 6) and Paraguas (Calle Jorge Juan 16).
Tapas-wise, you simply must eat mushrooms in a cave-like setting (with live keyboard music!) at the kitschy Meson del Champiñones (Calle Cava Baja 17); sample the best tortilla de Española in all of Madrid at Bar Cerveriz (Plaza San Miguel 2) – savor it with a plate of manchego and a small glass of Austurian cider, which the owner will pour into glasses from way up over his head; and eat the delicious nun cookies from the Monasterio del Corpus Cristi. (For all these places and so many others, you should book a Madrid Food Tour. You’ll eat more and learn more than you thought possible).
Also, don’t miss Madrid’s many fancy food courts. The most beautiful is Mercado San Miguel, a 100-year-old glass and steel structure that reopened as a gourmet market in 2009. Sidle up to the stand offering six different vermouths on tap, pick one, and sip, along with some campo reales olives, Madrid’s local olive, that I swear, even olive-haters like. (They’re mild and creamy with oregano and light fennel flavors). Mercado San Anton (Calle de Augusto Figueroa 2) in the Chueca neighborhood has a great “croqueteria” on the second floor and tons of awesome options (including a decadent fried Spanish cheese plate) on the top floor. Get a glass of fruity rueda from the bar in super trendy Mercado San Ildefonso and nosh on all sorts of yummies like salmorejo (Spanish bread and tomato soup) and pimientos padrones.
My time in Spain made me a major fan of vermouth, especially when served on tap. Enjoy yourself a nice glass of cold vermouth in many places throughout Madrid, including the fun and happy La Musa (Calle de Manuela Malasaña 18 and Calle Costanilla de San Andrés 12). For the best, most deceptively strong margaritas in town, La Lupita (Calle Villanueva 15); for the best all-around cocktails 1862 Dry Bar (Calle del Pez, 27) and if for trying all sorts of amazing Spanish wines via a wine machine, the beautiful wine store Lavinia (Calle de José Ortega y Gasset 16). As for gin and tonics: Madrid has the lock on gin and tonics (sorry London). The truth is most bars in Madrid do not have very good cocktails, but nearly every bar makes an excellent gin and tonic (served in a fish-bowl size goblet). I especially like the g&ts and Ten Con Ten, Macera (Calle San Mateo 21), and La Marucca (Calle de Velázquez, 54).
To Buy (or Browse)
On first blush, the fancy (or pijo) Salamanca neighborhood seems to only have upscale brands like Louis Vuitton and Channel, but there are also more affordable shops tucked in this elegant barrio. My favorites are the trendy boutique Cosette (Ayala, 21 and Claudio Coello 58); & Other Stories (this H&M brand has clothing with unique cuts and a vintage feel but the best part is this multi-level store is housed in a old movie theater with epic ceilings, gorgeous tiles and other great details (Calle de Hermosilla 15). Although there is, almost literally, a Zara on every corner of Madrid, the one on Calle de Serrano 23, is, in my opinion, something special. Other stores owned by Zara’s parent company Inditex (the largest apparel retailer in the world) that can be found all over Madrid, including my faves, the preppy Massimo Duti and the PJ’s/underwear/workout clothes/swimwear/overly perfumed store Oysho. For home decor, Zara Home is paradise. For men, Mr. Dame in Spain loves El Ganzo, a Spanish brand with a British sensibility.
All of Madrid’s so-called “Golden Triangle” museums – the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza are top-notch. But more off the beaten path, I just love the sunny, and small Museo Sorolla (Paseo General Martinez Campos 37), which is the former home/studio of Spanish impressionist Joaquin Sorolla, who painted light-filled beach scenes and lovingly serene portraits of his wife and children.
Get your bearings in Madrid by taking in a rooftop view of the city from Circulo Belles Artes (Calle de Alcalá, 42) a gorgeous old building. Pay 3 euros to go up, and enjoy a cocktail with the view.
You cannot visit Madrid and miss taking a stroll in Retiro Park. It’s perfect for runs, for strolls, for picnics. It’s rose garden is a marvel, it’s man-made lake is oh-so-pretty, and the perfectly manicured stretch leading to the Prado museum is one of the best views in the city. It has ample grass, tall trees, streams, bridges, musicians, cafes, a turtle-filled pond, and wonderful old massive glass greenhouse that houses temporary exhibitions curated by the Reina Sofia. All of it: Perfection.
No visit to Madrid is complete without sipping a drink and eating snacks on a terraza (this is practically the country’s national past-time). Some of my favorite outdoor seating spaces include that of Richeleu (Eduardo Dato 11), which not a trendy place by any means, but it’s a solid neigbhorhood joint with endless salty snacks); any place in the picture-perfect Plaza Olavide; and the younger and more bustling Plaza del dos de Mayo.
To beautiful, lively, elegant Madrid,
The Dame in Spain (or, more currently, Em in Jerusalem)