The Madrid Guide
While it’s backed by all the history and culture one might expect of a classical European city, Madrid, with its grand Baroque boulevards, manicured parks, sprawling food markets, and prized skyline (cue the countless rooftop bars and lush hotel terraces), is famously jubilant. Locals take full advantage of midday siesta with long, boozy lunches and late-night dinners that stretch into the wee hours of the morning, meaning that you can come here with little in the way of an itinerary and still have the time of your life. Below, you’ll find a jumping off point with some of our favorite spots—though the city really begs for one-of-a-kind adventures.
La ContraseñaCalle Ponzano, 6, Chamberí | +34.9184.108.40.206
This modern little spot in the Chamberí district is famous for its excellent cocktails (locals go for the gin and tonics in particular), which are best enjoyed in the bar near the back of the restaurant. If you're stopping in for a full dinner, request a seat on the open-air patio, which is surrounded by exposed brick walls. The stunning décor—think wicker basket chandeliers, graphic printed wallpaper, a mirrored bar, and colorful tile—is reason enough to make a reservation.
La Cocina de San AntonMercado de San Anton, Augusto Figueroa, 24, Chueca | +34.913.30.02.94
La Cocina de San Anton is the restaurant on the roof of the beloved Mercado de San Anton, where locals do their shopping. There's an open terrace for alfresco dining when the weather cooperates, but even on chilly days the wide windows on both sides of the restaurant offer gorgeous views of the city. The menu leans on classic Spanish dishes, with excellent jamón de bellota, steak tartare, and grilled octopus, served with generous pitchers of sangria. It's a busy spot, so make a reservation.
Platea MadridCalle de Goya, 5-7, Salamanca | +34.915.77.00.25
Guidebooks often describe Platea Madrid as a food hall, but that description doesn't even begin to cover the experience, which brings together six Michelin-starred eateries in the same place. The first thing you'll notice is the space—a movie theater that's been completely renovated to create mezzanine-style platforms littered with tables and chairs (all within view of the stage itself, which remains intact and often hosts live musical performances). Each mezzanine offers several dining options, from tapas to pizza to seafood, supplemented by bars offering cocktails and wines for pairing. This is a popular spot, so finding seating can be a little tricky, but the food's so good that standing room isn't necessarily a bad option.
Sala de DespieceCalle de Ponzano, 11, Chamberi | +34.917.52.61.06
You can spot Sala de Despiece from a block away thanks to its stark, painted corrugated metal exterior. You also might hear it from a block away, since the impossibly tiny (it's bar seating only) restaurant is almost always packed with people: After all, the tapas menu is one of the most memorable in the city. If you manage to squeeze your way in, don't miss the beef tartare, the octopus, or the opportunity to mingle with some locals.
Tuk TukCalle del Cardenal Cisneros, 6, Chamberí | +34.9220.127.116.11
Owned by two ex-pats, Tuk Tuk serves Asian street food that draws inspiration primarily from Bangkok, Saigon, and Hong Kong. It's the kind of place where we'd be happy with anything on the menu, but regulars report that the green curry, coconut rice, and chicken skewers are all standbys. It's an excellent option for takeout (even the most committed drinkers will crave a quiet night in after too many hours in all-night Spanish bars), and vegetarians will appreciate the variety of options, too. There's a second location in the Chueca district.
Ana La SantaPlaza de Santa Ana, 14, Salamanca | +34.917.016.013
Ana La Santa is one of two Madrid restaurants from En Compañia de Lobos, a restaurant group out of Barcelona that's a total family affair. Owner Tomas Tarruella founded his first few restaurants with his mother, Rosa Maria Esteva, and while his new restaurant company is actually a solo venture, it lacks none of the creativity and excellent service his family originally became famous for. Chief among his new projects is this Salamanca spot, which offers traditional Spanish food (including an enormous tapas menu) that's not afraid to take risks: Expect several different variations of paella served alongside a quinoa salad, Mexican tortilla soup, and a delicious red curry with Iberian pork cheek. In keeping with family tradition, the bright, verdant, Scandinavian-inspired interiors were designed by Tarruella's sister, Sandra.
Bar TomateCalle de Fernando El Santo, 26, Chamberí | +34.917.02.38.70
Bar Tomate's location in the convenient, business-focused Salamanca neighborhood means it's usually pretty crowded at lunchtime—though there's always standing room at the bar if you forget to make a reservation. Astonishingly, the operation is open from 8:30 in the morning, serving tapas, light breakfast, and excellent coffee, until midnight, when a DJ and an excellent cocktail menu make it one of the neighborhoods more well-attended bars. While the classic tapas are always a good bet, menu-wise, they're also known for perfectly dough-ey wood-fired pizzas.
Bosco de LobosCalle Hortaleza, 63, Centro | +34.918.104.22.168
Bosco de Lobos is one of two restaurants from the Barcelona-based En Compañia de Lobos restaurant group (the other, Ana La Santa, is another favorite from our list). At this location, owner Tomas Tarruella focuses on home-style Italian food, with hearty, comforting dishes like a bolognese, mushroom risotto, and wood-fired pizza with ricotta and anchovies. The best tables are out in the patio garden, which is fully enclosed in lush greenery.
La Tasquita de EnfrenteCalle de la Ballesta, 6, Centro | +34.922.214.171.124
If there's one "must-visit" spot we'd recommend in Madrid, it would have to be La Tasquita de Enfrenta. Chef Juanjó Lopez's outrageously good Spanish food (the menu changes seasonally) isn't exactly news—locals have been vying for reservations here for a few years now—but the food is as good as ever. It's definitely the kind of place where it's worth splurging on the chef's tasting menu, and the wine to go with it. The place books out well in advance, so make a reservation before your trip if possible.
LaredoCalle Dr. Castelo, 30, Retiro | +34.9126.96.36.199
Taberna Laredo is our pick for authentic Spanish food that's modern and up-to-date without being overly fussy. In typical Spanish style, the upstairs space offers a full meal (and impressive wine list), while the downstairs is a tapas-only bar. Madrid is a city of night owls, so it doesn't really start to heat up downstairs until around 11pm, when locals belly up to the bar for well-executed cocktails and small dishes.
Restaurante SachaCalle de Juan Hurtado de Mendoza, 11, Chamartín | +34.9188.8.131.52
It doesn't get more classic than Sacha, an old-school Spanish restaurant that was originally started by a couple who named the place after their only son. As luck would have it, Sacha is now the head chef and proprietor, helming a menu that's become a staple for Madrid foodies. The offerings here change seasonally, but the selection always has its foundation in traditional Spanish cuisine, serving locally caught seafood, bold meat dishes, and classic tapas prepared using fresh, simple ingredients. It never disappoints.
Taberna PedrazaCalle Ibiza, 38, Retiro | +34.91.032.72.00
Eating at Taberna Pedraza is a little bit like going over to a good friend's house for dinner (albeit a friend that's a ridiculously good chef). The colorful, mismatched tiled floors create a casual vibe that's furthered by an eclectic bunch of disparate chairs, flower arrangements, and the friendly nature of the service. What's more, the small kitchen is open and visible from behind the bar, so you can see Chef Santiago Pedraza working his magic in real time. The straightforward menu here offers up simple tapas: Go for the classics, like croquettes, tortilla, or the steak, and definitely don't skip dessert.
TsunamiCalle de Caracas, 1, Chamberí | +34.9184.108.40.206
Madrid isn't exactly known for its Japanese food, but the fresh-as-it-comes sushi and sashimi at Tsunami really hits the spot when you need a break from tapas and sangria. The menu offers everything from the classics, like salmon, tuna, and a really solid unagi, to more inventive dishes like Spanish-inflected ceviche and an undeniably fun Doritos roll. The sake selection is just as refreshing as the rest of the menu.
O’pazo20 Calle Reina Mercedes, Tetuán | +34.915.532.333
Opened in 1969, O'pazo was one of the first restaurants in Madrid to be awarded a Michelin star—the old-school seafood spot is actually still run by children of the original founder, Evaristo García. The interior, fresh off a remodel, captures everything that's wonderful about Madrid; the sleek, updated furnishings and soothing wood paneling are a perfect juxtaposition to the open kitchen, where ham hocks hang from the ceiling and the days' catch of seafood and shellfish is displayed on ice. This is the kind of place where it's a good idea to put your order in the hands of the waiter, who can best identify which fresh fish the chef is most excited about that day.
El PescadorCalle de José Ortega y Gasset, 75, Salamanca | +34.914.02.12.90
Opened in 1975, El Pescador has a similar trajectory to nearby O'Pazo—both old-guard restaurants that pioneered the idea of serving fish so fresh that it didn't even need sauce, they've each stayed relevant with frequent renovations. At El Pescador, in particular, the interior has the potential to fool visitors that don't know the restaurant's historic pedigree—a clean concrete bar with stainless steel stools marks the entry to the restaurant, which is separated from the rest of the airy, modern restaurant by sheer chainlink curtains. As for the menu, you'll find minimally-treated fish and shellfish, served fresh and typically caught that morning. The shareable seafood platters are perfect for a big group.