337 Carrer de Còrsega, Villa de Gràcia
Not many restaurant menus come with their own legend-purple for soy, beige for gluten, etc. But Tia Santa not only comes with a legend for navigating its menu, it comes with an incredibly thorough one. (Celery is green, mustard is yellow, and vegetarian dishes that can be adapted for vegans is denoted with two leaves in gradations of green. You get the idea.) In case it's not apparent, the restaurant, which translates loosely to "holy aunt," puts a premium on all things sustainable, organic, and healthy. But-to mix a metaphor-that's all just the icing. The real reason to come is that that, in a city of jamon this and queso that, the food is as unexpected as it is delicious.
Ten con Ten
Calle de Ayala 6, Salamanca
Ten Con Ten, the opposite of a dive-y drop-in, is a lively, totally modern sit-down spot that serves classic tapas with a modern edge (and interestingly, some pasta dishes). No need to reserve, plenty of tables are left open for walk-ins which contributes to the convivial vibe that is never stuffy
Calle Cava Baja 35, Centro
Walking through the heavy-wood, tavern-style entryway to this eatery is akin to stepping into the Madrid of yesteryear—the plates are monogrammed, the waiters are suited-up, and the clientele spans politicians, locals, eccentrics, and the occasional royal. Casa Lucio is an olive oil soaked slice of the old-world, traditional yet incredibly refined with a classic menu of gastronomical favorites to match. Try the huevos estrellados—crispy, salty fried potatoes topped with broken runny eggs and be sure to linger over your desert for the all-important sobremesa (loosely translated as post-dinner debate and conversation) that keeps Madrileños firmly planted the table until the early hours.
38-40 Carrer Sepúlveda, El Raval
One of the most exciting openings of 2017 so far comes from Albert Adrià, who added Enigma to his family of Barcelona restaurants. In some ways a play off of the Adrià brothers former famed Catalonia spot, El Bulli, Enigma serves an inventive, curious cuisine via an ever-changing tasting menu. Dining here is meant to be an experience, and as the name hints, to have a bit of a mysterious appeal: After booking (well in advance), you're sent an access code, which you type into the keypad at Enigma's nondescript entrance. The interior—a futuristic, multiple-room space that appears to be fashioned out of some combination of ice, clouds, and waterfalls—is divided by course. You'll end up sampling about forty small plates in the span of three or so hours, generally only finding out what's on the menu after you've eaten it. This isn't an easy place for dietary restrictions, but it's a worthy gastronomic adventure if you can swing it.
20 Pasaje Marimon, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi
The exterior of Albert Ventura's fine dining establishment is unassuming—right off the Diagonal Avenue, a few blocks from Plaça de Frances Macià, the facade is simple and reserved, which actually matches the restrained, bare-bones décor inside. The formal dining room here is actually downstairs—there, you'll find a pre-fixe menu of small, gorgeously plated takes on traditional Catalan dishes. While the dining room is great for large parties or special occasions, we actually prefer to be seated at Ventura's more casual tapas bar upstairs. There, you can chit-chat with the chef about each dish, and order from an a la carte menu that, if a bit more casual, is just as elegantly considered as what you'll find downstairs. Either dining area is great for a more dressed-up lunch option.
Rías de Galicia
7 Carrer de Lleida, El Poble-Sec
Like many of Barcelona's fine dining establishments, Rías de Galicia is divided into two sections: A more casual tapas bar on the top floor, and a more formal, white tablecloth situation downstairs. The menu is casually organized around seafood dishes from Galicia, in the northern part of Spain. Order from the tapas menu upstairs, or choose between a la carte and pre-fixe downstairs.
13 Passage de la Concepció, Eixample
Chef Nandu Jubany is best known for Can Jubany, the fine-dining restaurant he and his wife started out of a country house an hour outside the city back in 1995. In the last few years, he's come on as the "gastronomic advisor" at Hotel Majestic; their main restaurant, Petit Comitè, offers a great taste of what Jubany can do without the drive. Expect traditional Catalan food in a formal, white-tablecloth kind of setting that's perfect for a special night, like a birthday or an anniversary.
85 Paseo de la exposición, El Poble-sec
Almost as soon as Venetian ex-pats Stefano and Max Colombo (who also happen to be twin brothers) got a taste of Barcelona's boisterous nightlife, they were hooked on the city. Their cozy Italian spot, Xemei—named for the Venetian word for twins—is widely thought of as the best place for Italian food in the city, with gregarious Stefano handling front-of-house and the organic wine program, and Max expertly leading the kitchen. The restaurant was actually unlicensed when it first opened, and though the paperwork is legit at this point, the interior is reminiscent of its underground roots—the itty-bitty space, cluttered with worn, mismatched furniture is centered around a big central bar that opens into the kitchen, and where Max presents the food before it's brought to each table. Not unlike local cuisine, Venetian dishes center around seafood, so regulars here rave about anything that combines pasta and fish—although it's hard to imagine being disappointed by anything on their daily-rotating menu.
20 Calle Reina Mercedes, Tetuán
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.
Calle de José Ortega y Gasset, 75, Salamanca
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.
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