If you are visiting Madrid you have to try as many tapas dishes on offer as possible!
However, finding the best tapas in Madrid as a tourist can be a challenge because you won’t necessarily find it in the bars/restaurants you would naturally visit as a tourist.
The best tapas in Madrid is (unsurprisingly) in the small local bars.
However, even though Madrid is a very popular tourist destination, don’t go into these bars expecting them to speak perfect English (you are in Spain after all!)
This guide will cover what tapas is, our favourite places for tapas in Madrid, a checklist of the best tapas to try and a list of the most useful phrases to help with your Spanish.
What is Tapas and why is it so popular?
Spain is well known for its tapas culture but not many people actually understand what tapas is.
When we arrived into Madrid, we thought tapas meant going to a restaurant and paying for lots of different Spanish dishes to share. This is not strictly true.
In it’s most simple form, tapas is a small portion of food served for free at a bar when you buy a (typically) alcoholic drink.
You do not need to pay any extra which is something that caused us some confusion at first!
Do note, this is not something you will find in every bar. Each bar is unique in what and how much it will offer you.
Whether you get given lots or a little, the bars recommended below are very reasonable so you can order plenty more for very little.
Where does the idea of Tapas come from?
There are many different versions about the history of tapas and how it originated. The four most popular are below – choose your favourite!
- One day, the King at the time visited a restaurant and ordered a glass of wine. The waiter was very nervous and of course wanted to do a good job. When taking the wine to the king a carriage came past creating lots of dust. The waiter quickly grabbed a piece of bread with ham on top and placed it over the glass. He presented this to the King as tapas – meaning quite literally ‘to top’.
- The second version involves a law created by the King. The law was that you could not drink on an empty stomach, you had to be eating food. The bartenders expected to lose a lot of business and in response decided to start offering free tapas with each drink purchase to circumnavigate the law.
- Third, bartenders wanted to serve cheap wine so started serving small portions of pungent cheese to mask the taste.
- Fourth, the king was very ill and took small portions of food with wine to nurse himself back to health. Once better, he announced all bars to serve small portions of food with wine.
After spending seven months in Madrid, here is our guide to our perfect local tapas night out:
Best Tapas Places in Madrid
The idea behind this list is to make a full evening of going from bar to bar and trying out lots of different things:
This is a good option to get started and it very local indeed, you will probably be the only tourists there!
Refra is a family friendly bar/restaurant and when you purchase a drink here (wine/beer c €2.50/ €3.00), the free tapa will typically be some ham, paella or fried egglant drizzled with honey.
We particularly love the ham (jamon) and cod (bacalao) croquetas which are delicious (4 for €4). These are a mix of ham, creamy potato and cheese covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried.
We would also recommend trying the torrezno which is pork belly but seasoned to perfection and is €2.70 which is good for for two people.
Address: Calle de Santiago, 4, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Taberna De Ramales
This is a great place for sunset and you can just about see the palace from the outdoor seating area.
Ramales is the place for Pinchos
These are pieces of bread topped with a variety of delicious toppings with a toothpick through the middle to hold it all together. During happy hour you can purchase a drink and pincho for €3.50 in total.
For free tapas, they usually provide some crisps to snack on or if you are lucky and in a larger group, some patatas bravas.
Address: Plaza de Ramales, 28013 Madrid, Spain
One for the meat eaters! You have to try some iberico jamon when you visit.
Spain takes its iberico jamon very seriously and it is quite the delicacy.
The jamon (ham) comes from a specific type of black pig from the Iberian peninsula which has been bred in a very specific way.
For the top quality iberico jamon, the pig is fed a diet of exclusively of acorns, has plenty of space to roam and has a personal trainer chase them twice a day to keep them lean.
The diet gives the meat a very distinctive taste.
The meat is they covered in salt and left to hang for up to 2 years while it cures.
To cut the mean takes a couple of years of training and Toma Jamon provides high quality iberico jamon and staff who slice is very well.
This place is a little pricier at €3.50 for a glass of wine with crisps and snacks provided. A medio (half) plate of ham is €9 which is good for three people and comes with breads.
Address: Calle de Vergara, 14, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Another places where you won’t spot another tourist is Jabugo.
It is a local small bar and offers some good free tapas (usually a cheese selection) with your drinks.
Make sure you also order the patatas bravas (best we have ever had) and the fried pieces of shark, (cazon) – both are excellent and the portions extremely generous.
Address: 6 Calle De Trujillos, Madrid
I love Spanish omelettes (tortilla). A tortilla is a thick omelette with chunks of potato and often onion.
Pez Tortilla does a great selection of unusual tortillas such as bacon and brie. You can get a small beer (cana) and a slice of tortilla for about €3.
Address: Calle de Espoz y Mina, 13, 28012 Madrid, Spain
Taberna Los Angeles
Somewhere to finish you night on a bang and somewhere you will not forget in Los Angeles.
Don’t be discouraged by the mess! When you walk in the floor will be littered with monkey nut shells as it’s the kind of place you throw your rubbish on to the floor – odd to us but the sign of a good Spanish bar!
In terms of free tapas, will provide breads with meat and cheeses with a drink.
If you want more they have a full menu and we would recommend the chorizo cooked in cider which is €3.
For drinks, this is where you have some fun. There is a cider you can buy which need air adding before you drink it.
To do this, you hold your bottle high and you glass low and pour! Naturally this makes a mess but that is what this bar is all about – a very full and relaxed place to finish of your night!
Address: Costanilla de los Ángeles, 8, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Best Tapas in Madrid Checklist
Make sure that you tick off the following items:
- Patatas bravas – fried potatoes with a spicy bravas sauce.
- Iberico jamon – top quality cured meat
- Queso manchego – Manchego cheese
- Tortilla – spanish omelette which is a mix of potato, egg and onion (great for a hangover)
- Pinchos – pieces of bread with a variety of toppings and a toothpick (pincho) holding it all together
- Croquetas – see Refra above
- Cazon – fried pieces of shark (small shark!)
- Chorizo – spicy cured Spanish sausage
- Torrezno – pieces of seasoned pork belly
- Calamares, specifically bocadillo de calamari – fried squid sandwich
But you don’t speak Spanish…..
For those who don’t speak Spanish don’t worry.
Use this section of our mini guide and you should get by and earn yourself a pat on the back at the end of your night for getting out your comfort zone and having a local and authentic tapas experience.
Basic Phrases/Words for a Tapas night
Hola – Hello
Buenas noches – Good evening
Si/no – yes/no
Por favor – please
Gracias – thank you
Dime – tell me (the bartenders will often say this when asking for your order – pronounced dee-may)
Dame – Give me (combine with a drink, pronounced da-may)
Vino blanco – White wine
Tinto – Red wine
Cerveza – Beer (pronounced Thur-beh-tha)
Cana – small beer (can-ya)
Uno, dos, tres, cuatro – 1, 2, 3, 4
Pollo – Chicken
Carne – meat
Pescado – Fish
Dame dos vino blanco por favor – give me two white wines please.
La cuenta – the bill
Hables ingles? – Do you speak English?
Cuanto es – how much is it
Google translate – if all else fails have google translate downloaded on your phone and a bit of patience.
We hope you find this guide useful and have the most incredible night and feast in Madrid!
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