Spain is delicious! That is, it has some of the best food in the world. From the archetypical paellas, gazpachos, and croquettes to the more regional dishes like the Cocido Madrileño stew of Madrid and the cute, loaded bread pinchos, of the Basque Country. The capital city, Madrid, encapsulates this fine Spanish cuisine and offers a rich culinary scene filled with restaurants offering a wide variety of Spanish dishes, as well as having a diverse mix of international restaurants to bolster its repertoire.
Chueca, the unapologetically gay area of the city, is the home of a large majority of these eclectic restaurants. Let’s look at the best of the bunch – all the better to line the stomach before a heavy night of drinking out in the bars and clubs of Chueca.
El Buo and La Buha
Actually, two restaurants opposite each other, both with names translating as “the owl” in the masculine or feminine respectively. This is especially apt because the walls of El Buo proudly display pictures of gay icons, whereas La Buha has iconic lesbians represented – a welcome nod to diversity and that stands as an interesting contrast to the tavern-like interior. Both have the same menu and boast one of the the absolute best tortillas in Chueca, if not all of Madrid, coming with a delicious array of stuffing options and sauces. Choose between goats’ cheese and caramelized onion, ham and cheese or mixed vegetables to name but a few. Not to mention, there is little more Spanish than tucking into a huge tortilla with a circle of friends. Other options on their menu include traditional Spanish favorites like patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy paprika sauce) and padron peppers.
Mercado San Anton
Perhaps not officially a “restaurant” but nonetheless a great place to eat, drink and really feel like you are part of Spanish culture. In this multi-level gourmet food market are several different stalls and vendors serving freshly prepared tapas – amongst a few other international options like sushi and burritos. You are free to mix and match and enjoy a diverse culinary experience with your wine; there’s also a great selection of wineries. After you get your fill, head upstairs to the rooftop terrace for a drink in a sophisticated setting, people watch and enjoy a clear view over Chueca.
Mercado de la Reina
Not an actual market, despite the name, but a traditional restaurant found on Gran Via on the outskirts of Chueca. It is one of the best places in all Madrid to sample food from all corners of Spain – all cooked with fresh ingredients from nearby markets. Highlights on the menu include the homemade croquettes of Iberian ham, Galician blond beef loin carpaccio with pistachio and the “Bienmesabe” marinated fried white fish from Cadiz– but really anything and everything on the menu is mouth-wateringly luscious. The interior is classically sassy with a modern twinge and an open kitchen. Due to its location and reputation, it gets very busy – especially at weekends, so be sure to book your table in advance.
Restaurante La Barraca
Like a lot of places, La Barraca makes the bold claim of having the best paella in the city. However, in their case, there may well be some weight behind the boast. Originally opened by a family from the Spanish region of Valencia – the home of Paella – there are a wealth of paella types upon their menus from popular seafood options to ones including chicken, rabbit and duck. The style of the restaurant is true to its Valencian roots and its several dining rooms are adorned with pictures and artifacts representing the region and its signature blue and white tiles.
For something a bit different, Chueca has the best Cuban restaurant in Madrid in its center on Calle Pelayo. The food is a veritable mix of Cuban meat, seafood and vegetables – a firm favorite being “ropa vieja”: stewed beef and tomatoes. The interior has an arty yet homely vibe to it – filled with plants and pictures of Cuba to transport guests there in their imaginations. Not to mention the Cuban waiters are as easy on the eye as the decor.
Barrutia Y El 9
“Hidden gem” is an overused phrase, but this intimate little neighborhood restaurant is worthy of the label as it is famous with locals for having some of the most original takes on traditional homemade Spanish food. If you’re bored of seeing similar menus in Spanish restaurants, then this is the ideal place to enjoy some creative cuisine options like meatballs with pasta and truffle or ham with hummus and eggs. Not to mention the croquettes are indisputably the best in Madrid. Not sure what to have? No problem! The chef himself comes to every table to offer advice. They also offer a take-out option should you wish to sit in one of Chueca’s plazas enjoying your food whilst absorbing some vitamin D.
A sophisticated restaurant and cocktail bar serving a mixed cosmopolitan style cuisine with both Spanish character and a modern flare. You’ll find everything from “Galician” quesadillas to gyozas with sweet sauce. The food menu is meant to be shared with friends, or a partner, so don’t do a Joey and order just for yourself. Diurno is itself big and spacious with windows looking out into the busy Chueca streets near one of its main plazas, making you feel right in the heart of the action. It opens early so you can eat dinner at 7pm if you’re not used to the usual late-night Spanish dinner time. They also do a fabulous brunch menu full of yummy cheeses, meats and smoothies – not to mention a mean cheesecake.
Ribeira de Miño
Seafood is Spain’s speciality and just because Madrid is about as far from the coast as you can get in Spain, doesn’t mean you can´t find quality seafood there too. Ribeira de Mino is a Galician – the region of Spain perhaps most famous for its seafood – restaurant serving the freshest fishy dishes from the coast, from hake and tuna to clams and prawns. Its speciality, however, is the Galician delicacy of octopus – which might sound a tad adventurous for some but is cooked to perfection and a must try. Should you not be a fan of the fish, fear not as there are also dishes like bone steak, pork shoulder and padron peppers on the menu. Furthermore, the restaurant very much has a small Spanish town in Galicia vibe to it, which further adds to the authenticity of the dining experience.
Tasca Celso y Manolo
This quirky vintage bar and restaurant is the place to go to sip a traditional tinto de verano or Spanish vermouth while tucking into tapas with friends. The interior is rather uniquely chic with oddities like straw headed bulls on its walls and menus styled as newspapers. The tapas are eclectic from squid rings to cheese tasting boards, as are the bigger dishes like the scrambled organic eggs with raisins and pine nuts. The salads are known for being the best in Madrid, making it the perfect option for vegetarians and vegans.
Entre Santos Madrid
Atmosphere can be just as important as food in any restaurant experience and Entre Santos has the atmosphere of a lively tavern. It is also a definitive gourmet Mediterranean tapas bar – one of the best in Madrid – with a wide selection of cocktails to wash them down with – which has been a running theme on this list but what can we say, we like cocktails. Both the drinks and tapas come on/in creative styled plates and mugs, and the service is a winning combination of fast and friendly. Unlike a lot of restaurants previously on this list you cannot book in advance, as it works on a first come first serve basis – so get there earlyish to guarantee a table.
General Eating Out in Madrid Advice
Spain is different! At least from the perspective of the eating times that a lot of English-speaking countries are accustomed to. Everything runs a little late: lunch being between 2pm to 4pm and dinner between 9pm and 11pm. However, restaurants in Chueca also get busy and often can’t be booked in advance, so a delicate line must be made with getting there early but not TOO early. Usually exactly at 2pm or 9pm will guarantee you a table, but maybe come slightly earlier if you are in a big group.
As for the language, in Chueca you’ll find everywhere has a menu in English and the waiters tend to know enough to get through your order. It does help however, to know a few phrases in Spanish and makes servers warm to you more. Failing that, remember things like the writing hand motions for “the bill” are pretty much international.
Finally, the blunt truth is that often the service is slow in Spain, especially when waiting for the bill. There’s a laid-back attitude to eating – they even have the phrase “sobremesa” which means to relax and chat at the table after a big meal – so be patient and try to just lie back, enjoy the slower pace of life, and take in the vibrant energy – not to mention the hot guys – that make up Chueca.