This post originally appeared in the April 29, 2023, edition of Eater Travel, a biweekly dispatch from Eater’s staff about navigating places where food is the main attraction. Subscribe now.
When I pestered friends for dining recommendations ahead of my first visit to Barcelona, they offered plenty, but they each had two things in common: They were all tapas, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them. I got recommendations for everything from croquetas and tinned fish to some I didn’t know I wanted to get my hands on until my friends showed me galleries of their snacking exploits. A sandwich of cockles and yogurt? Hey, I would try anything once, but when would I have the time?
And that’s when I decided on a strategy for my week in Barcelona. Although it’s easy to fixate on showstopping main dishes, like whole fishes on decorative platters or heaping piles of paella, instead, I would dedicate my attention to eating as many tapas as I could find. It felt like a foolproof way to try as many dishes as possible each day without racking up an astronomical bill.
Typically, my MO is to research restaurants and study menus before settling on where and what to eat. On this vacation — a milestone birthday trip with my husband — I wanted to do the opposite. But instead of predetermined entrees I’d meticulously tracked for months in advance, we’d follow the tapas that caught our eye.
To start, we aimed to satisfy a few simple cravings. For breakfast, we devoured manchego cheese in oil ahead of ham-and-brie crepes at Creps Barcelona, a charming shop with outposts all over the city. For lunch, we wandered to La Flauta Rambla for a glass of verdejo wine with ham and chicken-stuffed croquetas, a heaping platter of patatas bravas, and my first taste of a Spanish tortilla, a fluffy, round omelet studded with chunks of potato — a far cry from the flat, corn- or flour-based tortillas I was used to in Texas.
While strolling through the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, hailed as one of the world’s best public markets, we noshed on jamon Iberico, sliced fresh and served in paper cones, before moving on to heartier potato-and-chorizo empanadas and sweet crepes.
Already, the strategy was working, but we knew we could push ourselves a bit more. By midweek, I vowed to be more adventurous. Quimet y Quimet, the more-than-hundred-year-old restaurant known for its tapas, one-hour dining limit, and standing-room-only interior, intrigued me, so my husband and I wandered over to the restaurant one night. Our kind host-slash-server convinced us to settle in with some sangria and leave the ordering to him. Minutes later, small plates began flooding our cramped corner in the best possible way: olive oil-drenched artichokes on a bed of goat cheese and topped with caviar; sweet loquats with anchovies; smoked oyster and red pepper sandwiches; tuna and olive pate; and the restaurant’s signature salmon and goat cheese with a generous honey drizzle. We barely needed an hour to eat it all, and by the end of the night, we were more grateful for our waiter’s guidance and our laissez-faire dining strategy than ever.
Over the course of the trip, the weather warmed up, enticing us — and half of the city’s residents — to spend sun-soaked days at the beach, aka la Barceloneta, and in the Poblenou neighborhood, just a speedy metro ride from the city center. Here, we huddled over platters of scarlet prawns, the highly sought-after jumbo shellfish and cod fritters and crispy baby squid with lemony mayo at Barraca, and splurged on Cantabrian anchovies and grilled clams at Agua.
By the end of the week, I had managed to fit tapas of all types into my three meals a day, and plenty of meals in between. Sure, I may have missed out on a handful of excellent tasting menus or entrancing multicourse feasts, or a hip new locale or two, but I have no regrets. Truthfully, I’d experienced more thanks to our nimble noshing. So let this be your sign: You’ll never regret prioritizing tapas.