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Where to Eat in Barcelona’s Tourist-Heavy Old City

With the state of tourism fundamentally altered, the picturesque heart of Barcelona tourism has changed too — and even become more exciting in some ways

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Most trips to Barcelona start with a visit to the Old City — “Ciutat Vella” in Catalan. The historic center is home to the area’s main tourist attractions like La Rambla, La Boqueria, the Cathedral of Barcelona, and all the twisting, shaded alleyways and medieval architecture that many foreigners associate with the Catalan capital. Before COVID-19, these very charms and the tourists they would draw had begun to keep away many actual Catalonians, and even a certain type of traveler, for fear of succumbing to the sea of T-shirt shops, goblets of sangria, and less-than-stellar tapas. Savvier travelers were already spending more time in the northern neighborhood of Gràcia — and then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which predictably hit the Old City hardest of all. Visitors disappeared overnight and left an eerie quiet, with shops shuttering one after the other.

Now, Barcelona’s renewed enthusiasm for much-missed visitors and the closure of many eyesore, for-tourists-only places has once again refreshed the Old City’s status as an absolute, unavoidable — nay, critical — must-do. These rambling passages boast a uniquely quirky mashup of family-owned businesses that have been passed on from generation to generation, sharing the same block with new, design-conscious storefronts, and of course loads of memorable places to eat and drink.

Locals think of the Old City as containing three distinct neighborhoods: the Gothic Quarter, the historic heart of the city, where Barcelona as we now know it began to unfold in 230 BCE; El Born, with a comparatively high concentration of good spots for eating and drinking in the Old City; and El Raval, home to the famous, tourist-packed Boqueria market. They may feel similar at first, but each has a distinct personality:

The Gothic Quarter, where some of the streets and buildings date back to the 12th century, has a high concentration of architectural gems: the remains of the Roman walls; the stunning Cathedral of Barcelona, its facade teeming with sculptures and buttresses; and the Plaça del Rei, a reminder of Barcelona’s medieval wealth and splendor. But among those ancient sites, there’s a lot of stuff less rooted in local history to be found here — things like toddler flamenco dresses, ceramics of charging bulls, and FC Barça merch. The larger streets still have some remnants of the large tourist targeted laminated menus. But take a turn onto a quiet square like Placeta de Manuel Ribé, pick a sunny spot at one of the cafes, swirl your vermouth so that the large ice cubes clink — and you won’t want to be anywhere else.

Born” means “jousting field” in Catalan, and indeed, the tree-lined Passeig del Born used to host jousting matches, and was once home to the city’s largest fruit-and-vegetable wholesale market, which is now the El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria. The Passeig del Born leads up to the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, an example of Catalan Gothic architecture (identifiable by its hexagonal belfries and lack of flying buttresses) built with stones from the quarries of Montjuïc by the merchants that once lived here. Much of the neighborhood is pedestrian-only, which means it’s easy (well, easier) to float from shop to shop, and some of the cafes and restaurants offer outdoor seating, which can be fully enjoyed without the interruption of car traffic. Though there are some larger restaurants, the majority are small and independently owned.

Once known as a dangerous part of town for tourists, these days El Raval is finally gaining appreciation, thanks in part to its status as one of the most culturally diverse areas of the city, where a halal butcher, a Filipino grocer, and third-wave coffee shrine all inhabit the same block. This is where you’ll find hard-to-source ingredients like frozen curry leaves or Moroccan preserved lemons, beneath balconies heavy with colorful laundry and dangling plants.

Here, then, is a guide to making the most of each distinctly delicious neighborhood, and avoiding the riffraff in the process.

Suzy Taher is a Barcelona-based writer and founder of the blog Foodie in Barcelona.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Bar Central

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Take a breath and step off the street and into this green oasis, the ultimate find in El Raval. A gravel-filled courtyard is shaded by ancient trees surrounding a water feature that looks like a large meteor covered in green moss, and the soundtrack is wood pigeons serenading each other under the trickling fountain. And that’s just one of the beguiling spaces here. After marveling at the ambience, grab a coffee and a bikini sandwich, a popular quick snack of ham and cheese on toasted, square white bread. They also do drinks in the evening.

Caravelle

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Barcelona only discovered brunch within the last decade. Now, a number of places are vying to be the top spot. Caravelle was one of the first and maintains its elite status because the Australian chef-owner, Zim Sutton, insists on making his own sauces, pickles, and beers. Tacos, smoked ribs, and burgers make an appearance from lunchtime onward.

Chivuo's

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When you want a break from Spanish and Catalan fare, try a burger joint with a good pulled-pork sandwich. They care about sourcing and making things from scratch, hence their “slow street food” ethos. The fries with cheese and bacon might make you forget all about your burger; it’s hard to stop picking at them. Good craft beer selection, too.

Find this more affordable, quirkier offshoot of the much-lauded Xemei in Poble Sec on one of the side streets that leads to la Boqueria. It’s small and rickety, but there is more than enough creativity coming out of this Italian kitchen to make up for it, like tender homemade gnocchi with wild asparagus smothered in shaved katsuobushi, a fermented fish.

Mercado de La Boqueria

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The area’s lodestar is La Boqueria, justifiably renowned for the variety, quality, and abundance of its products, as well as some top bars to eat in among the stalls. It’s accordingly packed, but there are some good hacks for getting the most out of a trip. Go early in the morning to avoid the tourists, or approach it from the back to find the most interesting stands. A telltale sign that this is still a locals’ market are the netted bags of snails sold at poultry stalls.

The entrance to the boqueria market. Gerard Moral

El Quim de la Boquería

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 One to try in the Boqueria, El Quim is at the heart of it all, identifiable by its wrap-around yellow slates at the top of the stall and fried egg logo. Quim has all the classics and some specials like chipirones (small squid) with a fried egg or saffron milk cap mushrooms that bleed blue in season, quickly seared with jamón crumbs. When everything was shut down during Spain’s brutal first COVID-19 wave, Quim Márquez was one of the chefs who stepped up to cook for Barcelona residents who needed a meal — that’s reason enough to pull up a stool. 

the counter at El Quim boqueria. Gerard Moral

Direkte Boqueria

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This tiny fusion restaurant flanks La Boqueria, from which it sources its ingredients daily. The door practically brushes diners’ backs when it opens; that there are just eight seats wrapped around a kitchen bar hasn’t stopped this place from gathering accolades, starting with a 2018 Chef of the Year designation for Arnau Muñío from the Fòrum Gastrònomic Girona. The matcha cheesecake will ruin all forerunners: The size and shape of a small Camembert, with a generous layer of matcha powder on top, spooning into it will release a glossy ooze of white, just like when you score a perfectly ripe specimen — except this one is sweet and inexplicably light.

A tiny white pot holds a fancy dish topped with okra slices. Gerard Moral

Bar Cañete

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Bar Cañete, opened and run by Manolo and Mari from Sevilla, serves the most-refined tapas you will ever eat, cooked with precision in the open kitchen. Waiters in stiff, high-collared white jackets serve from behind the large bar. Dishes are an education in the best of Catalan produce, like peas from Maresme with blood sausage, or clams so fresh they spit water at each other in the refrigerated display. Though the bar is the best seat in the house, this is fine dining food.

Kak Koy

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A Japanese restaurant with a robata as its focus pairs excellent local products such as vibrant red shrimp from Palamós encased in coarse salt with a lick of heat from the grill. The tapas format works well here. The best place to sit is at the bar, looking into the kitchen or across from other diners. Order a few dishes to start, and then let yourself be guided by what you see being cooked in the kitchen, although the eggplant with miso shouldn’t be missed.

Bistrot Levante

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This cafe is two-thirds glass, all the better to look out onto the quiet Placeta de Manuel Ribé. Inside, there is a constant play of light and shadow between the abundant plants and the sun streaming in. Cafe tables paired with iconic bentwood chairs make the whole affair feel Parisian. The aesthetic carries into the menu, which is filled with food in the Ottolenghi mold, like eggplant drizzled with tahini and scattered pomegranate, or a whole head of roasted, spiced cauliflower.

Grill Room Bar Thonet

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A beautiful modernist-style restaurant you will fall in love with. The open kitchen serves up Catalan and Spanish classics. Around Christmastime, locals preorder their excellent canelones, large hollow noodles filled with shredded meat and topped with bechamel. Their menu del día, the typical Catalan three-course lunch, is a steal. 

Bar Joan

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This simple, old-fashioned restaurant inside the Santa Caterina market in nearby La Ribera appeals to locals for its well-priced, high-quality Catalan classics. The ceramic trays displaying cooked snails or white beans and pork sausages are indicative of what’s on offer: hearty fare, particularly stews like cap i pota, a house specialty of beef head and feet cooked long and slow. Breakfast here is the best as they specialize in the local Catalan “esmorzar de forquilla,” literally a breakfast you have to eat with a fork, like beans with sausages. Also for breakfast, try one of their many tortilla francesas (fried potato omelets) served on bread. 

Capet Restaurant

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A Catalan market restaurant that liberally uses French cooking techniques from a Venezuelan chef who’s done the rounds at some of the best kitchens in Barcelona. The food is elegant and well thought out. For example, a rice dish with botifarra comes with a shallow layer of rice so that there is abundant “socarrat,” the much-coveted crispy rice that forms around the edges of the pan.

Can Cisa/Bar Brutal

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A favorite of locals and visitors. In front, the wine bar Can Cisa emphasizes natural wines. In the back, Bar Brutal opens in the afternoons and evenings with a sharing-plate menu that uses lots of fish and local produce. Here you’ll find edgy preparations like the tuna heart with beetroot and raspberry, as well as familiar dishes like monkfish paired with white asparagus, a delicacy in these parts. 

Fismuler

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This is the Barcelona outpost of a Madrid collaboration between three chefs with distinct backgrounds who all worked in the kitchens of El Bulli. The giant space nods to the Nordic influences on its menus in the blue-tinted windows and large jars of pickled vegetables. Mediterranean ingredients get some Northern European tweaks, exemplified in dishes like semi-cured sea bream with slivered almonds and red grapes sliced to the size and shape of a penny. Prices match the quality, pedigree, and decor, so don’t be afraid to ask for a half portion.

Bar del Pla

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Tapas with a twist: Think shaved mushrooms with wasabi sauce and strawberries next to thumb-length croquetes. The four (yes, four) sommeliers here have a particular interest in natural and biodynamic wines and have put together a selection of the ones they love most. One of them, Sergi Ruiz, was the winner of the local Nas d’Or (Golden Nose) prize in 2014.

A blue and white plate with a piece of toast topped with various ingredients Gerard Moral

Bar Mundial

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Perpetually busy, this old-timer bar has been going for almost a century. Some dishes are straightforward, ingredient-first affairs like razor clams with olive oil and pepper. Others, like the fried eggplant with goat cheese and honey, are unexpected but successful.

La Plata

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No longer a secret, but that shouldn’t stop you from going. They do simple things like fried whitebait; eat it whole, head and all. Also a good place to try drinking from a porrón, a glass pitcher with a thin spout. You lift the porrón as far above your head as you dare and tip the contents into your open mouth. Pro tips include opening your mouth as wide as possible, opting for white wine, and wearing a busy top to hide any stains. 

Brunells

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A collaboration between Cafés El Magnífico and Canal, a high-end patisserie. Their croissant won the prize for best butter croissant of 2020, while the high-backed banquette and that Tiffany shade of turquoise will have you lingering over your coffee. 

Cafés El Magnífico

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The Sans family has coffee in their blood. Three generations have roasted single-origin beans since 1919, long before mainstream coffee culture was a thing They now offer all the newest brewing techniques; when ordering, they’ll ask you to specify your method and grind accordingly. When father Salvador and daughter Claudia are not in the shop, they are either visiting plantations or judging cupping competitions around the world.

People in coats standing in front of a storefront. Gerard Moral

Proper BCN

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Recently decamped to Barcelona from Buenos Aires, where it was always on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurant list, Proper is an instant Old City staple. The kitchen and dining space are one, with a self-built wood-fired oven as the focal point. As you might expect from a kitchen run by Argentinians, meat is the star here, but vegetables charred into submission are equally good. Whatever you order, you must start with the sourdough and end with the dulce de leche flan — which, for a spell, was the most Instagrammed dessert in Barcelona. 

Vila Viniteca

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Primarily a wine store with one of the best gourmet shops in the city. There are a few tables where you can sample the best of Catalunya and Spain, from Joselito jamón ibérico de bellota to one of the city’s top cheese boards.

El Chigre 1769

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Facing the long nave of the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, this place specializes in both Catalan food and that of the Northern Spanish region of Asturias. Try cider poured from a height to aerate the drink, or simmered with chopped-up chorizo.

Bodega La Puntual

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All the classics are present here, like croquetes, ensaladilla rusa (potato salad), and Padron peppers. Alongside these, the menu is a celebration of well-made charcuterie and cheese. Rice dishes, like the one with botifarra sausage and trompetes de la mort (literally “trumpets of death,” or black chanterelles), are excellent.

Llamber

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Across from what was formerly Barcelona’s main fruit-and-vegetable market, these digs were once a fruit warehouse. These days, Llamber is a large, comfortable restaurant, with fair prices that allow for plenty of flair: Roasted mushrooms are served on a ceramic log to look like they are growing on it, while a vegetarian dish of black rice studded with tiny vegetables looks like a miniature garden. 

Bar Central

Take a breath and step off the street and into this green oasis, the ultimate find in El Raval. A gravel-filled courtyard is shaded by ancient trees surrounding a water feature that looks like a large meteor covered in green moss, and the soundtrack is wood pigeons serenading each other under the trickling fountain. And that’s just one of the beguiling spaces here. After marveling at the ambience, grab a coffee and a bikini sandwich, a popular quick snack of ham and cheese on toasted, square white bread. They also do drinks in the evening.

Caravelle

Barcelona only discovered brunch within the last decade. Now, a number of places are vying to be the top spot. Caravelle was one of the first and maintains its elite status because the Australian chef-owner, Zim Sutton, insists on making his own sauces, pickles, and beers. Tacos, smoked ribs, and burgers make an appearance from lunchtime onward.

Chivuo's

When you want a break from Spanish and Catalan fare, try a burger joint with a good pulled-pork sandwich. They care about sourcing and making things from scratch, hence their “slow street food” ethos. The fries with cheese and bacon might make you forget all about your burger; it’s hard to stop picking at them. Good craft beer selection, too.

Bacaro

Find this more affordable, quirkier offshoot of the much-lauded Xemei in Poble Sec on one of the side streets that leads to la Boqueria. It’s small and rickety, but there is more than enough creativity coming out of this Italian kitchen to make up for it, like tender homemade gnocchi with wild asparagus smothered in shaved katsuobushi, a fermented fish.

Mercado de La Boqueria

The entrance to the boqueria market. Gerard Moral

The area’s lodestar is La Boqueria, justifiably renowned for the variety, quality, and abundance of its products, as well as some top bars to eat in among the stalls. It’s accordingly packed, but there are some good hacks for getting the most out of a trip. Go early in the morning to avoid the tourists, or approach it from the back to find the most interesting stands. A telltale sign that this is still a locals’ market are the netted bags of snails sold at poultry stalls.

The entrance to the boqueria market. Gerard Moral

El Quim de la Boquería

the counter at El Quim boqueria. Gerard Moral

 One to try in the Boqueria, El Quim is at the heart of it all, identifiable by its wrap-around yellow slates at the top of the stall and fried egg logo. Quim has all the classics and some specials like chipirones (small squid) with a fried egg or saffron milk cap mushrooms that bleed blue in season, quickly seared with jamón crumbs. When everything was shut down during Spain’s brutal first COVID-19 wave, Quim Márquez was one of the chefs who stepped up to cook for Barcelona residents who needed a meal — that’s reason enough to pull up a stool. 

the counter at El Quim boqueria. Gerard Moral

Direkte Boqueria

A tiny white pot holds a fancy dish topped with okra slices. Gerard Moral

This tiny fusion restaurant flanks La Boqueria, from which it sources its ingredients daily. The door practically brushes diners’ backs when it opens; that there are just eight seats wrapped around a kitchen bar hasn’t stopped this place from gathering accolades, starting with a 2018 Chef of the Year designation for Arnau Muñío from the Fòrum Gastrònomic Girona. The matcha cheesecake will ruin all forerunners: The size and shape of a small Camembert, with a generous layer of matcha powder on top, spooning into it will release a glossy ooze of white, just like when you score a perfectly ripe specimen — except this one is sweet and inexplicably light.

A tiny white pot holds a fancy dish topped with okra slices. Gerard Moral

Bar Cañete

Bar Cañete, opened and run by Manolo and Mari from Sevilla, serves the most-refined tapas you will ever eat, cooked with precision in the open kitchen. Waiters in stiff, high-collared white jackets serve from behind the large bar. Dishes are an education in the best of Catalan produce, like peas from Maresme with blood sausage, or clams so fresh they spit water at each other in the refrigerated display. Though the bar is the best seat in the house, this is fine dining food.

Kak Koy

A Japanese restaurant with a robata as its focus pairs excellent local products such as vibrant red shrimp from Palamós encased in coarse salt with a lick of heat from the grill. The tapas format works well here. The best place to sit is at the bar, looking into the kitchen or across from other diners. Order a few dishes to start, and then let yourself be guided by what you see being cooked in the kitchen, although the eggplant with miso shouldn’t be missed.

Bistrot Levante

This cafe is two-thirds glass, all the better to look out onto the quiet Placeta de Manuel Ribé. Inside, there is a constant play of light and shadow between the abundant plants and the sun streaming in. Cafe tables paired with iconic bentwood chairs make the whole affair feel Parisian. The aesthetic carries into the menu, which is filled with food in the Ottolenghi mold, like eggplant drizzled with tahini and scattered pomegranate, or a whole head of roasted, spiced cauliflower.

Grill Room Bar Thonet

A beautiful modernist-style restaurant you will fall in love with. The open kitchen serves up Catalan and Spanish classics. Around Christmastime, locals preorder their excellent canelones, large hollow noodles filled with shredded meat and topped with bechamel. Their menu del día, the typical Catalan three-course lunch, is a steal. 

Bar Joan

This simple, old-fashioned restaurant inside the Santa Caterina market in nearby La Ribera appeals to locals for its well-priced, high-quality Catalan classics. The ceramic trays displaying cooked snails or white beans and pork sausages are indicative of what’s on offer: hearty fare, particularly stews like cap i pota, a house specialty of beef head and feet cooked long and slow. Breakfast here is the best as they specialize in the local Catalan “esmorzar de forquilla,” literally a breakfast you have to eat with a fork, like beans with sausages. Also for breakfast, try one of their many tortilla francesas (fried potato omelets) served on bread. 

Capet Restaurant

A Catalan market restaurant that liberally uses French cooking techniques from a Venezuelan chef who’s done the rounds at some of the best kitchens in Barcelona. The food is elegant and well thought out. For example, a rice dish with botifarra comes with a shallow layer of rice so that there is abundant “socarrat,” the much-coveted crispy rice that forms around the edges of the pan.

Can Cisa/Bar Brutal

A favorite of locals and visitors. In front, the wine bar Can Cisa emphasizes natural wines. In the back, Bar Brutal opens in the afternoons and evenings with a sharing-plate menu that uses lots of fish and local produce. Here you’ll find edgy preparations like the tuna heart with beetroot and raspberry, as well as familiar dishes like monkfish paired with white asparagus, a delicacy in these parts. 

Fismuler

This is the Barcelona outpost of a Madrid collaboration between three chefs with distinct backgrounds who all worked in the kitchens of El Bulli. The giant space nods to the Nordic influences on its menus in the blue-tinted windows and large jars of pickled vegetables. Mediterranean ingredients get some Northern European tweaks, exemplified in dishes like semi-cured sea bream with slivered almonds and red grapes sliced to the size and shape of a penny. Prices match the quality, pedigree, and decor, so don’t be afraid to ask for a half portion.

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Bar del Pla

A blue and white plate with a piece of toast topped with various ingredients Gerard Moral

Tapas with a twist: Think shaved mushrooms with wasabi sauce and strawberries next to thumb-length croquetes. The four (yes, four) sommeliers here have a particular interest in natural and biodynamic wines and have put together a selection of the ones they love most. One of them, Sergi Ruiz, was the winner of the local Nas d’Or (Golden Nose) prize in 2014.

A blue and white plate with a piece of toast topped with various ingredients Gerard Moral

Bar Mundial

Perpetually busy, this old-timer bar has been going for almost a century. Some dishes are straightforward, ingredient-first affairs like razor clams with olive oil and pepper. Others, like the fried eggplant with goat cheese and honey, are unexpected but successful.

La Plata

No longer a secret, but that shouldn’t stop you from going. They do simple things like fried whitebait; eat it whole, head and all. Also a good place to try drinking from a porrón, a glass pitcher with a thin spout. You lift the porrón as far above your head as you dare and tip the contents into your open mouth. Pro tips include opening your mouth as wide as possible, opting for white wine, and wearing a busy top to hide any stains. 

Brunells

A collaboration between Cafés El Magnífico and Canal, a high-end patisserie. Their croissant won the prize for best butter croissant of 2020, while the high-backed banquette and that Tiffany shade of turquoise will have you lingering over your coffee. 

Cafés El Magnífico

People in coats standing in front of a storefront. Gerard Moral

The Sans family has coffee in their blood. Three generations have roasted single-origin beans since 1919, long before mainstream coffee culture was a thing They now offer all the newest brewing techniques; when ordering, they’ll ask you to specify your method and grind accordingly. When father Salvador and daughter Claudia are not in the shop, they are either visiting plantations or judging cupping competitions around the world.

People in coats standing in front of a storefront. Gerard Moral

Proper BCN

Recently decamped to Barcelona from Buenos Aires, where it was always on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurant list, Proper is an instant Old City staple. The kitchen and dining space are one, with a self-built wood-fired oven as the focal point. As you might expect from a kitchen run by Argentinians, meat is the star here, but vegetables charred into submission are equally good. Whatever you order, you must start with the sourdough and end with the dulce de leche flan — which, for a spell, was the most Instagrammed dessert in Barcelona. 

Vila Viniteca

Primarily a wine store with one of the best gourmet shops in the city. There are a few tables where you can sample the best of Catalunya and Spain, from Joselito jamón ibérico de bellota to one of the city’s top cheese boards.

El Chigre 1769

Facing the long nave of the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, this place specializes in both Catalan food and that of the Northern Spanish region of Asturias. Try cider poured from a height to aerate the drink, or simmered with chopped-up chorizo.

Bodega La Puntual

All the classics are present here, like croquetes, ensaladilla rusa (potato salad), and Padron peppers. Alongside these, the menu is a celebration of well-made charcuterie and cheese. Rice dishes, like the one with botifarra sausage and trompetes de la mort (literally “trumpets of death,” or black chanterelles), are excellent.

Llamber

Across from what was formerly Barcelona’s main fruit-and-vegetable market, these digs were once a fruit warehouse. These days, Llamber is a large, comfortable restaurant, with fair prices that allow for plenty of flair: Roasted mushrooms are served on a ceramic log to look like they are growing on it, while a vegetarian dish of black rice studded with tiny vegetables looks like a miniature garden. 

Related Maps