Madrid City Guide

a boat ride in el retiro park
a night out in chueca
a rainy day in plaza mayor

Of all the famous European cities, Madrid is one of the most accessible. It has top-tier cultural attractions, great shopping, excellent food and a vibrant nightlife, but it never feels prohibitively expensive or out of reach like it might in Paris or London. As an example, I was able to book a massage at The Lab Room, which is an upscale spa that Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop recommended, and the service was a reasonable 65 euros. Had it been New York, it definitely would have cost me twice as much. Barcelona might be more renowned for its restaurants, but Madrid has plenty of options that won’t leave your palate disappointed. Here is a list of some cafes, bars and restaurants that should be on your radar when visiting this capital.

Sala de Despiece
Neighborhood: Chamberi
Calle de Ponzano, 11, 28010 Madrid, Spain
+34 917 52 61 06

Sala de Despiece looks like a butcher’s shop run by a mad scientist. Servers smartly dressed in aprons come bearing knives and dexterously slice and dice or blowtorch raw meats tableside for the stylish twenty and thirty something clientele. Expect to wait at least two hours if you’re walking in on a Friday night.

Neighborhood: Chueca
Calle de Regueros, 8, 28004 Madrid, Spain
+34 917 02 15 86

For an extremely adventurous and interactive dinner tasting, book a table at Dstage. Throughout the meal, chefs will dazzle you with an unexpected use of an ingredient that renders it unrecognizable but delicious. It’s like you’re at a magic show, and like a great magician, the chefs at Dstage won’t reveal their culinary secrets. At my visit, I had torched cow collagen, seaweed tartlets, fish powder and Mexican mochi. Not the typical ingredients you’d find on the menu of a white tablecloth restaurant.

Chocolatería San Ginés
Neighborhood: Sol-Gran Via
Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, 28013 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 65 65 46

No trip to Spain is complete without some churros, the fried pastry that the country is famous for, and Chocolatería San Ginés is the place to get them. The classic charm of this old world cafe parlor suggests that not much has changed since they first began serving their churros in 1894. And there’s no need for change when the churros are just as good as they were over a hundred years ago.

Neighborhood: Centro
Calle de Fernando VI, 21, 28004 Madrid, Spain

One of my favorite sandwiches in Madrid comes from a place called Bdej. What’s nice is that you can pair these fantastic bocadillos with champagne, a perfect pairing since the effervescent bubbles nicely complement the robust meats and cheese. On a nice day, nothing beats eating a sandwich at one of the restaurant’s few outdoor bar seats.

La Sanabresa
Neighborhood: Centro
Calle del Amor de Dios, 12, 28014 Madrid, Spain
+34 914 29 03 38

For homestyle cooking at a great value, a lunch at La Sanabresa can’t be beat. The menu options feature traditional dishes served in a straightforward yet satisfying manner. Service is quick and the portions are generous, which explains why the place always seems to be packed.

Tasca Celso y Manolo
Neighborhood: Centro
Calle de la Libertad, 1, 28004 Madrid, Spain
+34 915 31 80 79

Someone tried to steer us away from Celso Y Manolo, saying it was recommended by the New York Times and hence was more for tourists, but I really enjoyed the tapas I had here. The atmosphere was lively, you could tell the ingredients were extremely fresh, and the rice dish in particular was a highlight.

Neighborhood: Centro
Calle de la Libertad, 21, 28004 Madrid, Spain
+34 915 23 39 05

Bazaar looks like a pretty, high-end specialty food store that you would find in the Hamptons or Connecticut frequented by ladies who lunch. It’s a little fancy, but the food is good and prepared in a lighter manner, which is a nice break from all the fried tapas you might have eaten the day before. The menu of the day, which offers a main and a dessert, is an especially good deal.

HanSo Café
Calle del Pez, 20, 28004 Madrid, Spain
+34 911 37 54 29

Even in Madrid you can get a good matcha latte or a flat white, specifically at HanSo Café. The cafe also offers a selection of Asian desserts if you find yourself missing a little red bean or black sesame while you’re abroad. But if you just want some avocado toast, you can get that here too.

Bar Cock
Neighborhood: Centro
Calle de la Reina, 16, 28004 Madrid, Spain
+34 915 32 28 26

Bar Cock is one of those historic bars that hosted glamorous celebrities like Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway back in its heyday, similar to a Chumley’s or the 21 Club in New York City. The classic, Great Gatsby-esque glamour of the bar is well-preserved and sets the perfect tone for enjoying an old school gin and tonic.

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