A word of advice: Lakasa! That’s it. Just one word as promised. Thats the most important takeaway from this post, and if its the only takeaway, my job is kinda done here. In other words, if you only giving this post your valuable morning bathroom break, just go straight to the Lakasa section and read the rest if you have more time. There are other important tips here, including where not to eat, and where we planned to eat but didnt eat. So maybe make it a longer bathroom or a work vaping break, to read the rest.
Talking about “takeaway”, my biggest struggle in Spain was requesting Coffee To Go in Spanish. I know this is not exactly a coffee to go culture, but I needed it on occasion especially while driving. I had to do it especially in the North where English was almost non existent. “Para Llevar, Para Llevar, Para Llevar”. I practiced, and listened and practiced some more. I went from “Pull the Lever Please!” to “Para Levar” to “Para Yevar” and they would continue to nod and smile and serve it in a small coffee mug on a plate to stay. Wife sometimes would come back from shopping to see me sipping on the coffee cup going, “couldnt pull the lever again, couldn’t you?”. Nope!
The most surprising thing about Madrid’s food scene was the large amount of American chains scattered all over the center. There were moments when I was looking for something interesting to eat, and it was easier to find a Burger King then a local shop of some sorts. But the site that surprised me the most was my first International “Five Guys”. Turns out, there are 4 more outside the center. Well done Guys! All 5 of you.
Here’s a rundown of the places we ate. You can read between the lines
El Paraguas – This was strongly recommended by our host and I can see why. A room, make it rooms, including an outdoor patio, packed with locals, including families and grandpas who lunch. All on a Friday afternoon. And you need to dress up a notch for this one. The cuisine is Asturian but the menu reads like a bible. Madrid doesnt really have its own regional cuisine. It draws its inspirations from all over Spain, especially the north (I can be corrected here). The standout here was a mystery dish. “Cocochas de Merluza con Yema de Huevo” on the Spanish menu translated to “Hake’s Barbel in green sauce and egg yolk” on the English menu. Confusing because Barbel is a another fish, and Cocochas is the second chin or jaw of a fish which we had in Getaria some time later and it looked nothing like this. Whatever it was, it was excellent. and I would go back just for this.
Cervecería Cervantes – This is where you will have that “We are finally in Spain” moment. Surrounded by locals, and eating things we couldn’t get enough of the rest of the trip. We came for the Galician Octopus which was good indeed, but we totally devoured the shrimp in garlic and Padron peppers. And we started hearing angels singing when we tried the fried calamari. Even though the singing was mostly in latin, I understood most of it… “Remember all that fried Calamari you’ve been eating in New York all your life? Lalalalalalala! Its crap! This is what it supposed to taste like”
Lakasa (bottom)- Madrid is loaded with some incredible talent doing elevated traditional dishes and Avant-garde. But its hard for me to imagine many better experiences in this price range. This was flawless from start to finish. From the house white to the waiter eerily popping a little device on the table where little wet wipes peep out one by one, much to our delight. It doesnt take much to amuse us. silky smooth Cecina (cured cow meat) from Astorga. A mind blowing grilled Hake (better than the Alfonsino special). Dried rice with pigeon, a house specialty, was a standout. One of the better cooked steaks of a Spain trip loaded with great meats. Clams in garlic, and fried eggs with truffles we couldnt get enough of. One of the best meals we ever had in Spain
La Casa del Abuelo – Shrimp and Garlic! We’ve been obsessing and dreaming about the shrimp in Garlic months prior to the trip. Portugal did this to us! Ramiro in Lisbon if I can point fingers. In Madrid all indications pointed to the undisputed Shrimp and Garlic champ, La Casa del Abuelo. Not to be confused with Abuela (grandma) on the same street. You want Grandpa’s cooking, not Grandma in this case. Really enjoyed the crustaceans here. They were plump and flavorful albeit on the softer side. We also enjoyed the large Fideo with squid and its ink.
Ochenta Grados – This was the only place open on Sunday night that was walking distance from our apartment. We were surprised at how many close on Sundays here (some open for lunch). Ochenta Grados felt like a place more for teen girls so it was sort of perfect because I came with two of those. But at the same time it was cheap, inventive fun, and shockingly good value. Clever “Tapas” like plates around 4 euros each. We pretty much tried the entire menu for 70 euros. A marginal endorsement for the foodies out there
San Miguel Market – This is the one I dont quite get. What exactly is the attraction here? Is it the concept or the food? Coming from the land of food markets (NYC) this was shockingly disappointing. We settled initially on some overpriced, mediocre toasts with cheese. Then we circled a few more times and nothing stood out. Extremely crowded and expensive for Spain (11 euros for a small portion of fried calamari). The whole thing felt like a giant tourist trap. I cant imagine many locals go here.
A word on Tapas – One thing I learned in Madrid is that Tapas is more of a way of life, rather than a concept or simply small plates. Its a social gathering where you move from place to place eating and drinking what the establishments specialize in, while standing. Tapas is a lifestyle, that is not meant to be forced, and therefore difficult for visitors to mimic. When you are spending a full day sightseeing, your planned Tapas crawl may not fit as you’ll be craving a seat and a drink somewhere relaxing instead. But if you must, Calle del Dr. Castelo near Retiro park is loaded with some popular eateries like Laredo, La Castela, Castelados, and La Raquetista
Other places I wanted to visit but didnt have a chance: La Manduca de Azagra, AskuaBarra, Glass Mar