On my most recent visit to Spain, I rented an adorable AirBnB apartment in Madrid's "Ibiza" neighborhood right along side the beautiful Parque Retiro along the main artery of La Calle Meléndez de Pelayo. It is arguably one of the best neighborhoods in Madrid with quick access to the park, museums, and some of the top tapas bars and restaurants.
Vinos de Bellota
This is one of the most exciting restaurants I have visited in Spain in some time. Bellota has a great selection of wines and vermouths and successfully mixes classic Spanish cooking with some very creative options. Consider the cold starter of foie gras with a gin and tonic gelee or the traditional sliced Los Pedroches Iberian ham served over pan de cristal con tomate. A definite order is the croquetas de Doña Paula. They come three ways: stuffed with cured Manchego cheese, cured beef and mushrooms, and, perhaps, the most unusual of the three, crocodile with mandarin.
The "secreto" Iberico - Photo by James Stolich
The staff is incredibly friendly and very eager to explain the intricacies of each dish. It's the most fun to go with a group of two to four people and share a bunch of small plates. The huevos rotos or scrambled eggs with bellota ham and salmorejo (the classic tomato bread soup) is to die for as are the mussels stuffed with a piquillo pepper sauce and the "delicias de morcilla," a very rich, creamed Spanish blood pudding with quince sauce. Larger format dishes that I like include an excellent fillet of "secreto" Iberian ham cooked on the rare side as well as a plate of succulent pieces of merluza (hake) served with seasonal vegetables and a bunch of fried vegetable crips. The latter dish feels a bit dated in its presentation, but it sure is good!
For details see: VinosdeBellota.com
This is one of the more classy and typical tapas bars on calle Doctor de Castelo. It tends to be very crowded and is usually full of well-heeled (gente "pija") guests. The food is very good and seafood-centric. The chipirones encebollados (fresh grilled squid with onion confit and vegetables) are very good. They also have an excellent selection of wines by the glass.
For details see restaurantelacastela.com
Photo by James Stolich
Also, on Doctor de Castelo, this tapas bar is my go-to spot when I want a beer or glass of wine and nothing fancy. It's not as high-end as the other spots, but it's still very good, and it's usually not terribly crowded, and the service is friendly.
For details see www.eltenedor.es/restaurante/el-capricho
Photo by James Stolich
This is most certainly a high-end tapas bar, and restaurant and the prices reflect it. It's a beautiful space anchored by a large and generous marble bar and is typically awash with good-looking people. Like most of the places in this neighborhood, Laredo offers a varied selection of tapas, seafood, and meat dishes. One tapa in particular that I enjoyed very much is the lomo ahumado de anguila (smoked loin of eel). It is an unusual dish to find, and it comes plated over a small mound of burrata and chopped tomato. A small and delicious tapa!
For details see tabernalaredo.com
Lomo ahumado de alguila - Photo by James Stolich
One could call La Monte the sister restaurant to Laredo. Although they are not related, both offer similar cuisine and attract the well-heeled crowds. Their fried salmonetes (baby red mullets) are fantastic and perfect for sharing. They also have some of the best-fried boquerones (anchovies) I've had.
They curiously do not have a website, but you can read a review and see location details here: https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/ShowUserReviews-g187514-d14163990-r595645252-La_Monte-Madrid.html
Located on the calle de Doctor Castelo, this little gem of a restaurant has a very eclectic menu and excellent service. Their famous "torreznos" or fried cubes of pork belly are a great way to start, particularly if you are sharing. Be warned, though, they are rich and filling! The menu has a combination of classic Madrid dishes such as callos (tripe) a la Madrileña but with little twists. There is a dumpling of Galician spider crab as well as a Greek eggplant moussaka with lamb, dal, and yogurt. The tartare of red tuna was a spectacular dish and satisfied every craving I had for sushi-grade raw fish. It is served alongside a very spicy cream of fresh wasabi.
For details please see laraquetista.com
Torreznos - Photo by James Stolich
Tartare de atun - Photo by James Stolich
Peering down from the calle de Menorca I was drawn into the downstairs bar of Salino when I saw the display of oysters on ice. The restaurant and bar area is also very well air-conditioned, which was another huge draw during this European heat wave. The space has a clean, modern feel, and the staff is very knowledgeable about all of the dishes and is happy to explain the various preparations in detail.
It turns out these are the same owners as nearby La Raquetista. They even have said restaurant's famous torreznos (fried cubes of pork belly) on the menu. Suffice it to say I had to try one of their signature "ostra bloody marys." The oysters are large and hail from Normandy, and when paired with the very simple and nicely acidic bloody mary mignonette they go down quite nicely.
Ostras "bloody mary" - Photos by James Stolich
One night they had a very interesting tapa called Gallinejas de taco. These are the milk-filled intestines of a baby lamb. In Rome the Italians prepare a pasta with these. Here they are fried and placed in a corn masa taco with avocado & mango salsa, and lime. Very tasty and creative! In Spain these intestines also carry a molleja or sweet bread called a “botón”!
Gallinejas de taco - Photo by James Stolich
Other favorites include their croqueta de centollo (crab croquette), and I love the fact you can order just one. On this particular day, they offered a special solomillo de ternera al "Doubanjiang." This translates to veal sirloin in Doubjiang, a spicy, salty paste made from fermented broad beans, soybeans, salt, rice, and various spices. I really wanted something not traditional Spanish, and this fit the bill and delivered some seriously spicy kick alongside beautiful, shaved seasonal asparagus and snap peas. They also have a variety of classic Spanish rice dishes such as conejo del monte (mountain rabbit) served with braised artichokes and wild mushrooms.
For details see www.salino.es
Located on Calle de Narváez between Menorca and Doctor Castelo restaurant Triana is a little oasis on this busy thoroughfare. Specializing in the cuisine of Andalucia one will find many classic fried dishes such as boquerones fritos (fried anchovies) tortillitas de camarón (fried egg discs of baby shrimp) and frittura andaluza (fried squid, anchovy, shrimp, baby shark, eggplant and pijotas – a medium white fish from the merluza or hake family). All of the food is excellently prepared and delicious. Triana also offers a good selection of Andalusian wines that are not often easy to find in Madrid.
For details see trianarestaurante.es
Boquerones fritos - Photo by James Stolich
Ensalada rusa de marisco con pipas del mar - Photo by James Stolich
It's a tough call, but I would say that La Catapa is overall the best restaurant and tapas bar in the barrio de Ibiza. It's a beautiful space and is always bustling with activity and well-dressed patrons dining on beautiful plates of food. While it is almost always packed and may seem daunting to find a table or a bar seat, the staff are incredibly effective at finding temporary spots for guests to perch and have a glass of wine until something opens up.
James Goldman trying percebes for the first time - Photo by James Stolich.
The menu is classic Madrid tapas and very seafood-centric with an emphasis on high-quality ingredient sourcing and elegant plating of food. Everything is well prepared from the monkfish foie de rape in brine, cuttlefish in their ink, and oxtail stewed in red wine. I introduced my friend and dining companion James Goldman to percebes (the famed Galician gooseneck barnacles), and they were splendid.
For details see https://www.facebook.com/Taberna-La-Catapa-179368415443021/
I discovered this restaurant by walking by one evening and was stunned by the amazing tanks and tables of fresh Galician seafood, both alive and on ice. It was a veritable bounty of all the seafood delicacies from the costa Gallega. The restaurant is so named for the famous grelos or rapini (broccoli rabe) that are so popular in the north of Spain. This exquisite and established restaurant is on par with La Catapa in terms of quality of service and food. What makes this place unique, of course, is the emphasis on seafood from Galicia.
On one night, I sat at the very spacious bar that looks onto the large tanks of water holding very lively—and often feisty—Galician centollas (crabs) and langostas (lobsters). I started with a beautiful ostra Gallega, pristine, and tasting like the sea with just the right amount of brine. Next, I ordered a Changurrito de centollo. This translates to the "guts of a Galician spider crab served inside a tiny sea urchin shell." Not only is it beautiful, but it was very rich and over-the-top pure deliciousness.
Changurrito de centollo - Photo by James Stolich
Ogrelo has tanks of various live sea creatures. If available, consider ordering a whole, live centolla Gallega, one of the regions most highly prizes delicacies. Other excellent dishes include zamburiñas a la plancha (live scallops in their shells), empanada de vieras (house-made empanada with scallops), chipirones de potera (wild squid) and the entrecott plancha (Galician beef cooked on the plancha). They also have one of the best ensaladillas rusas (Russian salads) I have ever tasted.
For details see restauranteogrelo.com
Retrieving live Galician sea creatures - Photo by James Stolich
La Tasquería de Javi Estévez
This gem of a restaurant from the very talented young chef, Javi Estévez, is a unique find for gastronomes combing Madrid for new ideas and concepts. Spain has always had the tradition of utilizing the offal or off-cut parts of the animal, and chef Javi has done so in a fun and creative manner, with playful dishes that are also elegantly presented.
Go with one or two others if you can as these dishes are better shared. A not to miss specialty is the whole baby fried pig's head. Pair this with a refreshing salad of sliced lengua (tongue) and bogavante (lobster).
Beef cheek tacos and red prawn - Photo by James Stolich
Manitas (pig’s feet), fried artichokes, langoustine - Photos by James Stolich
Other noteworthy plates include the lamb sweetbreads (shrimp and garlic over focaccia), manitas (pig's feet, fried artichokes, langoustine), and the beef cheek tacos and red prawn. The cool part is you season the taco with all the juices of the prawn head! The restaurant has an excellent selection of Spanish Sherries that go very well with all the rich offal and gelatinous sauces.
For details see latasqueria.com
This is one of the older restaurants in the neighborhood. Brothers Rafael y Rodrigo Andrés founded it in 1958 during the Franquista years when General Franco ruled Spain. The restaurant has always specialized in seafood with an emphasis on the south and Andalucia. Sons Rafael and Miguel Ángel carry on their family legacy and have maintained the formal tradition of dining at Rafa. It truly feels like going back in time. However, there is also a lively bar at the front of the restaurant where one can have a more casual experience and order a plate of Iberian jamon or a racion of the often talked-about Russian salad (ensaladilla rusa). This writer found the aforementioned dish to be too heavy on the mayonnaise. Restaurante Ogrelo, in my opinion, has a much better rendition of this classic.
For an old school and traditional Andalusian culinary experience, Rafa fits the bill.
For details see www.restauranterafa.es/en/
The author sampling Joselito jamon at Rafa - Photo by Ricardo Rodriguez Arribas
Although not situated in the neighborhood of Ibiza, I wanted to highlight this fabulous new eatery on the very popular Calle Ponzano (a quick cab ride or enjoyable walk from Ibiza). Opened in 2018 by a young couple Alejandro Yravedo and Victoria Mántaras, this charming and intimate restaurant and bar celebrates all things mejillones (mussels).
From the playful take on the traditional gilda, the "gildon" features none other than a mejillon along with the olive and pepper in place of an anchovy. The "mejillon tigre" also makes for a great 2-bite snack and is essentially a croqueta with a cooked mussel inside the shell.
Mejillon tigre at Charnela - Photo by James Stolich
The staff is very inviting, and the owners are typically there most of the time, interacting with guests and making everyone feel welcome. What is most interesting about the menu is there are a total of 9 cazuelas de mejillones (steamed mussels) offered! Some are very classic such as the Mediterranean with tomatoes and herbs while others like the Charnela feature cream, curry, onion, and their special toque or twist. I really enjoyed the mejillones exóticos with coconut milk, ginger, kefir lime leaves, and green curry. The mussels are specifically sourced from Galicia, which in my opinion are the best quality in the world.
For details see charnelamadrid.com
Cazuela de mejillones, el gildon! - Photos by James Stolich
I stumbled across this cute little wine bar one evening and was drawn inside by the warm light and intimate feel. The staff is incredibly friendly and has an interesting selection of wines by the glass and a tiny kitchen offering small, complimentary tapas. Each time you order a drink someone will present you with a piece of slate with the tapas selection offered. Typical tapas might include a single sardine a la plancha, a piece of grilled “secreto” Iberico, a croqueta de pollo, etc. There is also a menu available of slightly more substantial dishes.
The tapas at Madridaje - Photos by James Stolich
This is a true neighborhood hangout spot, maybe somewhere you might pop in before dinner or after for some wine and good company.
For details see www.facebook.com/MadridajeRetiro/
Ricardo, manager of Vinos de Bellota, at Madridaje on his night off - Photo by James Stolich
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com