You know one of the best things about travel? Managing expectations. Barcelona tapas bars felt incredibly overwhelming to me before we left. All the articles I read talked about how there are no reservations, menus are entirely in Catalan (not Spanish), and that the entire city would be frantic and crowded. It turns out, in November, only a small part of those generalizations are true. I found the food to be one of the most pleasant surprises in Barcelona! That being said, I’ve put together a few ideas for you to enjoy your tapas experience. You might even decide to create your own Barcelona tapas tour.
Note: We barely scratched the surface of Barcelona. Most of our recommendations are in the Gothic Quarter, which is lovely, but there are so many more neighborhoods to explore. Our hotel was off La Ramblas, so this is where the majority of our meals and sightseeing was focused. One of my only regrets of this trip was not moving hotels (which I originally planned to do) to explore different neighborhoods.
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Our Introduction to Barcelona Tapas
Upon arrival, there are two things we did that contributed to an exceptional tapas experience. One, we got an early reservation at a popular tapas bar, La Pineda. By doing this, we were able to ask questions to our (kind and patient) waitress and learn a little more about how to order from the menu. Two, we booked a Barcelona tapas tour for our first evening. Yes, we arrived in Barcelona at 11:00am and took a tapas tour that started at 7:00pm. 100% worth it for a myriad of reasons, including that it helps beat the jet lag.
By doing the tapas tour on the first day, we were prepared for every subsequent meal. Whether I was deciding what to try for breakfast at our hotel or looking for afternoon snacks, I felt more confident about which tapas dishes to order. We were also able to branch out more quickly. Can’t choose which cava? Let’s try both! Long red wine list? Try something that we didn’t try already. And, when communication fails, ask the local next to you to help you order.
Barcelona Tapas Tour
This tapas tour did a great job of introducing us to the best tapas in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Our guide was Joe, and since we were the only people on the tour, he did a great job of catering to our interests while also engaging us in conversations. The entire experience felt very personalized, and we didn’t find anything we didn’t enjoy. Whether it was trying pintxos (tapas with a stick through them), exploring the offerings at La Boqueria Market, sipping vermouth, or frantically stirring flaming chorizo, Joe’s tour ensured that we were able to try the many flavors of Barcelona.
Travel is about More than Tapas
As with many tour guides that we encounter, Joe is well-versed on many current political issues facing our world. It never fails to amaze me how much more the rest of the world understands about the impact of US policies on global politics. Don’t shy away from these important topics when you travel. It is possible to engage in political debate and still be friends afterwards. I’m not talking about embracing people who are against your humanity (or the humanity of those you love), but I am talking about people whose life experiences and perspectives may push you to examine why you hold certain beliefs. The teaching of American exceptionalism is very real, whether you consciously realize it or not. Engage in discussions with your guides. You will learn so much.
Tapas to Try
Okay, okay. Off the political high horse. Time to talk tapas. Two things to know:
1. Don’t come to Barcelona and count calories. You’ll wind up frustrated. Commit yourself to walking (including hiking Parc Guell). Embrace intermittent fasting, if you have to. But stop thinking about the calories. Sure, you can get by with meat and cheese (totally keto friendly), but patatas bravas and Spanish chocolates are worth the splurge.
2. This isn’t the same food you eat in the US. For example, I don’t like chorizo in the US. Spanish chorizo? It’s completely different. The flavors are rich. It isn’t as greasy. It’s delicious. Don’t opt out of trying things that you don’t like at home. You’ll miss out out. That being said, know your limits. I’m perfectly okay that I skipped out of the blue cheese tasting. Definitely not my jam. Tom, however, loved it.
Patatas bravas is one of my favorite tapas. What’s not to love? Roasted potatoes. Garlic aioli. Spicy tomato sauce. Put it all together and its delicious. On our last night in Barcelona, Tom and I went on our own patates bravas tour to try and find the best ones. (This is one of the best things about tapas. They aren’t as formal as restaurants; you can order a few things and move on to the next place.)
EAT & DRINK: Bodega la Puntual – These were our favorite bravas for the way they were cooked. They were delightfully crunchy, the aioli and the tomato sauce were both delicious, and they had an extensive wine and cava list.
EAT & DRINK: Tapeo Born – This is Tom’s second favorite tapas place (and he recommends trying the Bombeto, too). It gets very crowded, so you might want to make a reservation or be willing to wait. We snagged a table in the back after a 10-15 minute wait on a Sunday night.
EAT & DRINK: Kula’s Lounge – This was the last stop on our tapas tour and it is owned by the tour company. If you aren’t a fan of spice, they offer a delicious patatas bravas with just the garlic aioli. It’s not on the menu, but they will sell you the patatas. I know because we went back a couple times. It’s not too far from the waterfront, and I think it would be really lovely during the day… all our tapas hopping occurred at night. They also have a sweet sangria if you tire of cava and red wine.
Pa amb Tomàquet
Pa amb Tomaquet is the Catalan phrase for bread with tomato. That oversimplification is why you might not order this when you come to Spain. Here’s the truth: They take bread, add olive oil, add or rub tomato and garlic on it, and possibly toast it. It is the most delicious carb you could eat as an appetizer. Everyone makes it a little bit differently so you should try it everywhere you go. My favorites were at La Bouchon and La Pineda. (Are you getting an idea of why La Pineda should be the first stop on your Barcelona tapas tour yet?)
EAT & DRINK: La Bouchon – Everything here was delicious, including the red wine. This is perhaps the most upscale tapas bar we visited. It is attached to the Mercer Hotel, so that explains that. If you are looking for a romantic tapas restaurant and wine bar that takes reservations, La Bouchon should be your first stop.
Pintxos are the tapas that we have the least experience with so I only have a few comments to share. For reference, pintxos are tapas that are served with a stick. Most of the pintxos bars we passed seemed to serve their tapas cafeteria-style. At the end of the meal, they total up the number of sticks at the table. This is great because it allows you to choose what you like and see what you are ordering. The drawback is that they might be not warm and they might not be as fresh as other tapas. I didn’t have any complaints about my pintxos, but Tom and my mom didn’t have as good of luck. Pro tip: choose any tapa with a giant chorizo on it. It worked for me.
The Meats of Barcelona: Chorizo, Fuet, and Jamon Iberico
If you like your sausage mild, try fuet in Barcelona. Spicy sausage lovers should try chorizo. And, if you like it with a stronger flavor, try the jamon Iberico. I love prosciutto, but I didn’t enjoy the Iberian ham as much as I expected I would. However, I did really enjoy chorizo and fuet. I think I liked the fuet more than both my mom and Tom, actually.
The fastest and cheapest way to figure out what you like is to try one of the variety cones at La Boqueria market. Don’t just stop at any stand, however. Head to JJ at stand 499. He’s almost smack-dab in the middle of the market and his cones are the best way to find out what you like. (We tried other cones – they paled in comparison.)
Once you know what you like, head to La Pineda Xarcuteria for more tasting. This meat market and tapas bar will let you order half or full plates and has the most extensive meat menu in Barcelona. If you make a reservation, you can grab one of their tables and ask more questions about the menu. I also recommend the spicy olives. They will burn your mouth but they are delicious. My mom brought a bottle of their hot sauce home, which goes well on potato chips.
More Barcleona Tapas Bars Add to Your Itinerary
If you are feeling adventurous, you can fight for chorizo at Can Paixcano. (They have the most delicious sparkling rose wine. Buy a bottle to share.) We went early on a Saturday night and there was nowhere to move. We ordered two types of chorizo recommended by a local, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else while eating our chorizo with toothpicks. It was intense.
If you like playing with fire, the flaming chorizo at La Tasca El Corral. This pub-tavern-tapas bar offers and extensive menu, but the most unique thing on it is the flaming chorizo. You must frantically stir it until the flame goes out to properly cook your sausage. It’s unique and delicious. If you’ve never tried vermouth, this is the place to try it. Served over ice, it is sweet and goes down easily. Proceed with caution, but try it any way.
Barcelona is filled with all kinds of sweet treats, if you know where to find them. There seems to be gelato everywhere, but skip the known quality and head for the local delicacies.
Churros with Chocolate
Let’s be real, churros and chocolate should be one of the main events. First of all, it matters where you buy your churros. I made the mistake of believing that all churros were good churros. False. My first churro was so bad, I almost didn’t eat another one. Fortunately, we had a guide who introduced me to some of the best churros in Barcelona. You’ll want to go early or risk waiting in a LONG line, but it’s worth it when they are warm.
The same goes for chocolate for dipping. Get the good stuff. Go to one of the oldest cafes in Barcelona. (Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s old.) One thing to remember is that European chocolate isn’t going to be as sweet as the stuff in the States. When you order hot chocolate, it’s as thick as melted chocolate, and it might even be a little bitter. You can add cream, milk, or even sugar to make it a little more palatable. I found the bitter chocolate to be a tasty contrast to the sweetness of the churros.
EAT & DRINK: Granja (for chocolate for churros)
Chocolates & Nougat (and More)
In the Borne neighborhood (very close to the Gothic Quarter) is La Campana. This place has been serving delicious treats since 1890. One of their specialties is nougat, which they generally have readily available to try. My mom will tell you that it tastes like peanut butter, but the shop owner was quick to correct her. (Hilarious!!) You know I can’t resist chocolate with hazelnuts, so that’s what came home with me… twice. In fact, I delighted myself by remembering I had some hidden in my camera bag while writing this post.
Bonus: They are open late when you’re craving a sweet treat.
For Nuts (and More Chocolate)
I love Macadamia nuts almost as much as I love hazelnuts. You know what I love even more than that? Triple-dipped chocolate dipped Macadamia nuts. (I truly fell in love with them in Hawaii.) Casa Gispert can make all your sweet and salty dreams come true. With their own in-house roasting, they offer a myriad of delightful treats that will satisfy anyone – and are super easy to bring home as souvenirs. (They have a lot of delicious things that you could bring home as souvenirs.)
Best Tapas in Barcelona?
Impossible to choose. We only scratched the surface of the tapas scene. We didn’t even find our way into a traditional Barcelona restaurant. And, to be quite honest, I’m not mad about it. I’m absolutely thrilled with how the food came out for our first trip to Spain. Seriously. It was the one thing I was most nervous about, and it turned out great. I do recommend scheduling your own Barcelona tapas tour, letting your guide know what your dietary interests are, and taking it from there. I also recommend picking up a copy of Top 10 Barcelona. It gave me a much better idea of the different types of tapas and what I might want to try. With a little (or a lot) of research, you can have a tasty trip, too!
I’m trying something new – I’ve started collecting my trip recommendations and putting them as a trip on TripAdvisor. Hopefully this can help you, if you’re looking to save any or all of these recommendations! You can find me under Journey of Doing!