Essential Barcelona: What to Eat Right Now and Where to Find It
If you’re planning to explore the local food scene in Barcelona, what to eat may be top of mind.
From olive oil to anchovies, calçots to cava, there is an incredible variety of flavors just waiting to be appreciated. So many, in fact, that it’s nearly impossible to taste them all in a single trip. Believe me, I tried.
Having failed at my mission, I decided to ask nine frequent travelers to help fill in the gaps. Read on to discover their top picks of what to eat in Barcelona and where to find it.
Barcelona: What to Eat and Where to Find It
Jennifer & Tim, Luxe Adventure Traveler
Ever try a dish while traveling that is so good that you’re left dreaming and drooling over it for years to come? That’s precisely what happened while visiting Llegums Cuites Isabel in the Gracia neighborhood with Devour Barcelona Food Tours. This little shop is tiny and located on a quiet street. It’s not likely the kind of place you just stumble across, though if you happened to find your way there the line of locals stretching out the door will probably leave you curious as to what all the fuss is about.
As the name implies, Llegums Cuites Isabel specializes in cooked beans and their albondigas (meatballs) with chickpea and bean gravy are famous in the neighborhood. Beans and peas balled up right in the tiny meatballs themselves then cooked in a delicious chickpea and bean gravy. You’ll definitely want to get an entire container for yourself. And don’t forget some bread to mop up all the extra sauce.
Gambes a la Planxa
Constance, The Adventures of Panda Bear
Since Barcelona is right off of the Mediterranean coast, the seafood is an amazing part of the cuisine. One of our favorite things to eat in Barcelona is gambes a la planxa or pan-grilled shrimp in English. Elsewhere in Spain, it is known as gambas a la plancha.
The best shrimp is always super fresh and served with their heads intact on a cast iron pan or a plate. They are typically lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and parsley. The adventurous usually eat the insides of the heads for some of that delicious hepatopancreas, also known as a digestive organ or tomalley.
We loved ordering the gambes at Cerveceria Catalana. This spot is popular with tourists and locals alike and is known to have some of the best food in Barcelona. Their gambes are grilled with garlic and topped with parsley. It had such amazing flavor! All of the dishes we ordered there were delicious and we would definitely go back. At Cerveceria Catalana, the shrimp are typically a seasonal tapas dish, it has been known to sometimes disappear from the menu. The restaurant is located smack dab in the middle of Barcelona in the L’Eixample area. They do not take reservations and there are typically long waits for a table – so be prepared!
Gelat (Ice Cream)
If you find yourself in the Gothic Quarter of BCN you should definitely try the local ice cream, or ‘gelat’ in Catalan. There are so many tempting stops as you walk around and you’ll soon find a place that suits your tastes.
Hidden away on the Carrer de Jaume, with an interior just like a 50s diner and a retro air, the Gelateria Italiana Pagliotta is a fun stop on your way around the neighborhood.
Barcelona has a fabulous Italian ice cream scene which steers away from the Instagram antics and new flavors of other cities. This is more about doing old favorites and making them the very best. As with many places on the continent, some flavors are common there but not really seen elsewhere, ideal for you to try on your culinary adventure. Dig into a gourmet Nutella flavor or the iconic crema Catalana which has a soft creamy taste.
At the Gelateria Italiana, not only is the ice cream delicious, but there are gluten and dairy-free options that will get your mouth watering. Try the creamy berry ice cream or dig into a lemony sorbet.
Gentle Italian music floats around and you can watch the world go by outside as you enjoy a treat. For me, it’s part of the perfect Barcelona day.
Another gorgeous option is the Gelaaati di Marco in Carrer de Llibreteria, where the flavors are fresh and lively and the atmosphere is more modern.
My husband and I were introduced to jamon just a few hours after landing in Barcelona and it was love at first bite. We were sitting at a tapas bar in El Nacional, looking around at the food being prepared, and noticed that well over half were plates of thinly sliced meat that looked quite similar to ham or prosciutto. And while all of these meats do come from the pig, jamon is in its own league. Jamon Iberico – the best quality of jamon – comes from black pigs fed a special diet of acorns. Then the large legs of the pig are dry cured for two to four years. Like great wine and cheese, this aging process is critical to the taste. Throughout Barcelona, we saw special jamon carving stands to hold these very pricey pig legs. And even the carving of the meat is trusted only to experienced carvers.
We had been fortunate enough to sit near the carving station and watched in awe of the care which was given to slicing every single piece of jamon. The carver saw us paying close attention and gave us each a small sample. It. Was. Delicious. Needless to say, many of our meals while in Barcelona managed to include jamon. We even considered purchasing a whole leg and having it shipped home until we learned that a leg can cost hundreds of dollars.
Since returning home to Southern California, we have fortunately found a local Spanish market so we can continue our love affair with jamon.
One of the most unique, delicious, and important dishes you can eat in Barcelona is a simple tapa called ‘la bomba.’ Just as it sounds, the small ‘bomb’ explodes with flavor — it’s a soft potato ball stuffed with meat and fried, served with traditional brava and aioli sauces.
The bomba speaks not only to Catalunya’s revolutionary spirit past and present but to the creativity of its chefs.
The best traditional bombas can be found at small spots like La Cova Fumada in Barceloneta, or my personal favorite, L’Anxoveta in Gracia.
Pan con Tomate (Pa amb Tomàquet)
Barcelona is one of the best places in all of Spain for tapas, and there are many types of tapas to try. However, the simple classic Pan con Tomate (literally, bread with tomato) is still my favorite.
A fresh baguette, sliced open lengthways, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with grated tomato (or even just rubbed with a thin layer of tomato) and another drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt to finish. This is simple, unpretentious food, but it’s the ultimate Spanish comfort food. You can taste the fresh, flavorful ingredients, and they all perfectly complement each other.
Pan con Tomate is ubiquitous in Barcelona, but my favorite tapas restaurant is Taller de Tapas. This chic, somewhat upscale restaurant serves truly delicious tapas. Other tapas may be fancier and claim to be more things, but even here, nothing beats this simple classic where the fresh ingredients all speak for themselves.
Paella is one of the classic dishes of Barcelona. Although Valencia is usually credited with having originated the dish, it is popular all over Spain, especially in Barcelona where seafood is king.
A less well-known but no less delicious dish is “Paella Negra” or black paella. It is made using many of the same ingredients used in a regular paella; seafood, rice, and the decorative veggies, red peppers and shrimp placed on top of the dish. The main difference, however, is that the rice is cooked with cuttlefish and squid ink which is what gives it its black color. In this dish, squid, cuttlefish, and calamari comprise a greater part of the ingredients than in a traditional paella.
Paella Negra is usually eaten during lunch, rarely during dinner. It is a classic, traditional meal eaten at weekend lunches with the whole family. It is also popular on “Menu del Dia” (discounted fixed price lunch) menu boards throughout the city, especially at tourist locations.
You can find Paella Negra anywhere in Barcelona. For a good meal at a more reasonable price, head for Barceloneta. The further away from the beach, the cheaper the restaurants get. Here is where you are also more likely to find the locals having lunch.
Patatas Bravas is one of the best dishes you can eat while you’re in Barcelona. The dish consists of white potatoes that have been cut into irregular cubes and then deep-fried. They are often served with a spicy tomato sauce, which fuses well with the potatoes. The dish is commonly ordered as tapas in bars, and it’s ideal to order alongside other tapas. The bigger shaped cubes give Patatas Bravas a different taste to French fries and the spicy tomato sauce gives them a kick which makes them even more delicious!
Arguably the best place to eat Patatas Bravas in Barcelona is Bar Tomás, which is located in the Sarria district of the city. This district is a bit far from the city center, but you can get a train there from central Barcelona in under 15 minutes. It’s a trip worth making because the bravas are phenomenal!
Xiuxos, known in Catalan as ‘chuchos’ (pronounced CHOO-chos) are originally from the city of Girona. But xiuxos have gained a reputation in Barcelona no thanks to Juanito Boyen, owner of the famous Bar Pinoxto in Mercat de La Boqueria Market. Out of 200 food stalls in La Boqueria, Bar Pinoxto (Stall No. 465, nearest to the La Rambla entrance) is well-loved for its xiuxos.
A xiuxo is a deep-fried pastry, rolled in sugar, and filled with crema de Catalan, a sweet custard filling that can also be eaten as a dessert on its own. The conical pastry looks like a sugary croissant but has the mouthfeel of a donut sans the heaviness.
This Catalan specialty is typically eaten for breakfast and is accompanied by a cup of tallat, more widely known in the rest of Spain as ‘cortado’. The tallat is a shot of espresso diluted with an equal amount of warm milk. The conservative taste of the tallat balances out the decadence of the xiuxo.
Xiuxos are meant to be ordered fresh as the longer it sits, the soggier it gets. Bar Pinoxto has been a prime breakfast spot for the Barcelonese since the 1940s. Earlier in the morning, you can dine with locals at this 14-stool bar but past 10 am, you’ll be lining up with fellow tourists for a taste of these xiuxos at a crowded restaurant. Be an early bird and ask for a picture with Juanito Boyen, who has become somewhat of a local hero.
Churros con Chocolate (A Bonus Pick from Me)
No list of what to eat in Barcelona would be complete without churros and chocolate! Like gelato in Italy, it’s an essential part of daily life in Spain. At least, it was for me. Churros con chocolate was a staple on the luxurious breakfast buffet at the hotel where I stayed.
The absolute best churros in Barcelona are at Xurreria Dels Banys Nous, a tiny little fry shop in the Gothic Quarter where they make everything fresh. Churros from Xurreria plus chocolate from La Granja 1872 is my idea of heaven!
In a city as rich in culinary treasures as Barcelona, what to eat is a deliciously rewarding quest destined to be the highlight of your stay in the Catalan capital.
Which of these foods are you most eager to taste?
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