La Latina: Tapas are, of course, core to eating in Madrid, and it is especially popular to tapa hop - think bar hopping but for food (and usually drinks too!). Our first night had us in the La Latina area of central Madrid. This area is known for the highest concentration of tapas bars...it was like a dream come true! Our first stop was Txirimiri, a modern, high energy tapas bar with mostly standing room only. I wish I had been warned to wear a sling bag! We did
manage to find a couple bar stools and enough counter space for our food - it's not uncommon to be left standing with your food, but there is a restaurant space in the back with seating if you are lucky to find it open and available. Stading andeating was part of the experience! We started with a delicious Spanish omlette on bread, looked almost like a piece of pie on top. It was sweet tasting from the caramelized onions. Next we had some delicious croquettes which would become a staple of almost every meal we have in Madrid. We were off to a good start but the best was yet to come: the special "burger" was a pile of meat served on bread, smothered in a stroganoff-like sauce. It was soooo
good. Then came the mushroom risotto with foie gras on top, hello heavenly! It was prepared fresh, hot and savory. I may have licked the plate clean myself if that had been appropriate. These last 2 items were definitely among the best we had! I can still taste them now :). We eventually made our way to a restaurant down the road that was a little quieter and specialized in cured meats, yummy jamón ibérico and chorizo to be had. That's the beauty of "bar" hopping, you can move from place to place to have their specialties or if you're just looking for a change in scenery.
Mercado de San Miguel: This gourmet food market is on the site of an old
"traditional" market in a beautiful glass structure with cast-iron frame not far from the popular Plaza Mayor. It slowly lost relevance as hygiene of street markets were questioned and the city's growth outpaced the ability of the market to meet everyone's needs. Mercdo de San Miguel was born out of an interest to keep the market alive, now filled with high quality fresh foods including stalls for sushi, assorted tostadas (shrimp, fish and other toppings on crostinis), croquettes, vermouth on tap and fresh juice. We also had mini foie burgers, cheese fondue, traditional seafood tossed in vinegarette and delicious chocolate cake and apple strudel to finish off our fun meal. It takes some patience to secure a spot at the share tables in the middle of the market, but most people were quick to eat and move on. This was a great way to try many different things under one roof, we took turns wandering the market for dishes and drinks to try.
Chimi & Churri: Tony and I stumbled upon this little place near Puerta del Sol that Andrew had pointed out during one of our walks. We wanted to escape the restaurants right around the plaza to avoid (best we could) over-priced tourist traps. We were starving by the time we sat down at the bar, and as we wrinkled our noses and squinted at the overhead blackboard in an attempt to remember what the Spanish words meant, the server kindly offered us a menu with English translation...whew. I think we would have managed anyhow but it was still a nice reprieve. We blindly ordered everything we had appetite for, completely underestimating the portion sizes: chorizo sausage, grilled sweetbread, ham with mushrooms, garlic shrimp tostada and a meat empanada. In true tapa style, we did not think much about the amount we ordered, but it turns out a couple of these were full entree size - I'm sure they wre on the tapas menu, maybe they should have specified for how many people. Oops. The food in this little cafe was good although I would have liked for the server to tell us we were in way over our heads! This was a simple, no frills place for some traditional foods. Had we not completely over-ordered, our meal would have been a pretty good deal :). Next time maybe we'll just try the 10€ prix fixe.
We were hungry for a quick bite before heading to the zoo on our last day in Madrid (how could I resist the opportunity to see baby pandas??). We passed by Viena Capellanes not far from Plaza de Espana and decided to stop in. Although a chain restaurant that does some catering, we were pleasantly surprised with the food. Our favourite was the tripe, a popular local dish, served tender and in a savoury sauce that was a bit curry-like. Yum! We also had another Madrid favourite, broken eggs with chorizo on fries and a blood sausage cannelloni with pine nuts. All delicious! We try hard to avoid chains or "tourist traps," but this place was pretty good.