Before visiting Barcelona, silly, naive me thought Spanish food was nothing to get excited about—but I soon discovered that Barcelona is a fantastic food destination! With French influences from the north and Islamic and African influences from the south, there’s a lot going on in terms of spices and flavors. Its proximity to the Mediterranean also means there’s tons of fresh seafood. I’m pretty sure that the best meals I’ve had so far have been in Barcelona…and that’s a tough concession from a SoCal girl who believes in LA’s food scene like it’s a religion.
Here are my picks for the best restaurants and tapas bars in Barcelona, including some vegetarian and vegan options which are notoriously elusive in Spain:
El Xampanyet ($)
This tiny, unassuming tapas bar is tucked away in one of Barcelona’s old cobblestone streets, right across from the Picasso Museum. Go early when it opens for dinner at 7pm, because this place gets packed–and for good reason! If you can find some counter space and order drinks, you can stay after it “closes” at 11pm. I ate here on my first night in Barcelona and was completely wowed by the amount of flavor they pack into small bites. The atmosphere is also everything you’d want from a night in Spain: lots of drinking, lots of eating, and lots of happy, drunk people. This was my favorite night in Spain!
Try: We asked what was popular and ordered everything they mentioned, so you can’t go wrong doing that. But I loved their house-made white wine, the octopus, anchovy and sardine with bread, and tortilla española.
Pinotxo Bar ($$$)
If you’re looking for fresh—like pulled from the ocean hours ago and still alive minutes before it’s on your plate fresh—seafood, this is your place. It’s one of the first bars you’ll encounter when you walk into La Boqueria, Barcelona’s giant food marketplace (it reminded me of Pike Place in Seattle, but with its own produce and items unique to the region). Seating is limited at the bar, so you have to lurk around like a vulture and swoop in for seats once a party is done eating. I’d also recommend going early if you can stomach seafood as breakfast, because they run out of things like lobster by early afternoon.
Try: Their oysters tasted like they had come straight from the ocean; the prawns were buttery and almost tasted like lobster; the scampi (advertised to us as mini-lobsters) were also delicious.
for vegetarians & vegans:
Spain is a difficult place to visit or live if you have don’t eat meat, but Barcelona prides itself as a vegetarian-friendly city and does have a good amount of vegetarian and vegan options compared to other parts of the country. We came to Barcelona after visiting Granada, where fried foods and meat reigns supreme, so it was refreshing to see veggies that weren’t fried or drenched in oil on the menu!
This little vegetarian restaurant was right across from our Airbnb, so imagine how thrilled we were to pop on over and discover a veggie paradise two steps from our door. They gave us complimentary soup in little shooter glasses to start off our meal. This place is a little pricier, but every dish was beautifully presented and yummy. It felt like a very high-end restaurant in terms of the quality of food and atmosphere.
Try: roasted cauliflower, pasta stuffed with goat cheese (ravioli), anything with eggplant, their “tasting dessert” (comes with samples of 3 of their desserts)
Tersesa Carles ($$)
This place is in the hip and trendy University area. With the fridges full of colorful juices greeting you as you walk in, this restaurant exudes serious LA vibes. I loved the creative vegetarian and vegan options on the menu! Everything sounded so good. In addition, this restaurant had the most vegan options we saw, besides in places that only served vegan food. The price point was pretty similar to a meal you’d eat in a U.S. city like LA or Seattle, so by Spain standards it’s expensive. But it’s like vegan paradise, so #worthit.
Try: ravioli, any of their desserts, any of their juices
Yes, vegan donuts exist! And they arguably taste better than non-vegan donuts at this vegan deli tucked in a small, nondescript plaza (strangely named after author of 1984 George Orwell, and also ironically the first plaza in Barcelona to have security cameras) in the Gothic Quarter. This place was giving away huge chunks of chocolate vegan donuts as samples! And I had a couple of their deli sandwiches that were both very flavorful and filling. It’s really difficult to find a good vegan or dairy-free dessert in Barcelona, so hit this place up to satisfy your dietarily-restricted sweet tooth.
Try: DONUTS and anything else there!
Finally, I have some general recommendations for things to eat or drink (that you can get anywhere) while you’re in Barcelona:
- Grab a sample or a little cup of jamón (ham) at La Boqueria (the aforementioned food market), or order a ham and cheese plate at a restaurant. Dry-cured meat is a specialty in Spain; you’ll see giant aged pork legs just hanging around restaurants and meat shops/stalls.
- Manchego cheese is a mild Spanish cheese that goes perfectly with a slice of jamón and a glass of red wine!
- Spanish people eat churros con chocolate for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you dip a very fried churro into a cup of thick, semisweet chocolate. For breakfast. I know, it’s an amazing country. You can get this in any cafe.
- You can’t go wrong with paella! It’s a rice dish often served with seafood, but can be served with any kind of meat. They’re big, so get it to share.
- All of the wine. All of it. My favorite was a red called Blau, but most wines are really affordable and delicious!
- Vermut is a sweet spiced wine that comes with an olive. If you like wine or sweet alcohol, you’ll dig this.
- I’m not a beer-lover, but trying out the local beers whenever I travel is really fun because I tend to enjoy foreign beers more than American ones (anyone else feel this way?). The most common beer in Spain, brewed in Barcelona, is Estrella Damm. It has a really light, nutty, and pleasant flavor.
That’s it for my roundup of my favorite food experiences in Barcelona. Have you been to Barcelona or Spain? What were some of your favorite things to eat?
Look forward to some more content from my trip to Spain over the next couple weeks! If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see, let me know.