Madrid, March, 8 days
We all have our particular tastes: mine is for rustic over refined, local over international, honest over precious. I would not mind spending money on grand meals if they made me happy, but overwhelmingly when I eat at the grand restaurants I long for the simpler local favorite. I hate restaurants frequented by tourists, which I know seems somewhat self-hating, but my experience is that tourists = bad food. With that preamble, let me ask the board where I should eat in Madrid in March.
I have divided the restaurants into seafood, meat, tapas and other. Amongst seafood places I would like to dine at the local favorites that are not too expensive. I am quite sure these will be good enough for my peasant tastes, with the Spaniard's emphasis on ingrediants that I have read so much about. So El Combarro is out:
La Taberna del Puerto
El Gran Barril (a chain?)
Do any of these places fill the bill?
In the second category, meat. Any of these places recommended?:
Next, tapas. This is hard I know, people tend to recommend areas rather than specific places. I have scanned Chowhound and eGullet for recs. I have to add, we are not going to be drinking more than one glass of wine if that, and I am very unlkely to want to go to several places in an evening. We are probaly going to bed early and not keeping Spanish hours. Finally, we will probably spend a disproportionate time in the Prado and at Salamanca, because we both love window shopping and art. Can anyone propose a few starting points or some classic recs? Two I found were:
Txirimiri, General Díaz Porlier 91 914014345
Finally, other. These are some varied recs I have written down:
Chocolatería San Ginés, Pasadizo San Ginés 5 913656546
Taberna de la Daniela, General Pardinas 21 915752329
Casa Lucio, Cava Baja 35 913658217
Maceiras, Huertas 66 914295818
El Ventorrillo Murciano, Tres Peces 20 915288309
My tastes are similar to yours, so first a few thoughts for lunch near the Prado. You could do worse than stop for lunch in its new cafeteria, but if you want to get out for a while, you would probably like Maceiras (there's also a branch around the corner in the Plaza de Jesus) a lively Gallego restaurant with a nice, fairly inexpensive menu and good seafood. Also nearby are La Plateria, with a good selection of tapas and raciones (across the Paseo from the Murillo entrance), the Museo del Jamon (a little further down the Paseo) and El Tempranillo (a great place for good, quick, cheap bocadillos and other delights) in the square across from the Reina Sofia. La Sanabresa (good, cheap home cooking and always crowded with local people) in the Calle Amor de Dios. I have grown fond of the Cerveceria Cervantes (great tostadas, gambas al ajillo, pulpo etc) in the Plaza de Jesus.
All these are open in the evenings too. If you don't want to keep Spanish hours, you might not manage a meal at El Ventorillo Murciano - I've been trying for four visits as it has been spoken of so enthusiastically here, and have never found it open when I want to go no later than 9pm - and even then it's completely empty, which isn't really inviting. I suppose it wakes up at around 10-11, but I'm usually asleep by then.
Another favourite of mine is Casa Mingo, next door to the church of San Antonio de la Florida (Goya's frescoes). It's an Asturian cider houser, a huge family place, open all day and evening and always crowded at mealtimes, with excellent roast chicken, delicious chorizo in cider, and great Asturian cider.
Others will comment on your restaurant list - I haven't been to any of them. But unless you are unredeemably allergic to tourists you might want to try Botin. It's a Tourist Destination, of course, but Madrilenos go there too, and it's despite its popularity with the tourists is still a serious restaurant serving good food. Cochinillo or lamb are both excellent. They've got a 38 euro menu consisting of gazpacho (the gazpacho course might change when it isn't summer) cochinillo, and desert, including bread and a half litre of decent wine. I've eaten there twice: the second time I asked if they could substitute the lamb for the cochinillo, which I'd had the first time, and they did, without demur.
You could also just not make too many plans. Where are you staying? Most neighbourhoods have decent places to eat - just follow your nose and eat where you see lots of locals are eating.
Have a great time.
re: Julie Friedeberger
Thank you for your excellent and detailed reply. I think we will be staying in the area of the opera, at either the Hotel Opera or Meninas (sister hotels?): both have been well-reviewed in numerous places, seem reasonable, and I find hard to resist their booking web client, which makes the stay's cost so clear.
First, excellent hotel choices. Really centrally located and good service from all I've heard. Do you speak Spanish? There is an excellent site http://11870.com where people write their comments about businesses of all types including restaurants. You can search for places by location, type, keywords, etc. and from reading the comments make an informed choice about where you want to go. I agree with Julie on Botin as a must for your visit. As she says, both tourists and locals go there (for the last 300 years or so), reliably good food and if you're looking for Spanish rustic, that has to be at the top of the list. Another Madrid classic, also around the corner from your hotel is La Bola in Calle de la Bola. Since you have until March to make all your plans, I'm sure that many more suggestions will be posted.
If you haven't decided on a hotel, perhaps you should consider staying nearer to the Prado, as you intend spending a great deal of time there. And unless you feel you need all the accoutrements of a hotel, you could think about staying in a hostal. If you haven't been to Madrid before, hostals aren't hostels, they are small, private establishments that offer good accommodation for a reasonable price. I stay at the Hostal Gonzalo, in the Calle Cervantes: it's a stone's throw from the Prado and even closer to the Thyssen, and near all the eating places I mentioned in my post above. It's comfortable, clean, and quiet, run by nice people, and a double room is 55 euros a night. I have stayed there several times and like it better than any hotel at double or triple the price. Check Tripadvisor for reviews, which are almost all enthusiastic. There are two other hostals in the same building, and several more in the immediate vicinity.