Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon over Xmas/NY with Vegetarians
Personally, I would stay away from restaurants that describe themselves as vegetarian in Spain. The few experiences that I have had have been all pretty awful--over-cooked, really oily vegetables, bizarre uses of tofu and seitan. There is not a long tradition of vegetarian cooking in Spain so it is all really trial and error--more error, in my opinion.
Here are some options in Barcelona:
Good vegetarian options, however, can be found at more modern Spanish restos. Mama cafe, in the Raval gets market fresh produce from the Boqueria and makes lots of yummy stir-fries (all with a Catalan touch) and revueltos (scrambled egg dishes that are staples of Catalan homecooking).
You might also want to go to Origen 99.9, a local chain specializing in traditional Catalan foods and uses locally produced and sustainable produce. They have both veg and non-veg options. A really good place to sample local flavors--try their cocas, which are like mini-thin crust pizzas with various vegetable toppings. Good place to try local cheeses. As a well as local olive oils and wines. They have multiple locations around the city.
If you are interested in going to the Gracia neighborhood, you might want to check out La Llesca. It bills itself as a bbq place but it has wonderful grilled veggie dishes (cooked on wood burning fireplace), cheese platters and salads. Plus it is cheap and very local.
I just returned from a trip to Portugal. We spent several nights in Lisbon and then traveled up the coast. On our flight home I commented to my husband that it was odd that they served few vegetables with their meals. Many meals were accompanied with fried potato chips and a simply-dressed salad, but no veggies. We did visit a couple of open mercados in Lisbon and Porto and they had an abundance of vegetables but their diet seemed to be high on seafood, pork, bread and pastries. This could be the "'tourist" food but we found this even in the countryside, so I don't know.
Lisbon is beautiful and has a so many pastelarias and little cafes. Do your vegetarians eat seafood? If so I highly recommend Solar dos Presuntos. There were many locals there and it was very crowded. The seafood was beyond compare. We had percebes (gooseneck barnacles), an octopus salad, grilled lobster, prawns and sole. Everything was prepared perfectly and the service was stellar. Here's a link to their website:
I have photos of some of our dishes if you're interested. I'm working on getting them posted on my blog, but haven't found the time yet (we've only been back a week). In any case, enjoy Lisbon and be sure to treat yourself to several pasteis de nata, they are heavenly little egg custard pastries and are my new love. The best I had were at the renowned Antiga Confeitara de Belem. http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/
Enjoy your trip!
Yes! All of the egg custard pastries are basicly pasteis de nata, but all are not pasteis de Belem. Only the best, as you mentioned, are found at Antiga Confeitaria and can be called pasteis de Belem. Kind of like there's lots of prosciutto in Italy, but none as wonderful as prosciutto de Parma. What I wouldn't give for one right now.
To the OP, this is an interesting and informative article about pasteis de Belem.