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Apr 24, 2013 10:13 PM

Barcelona Food Tour and Restaurants

We got back from 5 days in Barcelona a few weeks ago and still can't stop thinking about the food. We didn't go for the hyped up places, Tickets, Montiel or 41 Degrees for example, but ended up getting spectacular "insiders" recommendations from the folks at Aborigens Barcelona. More about them and their fantastic food tours in a minute. Our two favorite meals were at Llamber and La Estrella, both unpretentious, full of locals and high on quality and taste.

Restaurants meals aside, we had our best food and drink on our trip during a four hour "locals" food tour we did with Aborigens Barcelona. We met our tour guides Àlex and Francesc at noon and quickly ventured into a part of the city we hadn’t considered, far from the tourists, embarking on a very comfortable and casual gastronomic exploration that lasted the afternoon. Vermouth, wine, beer all perfectly coupled with food – anchovies, olives, escargot, the classic tomato bread, a very unique take on patatas bravas, and endless other enjoyments I’ve forgotten the name of. These guys know the city and share their knowledge willingly. The tour certainly lives up to its promise of delivering an “insiders” experience as we likely would never have found any of the bars, bodegas, or restaurants we visited ourselves. By far and away, the best thing we did during our stay.

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  1. Holy crap! I just looked at the tour prices. I'm in the wrong line of work.

    2 Replies
    1. re: SnackHappy

      We had the opposite feeling. We did the Feast On tour at 110 euros, which included 14 tastings, 8 drinks, fantastic tour guides, discovery of restaurants/bars we didn't know existed, and lots of laughter. It was the best value for experience of our entire trip to southern Spain.

      1. re: emroslansky

        You say "we" so I'm guessing two people. At that price that's pushing US$300. For a half day at most. Except for Tickets Bar, we probably spent that much in a week. Too rich for my blood. BTW, welcome to CH.

    2. I just got back a few weeks ago from 5 days in Barcelona and 3 in the Costa Brava. Sorry you missed Tickets - it was really fabulous and qualifies as one of my top 3 meals of all time. It would be worth a trip back to Barcelona just to eat there again. TOTALLY incredible food.

      We enjoyed Bar Pinotxo and El Quim de la Boquería in the market which were both as good as Paco Meralgo (way too crowded) and with fewer tourists and lower prices. Seafood restaurant El Pescadors near Barcelonetta was also outstanding and mostly locals. Tapas 24 was basic, very good and also filled with locals and quite good. Currently I'm having a severe case of tapas withdrawal!

      1. I have been luring on this subforum for about a month, and home I have done enough homework to try a question. I may start a new thread too, but right now, I mostly want help choosing a food tour.

        I am from California, and will be joining my sister and her book club from N. Caroline, for a 7 day cruise of Western Mediterranean, starting with three days in Barcelona, in mid June. I have been tasked with finding restaurants, and in the process, mentioned the food tour mentioned in this thread. About four folks have expressed interest, and now I feel responsible for making a good choice. I do not know any of the travelers other than my sister, and don't yet know their budgets. Also, although I have taken at least 5 years of Spanish in school, and hear it daily, I don't speak or read Spanish. I can understand a bit, at least the variety heard here in California.

        In addition to this tour, I have seen mention of two others, and wonder if anyone can offer next steps.


        Taste Barcelona

        Barcelona Taste

        Thanks in advance!

        37 Replies
        1. re: Shrinkrap

          Don't worry about the language. I was just telling some friends yesterday that I was hardpressed to find anyone who DIDN'T speak English :) I'd ask someone "Habla Engles?" And the answer would generally be "How can I help you?"

          Not familiar with tours so maybe others can help there. As much as I love food, there's a lot in Barcelona that has nothing to do with it, so I would spend ALL my time doing that.

          1. re: c oliver

            Okay, thanks!

            And the language comment was because of the websites. While all of the tour ones "magically" appear in English, but not so the restaurants.

          2. re: Shrinkrap

            We went out with thebarcelonataste tour in March and had a good time. The tour guides were a lot of fun and much younger than us (seems like everyone is nowdays) - early 30s maybe vs. us 50s. It was just the two of us with two guides and was our first night in Spain - so we decided to do the tour to get indoctrinated to tapas bars. Went to some places we were not aware of after our detailed research. I would recommend them.

            1. re: Shrinkrap

              Hi Shrinkrap,

              Another company that is great and I have used for various tours is called Spanish Trails. They do an awesome Tasting tour in Barcelona that is food, wine, history and local culture. Was a huge help when I first moved to Barcelona! I have also done their Priorat winery tour which was terrific and their Gourmet Tour, which was one of the most impressive tasting tours I´ve ever done (and I exclusively travel via tasting tour!) It is run by an American so the english part is not problem. Check out their selection of food & wine tours:
              Highly recommend!!

              1. re: Neoyorquino

                +1 for Spanish Trails. We just did the tapas tour with them about 10 days ago. I am not normally an organized tour type of person, but it was perfect for jet-lag night. Andrew, our guide, just led the way and took care of us so that we didn't have to think! It was also a great way to get oriented to the various neighborhoods, and we walked a fair amount - also great after being cooped up on a plane so long.

                1. re: VaPaula

                  Jet-lag night. Ah, yes, know it well. I think something like that makes a world of sense. Thanks for sharing your experience.

                  1. re: VaPaula

                    More ideas for jetlag night please. The rest of the group is from NC and are planning a 3 PM Barcelona tour,but I am from California, and am usually tired enough to throw up after a redeye to the east coast. Should I be okay by 8 with a few hours sleep?

                    1. re: Shrinkrap

                      I have no earthly idea. 1. I don't know you, and 2. Everyone reacts differently to jet lag. For me (coming from the East Coast), sleeping when I get to Europe during the day just throws me off for days. Others need to take a nap. If your reaction to jet lag is that bad (and it sounds like it!), I wouldn't plan anything that requires 1. a reservation/commitment, and 2. money/deposit that you won't get back if you don't show. Just my two cents.

                  2. re: Neoyorquino

                    +1 for the Gourmet Tour with Spanish Trails.

                    I've become a huge fan of Spanish Trails after taking their Gourmet Tour. Before the tour began, I wondered how the company would pull off a successful small-group experience in Barcelona's typically small restaurants/bars. And I wondered how I would eat, drink, and walk for six hours. (Okay, I admit that my husband and I shared a taxi with a much younger participant back to our respective hotels at the end of tour, but the tour was so well conceived and executed that my other concerns were irrelevant.)

                    We began at a 30-person restaurant eating two reasonably substantial dishes: a slice of semi-cured foie gras and a cannelloni stuffed with meltingly tender beef cheek filling. We drank lovely cava with these two dishes. Amazing. In fact, the food was so delicious, that we tried to make a reservation for dinner there our last night in Barcelona. Unfortunately, the restaurant had been fully booked by a corporate function, but this will be the first place I make a reservation the instant we decide to go back to Barcelona.

                    The quality of the first stop never diminished. We next enjoyed three delicious dishes with the appropriate wines followed by an amazing dessert (chocolate ganache with olive oil and salt was impressive for its quality, its unexpected juxtaposition and it flat-out deliciousness.)

                    Stops three and four focused on the way food and wine are part of socializing. We drank house-made vermouth at one stop and delicious red wine from a porron (I wimped out) at the other stop. Both were accompanied by wonderful snacks: olives and roasted padron peppers.

                    Stop five included a lesson in how to make pan con tomate which we happily consumed augmented by killer Jamon Iberico del Bellota and five sublime raw milk cheeses. You can't even begin to understand what a treat the cheese was to we Americans who have no access to raw milk cheeses.

                    Our final stop represented the modern style of Barcelona cuisine. We were served three types of mini-desserts, each one a juxtaposition of unexpected flavors.

                    The walk between each destination was far enough to make us welcome the next course.

                    The well chosen restaurants and specific dishes alone would have made the evening a huge success, but Danny's running commentary about Barcelona's history and food traditions (old and emerging) absolutely made the evening.

                    Everyone in our group was so enthralled by the experience that our group of strangers came together in shared contentment and easy conversation. Highest kudos Danny and Spanish Trails!

                    1. re: Indy 67

                      It would be great if you shared the names of the places you visited.

                      1. re: SnackHappy

                        I wonder if that would be fair to the tour guides. I had the same thought when I went, but wondered if that would take away from the business end of what they try to do.

                        FWIW, when I asked, they said it was okay.

                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                          Well, some of us don't need, want or can't afford to have our hand held when we're going around the city. I'm sure some of the places are already known to regulars on this board so there probably won't be that much damage. And I think the value of these tours is more in the convenience of getting lead around and the education you get and not so much in the places they choose to visit.

                          On top of that, these boards are all about sharing food tips. If you ate something great somewhere, it's only obvious that you should share it with everyone else.

                          1. re: SnackHappy

                            I see. Well, I liked it.

                            Again, for the record; the company was fine with me sharing. I just didn't get around to it.

                              1. re: SnackHappy

                                People pay good money for these tours. The livelihoods of those running these tours are also at stake here. You are not just paying for the food, but also for the knowledge of your tour guides. You've already gotten 2 tips from this discussion board alone. As someone who doesn't like tours, my next step would be to do my own research not just in this board but in others as well. Badgering people for answers they obviously don't want to give doesn't seem to be helpful.

                                1. re: sunbrace

                                  We all pay good money to gain the information we freely share in this forum. Sharing is what nice people do.
                                  Furthermore, I'm sure many of the commentators here are as capable of discussing the city and it's food, culture and history as well as many tour guides and could offer other visitors to this site real insight into the value of the tours that one-timers just can't offer.
                                  It's one thing to be impressed by a tour and another to know if it truly offered something special.

                                  1. re: caganer

                                    "one-timers just can't offer.""It's one thing to be impressed by a tour and another to know if it truly offered something special."

                                    That would be me! I am SO going back, but don't know that I will do any better. There is SO much going on!

                          2. re: Indy 67

                            As others have pointed out, this does little good without names of restaurants. We all know that BCN has amazing food. But it helps to name names :) In addition the places don't sound terribly Spanish or Catalan. Foie gras? Canneloni? Vermouth? I'm just confused honestly. Please give more info. Please.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I thought this was a thread about tours, not restaurants! In any case I believe I bought home one card, and took a picture of my favorite. I will try to find it.

                              1. re: Shrinkrap


                                I wrote my review specifically to highlight a wonderful, knowledgeable food tour experience and I posted the information in an appropriately titled thread. In a separate thread about dessert, I did reveal the name of the dessert-only restaurant because I felt I could provide a bit of information without disloyalty to the tour company responsible for a great experience in Barcelona. But, that's as far as I'm willing to go; I'm not going to ask permission of the company to share names.

                                In the spirit of sharing, I will talk about some of our non-tour food experiences in this thread and, over time, in other threads.

                                We ate Crema Catalan three times during our stay in Barcelona: at La Gardunya, at Ciudad Condal, and at Los Caracoles. The version at La Gardunya was the best. The custard/flan/cream mixture was richer and denser at La Gardunya and the caramelized crust seemed to use less -- if any -- sugar. I suspect the casserole was run under a gratin flame without the addition of sugar. This less-sweet version appealed to me more than the sugared hard crusts we encountered elsewhere. Interestingly, my husband who likes sweeter desserts than I do agreed that La Gardunya's version was the best. I guess the quality of the custard compensated for the less-sweet topping and this version won for him, too.

                                Our tapas meal at Ciudad Condal was less successful than we expected given the restaurant's reputation. One of the dishes we ordered was chicken and ham croquettes. We're familiar with the version Jose Andres serves in his tapas restaurants, Jaleo, in Washington DC, and we've always found them to be just "meh." We deliberately order this less-than-favorite dish because we wanted to see how one of the ranking tapas places in Barcelona would make them. While they were better than those at Jaleo -- the frying was handled more deftly -- the filling was still "meh." If there was any ham in the filling I couldn't identify it. However, there was more chicken in the filling so that was somewhat more flavorful than past versions.

                                Condal committed an unpardonable error in one of our dishes; the grilled razor clams were filled with grit. Who cares how well favored the clams are or how precisely the clams were cooked when each mouthful contains lots of crunch from bits of grit?

                              2. re: c oliver

                                I wrote the names of the dishes we ate the French and Italian way because those are the spellings I know best.

                                I've since looked at our list of foods. Here are the Spanish names for two of the dishes:
                                Foie is still Foie

                                Now, this doesn't quite address your challenge about the foods being authentically Catalan/Spanish. All I can say is that we encountered these foie or steak/foie combinations and canalones in several additional restaurants. La Gardunya served canalones. Bar Ramon serves grilled foie. Bar Mut served a steak and foie dish.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Foie gras being very Catalan is debatable but drinking Vermouth (vermut in Catalan) is old Catalan ritual mostly drank late morning or before dinner. It has gained popularity recently. Can find it at Quimet y Quimet, Bodega 1800, Xampanyet plus many bars. It is produced in Spain but not much if at all is imported to the US. Canneloni (canalons) is a popular traditional Catalan dish, probably brought to Catalonia by Italian immigrants in the 18th century.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    All those things are quite Spanish and or Catalan. In fact cannelones are a very traditional Catalan dish, and vermouth can be found on tap at many traditional bars.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Thanks everyone for the education about some of the dishes. My final question is what was the cost for the tour? The OP's cost was pretty high, IMO. TIA.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        That price (120 euro) sounds about right to me, although we got a discount (110 euro) because we had seven in our group.

                                        I asked the tour guide for a card at one of my favorite stops, and he initially joked and said that might make him unnecessary, then got me a card, and said if I emailed him he would get me the names of the other places. I had not thought about it that way before; I was just having to much fun to take notes.

                                        I think we finished at Rosal 34, too full to appreciate the five course meal. I will try to upload a picture I took there, and one of the tour guide. I mentioned I'd heard of his company through Chowhound, and he said he had just recently heard of it, through some recent customers.

                                        My other favorite was Basque, or something else not quite Spanish, owned and operated by brothers. I was in the most ethnically diverse neighborhood I saw during my travels (okay, there were many black people, and I'm black). He called it "working class. It featured pinchos. My favorites included lots of bacalao ( "or "salt fish", as it is called in Jamaica). Still trying to figure out name and location.

                                        1. re: Shrinkrap


                                          and pictures I was trying to add.The first picture is of our tour guide at a place that we learned about how to drink wine from a ? and various preserved meats, olives, and the like.

                                          For some reason I can't remember the rest (smile) The second is from what I think might be Rosal 34

                                          BTW, we finished with a ride on the subway, which was a hoot. I am originally from NYC, and currently live near San Francisco. Probably not the way to go if you aren't familiar with subways.

                                          1. re: Shrinkrap

                                            Yes! That's the place! It's all coming back to me no! I learned about cava. Some of the pictures on tripadvisor reminded me.


                                              1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                "... we learned about how to drink wine from a ?..."

                                                A porron.

                                                The one recommendation I have for all food tours is to offer their guests large squares of plastic to tie on as a bib at the porron stop!

                                                1. re: Indy 67

                                                  None of use even tried it, but he was a mensch! Something esle I remebred about that place with the porron. They spoke a sort of French-Spanish. The signs on the bathrooms were French.

                                                  Is that Catalan or Basque?

                                                  They had a cured beef that was like the iberico, and a variety of sausages including chorizo.

                                              2. re: Shrinkrap

                                                I'm sorry; I missed the price for this particular tour.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  Edited to add. Pictures from La Boqueria

                                      2. re: Shrinkrap

                                        Actually I disagree about the language. First most people in Barcelona speak Catalan, not spanish. I found many places where English was not spoken (places that weren't tourist oriented), but smiles, hand signals and a lot of flexibility worked and led to some really great experiences (it helps to have a list of common food translations so you can at least get an idea of the main ingredient).
                                        Of course if you go to a mercato you can order by pointing (although there were specials I couldn't take advantage of b/c I couldn't tell what they were).

                                        1. re: estnet

                                          People in Barcelona speak Catalan but they also speak "regular" Spanish. I also found it almost difficult to find anyone who didn't speak English. I'd approach someone and say "Habla Engles?" And the average reply would be "How can I help you?"

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Indeed, nearly 100% of residents of Barcelona speak Spanish whilst 60% of them speak Catalan. Of course, the signage is almost all in Catalan and you hear it everywhere and more particularly in the neighbourhoods north of Diagonal.

                                            I've never had any trouble getting service in Spanish. In fact, many people who work service jobs, especially in tourist areas, are from outside Catalonia and may not know much Catalan. Service in English is easy to find in central Barcelona. People get hired in tourist oriented jobs for their English skills.

                                      3. I've just come back to my hotel from dinner #3 in BCN and I must say they have all been highly serendipitous pleasures. I am traveling solo, arrived at each place around 8:45 (because I cannot deal with starting dinner at 10 like the Spanish), and in each case sat down immediately at the bar. Highly successful.

                                        Night 1: Tapeo (Born). Modern take on tapas. Started with the flash-fried eggplant with lime and honey, moved on to the pork ribs. Whoa. Delicioso. The eggplant was the star, although it is hard to say anything bad about glazed pork ribs.

                                        Night 2: Galatea (Gracia). Traditional Basque pintxos and cazuelas. Started with a herring pintxo (simple, super), moved on to veal and pea stew (not as good, but not bad either). Washed down with Estrella beer. Cheap, cheery, very friendly. Super local. Just bar stools.

                                        Night 3: La Pepita (Eixample). Star of the show and even better than Tapeo, which I did not think would be possible. Started with grilled artichokes with pork belly and crema. This was one of the best dishes I have had in years, until I moved on to my next plate, marinated sea bass with strawberries, balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, and baby spinach leaves. This sounded just bizarre but in the tasting was so delicious that I made the people next to me order it too. Unreal.

                                        I didn't know a thing about any of these places before wandering into each one. They were all so nice that now I think I need to move to Barcelona. I haven't been so happy with my food in years.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: travelmad478

                                          You've made me very happy just reading this :) I've occasionally had something so wonderful that I had to make others order it! I'm ready to head back. Thanks for a great writeup.

                                          1. re: travelmad478

                                            Whoops, my #2 place was actually called Gasterea. And the full name of #1 is "Tapeo, anem de tapas." For some reason I cannot edit my post. That's what you get for typing while in a food/wine fog!

                                          2. Just back from Aborigigens tour with Alex, and he and the tour were great! More later. Been to Hisop and Cinc Sentits so far, also great.