Endless tapas and incredible bars are all over Madrid
We love a down-and-dirty tapas crawl as much as the next chowhound -- who can resist Serrano ham croquettes and slices of ooey-gooey Spanish omelet? -- but what sets Madrid apart from other Spanish cities is its nueva cocina scene that throws the rulebook out the window. For that type of cooking, there’s no hotter barrio than Chamberí, in northern Madrid. Jump-start your salivary glands at DeAtún, a tuna-obsessed cubbyhole serving tartares, salads, tatakis -- you name it -- made from melt-on-your-tongue Almadraba tuna, a rare Andalusian delicacy.
Three doors down you’ll hit Arima -- though chances are the smell of flame-licked beef will hit you first. You can’t go wrong with the juice-spurting txuleton steak that seems to grace every other table, but the vegetables sourced from chef Nagore Irazuegi’s family farm are the sleeper hit on this modern Basque menu: A recent special was spoon-tender leeks anointed with fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of jamón salt.
From Arima it’s a 15-minute downhill -- gracias a dios -- walk to PerretxiCo Chamberí, whose cocido donut is the current “it” tapa the Spanish press can’t stop fawning over. You see, until chef Josean Merino came along with his alchemy, nobody had ever thought to turn cocido -- that abuela-approved Spanish stew of chickpeas, sausages, and umpteen sundry meats -- into a donut. Like frying a twinkie, the idea defied logic but sparked something deep in the reptile brain that made Merino want to keep experimenting and experimenting. The final formula: Two rings of yeasted dough wrapped around the mushed-up cocido ingredients and fried to golden perfection. The only thing missing was the broth, which Merino ladles into an espresso cup beside the donut… Dip, bite, slurp, repeat.
To scratch your sangría-and-paella itch, hit up Mercado de San Miguel, a sunny indoor gastro-market/tourist magnet that also hawks thinly sliced buttery jamón, spicy chorizo, pastries, and even sushi. For a fancy dinner, try the tasting menu at DiverXO, a three-Michelin-star wonder specializing in boundary-breaking molecular gastronomy. Or keep it more casual at the buzzy, counter-service-only meat emporium Sala de Despiece or the homey Los Asturianos, which serves Spanish comfort favorites like tender pork and succulent lamb.
Madrid doubles as a fantastic drinking town, with more bars per capita than any other European city and a nightlife that extends till the break of day. Hotel rooftop bars abound; the best are atop the eco-focused ultra-modern The Hat and the boutiquey Only YOU Atocha. Coctelerías like MACERA Taller Bar are famous for Spanish-style gin and tonics, delivered in heavily garnished fishbowl-sized glasses, and you can score craft cocktails on the cheap (at least by New York and Paris standards) at spots like 1862 Dry Bar. You absolutely must visit the historic La Venencia sherry bar, a nearly century-old haunt once frequented by Ernest Hemingway with dusty old bartenders pouring even dustier bottles of world-class sherry.