Among Barcelona spots for hungry gourmands, we’ve loved the following:
Alkimia, Carrer de la Indústria (in the Eixample), 79; tel. 93-207-6115. With one Michelin star, this is where “chef Jordi Vila is turning out some of Barcelona’s most ultramodern cuisine,” according to Michael Schachner in the Wine Enthusiast. His “guinea-fowl terrine with pistachio and green-apple guacamole is avant garde and downright delicious.”
Abac, Carrer del Rec, 79-89 (in the Barri Gotic), tel. 93 319 6600. With one Michelin star, chef Xavier Pellicer “blends modern and classic Catalan touches, with dynamite results.” One house specialty, roast suckling pig, with its crispy lacquered skin and meltingly tender flesh, is a traditional classic.
Ca l’Isidre, Les Flors 12 (in the Raval district), 93-441-1139, a long-standing favorite restaurant for classic Catalan cuisine, prepared with meticulous attention under the supervision of delightful chef-owner Isidro Girones—whose daughter, pastry chef Montse Girones, turns out an impressive array of desserts. Isidro is one of the chefs you’re apt to spy in the Boqueria of a morning, hefting mushrooms, casting an eye on the fish, gently squeezing the tomatoes. Fresh and delicious, the food here is elaborate, sumptuous, stylish, but never outlandish. Catalan food authority Colman Andrews calls this unequivocally “the best restaurant in Barcelona.” And that’s saying a lot.
Cal Pep, Plaça de les Olles, 8, tel. 93-310-7961, in the resurrected El Born district near Carrer Montcada, is mandatory for any food-lover. Delicious offerings and the compelling excitement of the place mean that this tiny tapas bar is always thronged—it’s clearly where everyone wants to be. No reservations at the bar, where you might wait for an hour before finding a seat, but one of five tables can be booked for a somewhat less chaotic environment in the shoebox restaurant out back. Amazingly fresh, high-quality fried and grilled seafood—shrimps, tiny clams, baby squid and octopus, fish large and small—are part (but only part) of the appeal; you may also, depending on the season, find fried artichokes, impeccably grilled little green pimientos de Padron, classic tortillas, wild mushrooms fried with sweet red peppers and garlic—or anything else that struck owner-chef Pep’s fancy on his morning tour of the market.
Can Gaig, passeig de Maragall 402; tel. 93-429-1017. Refinements on old-style Catalan dishes and creatively inventive modern ones presented by chef-owner Carles Gaig, whose great-grandmother established this restaurant almost 200 years ago—and yes, it’s three years or so younger than Set Portes (see below). It gets praised for excellent service and “first-quality creative cuisine.”
Can Majó, calle Almirall Aixada, 23, tel. 93-221-5455, with its sunny terrace looking over the sea front in Barceloneta, is a classic stop for both paella lovers and fans of suquet, the Catalan version of fish stew. Can Majó’s reputation for first-class seafood is unassailable.
Casa Calvet, c/ Casp, 48 (in the Eixample); tel. 93-412-4012. Delightful food and a fine wine list with rather formal, old-fashioned service; the real reason to go here is the opportunity to dine in a stunning, Gaudi-designed, Catalan modernist dining room.
Commerç 24, c/ Commerç, 24, tel. 93-319-2102, is a chic—industrial chic, some reviewers say--high-style tapas bar where chef Carles Abellan, who trained under Ferran Adrià, is apt to serve house-made potato chips with an olive foam, just to emphasize the nuevo catalan theme of the place. His signature “Kinder egg” is an egg shell filled with soft egg, truffles, and potato foam. Nothing is as it seems.
Espai Sucre, c/ Princesa, 53; tel. 93-268-1630. This astonishing place serves almost nothing but dessert--but dessert like you’ve never had it before. Check out their magret of duck with a cacao and lemon sponge cake, for instance, or suckling pig with mustard ice cream.
Inopia, Tamarit 104 (near Mercat de Sant Antoni at Eixample Esquerra); tel. 93-424-5231 proclaims itself as a classic tapas bar, but the fact that it is owned and operated by Albert Adrià, younger brother of world-famous Ferran, gives it considerable cachet. It’s a neighborly place that is at the same time vibrant and jazzy, with an excellent wine list. Reviewers praise cumin-seasoned lamb skewers and a “spectacular” ensaladilla rusa (potato salad infused with tuna).
La Vinya del Senyor, Plaça de Santa Maria, 5; tel. 93-310- 3379. In the small plaza in front of the handsome Gothic church of Santa Maria del Mar, this is the place to sample wines from all over Spain, both the noble potentates and the young, relatively unknown upstarts. Good tapas (“boutique salamis,” according to one reviewer) and cheeses are also served, but the focus is on wines, by the bottle or the glass. Spare room for the coca with candied red peppers however.
Quimet y Quimet, c/ Poeta Cabanyés, 25, tel. 93-442-3142. Tiny and crowded, especially at lunchtime, this little bar serves nothing but tapas made from canned, jarred, and otherwise preserved food. But don’t be put off—here’s the place to sample the incredibly high quality of Spanish conservas, including, in the words of New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser, “squid, sea cucumber, ruby colored slices of bluefin tuna, leeks in oil, bottarga, artichokes, two kinds of anchovy--white and pink--red peppers, caviar, smoked fish, foie gras and roasted pig's cheek,” just for starters. Improbably, it’s worth the trip.
Set Portes (Siete Portas), Passeig d’Isabel II, 14; tel. 93-319-3033. A Barcelona institution since 1836, this is probably the oldest and certainly one of the handsomest restaurants in town, serving the ultimate in fresh seafood prepared in traditional ways. This is the place to sample an impeccably prepared Barcelona paella or fideua (paella made with spaghetti noodles instead of rice)—a different one is served each day.
In Roses (Girona province, north of Barcelona):
El Bulli, Cala Montjoi 30, tel. 972-150-457. Ferran Adria’s temple to what is probably the world’s most innovative cuisine, open for dinner and occasionally for lunch, April through September. Reservations required, best if done one year ahead. Enough said?
In Sant Celoni (Barcelona province, north of Barcelona):
El Racó de Can Fabes, c/ de Sant Joan, 6, tel. 93-867-2851. Santi Santamaria is the chef and owner of this Michelin two-starred restaurant that is often mentioned as a foil to El Bulli’s Adria. Here the cuisine is less of a fantasy but nonetheless inventive, while remaining deeply rooted in the products and traditions of Catalan cuisine. Open for lunch and dinner.
In Sant Pol de Mar (Barcelona province, north of Barcelona):
Sant Pau, c/ Nou 10, tel. 93-760-0662. Carme Ruscalleda’s jewel box of a restaurant is easily reached by train from Barcelona, just an hour away. Ruscalleda’s imaginative interpretations of traditional ingredients have brought her the glamor status of three Michelin stars, one of the few women chefs in the world—and the only one in Spain--to have achieved such recognition. Open for lunch and dinner.