One thing I've learned from eating out in Europe is, you shouldn't judge a restaurant by its cover. Unlike restaurants down-under (New Zealand and Australia) that have large street frontages which are quite open or with lots of glass; European restaurants, particularly in the older buildings, offer little insight or nada from the street. Most of the restaurant is hidden, kind of like an iceberg.
Until you walk right inside, through a hallway, up or down a flight of stairs or through a door to discover a courtyard, balcony or chamber, you'd simply have no idea. It's often the same with signage on the outside - it tells you very little. So it becomes quite the gamble deciding whether or not to walk in. What appears to look like a pretty lack-lustre joint can turn out to be the best meal you have in that city! And vice versa.
This happened to us SO many times throughout Europe, and Barcelona was no exception. Coming from New Zealand and Australia, the young countries, where all buildings are babies - brand spanking new - compared to those in Europe, it took some getting used to.
Most of these places I've listed below don't rank highly on TripAdvisor or have a proper website. We were usually the only tourists inside these restaurants, even though they're located in fairly touristy areas. These are all restaurants loved by locals.
From the outside, most of them look seriously "average". But their popularity with locals are a true testament and we have tried and tested them all, often more than once, so you can be sure that they serve delicious, really high quality food at very fair prices.
None of the restaurants below serve just Spanish cuisine either. Sad to say, we weren't big fans of traditional Spanish food although we had plenty of it. Paella, gazpacho, tortilla espanola, gambas al ajillo, patatas bravas and so on, but none of it was particularly exciting.
Most disappointing of all was tapas... I love the concept - yum char is after all one of my favourite weekend activities! Who wouldn't enjoy trying a bit of everything on small plates and all washed down with a good amount of wine, beer or sangria?! But from our experience throughout Spain, even at the cheap and cheerful places, the plates were so small that you'd only get a bite or two of something so you'd have to order more of course and, when the bill finally came, we'd be shocked at the price but not fully satisfied 🙁 Has this happened to you? Or were we just terribly unlucky?
Hopefully you've had a better experience with Spanish food! Regardless, if you're after something a little different in Barcelona, check out these restaurants - you won't be disappointed.
Located off the beaten track, in the back alleys of the El Raval neighbourhood, this trendy little Mexican bar is surrounded by sketchy-ness. If you're coming from La Rambla ways, you'll pass a stretch of working girls but DO NOT be put off. The girls are harmless anyway and this uber-cool place is 150% worth the journey!
El Pachuco is teeny tiny. There's at most, just 20 seats including a couple of stools by the windowsill outside, so there's usually a wait-list. You'll likely be waiting 15 - 20 minutes but again, it is sooo worth it. There are really good vibes here, they play a mix of old school, rock, hip hop, stuff that goes well with tequila.
There's a very impressive drinks list. They have an excellent range of top quality tequila, mezcal and other liquors for some potent cocktails. The classic margaritas are insanely delicious. Other places in Barcelona made margaritas with table salt (boo!) so we were very happy to receive these punchy numbers.
The staff are awesome, all really friendly and clearly loved their jobs. This could be partly due to the fact that half were fuelled with Mezcal Martinez which is a smokey mezcal concoction that's set alight and the fumes and drink are sipped through a straw while still in flames. We sat up by the bar which was lucky because we got to enjoy a few tequila shots with the bar tenders and waiters.
Yes, El Pachuco is technically a Mexican tapas place, but just look at the size of the plates! Definitely not the same as Spanish tapas. The tacos and nachos were all crazy, crazy yummy. It was a shame that we got too full to try anything else but looking around, all of the food looked superb. This is the perfect place to start for a big night out.
[Mon 20:00 - 02:30, Tues-Sun 13:30 - 02:30 | 110 C/de Sant Pau, 08001 Barcelona | +34 931 79 68 05]
We simply couldn't get enough of this modern Middle-Eastern restaurant. All of the food is super fresh and healthy and all vegetarian or vegan. You definitely don't miss the meat for a second - Matt is a meat-atarian and he adored this place. In fact he was the one to suggest returning several times. I'm not sure if he's even realised this place was vegetarian ha!
I can honestly say I've never tasted more delicious hummus! And the wine glasses here are also the biggest ones we'd come across the entire time we were in Spain and they filled them well 😀 Both the red and white house wines are very, very nice.
As soon as you're seated, they give you a little plate of crispy pita bread sticks sprinkled with za'atar (Middle Eastern herbs and spices) and this fiery sauce that is super addictive. Don't be shy to ask for more, the staff actually like it if you do because it goes with EVERYTHING.
They mix the music up here. One day there was some awesome exotic music that I could totally imagine belly dancing to, and the next day they played some chilled out indie-rock.
The set lunch menu, or menu del dia (menu of the day), is exceptional value - make sure you take advantage! For €11.90 you get:
- Range of beautifully fresh and tasty salads
- Pita bread (as much as you'd like)
- One of the following: Shakshuka, Falafel, Crumbed Tofu or Hummus
- Drink including very nice house wines
- Dessert or coffee
Make sure you try their hummus. They have a range of about six different types. My favourite was the Egyptian Beans Hummus which was incredibly nutritious and filling. It made me very excited about visiting Egypt later on.
You'll be super full by the end of your meal so it's a good thing the dessert is small but oh-so-good! This was our first time trying Malabi (Mouhalabiya in Arabic), a creamy milk-pudding perfumed with rose water.
I'm obsessed with everything flavoured with flowers so this was a dessert close to my heart. Later I learned that it's often eaten at Turkish Jewish weddings to symbolise the couple's sweet life ahead <3
[Mon - Sat 12:00 - 23:00 | Valencia 227, 08007 Barcelona, Spain | +34 934 61 80 44 | email@example.com]
Located just five minutes from La Sagrada Familia, this Egyptian restaurant is a prime example of an 'iceberg' restaurant. From the outside it looks almost like a tabacchi store or some other interesting corner store... We were apprehensive entering to say the least but, at 4pm when most other restaurants and cafes around were closed, we were desperate.
TUT turned out to be the best surprise ever! Although it's quite dark and hot in the front area, it opens into a very well air-conditioned, ancient Egyptian decorated set of rooms with super comfortable seating. There's a room out the back where you can smoke shisha.
We ordered some dishes with a mix of beautiful humus and other smokey, spicy and tangy dips. The falafels were exquisite. Crisp and charcoaled on the outside and moist and fluffy on the inside. All of the food is very more-ish, healthy and there are plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. Mains are priced between €6 - 11.
If you want to avoid the touristy, overpriced sub-par (mainly tapas) restaurants surrounding La Sagrada Familia then head this way!
[Calle Provenca 369, 08025 Barcelona | +(34) 935 28 65 06]
Another 'iceberg' of a restaurant, El Dorado looks a bit like a dodgy pub from the street. Once you pass the hideously bright white LED-lit bar, you’ll discover a gorgeous, quaint Peruvian setting.
The menu is limited but everything is done top quality. There's an English menu as well but there are definitely less items on this one - great sign of authentic food! Looking around at the tables full of Latino-looking people is another good indication. Everyone here orders up big time - the tables are all covered with dishes and large jugs of sangria.
Because this was our first meal after landing in Barcelona, we were ravenous and hoovered everything before there was chance for a photo! But believe us, the roast chicken is delish! Well duh, it's called El Dorado Chicken..
Also you've got to try the Ceviche de Pescado - fresh fish marinated in lemon, chilli, coriander and onion, perfectly paired with sweet potato, plantain (a type of savoury banana) and choclo or cuzco corn (giant Peruvian corn) done two ways and . Also the Frijoles con Seco de Cordero - melt in your mouth lamb marinated in Peruvian spices with beans and rice is the ultimate comfort food.
[Mon - Sun 13.30 - 22.45 | Carrer de Balmes 122, 08008 Barcelona | +34 632 629 629]
Everything served in this restaurant is 100% vegan so vegans, you are in luck! This is one of the very few places in Barcelona where you can order completely and utterly carefree.
The menu is mostly Indian and Nepalese with some Spanish classics as well as a large raw menu too. The biggest seller here is the Thali, which is a very generous serving of traditional Indian and Nepalese curries, dahl, chutney, basmati rice, poppadoms and pakora. Make sure you come here with time because you’ll need a while to sit and digest before getting up for more sightseeing after this meal! I recommend getting the luxury Thali if you’re really hungry as it’s larger with a nicer selection of curries.
The menu del dia is of course outstanding value at €8.50. You get a drink (including the choice of red wine), delicious house-made whole wheat bread, soup, a classic Thali and a dessert which is either a vegan chocolate or fruit mousse.
This is one of the best deals in town and you’ll leave feeling satisfied, nourished and guilt-free.
[Mon - Sun 12:30 - 23:30 | Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes 602, 08001 Barcelona | +34 93 304 3953]
What are your favourite restaurants in Barcelona? Have you tried any of these ones? I'm sure I've ruffled a few feathers confessing my aversion to Spanish food so let me know what you think!