Madrid Food, Drink & Restaurant Guide for Gourmets

Madrid food and drink guide.

All you need to know about eating and drinking in Madrid.

The where, when, what and how to eat and drink like a local in Madrid.

This Madrid food and drink guide will help you to eat and drink like a local in Madrid. But first, a little story about my first-time visiting Madrid.

Skip story and go straight to the Madrid food and drink guide

My first taste of mainland Spain was in July 1997. My auntie Linda lives in Madrid, and I went to stay with her. Visiting relatives is a great way to experience a place, as you have a local guide with you always. So, start calling all your family and friends living in other countries!

Five things stick out in my mind about my week-long vacation. Those were the heat, the people, the late nights, the food and the alcohol.

The heat in Madrid:

I visited Madrid in July, which is the hottest month with an average maximum temperature of 90°F/32°C. It was stifling and the sun was intense. If you love the heat and hours of sunshine then head to Madrid in July or August. When I go again, I will make sure it is in the winter or early Spring.

As much as I packed on the SPF 50 this pale, pasty, Irish girl got sunburnt to a crisp. It was my first time ever experiencing real pain and mortification. I was so red and looked ridiculous. But I did learn a very cool tip from this very sore experience; put slices of tomato or tomato juice on your sunburn. Not only is it very cooling and soothing but tomatoes alleviate redness and inflammation.

Top Tanning Tip: Tomatoes are full of an antioxidant called lycopene and research shows that eating tomatoes and tomato paste can help protect your skin from sun damage. So, start filling up on tomatoes a few weeks before you hit the sun, but use sunscreen too!

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

The people in Madrid:

When I was first in Madrid in July 1997, Miguel Ángel Blanco, a 29-year-old local politician, was kidnapped and executed by the Basque separatist group ETA. Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s I was no stranger to terror attacks, but this was the first time I experienced people protesting terrorists.

On 14 July 1997 over two million people took to the streets to condemn the attack. It was Spain’s biggest ever protest. The people of Spain had had enough. They were finally standing up to ETA and showing their grief and anger at this senseless killing. It was a turning point in the public’s attitude towards ETA, as people overcame their fears to express their horror and disgust at this latest killing.

Madrid’s history

I went to one of these protests. I remember exiting the metro station and climbing up onto a rubbish bin so I could get a better look. A sea of people marching, chanting and crying washed through the city streets. The people were overcome with emotion and demanded justice. The police officers, who wore balaclavas to protect their identity from ETA, ripped off their masks and said they were no longer afraid. They were going to come and get ETA and protect their city and country. I stood on the bin in awe. I had never seen so many people before. Their chanting sounded glorious. I had goosebumps all over my body and such hope in my heart. Even now, remembering this moment I am getting goosebumps.

It is this strength and fearlessness that I associate with people from Madrid. Madrilenians / Madrileños are some of the most passionate people I have ever encountered. This passion comes through in almost every aspect of their lives and culture. You can see it in the obsessive football rivalry between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and you can see it in the way they cook and eat. When you go to Madrid be prepared for the passion.

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

The late nights:

Have you ever looked at Spain on the map and noticed that it has the same longitude as the UK? Technically, it should be in the GMT zone but it isn’t. It keeps the same time as Germany. In 1940, Spain’s ruler, General Francisco Franco, changed the country’s time zone to that of Nazi Germany to show solidarity with Hitler. This meant that locals were still going about their working lives and meal times as usual but they were now an hour ahead. So, when people in Madrid were having breakfast at 7 a.m. the clock was now reading 8 a.m. This meant that Madrilenians were finishing work at 8 p.m. and not getting around to eating dinner until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. This is the reason why meals are eaten so late in Madrid and why restaurants stay open so late.

Madrid food and drink guide

The food:

When I was in Madrid I experienced many edible delights for the first time; prawns, chickpeas, olives, churros and homemade breaded chicken. These things just didn’t feature in my life back in Ireland. I feel that Madrid is the city that really matured by taste buds. I associate deep rich flavours with the food of Madrid with lots of garlic, salt, and oil.

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid food and drink guide

What should I eat and drink in Madrid?

Tapas: Tapas are small snacks served with drinks. The Spanish rarely drink without having something to eat at the same time. Sometimes the food accompanying the alcohol might be a simple dish of olives or almonds or Iberico ham and picotos. More substantial bites to eat are known as pinchos. ‘Un pincho de tortilla’ is a portion of tortilla that is slightly larger than a tapa of tortilla.

In Madrid, a tapa is usually one small snack for one person. A pinch is a slightly bigger snack and a ración is a large portion that can be shared with others, what we think of as sharing tapas. For example, a large portion of, patatas bravas, will be called a ración and can be shared with four or more people. If there are only three to four people then you can order a half-size portion called a ‘media ración.

Eat with gusto

Eating out in Madrid showed me how to eat like an adult and with gusto. You cannot be reserved when it comes to tapas and raciones. Fast hands and an unapologetic greediness is needed. You cannot be shy or sorry when it comes to eating in Madrid, especially in local tapas bars when sharing food with locals.

When eating out in Madrid, my advice is to order one or two ‘media racións in one bar or restaurant and then move on to another bar and order another few dishes. That way you really get to sample loads of different places to eat in Madrid.

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid food and drink guide

Where are the best tapas bars and restaurants in Madrid?

The best places to eat tapas and drink Spanish beers and wines and spirits in Madrid are dotted all along Calle Augusto Figueroa (great area to mix with locals), Plaza Santa Ana (wonderful for al fresco dining and people watching), the streets around Plaza Mayor and the area around the Centro Belles Artes.

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid food and drink guide

When should I eat in Madrid?

Timing: Knowing when to eat, as well as what to eat, is key to eating like a local in Madrid. There are well-kept eating sessions, and most kitchens adhere to these times, especially in local, non-touristy places.

Breakfast: between 8:00a.m. and 11:30a.m.
Lunch: between 1:30p.m. and 4:00p.m.
Dinner: between 8:00 p.m. and midnight
After dinner drinks: until around 3 a.m.

Breakfast: Desayuno / El desayuno

For me, the best way to enjoy breakfast in Madrid is to find a local Fabrica de Churros y Patatas Fritas. I then take a seat or stand at the counter and order a coffee. With this, I order either tostada con tomate (crunchy white toasted bread with fresh chopped tomatoes) or porras (Madrid’s version of churros). Porras are thicker than churros, taste a bit like Yorkshire pudding, but a lot nicer. They are delicious when you dip them into coffee. As a treat, eat porras in San Gines where they have been serving them for over 100 years.

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Elevenses: Almuerzo (also media mañana)

Come 11 a.m., keep your energy levels up and have a protein-rich Pincho de Tortilla (Spanish omelette / tortilla de patatas). Tortilla de patatas is a potato omelette and a little square is usually served in bars as a tapa but you really should order a pincho (big slice) and enjoy it as a snack. It is delicious served on top of crusty white bread.

Fancy an early tipple? Why not order a shot of brandy or Chinchon anisette, or just order both together to create a sol y sombre, sure why not, you’re on holiday, right?

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid.

Appetizer: Hora del aperitivo

An aperitivo is an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite. If you didn’t neck a shot with your tortilla, around 1 p.m. is the perfect time to seek out a traditional bodega or tasca where you should make like a local and order a vermut con sel, which consists of locally-produced draught red vermouth with a splash of soda. This will be served with a tapa – usually boquerones en vinagre, jamón ibérico or manzanilla olives. These salty snacks will start opening the palate for lunch. Yes, it’s not even lunchtime yet!

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid food and drink guide

Lunch: Comida / La comida

There’s no better way to understand a culture than through its food and one of the best ways to get to know a country’s food is to head to a local food market and there are loads in Madrid – Mercado San Miguel and Mercado de la Paz are both great. Whilst at the food market, do as the locals do and sit down and have a long lingering lunch with a glass of wine. Locals usually start eating lunch around 2 p.m. Most markets have bars or restaurants that serve food made with ingredients that you buy in the market. Order the three-course menu del dia, which is a great way of trying more than one dish and you usually get a glass of wine with the meal too, all for a very reasonable price – usually between €10 and €15.

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid food and drink guide

Typical dishes in Madrid

Try to find a menu that offers some seafood as Madrid has some wonderful seafood dishes like Bacalao rebozado (battered and fried salt cod), carabineiros (large red prawns), pulpo (octopus) and bocadillo de calamares (fried squid sandwich).

Also look out for the deliciously simple vegetarian dish huevos rotos, which literally means “broken eggs.” For this dish, potatoes are fried in Spanish olive oil and tossed with sea salt then topped with perfect over-easy eggs. You then take a slice of crusty bread and dip into the yokes or sometimes, your server will break the yokes at the table. It’s basically Madrid’s answer to egg and chips.

If you visit in winter, seek out cocido Madrileño. This is a traditional stew made with vegetables, chickpeas, chorizo sausage and pork in a flavoursome broth. The broth is served as soup, and then the chickpeas and veggies are served as the next course. Then the stewed meat is severed as the final course.

Madrid winter dishes

Also in winter, you can find callos a la Madrileña which dates from the 16th century. Again, it is another stew and they typically serve it in a clay dish. It is a smoky, paprika flavoured medley of beef tripe, chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage).

To finish your everlasting lunch, order an espresso and a copita (little cup) of local brandy or pacharan. This is a punchy potion made from blackthorn or sloe berries and anise. Locals say it has medicinal properties that help with digestion – that clearly means it is good for you. So you might as well order another.

After lunch, you will probably need to have a siesta. But just a quick nap, as there is more eating to be done.

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid food and drink guide

Afternoon snack: Merienda / La merienda

At around 5p.m. to 6p.m. it’s time for la merienda, the afternoon snack, which is intended to keep you going until dinner time, which is eaten rather late at night. One of the best afternoon snacks is churros which are deep-fried strips of batter covered in sugar and dipped into melted chocolate or into a cup of hot chocolate. However, if you already had churros or porras for breakfast you may want to recharge with a café con leche or espresso and a Napolitana de chocolate (Spanish pain au chocolat) – the best place in Madrid to try these is Pastelería La Mallorquina. If you fancy something savoury have a bocadillo de jamón serrano (dry-cured Spanish ham served in crusty white bread) or rollitos de berenjenas (aubergine roll ups).

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid food and drink guide

Dinner: Cena / La cena

In Madrid, the final meal is la cena. Dinner in Spain is lighter than la comida but consists of multiple courses. To eat like a local in Madrid, try to have dinner around 10 p.m. This is when most restaurants will be at their liveliest. There will be a great buzz about the place. Remember I mentioned the passion for food that the people of Madrid have? Now is a great time to experience and be part of that. So, find somewhere busy and informal for a truly authentic experience.

For dinner in Madrid, there is no end of options. You can go from bar to bar sampling tapas and pinchos in each one. You can share racións with friends or eat a more formal meal with individual dishes and courses.

Understanding the menus

When it comes to reading menus, the food is organised into categories. The first is entrantes /entremeses (appetizers), then primeros / primer plato (first courses), ensaladas (salads) and sopas (soups).

Then there will be platos principals (main dishes), segundo plato /segundos (second course), carnes (meat dishes) and pescados (fish dishes).

Sometimes when you order from the carne section of the menu the meat is served by itself with not much else but perhaps a garnish of salad. If you want to order a side or accompaniment look for the guarniciones section of the menu. When you read guarniciónes a elegir beside one of the platos principlas this means it comes with a side. If you are unsure just ask “viene con guarnición o viene solo?”

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid food and drink guide

Dessert: Postre

The last part of the food menu will be the postre (dessert). A typical dessert of Madrid to look out for is leche frita (fried milk) – which is a firm, cold milk-pudding or custard that is coated in flour and egg and fried and then dipped in sugar and cinnamon and delicious served hot with ice-cream. Another typical dessert on menus in Madrid is a sponge cake called bizcocho. You could also try torrijas, which is like French toast. There is also Spanish flan de leche, which is a caramel pudding and natillas de Leche, which is a rich vanilla-flavoured egg custard. If you are in Madrid in early January look out for Roscón de Reyes, which is a traditional holiday dessert, served the night before or the morning of “Reyes” or Epiphany, January 6th.


When you have devoured all the food, and you can no longer physically move, and you have discretely undone the button on your trousers, you can then relax and enjoy the sobremesa. This is the talking after the meal around the table usually with a coffee or sherry in hand.

One of the nice things about eating out in Madrid is that there is no rush for you to clear the table once you are finished eating. The chatting and relaxing after the meal is part of the experience. You can usually stay until your food has digested and you no longer feel full to the brim.

From here you can move on to a bar for some late-night sherry or local wine, Spain has some of the best wine in the world and you can learn more about Albarino wine in my Albariño Food and Wine Trail article. If you’ve still got energy to burn after all of that, you can head off to a late-night club and dance until 6 a.m. If you choose this option you can always stop for some more churros and chocolate on the way back to your bed to get some shuteye to be ready to do it all again in a few more hours.

Madrid food and drink guide - eat and drink like a local in Madrid

Madrid truly is one of the most exciting European cities for food and drink lovers.

I hope this Madrid food and drink guide helps you enjoy this city with gusto.

Fancy bringing a taste of Madrid into your kitchen? I have a quick and easy gambas al aioli tapas recipe that takes just minutes to make. Serve with a cold Spanish beer or glass of wine. And imagine that you’re soaking up the sun of the Spanish capital without having to deal with the sunburn!

“Happy travels”

Have you been to Madrid? What did you do and see and eat and drink? Can I add something to this Madrid food and drink guide? Tell me all about it in the comments below. I love to hear from you.

Click here for my Spanish style Gambas al Aioli tapas recipe.

Here’s my blog on the Best Tapas in Dublin – where to eat gambas al aioli and gambas pil pil.

Make sure you read my Spanish food and wine pairing guide.

If you like this Madrid food and drink guide, please share it with others.

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26 thoughts on “Madrid Food, Drink & Restaurant Guide for Gourmets”

  1. Dear Lord Melanie! For one second I thought you were talking about a kidnapping happened in these days. I was like.. OMG when all this happened?!?”
    By the way, the guide is amazing and recap everything I love about Spain and spanish food 😉

    • I feels like it just happened yesterday. It had such a profound affect on me! But it was 20 years ago now. in 2011 Eta declared a ‘permanent and general ceasefire’. Glad you liked the guide. I adore Spanish food and enjoying a tapas trail across cities. It is a fun way to eat.

  2. I thought this attack had just happened too. I’m so glad you were referring to a past event. I know how it was like in Ireland too when I was a child growing up in Ireland. Terror attacks constantly in Northern Ireland. Thank god it is a thing of the past. I’m super impressed by your guide to Madrid and though I don’t like tapas you have given an impressive list of Spanish cuisine. I live outside Dublin where are you from? x

  3. Very helpful guide to Madrid. Your guide on taking tomato is helpful as it helps in cutting heat away. Tomato has nice bleaching property means if you rub tomato juice on face then skin glows a lot.

  4. I’m loving this post! A complete review for a traveler and food lover. Love the way you mingled the story in the past with the information on how to explore Madrid and its best places for great food.

  5. The food sounds and looks absolutely incredible! I can’t stop thinking about breaded chicken and broken eggs with crusty bread. Yummy!! Dippy eggs are my fave, they remind me of my childhood. Madrid would be great for me

  6. I love travelling and i heard lot of things about MADRID from my friends, i’m a big foodie, you shared an amazing guide, food looks absolutely incredible!

  7. Madrid, the great city of spain. Almost everybody who love football know madrid well. If someone take a visit to madrid this food guide will be very helpful for them. I wish I can have a chance to make one visit now!


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