Barcelona has long been one of the world’s best eating cities. Colorful, passionate, artistic and full of flavor, the city likes to have a good time. And that good time very often includes good food, whether it’s an immigrant cuisine, a standing-room-only tapas bar, or a Michelin three-star. (The city’s restaurants, in fact, hold a collective 27 stars.)
For a long time, the scene was dominated by the Adrìa empire, especially Tickets. But since the fall of that empire (a covid casualty), something interesting has happened. There’s a more oxygen for everyone else. To be sure, the competition remains fierce. My host—a culinary ambassador who has called Barcelona home for the past several years—told me that along with the famous Gaudí monuments and Picasso artworks, the city has more than 10,000 restaurants.
No one could ever try them all, so what follows is more of a snapshot—impressions based on suggestions from trusted locals and a whirlwind weekend of fine dining—than any sort of definitive guide. But taken together, they offer a window into the city’s gastronomic heart. And a good reason to plan a trip soon.
This is Spain, after all, so a stop at a tapas bar is practically mandatory. It’s casual, lively and a good way to try lots of flavors without the formality or time commitment of a tasting menu—or a non-awkward dining experience when you’re traveling alone and just want to eat something simple at the bar.
Three generations the same family have for decades run this historic place (and some of the waiters seem to have been there just as long), where the official motto is “F*ck your diet.” (They don’t bother with the asterisk.) It’s a place for comfort food and classics, with a long menu that ranges over traditions like fried artichokes and hand-cut bellota cured ham, composed dishes like green beans with parmesan, and seasonal tomatoes with tuna and anchovies, and F-your-diet fare like aged beef steak with foie gras and truffle sauce.
Bar del Pla
Another narrow tapas spot, Bar del Pla bills itself as a place for people who “like going out to eat but don’t always feel like going to a restaurant.” Instead, it has a cozy bar where it’s easy to strike up conversations with the people around you, and also to try delicious seasonal small plates like smoked sardines, thin-sliced mushrooms with strawberries and wasabi, squid ink croquettes, and crispy oxtail with foie gras. The four (!) sommeliers select wines from all over the world, with a special focus on natural and biodynamic wines.
There’s something undeniably exciting about feeling as if you’re one of the first people in on a secret. Sometimes that’s a place that only just recently opened and clearly has potential, while other times, it’s a restaurant that has been quietly doing its thing under the radar, maybe in an “edgier” neighborhood and without a lot of white tablecloth pomp and circumstance.
Before head chef Antonio Romero opened Suculent, in a scruffy corner of Rambla Raval, six years ago, he passed through some of Spains’s top kitchens: elBulli, Arzak and Akelarre. He picked up a special fondness for broths and sauces, and most dishes are designed to be sopped up and savored. (In addition to the English “succulent,” the name references the Catalan “sucar lent,” to dip slowly.) That doesn’t mean he’s over-reliant on technique. Rather, he always puts flavor first, serving up takes on Spanish and Mediterranean fare (and also a particularly delicious, if divisive, red prawn ceviche with avocado). Although the menu changes often, other recent standouts included cuttlefish and Iberian pork jowl tartare (subbed out for sea urchin for the pescatarian at the table—delicious) with almond milk and caviar, and steak tartare over bone marrow. It’s already in the Michelin guide, favored to win a star soon and, at just 55€ and 75€ for the tasting menus, surely one of the better deals in the city.
Certain things usually come to mind when thinking about food in Barcelona: creative fine dining or old-school Spanish tapas. But that leaves out the fact that the city is deeply multicultural, and it has a whole variety of food scenes. One of those is Japanese. And since the end of 2021, it’s had an outstanding new player, one that’s still a bit of a secret. Shido’s chef, Saulo Meireles, is from Brazil (a country that is itself known for outstanding sushi) but he brings a Japanese craftsman’s touch to excellent fresh products and a dash of Mediterranean influences. The menu ranges over dishes like enormous oysters with shiso mojo, razor clams in miso, wontons, and nigiris (both classic and out-there, like the one with hedgehog and shiso in tempura), makis, uramakis and excellent sashimi.
Superstar Fine Dining
Barcelona has no shortage of once-in-a-lifetime restaurants, with chefs who are pushing the boundaries of creativity and even rethinking what a restaurant is and what it can be. Only a very committed food lover (or a travel journalist) would attempt more than one in a weekend, but either of these is worth the splurge.
Cocina Hermanos Torres
The well-known brothers Sergio and Javier Torres have done the seemingly impossible. They’ve translated the feeling of being in their childhood family kitchen into a fine-dining experience that’s more than worthy of its two Michelin stars. They’ve essentially turned their restaurant inside out, with the kitchen—albeit a kitchen with attractive lighting and a generally inviting ambience—as the main room. The tables surround three cooking stations in the center, inviting that old cliché about the connections between fine dining and theater. The cuisine is equally creative and playful, an homage to Spanish tradition and childhood memories, leavened with international influences and avant-garde wizardry. Cases in point: the mussels moqueca with prawns, king crab, saffron and noodles, artfully presented on a cherry-red plate (and subtitled “Barcelona, Brasil” on the menu), and the onion from Fuentes, cured Parmesan and melanosporum truffles (“From our father’s garden”).
Martin Berasategui holds more Michelin stars (12) than any other chef in Spain, and three of them are at this hushed, subtly gilded temple to gastronomy in the luxe Monument Hotel in Paseo de Gracia. Chef de cuisine Paolo Casagrande executes a high-end tasting menu that mixes Berasategui’s signature classics with his own innovative creations that are unique to Lasarte. Things kick off with a vivid pink oyster that’s been pickled in hibiscus and served with white garlic and purple shiso granita. What follows is exquisite including squid tartare with liquid egg yolk and kaffir consommé, and scarlet shrimp soup with tomato, celery and green apple. Pastry chef Xavi Donnay won in his category at the Best Chef Awards 2020, so the desserts are equally special, and Joan Carles Ibáñez is one of those charismatic front-of-house men who makes it all look easy, as his team deftly handles the hushed choreography of a three-star dining experience.