Eating well can make a good vacation great, it’s just too bad tourists come to Spain blind and can’t make a decision with a menu in front of them.
That’s why you’re here, and since you want to know what to eat in Barcelona I’m gonna help you separate the savory from the stale and give you the restaurants to do it at.
Let’s take a trip through the city discovering Barcelona’s traditional dishes.
What to Eat in Barcelona
Catalonia’s rich culinary ancestry is felt in everything from simple home cooking all the way up to the city’s current list of 23 Michelin-starred restaurants. In total over 60 restaurants have received the distinction, making Barcelona a culinary capital of Europe.
What we’re worried about here though is typical Catalan food.
As always remember that I have no backroom deals with any of these restaurants – if they’re mentioned here it’s because I’ve tried them myself or heard from knowledgeable local friends in the city.
Original Tapas from Barcelona
Among the legends going around about the origins of this typical Barcelona tapas dish, arguably the city’s most famous, is that it was invented centuries ago in the Barceloneta beach neighbourhood.
What we’re talking about here are mashed potato balls stuffed with ground pork, covered in bread crumbs, and fried off much like a donut. They’re similar to the French croquettes only bigger and with more punch.
What takes this delicious dish to the next level are the two sauces put on top: salsa brava (spicy, with onion and paprika) and aioli (creamy, with garlic and lemon).
It’s when the sauces mix with the potato crunch that it goes off in your mouth like the name: a bomb!
Where to eat bombas: naturally, Barceloneta! The Cova Fumada (Carrer del Baluart 56, metro Barceloneta) is a must for these treats. The legendary proprietor of one of the city’s great tapas restaurants claims his mother invented the bomba more than 60 years ago.
True or not, these are the best in the city and they only cost about €2.00 each.
Alternative: the name La Bombeta (Carrer de la Maquinista 3, metro Barceloneta) says it all, and this restaurant has so much history in the city they’re not exactly sure who founded it and when. What we do know is on a good day they serve over 1000 bombas.
Esqueixada de Bacalao
Just walk into one of Barcelona’s markets and you’ll notice the city’s love of bacalao: salted and dried cod that’s rehydrated to create any variety of dishes from salads to mains.
With Esqueixada de Bacalao we’re referring to a salad with shredded salted cod at its base. Then they throw in fresh tomatoes, onion, and black olives with a light vinaigrette. Some versions even have green pepper.
Usually you’ll find trays of it at the bar, and it’s a great light option to balance out the heavier fried dishes in Catalan cuisine. It pairs well with a glass of chilled house white.
Where to eat Esqueixada de Bacalao: Polleria Fontana (Carrer de Sant Lluis 9, metro Joanic) are famous for their informal and welcoming tapas setting, and it’s right in the middle of the charming Gracia neighbourhood. They also do an amazing chicken croquettes and patatas bravas.
Alternative: still with Gracia there’s Cal Boter (Carrer de Tordera 62, metro Joanic), a fantastic Barcelona Catalan restaurant that’s got some of the best cold appetizers in the city.
If you’re more thirsty than hungry and looking for one of Barcelona’s best bars and a local square to soak it all in then head to Vermut i a la Gabia (Plaça d’Osca 7, metro Plaça de Sants): vintage looks and quality tapas combine with a great homemade vermouth.
PA AMB TOMAQUET (‘PAN TUMACA’)
Of all the food to try in Barcelona this is my number one, though the English translation of ‘bread with tomato‘ doesn’t do this super simple dish justice.
The most sought after dish in Catalonia is like most good Mediterranean foods as it’s about simplicity and freshness. The dish starts by rubbing raw garlic on freshly grilled bread: either pan de pages (hearty and rustic) or pan de coca (crispy, hard wheat).
Then they’ll rub a super ripe tomato (tomàquet de penjar) on top and add extra virgin olive oil.
If Catalan cuisine had an equivalent to naan bread this would be it. It’s used to sop up oils and sauces or accompany Spain’s best cured meats and cheeses.
Don’t go for tapas without ordering one piece per person.
Where to eat pa amb tomaquet: the small neighbourhood bar Bodega Can Ros (Carrer de Roger de Flor 303, metro Joanic) makes one of the best pan con tomate in Barcelona.
Alternatives: Recasens (Rambla del Poblenou 102, metro Llacuna) is an elegant, will-lit tapas bar that makes a great version with a solid meat and cheese platter to boot.
Cal Pep (Plaça de les Olles 8, metro Barceloneta): this slightly expensive bar has the quality to match so grab a seat at the bars and rub elbows with businessmen, travelers, and bohemian locals. Well worth the money.
Spain’s famous cured ham comes from two pig breeds: serrano and iberica (also called pata negra).
The name bellota can be added to the name which means the pigs have been raised on a diet of acorns, the percentage of their diet which is explained in the number before the name.
You’ll be able to sample some amazing ham from pigs raised exclusively on grazing acorns, the ideal of which would be a jamón ibérico 100% bellota. That said, any of the cured ham found in Barcelona is an integral part of a meal here.
I’ve talked about La Boqueria market in other articles, but for less crowds and equal quality I like getting my jamon at Santa Caterina market – this tip I learned from the Tastes & Traditions of Barcelona Food Tour, a great way to get the full Barcelona food monty in one shot.
Where to eat Jamon Iberico: Andreu Xarcuteria (Carrer Giralt d’en Pellisser 24, metro Jaume I) is what can only be described as an elegant deli that specializes in ham, chorizo, and other cured meats from the Iberian Peninsula.
Alternative: Jamon Jamon (Carrer d’Europa 23, metro Maria Cristina). If there’s truth in a name look no further than this specialty store that’s found in either the Sants neighbourhood or Les Corts, right near the famous Camp Nou Stadium.
Taverna El Glop (Carrer de Sant Lluis 24, metro Joanic): this historic tavern in Gracia has been loved by locals for over 40 years and is just a 10 minute walk from one of Gaudi’s masterpieces: Casa Vicens.
The word escalivada comes from the Catalan verb ‘escalivar’ which means ‘to cook wish ashes’.
With this dish as well simplicity reigns: escalivada is a mix of fire-grilled veggies: eggplant, peppers, and onions and seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper. A great vegetarian option for travelers.
It’s not unheard of to get an escalivada with toasted bread or even anchovies.
Where to eat escalivada: Bar Casi (Carrer Massens 74, metro Joanic) doesn’t look worth a second look until you see flocks of vocal locals chowing down. You won’t find a better quality-price ratio for a place with home cooked food. A great place to visit before or after Park Guell.
Alternative: La Flauta (Carrer d’Aribau 23, metro Universitat) serves authentic and filling tapas with an amazing goat cheese version of escalivada that itself is worth the visit. If you’re visiting Casa Batllo this is a great option.
Typical Main Dishes
It sounds strange chowing down on bunches of enormous green onions, but these vegetables hailing from the Catalonian region of Valls are so rooted in Catalan culture (and their spring BBQs called calçotadas) that not liking them is seen as a national affront.
What makes them great is a tangy sauce called romesco blended and cooked with tomato, red pepper, garlic, breadcrumbs, and toasted almonds.
You’ll typically see them barbecued to a near crisp on the outside, all the while maintaining a soft centre, and then served in old newspaper or even a roof shingle. It’s impossible not to get messy eating this so make good use of your bibs.
There’s also a technique. Make sure you lean your head back, raise the calcot well above your head, and try to tip as much as possible in your mouth at once. Sounds crazy? Don’t ask questions, just copy the Catalans next to you.
Eat as many as you can: my record is a paltry 18.
It’s the food to eat in Barcelona from December through March.
Where to eat calçots: Restaurant Carmen (Carrer de Valladolid 44, metro Plaça de Sants). This no-nonsense restaurant prepares all the classic Barcelona dishes to perfection. For €30.90 you’ll get calçots, a whole ton of meat, wine, and dessert.
Alternatives: Nou Can Martí (Passatge de la Font del Mont 4, trains S1 and S2 Peu de la Funicolar stop; then a 20 minute walk). It’s not easy to get there but once you’ve arrived you’ll get a rural/rustic type spot above the city with classic great BBQ options. Great in groups.
Can Xurrades (Carrer de Casanova 212, metro Hospital Clinic). A great restaurant for meat eaters that’s a must stop on the Barcelona calçots circuit: they’re delivered directly from a garden in Valls.
The fideuá noodle is a local alternative to paella that’s as Catalan as it gets.
The recipe and cooking method is essentially the same only instead of rice they put in a type of macaroni (‘fideos’) and they’re almost always accompanied by a lemony aioli sauce.
There are different types of this dish with the most popular being with calamari and prawns, chicken, rabbit, or a type of surf and turf version called mar i muntanya.
Where to eat fideuá: Restaurante Canet (Carrer Canet 38, metro Sarria) is a quaint family restaurant found in a quiet corner of the Sarriá neighbourhood and it serves one of the best fideuá in Barcelona.
Alternatives: La Mar Salada (Passeig de Joan de Borbó 58-59, metro Barceloneta). This fish restaurant is the place to be if you want the seafood version of Catalonia’s favourite noodle dish: just be prepared to pay a bit.
Xiringuito Escribá (Av.del Litoral 62, metro Ciutadella-Vila Olímpica). If you’re looking to dine by the sea with some classic Mediterranean atmosphere this is your spot for year-round food fun. The surf and turf is heavenly.
BOTIFARRA AMB MONGETES
Another filling Catalan dish for those looking for sustenance. Mongetes (white beans) are slow cooked in one pan while the butifarra (a large Catalan pork sausage with spices) is cooked in another.
Then they’re mixed at the last moment so the beans absorb all the fatty goodness.
Where to eat botifarra amb mongetes: Restaurant Romesco (Carrer Sant Pau 28, metro Liceu). This typical Catalan joint with honest pricing serves all the traditional recipes under the sun and is just a stone’s throw from the famous La Rambla.
Alternative: Can Culleretes (Carrer d’en Quintana 5, metro Liceu). The photos on the walls tell the story of the oldest restaurant in Barcelona, which is also the 10th oldest restaurant in all of Spain: no small feat.
In Catalonia snails are eaten two ways: a la llauna (in a can) which is cooked with garlic, parsley, peppers, and wine vinegar. The other way is la cargolada, snails cooked directly in their shells with salt and pepper and even a touch of lard.
In both cases the snails are eaten with an aioli and a spicy sauce.
Where to eat cargols: El Pebrot i el Petit Cargols, (Carrer Alcolea 18, metro Plaza de Sants). Snail lovers rejoice at this location near the train station Sants Estacio with varieties for every taste. And if you’re not into snails the grilled meat plates here keep up.
Alternative: Can Cargolet (Carrer del Comte d’Urgell 17, metro Urgell). Large portions and decent prices reign here and their most delicious, vegan-horrifying plate is snails with rabbit.
Pa i Trago (Carrer del Parlament 41, metro Poble Sec). Even if you get typically spotty Spanish service the food here is impeccable. And the good thing is it’s only about a 15 minute walk from the Magic Fountain show.
Traditional Barcelona Desserts
The star of any Catalan dessert list is this type of local crème brûlée.
It’s made with milk, egg yolks, sugar, a bit of lemon and orange zest, and cinnamon. Unlike a crème brûlée however it’s not cooked in a bain-marie, giving its fully torched body some extra crunch. In fact, the Catalan nickname for the dish is una quemada (‘a burnt thing’).
Arguably the most popular food in Barcelona and when it’s freshly made there’s really nothing like it: creamy, sweet, a bit tangy.
Where to eat crema catalana: Cafe Granja Viader (Carrer Xucla 4-6, metro Liceu). I wrote about this place in my list of Barcelona’s best cafes as it’s the go-to place for sweet stuff in the city. And it’s only 10 minutes walking from the Barcelona Cathedral.
Alternative: Granja Dulcinea (Carrer de Petritxol 2, metro Liceu). Another sweet stop that’s found on Calle Petrixol, a little alley famous for its delicious bakeries and places specializing in churros con chocolate.
MEL I MATÓ
This simple and refreshing dessert relies on a type of unsalted ricotta-like cheese called mató. It can be molded into a cake slice or just piled into a rustic glob, then it’s drowned in honey and topped with nuts.
If you’re the kind of person who takes cheesecake over chocolate this is your choice.
Where to eat mel i mató: La Sopa Boba (Carrer Bruc 115, metro Girona). The version of mató here is more of a mousse crumble than anything, but how does that sound bad? Changing tradition has never been so delicious.
Alternative: Segons Mercat (Carrer de Balboa 16, metro Barceloneta). This little beach neighbourhood establishment may be a bit on the tourist side but the plus here is they source all of their ingredients from the nearby Mercat de la Barceloneta.
El Cercle (Carrer dels Arcs 5, metro Jaume I): these trend-setters had the moxy to fuse Catalan and Japanese! Whether you’re at the bar or out in the stunning garden it’s hard to find such class in the middle of the Gothic Quarter.
In reality this famous Catalan dessert has two versions: sweet and savory.
Walk into any bakery and you’ll find both versions including special holiday variants (the most famous being for San Joan bonfire night on the 24th of June). What you get here is a type of sugary pastry that can be topped or filled with cream, candied fruit, or icing sugar.
You’ll find them rounded like donuts or the thinner and longer version called coca de cristal.
Where to eat coca: the ones at Forneria Turris (Carrer Gran de Gracia 34, metro Diagonal), one of the most well-known bakeries in the city, include all the favourites including chocolate and orange. While there are many locations I suggest the conveniently situated one to have a snack break after visiting Casa Milá.
Alternative: another classic bakery is l’Escribá (Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes 546, metro Urgell), where centuries-old traditions are held dear. If you’re looking for the chocolate coca this is the place. There’s one conveniently on La Rambla.
Eat Up Some More Advice Below
If you still don’t know what to eat in Barcelona I personally think you’re being a bit picky, but if you need any additional advice on Catalan food or anything else about your holiday please…
Message me below.
Happy eats 🙂