36 Calle Ferraz
Tel: 34 91 547 4046
A first glance inside César Rodríguez's sparsely decorated space of only 16 seats hints little at the fact that he is one of Madrid's culinary heartthrobs. Rodríguez has created what feels like a small neighborhood restaurant (his wife, Cristina de Pedro, runs the house with effortless grace), but in contrast to the minimalist interior, the kitchen tends toward more sensory stimulation rather than less, preparing culinary creations that are artfully plated. Tender, expertly grilled sardines are stuffed with crumbs of pan tomaca, ham, and aromatic herbs, while cataplana de secreto de cerdo ibérico y berberechos, an ode to a classic Portuguese country dish, replaces humble cubes of pork with the choicest cut of Spain's choicest pig and substitutes delicate Spanish cockles for clams.
32 Calle Augusto Figueroa
Tel: 34 91 522 0440
This cozy restaurant serving evolved tapas (expect lots of fish and game dishes) has walls the color of egg yolk covered with eclectic framed prints and matching eggy tablecloths. Chef Iñaki Gamba changes the lineup according to the season, the market, his mood…and yours. The website (in Spanish only) has a form on which you can list your likes and dislikes in detail so Gamba can design your ideal menu ahead of any planned celebration (www.restaurantearce.com).
4 Travesía de San Mateo
Tel: 34 91 310 0965
You'll think you're in the wrong place for a few minutes after you ring the unmarked doorbell of a deserted antique store—until a stylish server emerges from somewhere, opens the door, and ushers you into a romantic urban netherworld. There, you'll dine amid pan-Oriental antiques strewn around the basement of a Brooklyn-esque warehouse. The only menu is a set meal priced under $100, but it would be a bargain for twice that: As many as 20 of young chef Jaime Renedo's small courses await, and they are exercises for the intellect just as they are for the palate. A dark olive biscuit sandwiching Parmesan foam masquerades as an Oreo cookie. A postmodern Rice Krispies treat is prepared with saffron, like a retro-pop paella. Ever had a foie gras Cuba Libre? Renedo's aspic jelly atop a smooth terrine is made with rum and Coca-Cola. Asiana stands head and shoulders above the many inept Adrià wannabes. For a more economical taste of Asiana, try Next Door, which is, you guessed it, right next door. The same innovative cooking is served, but in a more casual atmosphere.—Updated by Guy Fiorita
Open daily 10:30 am to 2 pm and 5 to 8:30 pm.
7 Calle Moreto
Paseo del Prado
Tel: 34 91 420 0177
For a while, this pricey, prestigious restaurant seemed lost, as people lamented the departure of noted chef Andrés Madrigal (now at Alboroque in the Atocha district). But then along came César Martín in April 2006, who renewed Balzac's mission with verve. As ever, to dine here you'll have to have a certain tolerance for pomposities like extra silverware, unnecessary decanting, and service that sacrifices attentiveness for formality, but on the plate, you'll find this 30-something chef working wonders, as in a meltingly tender breast and leg of pigeon lying on a sticky bed of stewed fruit compote. There are some missteps, like Martín's nouvelle version of the classic ajo blanco (a northern soup made from garlic and whitened with crushed almonds). Here, marinated rape (hake) is added, which has too much acidity and is the wrong texture for the dish. But desserts like poached pear in port wine sauce shine on. In the balance, this is once again one of the city's most reliable tables.
35 Cava Baja
Tel: 34 91 365 8217
When you want to eat nothing that's been deconstructed or otherwise engineered, when you yearn for honest Castilian food in a simple setting, there's nowhere better than Lucio Blásquez's restaurant near Plaza Mayor. On two floors, with jamones dangling from beams, brick and white walls, and terra-cotta tiles, Casa Lucio has a homey goodness that routinely attracts the famous—actors, writers, Laura Bush—as well as regulars and tourists. Here's where to try the Madrid special, el cocido (various components—chickpea, cabbage, chorizo, black pudding, maybe chicken or beef—in a broth), or any number of traditional dishes: suckling pig, hake in green sauce, judías con perdiz (green beans with partridge), oxtail, tripe, all fresh from the kitchen's coal ovens. It's very satisfying and not very pricey.
34 Paseo de la Florida
Tel: 34 915 477 918
Set just below the Parque del Oeste near the Príncipe Pío train station, Casa Mingo is the one place every madrileño takes out-of-town guests to. Originally a 19th-century cider factory, today Mingo still produces all of the cider served in the ground-floor restaurant. The interiors are kept simple, with bare wood tables, a rough stone floor, and dark wood panels and huge cider barrels covering the walls. The basic menu includes a limited list of tapas (the best is the spicy chorizo cooked in cider), but most people come here for the roast chicken, a simple green salad, and a lot of very fresh cider. Since this place is always packed and doesn't take reservations, we suggest you arrive early—around 8:15 pm should do it. In the summer months, there's a lovely, and therefore highly coveted, outdoor terrace. Before or after the meal, stop in next door at the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida. Inside, you'll find Franscisco de Goya frescoes as well as the painter's tomb.—Guy Fiorita
Tel: 34 915 432 821
In Madrid, tortilla is served in almost every bar—and almost every bar claims that theirs is the best in the city. At Casa Paco, the tortilla is indeed in the running for first prize, and here there are more varieties of the classic dish than anywhere else, with options on display under a glass case that runs the length of the bar. Pull up a stool and order a pincho (small piece) of anything from the original (potato and onion) to Roquefort and salmon, foie gras, or our favorite, the sirloin and caramelized onion version. This family-owned operation has been serving about 80 tortillas a day since the early 1950s, and the third generation is now waiting tables. Apart from the bar, there's a cramped little dining room that fills daily with local workers who come for the budget three-course menu. For an authentic look at Madrid, far from the tourist scene, you can do no better.—Guy Fiorita
Open Mondays through Saturdays 7 am to midnight.
7 Calle Villalar
Tel: 34 91 576 7397
Darío Barrio is another school-of-Adrià alum, and that's what the Madrileños are hungry for, if the instant success of this place after its 2004 opening is anything to go by. Here, though beets may turn up in dessert and chocolate in a braise, Barrio's experimentation is grounded in reality. Oxtail with chocolate and wine, and his version of huevos estrellados, truffled eggs with potato foam, are two of his better-known dishes. The room is comely, but not so flashy that it competes with the platesa staircase lit from within leads down to a whitewashed brick basement. Always full, despite fiendish prices.
6 Postigo de San Martín
Tel: 34 91 522 0895
When a delicate fillet of sole ennobled by an aristocratic reduction of fish stock and cava is priced at such an inexplicably low level, you might come to suspect that the restaurant is a front for some illicit seafood-trafficking operation. Happily, the business is their business; yours is choosing from among the array of fresh shellfish that sits over ice in a gleaming glass case. Whether you select navajas (razor clams), berberechos (cockles), or a rather intimidating buey de mar (ox crab), you're best off leaving the good-naturedly brusque staff to decide how each is best prepared. The kitchen also dabbles in elaborate marine preparations like smoked tuna belly stuffed with seaweed and sea urchin. In a rich riff on a Spanish classic, piquillo peppers are stuffed with whipped bacalao (codfish) and drowned in a creamy, well-developed shrimp sauce—yet another gift to the city.
Hotel NH Paseo del Prado
4 Plaza Canovas del Castillo
Tel: 34 913 302 400
Carles Abellan did it first, then Alberto Adrià (Ferran's brother). Now, it's Paco Roncero's turn. Like those other stars of Spain's molecular gastronomy stratosphere, the high-tech chef of Madrid's Terraza del Casino has opened a down-home tapas bar. Located in a cozy room whose barrel-shaped ceiling is lined, delightfully, with those elaborate combs that Spanish women use to prop up their mantillas, Estado Puro translates as "pure state," which gives you an idea of what Roncero is up to—as long as you believe that the pure state of, say, salt cod is to be rolled into chestnut-sized balls and deep-fried to a parsley-flecked crisp. It's true that most of the tapas are little more than well-chosen produce, lightly adorned: steamed cockles dressed with gellified lemon; a lovely take on patatas bravas in which tiny new potatoes have their tops hollowed out to make room for a dab of hot sauce. Not everything succeeds. A simple porcini carpaccio was bland, and its pine nut vinaigrette too sweet. Tigres—a classic dish that blends mussels with béchamel, packs the mixture back in the shells and tops the whole thing with breadcrumbs—was, in this incarnation, a deep-fried ball of vileness. But the best tapa of all? The mini-hamburguesa served with grainy mustard and caramelized onions—hardly what I'd call pure but delicious nonetheless.—Lisa Abend, first published on Gourmet.com
2 Calle Estafeta
Plaza Nueva Moraleja, Alcobendas
Tel: 34 91 625 0072
Maybe you didn't think you'd be eating in Asian restaurants of any kind on this trip, let alone a Japanese-Chinese-Peruvian restaurant—fusion yet! But you'll be glad you followed the chic hordes to this (it's fair to say) unique place. The restaurant is no relation to the London hot spot of the same name, though the owners know its owner, Alan Yau, and named this as a kind of insider tribute. The space ingeniously envelops each table in its own elegant Zen mini-environment, preparing you to tackle the unfamiliar menu—not that this is too onerous a task. In the kitchen, a Peruvian, a Japanese, and a Chinese chef work side by side, making sense of this wild idea with such dishes as grouper ceviche with fried yuca, crunchy duck pouch, or beef with oyster sauce and wok-fried vegetables. The distance from ceviche to sushi to dim sum isn't so vast, after all.
2 Presidente Carmona Avenue
Tel: 34 91 417 6415
This nouvelle Japanese restaurant in a residential neighborhood has made chef Ricardo Sanz into one of Madrid's newest culinary darlings. Kabuki's interior is understated, with all the bustle of a Tokyo sushi bar, while outdoor tables exude effortless class, like a sidewalk version of a Great Gatsby lawn party. Both spaces are lorded over by a suave waitstaff that's intimately familiar with Sanz's tricked-out Ibero-sashimi. Lemonfish might meet with papa arrugá (Canarian potato) and mojo verde, or urta (a rockfish from the Cõdiz bay) with adobo. In the showstopping usuzukuri trufa, a minuscule scoop of black-truffle pâté brings each ethereal pat of pez mantequilla (butterfish) back into the earth's orbit. Although Sanz can sometimes get too truffle-happy, he wisely lets toro sashimi go solo, letting the fish shine with pale, oily simplicity. Few tourists show up at Kabuki, and the casually glam regulars would probably be happy to keep it that way—reservations are hard enough to book as it is, even on weeknights. But you're well-advised to crash this party.
10 Calle de Recoletos
Tel: 34 911 400 696
After spending years together working for the late chef Santi Santamaría, the maître d', sommelier, and chef at Santceloni struck out on their own with the idea of opening a less expensive, more casual venue that would serve as a spot for anything from a quick drink or light snack to a full-blown meal. Set midway between Plaza Colón and Plaza de Cibeles on Calle Recoletos, La Cesta is a blend of modern and traditional design, with huge luminous panels covering one wall and original wood-framed windows along the other. The menu features a series of raciones (small dishes), with choices such as oxtail ravioli and creamy rice with red shrimp, pumpkin, and carrots. You'll probably need to order three of these to make a meal, and with the tortilla priced at $16, some are also a little overpriced. But La Cesta makes up for this in the quality of its ingredients, the interesting mix of flavors, and the relaxed, cool vibe of the dining room. For a bit of culinary drama, there's a high table with stools in back overlooking the kitchen.—Guy Fiorita
Open Mondays through Thursdays 1 to 4:30 pm and 8:30 pm to midnight, Saturdays and Sundays 1 to 4:30 pm and 8:30 pm to 12:30 am.
2 Calle Bárbara de Braganza
Tel: 913 199 457
A gastropub from one of Madrid's top chefs and its most famous barman would seem like a good idea—or at least that's what chef Sergi Arola and Diego Cabrera thought when they opened Le Cabrera in early 2010. One year down the road, egos clashed and the two parted company. Arola is no longer involved, but his menu remains, as does the general concept and popularity of La Cabrera. Set in Barrio Justicia in what is fast becoming the hippest neighborhood in Madrid, this modernist local haunt is decorated with a strange mix of cocktail paraphernalia, goat skulls (cabra means goat), plaid sofas, and an illuminated onyx bar. The food, served upstairs, includes a selection of reimagined tapas and international standards such as clam chowder, Caesar salad, and fresh pasta with calamari. Downstairs is the cocktail lounge, where waiters dressed in blazers and straw hats by trendy Spanish clothier El Ganso lend the place an old Havana vibe. Try one of Cabrera's fruit-driven cocktails, such as Greck Citrics (vodka, lemon juice, pineapple juice, cucumber, and spearmint).—Guy Fiorita
Open Mondays through Fridays 4 pm to 2 am, Saturdays 4 pm to 2:30 am.
67 Calle Claudio Coello
Tel: 34 917 818 262
Ramón Freixa does not know the meaning of "less is more." It's said that the chef of Barcelona's one-star Racó d'en Freixa searched for years for a new place to fully express his vision, and now that he's found it—in Madrid of all places—the emphasis is definitely on the fully. From the decor (postmodern Baroque—not, unfortunately, an oxymoron) to the tableware (black water goblets! gold chargers!) to the mignardises served before dessert, everything at Ramón Freixa Madrid is over the top. That can be a bad thing, as in the case of a rather heaping plate of "snacks"—a spoonful of spherified foie gras, a strangely matzoh-like cornet piped with chorizo cream, a lozenge of gelified cola—which are united only by their common diminuitiveness. But it can also be very, very good. Why have a boring old salad if you can match each raw vegetable with its dried-and-fried twin? Why content yourself with a rich, herby stew of sautéed wild mushrooms when you can top it with sweet rounds of octopus? And crisp rabbit ribs? And tiny pancetta meatballs? Three cooking styles for the lobster, ten textures for the tomatoes, six kinds of chocolate with your coffee who said the age of excess is over?—Jack Turner, first published on Gourmet.com
17 Calle Cuchilleros
Tel: 34 91 366 4217
Botin dates back to 1725, and little appears to have changed since it opened, including some of the waiters. The dining rooms, on the second and third floors of a building near Plaza Mayor, are a study in old Madrid, with dark woodbeamed ceilings, black-and-white checkerboard tile floors, and lots of bullfighter pictures on the walls. It's not just 18th-century charm that keeps this place popular with Madrileños; Botin also serves some of the finest suckling pig and roast lamb (cooked in an ancient wood-burning oven) in the city. Be warned: This is a meat eater's paradise, and you'll be greeted at the door by shelves of piglets in clay dishes awaiting their fate in the oven.
Open Mondays through Sundays 1:30 pm to midnight.
Casino de Madrid
Tel: 34 91 532 1275
The Casino's head chef Paco Roncero trained under Ferran Adrià, who continues to play a role as a consultant. Roncero's tasting menu begins with a mojito frozen tableside using liquid nitrogen. The science continues through the tasting menu, which changes each week. "Snacks" are eight bite-size morsels, ranging from a miniature tube of toothpaste with olive-oil butter to a liquid croquette. "Tapiplatos" feature nine dishes that could include Milk Skin Cannelloni followed by the more traditional flavors of veal cheek with vegetables. Dessert could include a crunchy sweet-and-sour Lemon and Eucalyptus Igloo, while "morphings" are funky petits fours such as pistachios and artisanal chocolates. In summer months, request a table on the outdoor terrace, which has unbeatable views of the city, and remember that a suit and tie are required.
Open Mondays through Fridays 1:30 to 3:30 pm and 9 to 11 pm, Saturdays 9 to 11 pm.
31 Calle Zurbano
Sergi Arola Gastro's minimalist dining room has just six tables and offers only three fixed-price dinner menus (ranging from $150 to $230), plus a more affordable lunch menu. Sergi Arola (an alumnus of the kitchens of Ferran Adrià and Pierre Gagnaire) is a proponent of traditional Catalonian and Mediterranean cuisine. Nothing is superfluous, flavors are authentic, and the raw material is seasonal and nearly always locally sourced. Dishes include starters such as Jerusalem artichoke with truffled poultry and mascarpone, mains such as red mullet with sautéed beans and peas with black pudding and a veil of Iberian ham, and desserts that include an airy, light passion-fruit soufflé with mint ice cream. An economical taste of Arola's cuisine can be had at the cocktail bar downstairs, which serves a selection of tapas, including his famed take on patatas bravas.—Guy Fiorita
Open Mondays through Fridays 2 to 3:30 pm and 9 to 11:30 pm, Saturdays 9 to 11:30 pm.