Where to find the best tapas (and more!) in Barcelona

September 01, 2016
Julia D'Orazio

Barcelona is hot in more ways than one.

The city may be filled with flamboyant colours of all sorts but there is only one that is burning bright — the devilishly delicious colour red. Think sangria, chorizo, fresh tomato bread, grilled peppers, and everything in between. Barcelona is a food lover’s hell. Hell in the sense that you will find yourself caving to temptation to eat everything in front of you and then be sucked into a food coma. Because here in Barcelona, with all the food that is on offer, the willpower to stop eating will be weakened with every forkful.

Counter full of tapas on display in Barcelona

All the tapas you can handle | Photo by Julia D’Orazio

Barcelona showcases the best of Spanish food in the best possible way. Fusing both traditional Catalan and Spanish flavours and beyond, there is no discrimination when it comes to plate sizes, and each dish packs a unique flavour. To have the best of all worlds, a popular choice for enjoying the tastes of Spain is to head over to one of Barcelona’s many tapas and pintxos bars.

Originating from northern Spain, pintxos are classed as a miniature cuisine, since they involve small portions. They’re typically served at a bar alongside a drink. But what started out as simple toppings over bread has evolved into elaborate small serves, each pierced with a toothpick. Some chefs have moved to modernise these small dishes to create bold and smooth tastes; sea urchin and fresh anchovies anyone? A pintxos feast works on the honour system, whereas after you have gorged yourself, you then gather the toothpicks and are charged accordingly.

Looking up at the balconies of a building in a Barcelona neighbourhood

Be sure to explore the barrios while you’re in town | Photo by Julia D’Orazio

If all roads lead to Rome, then Calle Blai leads you to pintxos glory. Located in the Poble Sec district, this pedestrian strip is populated with bars filled with trays blending traditional and modern-day pintxos, all stacked on counters and available for as little as one euro. Beautifully presented, creative montaditos (tapas served on a small slice of bread) are a popular choice — think generous slabs of Spanish tortilla, grilled chorizo on bread, traditional and fresh tomato and salt, ham croquettes atop of a slice of cheese and capped with olives. The flavour combinations are endless.

Stepping into the small yet contemporary Blai 9 Bar is like stepping into a photo shoot dedicated to food. With Blai 9’s array of mixed-base options (goodbye sliced bread) that include crepes, pitas, and homemade nachos, all topped with fresh, modern flavours, each bite resembles an edible masterpiece. How does goat cheese and roast vegetable pancakes with a sprinkle of local balsamic vinegar appeal to you? You could be forgiven if you chose to stay in just this one spot; however bar-hopping is encouraged to really enjoy the charm of this authentic neighbourhood that remains one of Barcelona’s top foodie destinations.

Produce on display in Barcelona

Markets of colourful produce will tempt your tastebuds | Photo by Julia D’Orazio

Off the main drag in the Poble Sec area is one of Barcelona’s most popular tapas bars, the ‘hole in the wall’ Quimet y Quimet. Established in 1914, this standing room establishment has people spilling out onto the streets, thanks to the demand for its simple yet delectable tapas, which reaches a fever pitch on a daily basis. Watch as the perfectly meshed flavour combinations of montaditos are made to order using only quality ingredients of canned fish, local cheeses, and various charcuteries right before your eyes. My personal favourite was the crustini smoothed with yogurt, a slice of smoked salmon, and topped with a drizzle of truffle honey. Each bite deserves a lasting savour as it is simply too good to quickly let go of the gastronomic taste bud adventure. Complement the tapas on offer with a glass of red from one of the many wine bottles that tower up the high walls of this tapas paradise. Worth the standing ovation!

Sidestepping Barcelona’s most famous strip, Las Ramblas, sounds el loco but in the name of food splendour, it would be crazy not to see what gems could be found close by in fringing El Raval. Located parallel off the tourist golden mile, this former rough area is now Barcelona’s gentrified shining star. Aside from its compelling history and colourful past, this multicultural neighbourhood is up-and-coming on the Barcelona social scene with its international inspired cafés, restaurants, and bars, including the cosy Domino Bar. This is a place where you need to have a few friends tag along, as there is plenty of food to go around. There is no shame getting your hands dirty in a bowl of patatas cachondas (fried chucks of potatoes topped with parmesan and pesto) — a flavoursome alternative to the ever-popular patatas bravas. Continue the finger-licking bites by grabbing party-sized empanadas which prove to be a true testament to the flavours of Argentina, with their chicken, beef, and tuna fillings.

If you want a break from scarfing down tapas (I recommend it be only a short-lived break), a boxcar-sized hipster takeout serves up colossal slices of pizza for a minuscule price. This area is heating up and its not just the oven!

Massive statue of a lobster in Barcelona

The famous Gambrinus lobster is a beloved photo op | Photo by Julia D’Orazio

Walk off the food overload with a trip to the seaside and Barcelona’s favourite coastal pocket, La Barceloneta. Sitting between Port Vell and Barcelona’s famed beaches, this former traditional fishing neighbourhood is the prime location to truly savour Catalonian life. The local favourite, La Bombeta, pays homage to what is best about Spanish cuisine, with its authentic homemade cooking and generous servings of tapas. Despite its classic no-frills feel and little attention to detail, the food speaks for itself, like the spicy ‘Bombas’ balls — fried potato balls stuffed with meat and topped with aioli and brava sauce and which are a local legend.

With servings of pintxos from northern Spain and Basque country, and pans of paella from Valencia in the south, and all the tapas in between and beyond, it’s easy to see why Barcelona can be a hard city if you’re watching your waist. We say indulge, and just eat your way through town. It’d be a shame to miss all that’s heating up in Barcelona’s kitchen.

Want an insider’s guide to finding the best food in Barcelona? Our barrio tapas tour is guaranteed to feed your hunger.