This blog post was originally posted on July 2, 2016 and was updated July 28, 2018.
One of the best parts of discovering a new city is tasting local delights! Madrid does not disappoint with tons of hidden treasures for food lovers.
With restaurants featuring classic Madrid cooking, regional Spanish cuisine, and plenty of tapas, there’s something for everyone. With our tips, you’ll learn all the secrets for how to eat like a local in Madrid!
1. Know that Tapas are More than Small Plates
Dinner in Madrid means tapas! And how do we eat tapas in Madrid? Here in the capital, “tapas” is more a style of eating than the size of the plates. The most common way to do tapas in Madrid is by ordering large plates called raciones, and sharing them among the group.
Madrileños, or people from Madrid, swarm tapas bars and order a variety of plates to be enjoyed among friends. This is not a sit-down, steak-and-two-sides kind of deal. It’s a feast for the senses with plates of cured meats, grilled seafood, salads, cheese plates and more coming out of furious kitchens to hungry diners.
Insider’s Tip: For a great tapas-style meal, order a few plates at a time and try going to several places, grabbing something at each place. You can always order more, so start small and build as you eat like a local in Madrid!
2. Know the Timetable
One of the most important parts of enjoying a great meal in Madrid is knowing when to go. Kitchens in Spanish restaurants usually have very specific hours. Here’s a quick cheat sheet:
8 am: Have a coffee before leaving the house
11 am: Have breakfast; either a toasted baguette with fresh tomato and olive oil, churros
con chocolate, or a pastry
2 pm-3 pm: Have lunch; this is the biggest meal of the day
6 pm-7 pm: Have your afternoon snack, which is called a merienda
9 pm and on: Have dinner
3. Go Seasonal
Eating in Madrid is tied to the seasons. During the winter months look for cocido madrileño, Madrid’s hearty stew made with garbanzo beans, meats, and vegetables. In the hot summer months, cold soups are king. Gazpacho and its silkier cousin salmorejo are menu musts!
4. Try a Typical Breakfast
One of the best ways to start your day and eat like a local in Madrid is with a nice cup of coffee and tostada con tomate (toast with fresh tomato puree). This classic breakfast combination consists of a small toasted baguette served with a little bowl of freshly-pureed tomato.
You spoon the tomato over the bread and then drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. It’s like sunshine on bread! If you’re feeling like a little protein kick, you can add on some cured Spanish ham! For help on how to order your coffee in Spanish, check out our Spanish coffee ordering guide or take a look at the video below.
Insider’s Tip: One of our favorite places to enjoy an extra large tostada con tomate is at Venta el Buscón (Calle Victoria, 5) near the Puerta de Sol. For just a few euros, fuel up for the day with an amazing tostada with ham, freshly grated tomatoes, coffee and orange juice!
5. Don’t Forget Second Breakfast
As lunch time in Madrid doesn’t roll around until at least 2 pm, it’s normal to get a little peckish as the morning rolls on. Do like the locals do and pop into a neighborhood cafetería for a pick-me-up. This is a crucial step if you want to eat like a local in Madrid!
A typical Madrid late-morning snack (around 11 am) is a pincho de tortilla or a wedge of a thick potato and onion omelet. Spanish tortilla, as it’s called, is great at any time of day! But, you’ll typically see office workers, students and anyone ready for something to much on, standing at a bar, happily eating their slice as their mid-morning snack to tide them over until lunch.
6. Enjoy a Menú del Día For Lunch
Once you’re ready for lunch (starting around 2 pm) try a Madrid favorite, the menú del día, or set lunch menu. This great lunch option is served at restaurants throughout the city during the week and at some places on the weekend. When you sit down for your meal, you’ll choose between several options for your first course (normally salads, soups or rice dishes) and a meat or fish dish for you second course.
The meal also includes dessert or coffee, bread, and a drink. As lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain, the portions are usually quite substantial. A menú del día is the best way to eat like a local in Madrid when it comes to lunch. It’s a great way to sample a number of dishes in the same meal, and for between 10 and 15 euros per person, the price can’t be beat!
For a traditional menú del día of Spanish home cooking, we love La Sanabresa (Calle Amor de Dios, 12). For something a little more modern, you can’t go wrong with L’Artisan Furansu Kitchen (Calle Ventura de la Vega, 15) and their menú of market-fresh French and Japanese dishes.
7. Stop by a Traditional Market
Markets in Madrid are one of our true passions. Each neighborhood has its own market featuring stands selling meats, fish, produce, cheese and more! A great new trend in Madrid markets is that in addition to the butchers, charcuteries, and fishmongers, there are also a number of small bars and restaurants featuring dishes prepared with ingredients from the market itself. Ogle the selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables and fresh-from-the-sea fish and seafood, then sit down for a drink and a bite. Do all this in the bustling atmosphere of a neighborhood hub to truly eat like a local in Madrid.
Insider’s Tip: One of our favorite markets is the Mercado de la Paz (Calle Ayala, 28) near the Retiro Park. If you’re planning a shopping day in Barrio Salamanca (a great idea!) take a break from the boutiques with a stop at the market! And if you do, don’t miss the tortilla at Casa Dani. It’s one of our all-time favorites!
8. Go for Merienda
The merienda is Madrid’s answer to afternoon tea, typically a sweet late afternoon snack. As dinner is quite late in Madrid, starting around 9 pm, you might get hungry along the way! If you’re craving something sweet, try one of Madrid’s great bakeries for a late afternoon pastry to tide you over. This is also a perfect time of day to try churros and chocolate, the famous long, crispy donuts dipped in thick hot chocolate.
Insider’s Tip: For freshly made churros and amazing hot chocolate, try Chocolat (Calle Santa María, 30), one of our food tour partners in the Huertas neighborhood near the Prado and Reina Sofia museums. For a real Madrid treat, order the porras, thicker and fluffier versions of the churro.
9. Enjoy the Most Typical Aperitivo
People from Madrid love getting their evening started, especially on weekends, with a glass of sweet, red Spanish vermouth. This aperitif is a fortified white wine flavored with herbs and spices and it is the perfect way to open up your appetite for the meal to come. Try snacking on some olives as vermouth’s sweet flavor goes perfectly with tangy, pickled foods. In most bars, vermouth is served on tap and in small glasses garnished with a slice of orange or lemon. Rub elbows with the locals as you sip the most in-the-know drink!