Madrid's Best Casual Dining

“Foodie” Gastro Bars in the Retiro District

Where Iberian Traveler Dines

Rather than slogging down the always packed tapas bar filled Cava Baja, we highly recommend for a more authentic, non-touristy tapas crawl, or casual gourmet sit-down meal, visitors to the city find their way to the upmarket residential area just east of Retiro Park. This neighborhood has by far the best taverns per square meter in the entire city, the city’s “golden mile” for small plates style dining. Head to the streets of Doctor Castelo, Menorca, Avenida Menéndez Pelayo and Ibiza for great food, fair wine prices, and with each glass of wine, a complimentary small tapa. This is the district where we always do our own tapas crawl or casual dining, as the cuisine and ambience are more sophisticated than those found in the La Latina’s more traditional, tourist-filled bars. The gastro bars/neo tascas here cater to the well-heeled, food-savvy, local crowd, including food bloggers/professional critics, and chefs on their nights out.

Starting across the street from Retiro Park
Taberna Arzábal
Calle Doctor Castelo, at the corner of Menéndez Pelayo, 13, in the upscale Retiro district, just to the east of the park and facing the park, we make this one of our first stops. Among the gourmet critics, it’s one of the most popular wine bar/small plates restaurants in town, so one must reserve in advance for one of the tables in the small dining room or just dine on small plates at the bar area, or come early to grab a table when it opens. Try the delicious wild mushroom and ham croquettes, fried artichokes, skillet of eggs with truffles, fideuá (a catalán paella made with pasta rather than rice) and a large selection of wines by the glass. Its open daily from 12:30 pm to 1:30 am, but the kitchen doesn’t open for lunch until 2:00 pm, closing at 4:30, and for dinner at 8:30, closing at 11:45 pm. One can reserve online. The owners have opened a new branch in the Museo Reina Sofía. Tel: (+34) 914 095 661

Take a short detour to Calle Lope de Rueda
Between Calle Doctor Castelo and parallel Calle Menorca
La Montería
At Lope de Rueda, 35, was founded in 1963 by the Román family and is one of the “classics” of the neighborhood, a Taberna ilustrada. At the bar, try their tigres (breaded stuffed mussels) and the small dining room is a perfect place to frequent during the fall to feast on their game dishes: scallops of wild boar, venison with plums and Port sauce, warm partridge salad plus wild mushroom creations. Closed Sunday nights. Tel: (+34) 915 741 812

Back to Doctor Castelo
La Raquetista
Doctor Castelo, 19, left side, going up, is the new kid on the block, opened by the Aparicio brothers, named as an homage to the Basque women who played pelota with a racquet. Here there is a small bar and dining space with about five tables to choose from a small menu of around 10 starters and 10 mains, along with daily specials. Critics rave about the chef’s oxtail curry. Closed Sunday nights and all day Monday. Tel: (+34) 918 311 842

La Castela
Doctor Castelo, 22, is one of Madrid’s most beloved classic taverns, dating from 1929, with a tin topped bar, stucco columns, mirrors, marble and fine draught beer and vermouth on tap. Its super traditional dining room receives a Bibi Gourmand designation for good value from the Michelin guide and is justly famous for its bull’s tail stew. Closed Sunday nights ( Tel: (+34) 915 740 015 / 915 735 590

Taberna Laredo
Calle Doctor Castelo, 30, three blocks up from Arzábal, on the right, home of the Laredo brothers, is what most natives proclaim is Madrid’s best, and very popular, wine & crustaceans bar, where diners can feast on fin fish and (pricey) shell fish straight from the Cantabrian sea and choose from a fine selection of wines, with prices slightly more expensive than Arzábal. You can have small plates or tapas/wine at the bar (delicious ensaladi a rusa) or reserve a table in advance in the upstairs dining room. Stand out dishes include tuna belly salad, their risotto of squid and ewe’s cheese, skillet with eggs and truffles, black rice with baby squid and clams, their razor clams (navajas) and steamed baby clams, mussels, red and white shrimp and salmorejo, the Cordoban style, thick and smooth gazpacho. Laredo is said to be a favorite of (former) King Juan Carlos. Open 11:00 am to 5:00 pm and from 8:00 pm until midnight, closed Sundays. Tel: (+34) 915 733 061

Taberna Marcano
Directly across the street from Taberna Laredo, at Doctor Castelo 31, you’ll find another gastro bar/small restaurant getting rave reviews from Spain’s gourmet press and becoming our other favorite in this area. Super talented chef David Marcano, a protégé of Arzak, and former chef of Goizeko Wellington, serves a terrific arroz meloso con carabineros, or a soupy rice dish with giant prawns, yummy Idiazábal cheese or spider crab & shrimp croquettes, vegetable gyozas (fritters), steak tartar with fried quail’s egg, tuna tartar and an interesting cheese tray. His new gastro space is divided into two areas: the bar where one can dine on tapas and a fine selection of wines by the glass and the small formal dining room with around six tables. His creations deserve to be experienced as a full meal, rather than tapas, as most plates are meant to be served as main courses and can be ordered as half portions. It’s more of a “come-to-gourmet dine-casual style” type of place, with seating for 30 diners. Open for lunch from noon until 4:00 and for dinner from 8:00 until midnight, closed Sunday. Tel: (+34) 914 093 642

Moving Up and east on Calle Menorca
La Emualda Taberna
Menorca 4, near the corner of Avenida Menéndez Pelayo. The creator of this brand new gastro bar is Israel Arroyo, a disciple of 3-Michelin starred chefs, Arzak and Berasategui. He is dishing up classic Madrid fare, true “farm to table” cuisine, as all of his suppliers come from the Madrid province. He serves up mini casseroles, or cazuelas, as well as patatas bravas, calamares itos, soldaditos de Pavía, albóndigas de po o en pepitoria - tapas dear to madrileños’ hearts. Open from 1:00 pm to 4:00 and 8:30 pm to midnight, closed Monday nights ( Tel: (+34) 915 466 496

A Personal Favorite
Taberna La Catapa
In the former Taberna Laredo space at Calle Menorca, 14. Every dish here is terrific, especially the salmorejo, a Córdoba - style thick gazpacho, the tomato carpaccio salad, the torti a española, ensaladi a rusa, truffle croquettes and the wagyu beef hamburger. This Taberna attracts a very loyal local crowd and a smattering of Americans who live and work nearby. Stand out dishes here include carpaccio of Raf tomatoes, baked baby clams, potato and truffle croquettes and a delicious salmorejo, plus seasonal dishes, including wild mushrooms.
The engaging owner/chef Miguel Angel Jiménez is very hands on and pays personal attention to his customers well, as does his staff. The taberna also has a small dining room with a half-dozen tables that must be reserved in advance. It’s open from 11:30 am to 4:30 pm and 7:30 until midnight, closed on Sundays. Tel: (+34) 686 143 823

Moving on to Calle Ibiza
Mercado de Ibiza
Ibiza, 8, first block from the avenue, sits next to the newly renovated market, in a renovated bank building and is conveniently open continuously from noon until 2:00 am (until 2:30 am on weekends) except Sundays, when it closes at 5:00 pm. Divided into three sections, it offers the bar on the main floor with open kitchen and high top tables, a basement “clandestine” cocktail bar in the former bank vault and an upstairs stylishly decorated dining room with vertical garden upstairs. Come here for their burrata salad, individually prepared rice dishes and a scrumptious Brioche French Toast for dessert. Tel: (+34) 917 524 490

Taberna Pedraza
Calle Ibiza, 38, is also receiving fine reviews from the local gourmet critics. The owners, husband and wife, Santiago Pedraza and Carmen Carro, spent two years traveling all over the country searching out the very best purveyors before opening their new, petite bistro. Stand out dishes here include their potato omelet Betanzos style, their tuna salad, patatas bravas, chistorra (Basque sausage) from Lasarte, Iberian ham croquettes and hamburgers made of the finest Galician beef. This neo tasca has been open only for a year and has been lauded in all the leading gastronomic blogs. For summer dining, it offers a terrace. And best of all, it won’t break the bank. Closed Mondays. Tel: (+34) 910 327 200