If you want to understand Madrid—the real Madrid—these Lavapiés bars and restaurants are a great place to start.
Until recently, Lavapiés was one of central Madrid’s most affordable neighborhoods. With its hilly streets and characteristic corralas (Madrid’s characteristic housing style where neighbors share an interior patio), throughout the 19th and 20th centuries Lavapiés attracted migrants from all over the Iberian peninsula moving to the capital city to start anew.
These migrants established some of Lavapiés’ most classic establishment: the no-frills bars we still love today.
Later, as Spain joined the EU in the 1980s and experienced economic growth, many new arrivals from all corners of the world arrived, settling into central Madrid’s most affordable neighborhood. For that reason, as of 2018, statistics reflect that as many as 88 different nationalities are represented within Lavapiés. As a result, the neighborhood is a fantastic way to discover the changing face of Spain and all the resulting gastronomic offerings.
1. Bar Colores
Located on Calle Mesón de Paredes, a bustling Lavapiés street lined with garment vendors, Bar Colores serves up chiefly Senegalese classics. Look out for maffe (meat stewed with peanuts and vegetables) and Senegal’s national dish: thieboudienne (stewed fish and vegetables).
The prices here are fantastic and the wait staff is friendly. The star dishes sell out quick, so get there early.
2. Bodegas Lo Máximo
A bar with a story that in many ways embodies the complicated and precarious future of Lavapiés, Bodegas Lo Máximo has been the neighborhood bar famous for affordable cañas, Aperol spritzes, and Wednesday night bolero performances by owner Piluka Aranguren since 2000.
In recent years, its future as a staple Lavapiés bar de cañas was in danger. In 2019, the building was bought by a British investment firm planning to evict all the tenants and turn the building into apartment rentals. Luckily, Aranguren and her business partners were able to negotiate with the firm and ultimately save their beloved neighborhood watering hole.
Given its tumultuous recent past, one thing’s for sure. Now is undoubtedly the time to support small businesses like Bodegas Lo Máximo! Go have a beer or two and experience a true Madrid icon.
3. El Boquerón
El Boquerón (or “the anchovy” as its name literally translates) is one of those Lavapiés bars that excites both young hipsters and older residents alike. Famous for cold beer and seafood, this is the classic place to start a night out in Lavapiés. Try the gambas a la plancha, or grilled prawns—always served with the head still on.
4 & 5. Bendito Vinos y Vinilos & O Luar
One of Lavapiés’ (and Madrid’s!) first bars with a focus on natural wines, Bendito and its owner José have managed to turn a huge number of young Spaniards onto these new and exciting vinos.
Served with no pretense and located within the locally adored Mercado de San Fernando, Bendito is the kind of bar where wait staff will ask what kind of wine you’re looking for, pour you a sip of what’s open, and patiently help you find a match. Their cheese and charcuterie boards include some of Spain’s most famous cheeses (straight from Quesería Cultivo) and jamón at incredibly fair prices.
If you’re seeking more filling options after your glass of wine, peruse the market. The dining options are boundless, and our favorite is O Luar, run by a Venezuelan couple that specializes in arepas. Try the reina pepiada and, if you have a sweet tooth, their tres leches cake.
6. Taberna Badila
For €14.50 you can choose a first and second course with dessert and a drink included. The second course will always include a protein, and if you’re a fan of fish, you have to try the chicharro.
Also known as horse mackerel, this underappreciated and sustainable fish is caught in the cold waters of the Cantabrian sea. Badila’s chicharro a la bilbaína will rival any restaurant in Bilbao, where the dish originally comes from. Come hungry, and if variety is your thing, go with friends and share several of the dishes.
For dessert? Don’t miss the homemade cuajada, curdled sheep’s milk served with homemade blueberry jam. It mind sound strange, but trust us on this one—Badila never disappoints.
7. Café Pavón
As the sun starts to set and madrileños start to leave work, it’s time for our beloved post-work caña at a Lavapiés bar. For those moments, Café Pavón has it all: lively atmosphere, reasonable prices, olives and crispy chips served to accompany your beer, and their famous mojitos.
If you find yourself in the mood to begin an evening of cañeo (the perfect accompaniment to tapeo, cañeo is simply going out for small beers), follow the natural pull down the Calle Embajadores where you will find plenty of local bars and eateries to continue your route. And remember: don’t fear packed bars—those are the guaranteed local favorites!
8. Café Melos
Returning back to Lavapiés’ austere and castizo character, no visit to the neighborhood is complete without a beer, a croqueta, and a zapatilla at Melo’s.
Literally translated as “shoe,” the signature sandwich at this local eatery is made entirely of Galician ingredients: bread filled with soft cow’s milk tetilla cheese and lacón or ham.
Melo’s fills up, so be fearless and assert yourself when it comes time to order at this classic Lavapiés bar. Also, if you like white wine, try their fruity Galician white wine served in white porcelain dishes, just like it’s done in Galicia.
So, the only thing you’re missing at this point is something a little fancy, and TOGA will fit the bill.
Run by Argentine chefs serving up a mix of Latin American and Spanish dishes with Asian touches, the restaurant itself is lovely and the constantly evolving menu never disappoints. Make sure to reserve for dinner and ask for the off-the-menu options. If the noodles are available, they’re a must!
Upon leaving TOGA, you’re at a crossroads. You’ll be right by Plaza Cascorro, the dividing line between two beloved central Madrid neighborhoods. From here, you can either head back towards “Lavapi” (as Madrid youth lovingly refer to Lavapiés) and have some more beers. Or you can change neighborhoods and head into La Latina, another beloved central neighborhood famous for its terraces, Sunday flea market, charming squares, and the countless tapas bars along Cava Baja street.
Either way, the night has just begun.
Lavapiés Tapas FAQs
Located southeast of Madrid’s historic center, Lavapiés lies in the area framed by Calle de Embajadores and Calle de Atocha. The local metro stop of the same name is located in the center of the neighborhood. Metro stations Embajadores, La Latina, Tirso de Molina, and Antón Martín also serve the area.
As you may have guessed, our favorite thing to do in Lavapiés is eat! But this corner of Madrid has a lot more to offer, too.
The famed Reina Sofía art museum is located within the neighborhood’s borders, as are the La Casa Encendida and Tabacalera cultural centers. The streets surrounding the Reina Sofía are lined by smaller independent art galleries.
Furthermore, Lavapiés has lots of great small, independently owned small businesses that make for great boutique shopping. The San Fernando and Antón Martín markets are great places to go grocery shopping and enjoy the local atmosphere.
Update Notice: This post was originally published on October 16, 2019 and was updated with new text and photos on May 28, 2021.Want our insider’s guide to eating in Madrid? Just add your email address in the form below!
Spanish and American with a touch of Venezuelan, Oliver is a former English teacher turned full-time devourer and food tour guide.