If you want to understand Madrid—the real Madrid—the tapas bars of Lavapiés 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 establishments, the no-frills bars we still love today.
Later, in the 1980s as Spain joined the EU and experienced economic growth, many of Madrid’s newest arrivals came from all corners of the world and settled into central Madrid’s most affordable neighborhood. As of 2018, statistics reflect as many as 88 different nationalities are represented within Lavapiés, making the neighborhood a fantastic way to see the changing face of Spain and all the resulting gastronomic offerings.
1. Bar Los Colores
Located on Calle Meson de Paredes, a bustling street lined with garment vendors, Bar Los Colores serves up Senegalese classics. Look out for maffe, meat stewed with peanuts and vegetables, and Senegal’s national dish: tieboudienne, stewed fish and vegetables, slightly sour thanks to the use of tamarind. 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 (Calle San Carlos, 6) has been the neighborhood bar famous for affordable cañas, Aperol spritzes, and Wednesday night bolero performances by owner Pilar Aranguren since 2000.
Its future as a staple Lavapiés bar de cañas is in danger. In early 2019, the building was bought by a British investment firm with plans to evict all the tenants and turn the entire building into apartment rentals in 2020. The future remains unclear, but one thing’s for sure: now’s the time to support Bodegas Lo Máximo! Go have a beer or two and experience this Madrid icon while you still can.
3. El Boquerón
El Boquerón (Calle Valencia, 14), or “the anchovy,” is one of those Lavapiés eateries that excites both young hipsters and older Lavapiés 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. Bendito Vinos y Vinilos
One of Madrid’s first wine bars with a focus on natural wines, owner José has managed to turn a huge number of young Spaniards onto the new and exciting world of natural wines.
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.
5. Taberna Badila
Not everything in Lavapiés is about nightlife. When it comes to lunch in Madrid, Taberna Badila (Calle de San Pedro Martir, 6) is easily one of the best values for a menú del día, the popular set menu of the day.
For €14.50 you can choose a first and second course with dessert and a drink included. Second course will always include a protein and if fish is your thing, you have to try 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? You have to try 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.
6. Café Pavón
As the sun starts to set and madrileños start to leave work, it’s time for our beloved post-work caña. For those moments, Café Pavón has it all: lively atmosphere, reasonable prices, crispy chips and olives served to accompany your beer, and their famous mojitos.
Located at the top of Calle Embajadores, 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 street 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!
7. 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. 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 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.Want our insider’s guide to eating in Madrid? Just add your email address in the form below! ADD_THIS_TEXT
Spanish and American with a touch of Venezuelan, Oliver is a former English teacher turned full-time devourer and food tour guide.