Looking for somewhere fun to eat tapas or meet friends in Madrid? The idea of turning the traditional indoor markets into gourmet markets with tapas stalls and bars has created some really cool spaces in the Spanish capital. At them you can sample a variety of foods, choosing small dishes and tapas from different stalls, and enjoy them with drinks at central tables in attractive market buildings with a buzzing atmosphere and funky tunes. Here are five of our favorites.
1. Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel)
Madrid’s best-known food market is set in a beautiful 100-year-old iron-and-glass building near Plaza Mayor. It’s packed with all sorts of delicious treats from jamón Ibérico to erizos—edible sea urchins. Seafood is a particular speciality—try a crab burger, prawns with potato on a stick from Lhardy (which also serves the sea urchins), or a portion of squid rings, squid tentacles, shrimps, or anchovies, all fried up and served in a paper cone from El Señor Martín. The market can get crowded with tourists, but grab a table and watch the world go by, perhaps with a tipple from one of the wine or cocktail bars.
2. Mercado San Antón (Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24B)
A spacious market in the Chueca area, near Gran Via but not overrun with tourists, there are three levels here. Fresh produce, olive oils, meats, and cheeses are on the ground floor. On the floor above, there is a selection of food stands serving everything from Spanish tapas and seafood to Japanese and Greek food, with lots of tall communal tables for relaxed but lively atmosphere. Tapas start from €1—try a piece of Icelandic smoked cod liver or marinated herring with mustard. A popular drink to sample here is Trabanco—a light, dry (nonsparkling) cider from Asturias, which is poured high over the glass to aerate and awaken the cider’s flavors. In warm weather, check out the top floor bar and roof terrace.
3. Mercado de San Ildefonso (Calle de Fuencarral, 57)
Designed as an indoor street food market, this cool space sees itself as an extension of the street, with 15 different stalls. There are three floors, each with a bar, plus two outdoor patios to enjoy. The first floor is the center of the action, where there are tall stools and tables for informal dining, plus a DJ and the main bar so you can stay all evening. For something unusual, try arepas at La Arepera, which serves the Venezuelan dish of filled or stuffed cornmeal pockets. Or try an egg-based dish from Granja Malasaña. Meat lovers can tuck into delicious steak bites from Bovinus Luxury or jamón Ibérico from the family-run Arturo Sánchez.
4. Mercado de la Paz (Calle Ayala, 28)
In the upscale Salamanca area, this colorful market has been running since 1882 and has a large selection of fresh produce that attracts locals for daily shopping and conversation. It also offers a selection of tapas and central tables for lunching and people watching. Come here for meats, cheeses, and breads, as well as tinned conservas and wine. Check out the treasure trove of La Boulette at the heart of the market, which specializes in charcuterie, cheeses, and preserves, while cafés in the outdoor courtyard provide pleasant shaded spaces in warm weather.
5. Platea (Calle de Goya, 5-7)
Set in a former cinema, which retains all its character and charm with the old balconies and stage, this space has been converted into a handsome upmarket dining and bar space. The restaurant chefs in this market have six Michelin stars among them. El Foso specializes in Mediterranean cuisine and has a tempting patisserie; El Patio is a lively bar and tapas area; Arriba, which is set around the upstairs balcony area, is headed by chef Ramón Freixa, who was awarded two Michelin stars at his Ramón Freixa Madrid restaurant. Make it dinner and a show: Platea often hosts live entertainment.
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Yvonne Gordon Yvonne Gordon is an award-winning travel writer and photographer based in Ireland.