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Madrid is the tapas capital of the world, and Calle Cava Baja—a winding, cheerful street cutting straight through the city’s heart and bustling on both sides with tavern after colourful tavern—is the tapas capital of Madrid.
This quintessentially Madrileno street is spitting distance from Plaza Mayor, in the city’s charming Barrio La Latina, where the buildings are candy-hued, the jerez is always flowing. Come nightfall, the cobblestone streets are packed with hungry revellers. Locals know that Calle Cava Baja offers one of the densest concentrations of innovative and traditional tapas in Spain, making it a goldmine for hungry gourmands eager to fill their bellies in the most authentic Spanish fashion. Follow their lead by arriving after dark with both an empty stomach and a festive attitude, and feast incrementally, one local wine and flavour-packed bite at a time, working all the way down the delicious bars of this street. Highlights include:
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This exquisite tavern is the size of a postage stamp, so blink and you might miss it—look for the bright green doors. The entire space is an ode to the culture of flamenco, from the swaying, sensual locals chattering over cava at the bar to the memorabilia blanketing the walls. Their salmorejo, a rich garlicky soup made from pureed tomatoes and bread and drizzled with exquisite Spanish olive oil, is the perfect apertivo to kick off the night.
Hearty tapas around 5 euro.
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Just across the street (look for the big gold sign) sits Casa Victor. A genuine neighbourhood bar with friendly barmen, a jubilant atmosphere and—most importantly—divine tapas, made fresh to order. Their huevos rotos (a classic Spanish dish called “broken eggs”) have a devoted following, and if you really want to feast like a local, order them with the house-made iberico ham on top.
Tapas start at 3 euro.
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You can’t eat tapas in Spain without sinking your teeth into tortilla española, the nation’s de factor official tapa. It’s a thick potato omelette, served in slices and with an exceptionally satisfying taste that belies it simple appearance. One of the best spots in town to dig is at Casa Lucas, a homey and intimate wine bar on the Calle that offers a slightly more low-key respite from the raucousness of its neighbours next door.
Tapas and pinxtos ~ 8 euro, raciones (larger dishes) ~ 12-20 euro.
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Revellers make their way to El Tempranillo after they’ve been fortified with a few glasses of sangria, and for good reason: This ancient bare-brick nightspot is rowdy and fun, and best experienced by guests who aren’t afraid to elbow their way to the bar and shout out their order to the wildly busy barmen. Wine lovers seek out El Tempranillo for its exquisite floor-to-ceiling wine rack; meat lovers who can score one of the few tables gather round to swoon over the lamb sweetbreads, foie gras and pan-seared duck.
Dishes around 15 euro.
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Pintxos—the Basque-region style of the tapa, traditionally pierced with a cocktail stick to a piece of bread for easy serving—are an essential part of the Spanish kitchen. And at Taberna Txakolina, it’s ridiculously easy to taste them all: The small bites are lined up at the bar, so all you have to do is make your way to the front, wave down a bartender, and point.
Seafood shines at this gem of a spot, and it all tastes even better when washed down with a glass of the Txakoli, the crisp Basque white wine that gives this tavern its name.
Pinxtos run about 3 euros each.