There are two ways to eat in Barcelona: you can go to a restaurant ( restaurante in Castilian) or cafetería and have a full meal, or you can have a succession of tapas (small snacks; sometimes tapes in Catalan) or raciones (larger ones; racions in Catalan) at one or more bars. This last option can be a lot more interesting, allowing you to do the rounds and sample local specialities. Otherwise, at the budget end of the scale, you'll be able to get a basic, filling, three-course meal with a drink - a menú del dia - for ?5.50-9, though the cheapest tend to be served in drab dining rooms and are usually available only at lunchtime. There are some excellent exceptions, though, and plenty of proper restaurants also provide a good-value menúdel dia for between ?9 and ?12.
Travellers on an extremely limited budget can do well for themselves by using the excellent markets, bakeries and delis and filling up on sandwiches and snacks.
Good restaurants and cafés are easily found all over the city, though you'll probably do most of your eating where you do most of your sightseeing, in the old town, particularly around the Ramblas and in the Barri Gòtic. Don't be afraid to venture into the Barrio Chino which hides some excellent restaurants, some surprisingly expensive, others little more than hole-in-the-wall cafés. In the Eixample prices tend to be higher, though you'll find plenty of lunchtime bargains around. Gràcia , further out, is a nice place to spend the evening, with plenty of good mid-range restaurants. For the food which Barcelona is really proud of - elaborate sarsuelas (fish stews) and all kinds of fish and seafood - you're best off in the Barceloneta district (Metro Barceloneta, or bus #64 or #17, final stop), down by the harbour, or in the Port Olímpic (Metro Ciutadella, or bus #41 or #59). Nor should you necessarily eschew local chain or franchise outfits, which can be surprisingly good and sometimes score quite well on ambience and decor.
Note that the Barri Gòtic can be a dangerous place late at night. The tapas bars themselves are all right (watch your possessions; bag-snatchers operate in crowded bars), but take care if you're on a bar crawl - stick to the main streets, don't let anyone lure you up a side street, and only take out the money you're going to spend that night.
Some handy chains: cafés and bars
You'll find these establishments scattered around Barcelona and beyond.
Il Caffe di Roma A string of well-decorated cafés serving good coffee and other hot drinks, pastries and ice creams. Open Mon-Thurs 7am-midnight, Fri & Sat 7am-2am, Sun 9am-midnight. Locations include: Avda Diagonal 466, Metro Diagonal; c/Gran de Gràcia 105, Metro Fontana; Pg de Gràcia 58, Metro Passeig de Gràcia; Ramblas 76, Metro Liceu; Ronda de Sant Pere 11, Metro Urquinaona; Via Laietana 23, Metro Jaume I; and Via Laietana 44, Metro Jaume I.
Pans & Company The Catalan equivalent of a burger chain, serving a variety of baguette-based sandwiches, with a discounted sandwich of the month. Better for you than a hamburger. Open Mon-Thurs & Sun 9am-midnight, Fri & Sat 9am-3am. Branches at: c/Ferran 14, Metro Liceu; Pl Urquinaona 12-13, Metro Urquinaona; Las Ramblas 123, Metro Catalunya; Rambla de Catalunya 13, Metro Catalunya; Ronda Universitat 7, Metro Catalunya; and Avda Portal de l'Àngel 2, Metro Catalunya.
Breakfast, snacks and sandwiches
For breakfast, you can get coffee and bread or croissants almost anywhere (including your hotel), but a few café-bars and specialist places - granjas and orxaterias especially - are worth looking out for. Most tempting are the traditional pan con tomate ( pa amb tomàquet in Catalan - bread rubbed with tomato, olive oil and garlic), ensaimadas (pastry spirals), tostadas ( torrades in Catalan; toast with oil or butter and jam), chocolate con churros ( xocolata amb xurros - long, fried tubular doughnuts with thick drinking chocolate) and cakes at any bakery or patisserie - which, incidentally, are among the few shops to open on Sundays. Most places also serve substantial egg dishes ( huevos fritos are fried eggs, ous fregits in Catalan), and cold tortilla (Catalan truita ) makes an excellent breakfast.
Takeaway pizza slices and burgers are ubiquitous, with chains well represented on the Ramblas and on the main streets in the Eixample. There's a fast-growing number of falafel/kebab outlets, too, especially in the old town and Gràcia: the best are on Plaça Reial, on the Ramblas near c/de Ferran, or in c/Torrent d'Olla and Plaça del Sol in Gràcia
For a more substantial snack, you can't beat Barcelona's tapas bars. Tapas are small portions, three or four chunks of fish, meat or vegetables, or a dollop of salad, which traditionally used to be served up free with a drink. These days they'll set you back ?1-3, with raciones (bigger plates of the same, served with bread) costing around ?3-5, and can be enough in themselves for a light meal (make it clear when ordering whether you want a ración or just a tapa). Most tapas bars have their own specialities (including Basque tapas or pintxos which tend to be more elaborate), so look at what the locals are eating before diving in. Jumping from bar to bar, with a bite to eat in each, is as good a way as any to fill up on some of the best food that the city has to offer. Done this way, your evening needn't cost more than a meal in a medium-priced restaurant - say ?12-15 a head for enormous amounts of food and drink. Remember, though, that sitting at a table rather than standing at the bar to eat can make things more expensive.
Most of the places we've listed are open at lunchtime and in the evening. As with restaurants, some are closed on Sundays, on public holidays and throughout August
The most common restaurants in Barcelona are those serving local Catalan food, though more mainstream Spanish dishes are generally available, too. There are some specialist places, most notably marisqueríes ( marisquerias in Castilian), which specialize in fish and seafood, while for places serving grilled meats, look for the sign "Carnes a la brasa", or simply "Grill". There are several regional Spanish restaurants as well, particularly Galician ones, which are nearly always worth investigating, while the fancier places tend towards a refined Catalan-French style of cooking that's as elegant as it is expensive.
The range of international cuisine in Barcelona is expanding, and though not as wide as in other European capitals, if you've been in Catalunya (or other parts of Spain) for any length of time, you may be grateful that there's a choice at all. There are good pizza options, Indian and Pakistani food, North African and Middle Eastern, Latin American and, increasingly, Japanese and Thai. Chinese restaurants abound - festooned with bright plastic dragons - but their dubious and gloopy concoctions should be avoided if you know what authentic Chinese food tastes like.
There is also an ever-growing number of international chain-restaurants such as Pizza Hut , especially around the Port Olímpic and the more touristy areas. The only advantage of these is that they are often open outside of Catalan eating times and are therefore good places to go with children for early suppers.
Spaniards eat very late and opening hours for restaurants in Barcelona are generally 1-4pm and 8-11pm; the listings give the latest available information for each individual restaurant. A lot of restaurants also close on Sundays or Mondays, on public holidays and throughout August - again check the listings for specific details but expect changes since many places imaginatively interpret their own posted opening days and times.
At the trendier and more expensive restaurants, it's recommended that you reserve a table in advance; either ring the number provided, or call in earlier in the day. These restaurants will also add IVA , a seven percent tax, to your bill and it should say on the menu if you have to pay this.
The listings are divided into geographical area, and into price categories, too - inexpensive, moderate and expensive. As a rough guide, you'll get a three-course meal with drinks for:
Inexpensive under ?12 a head
Moderate ?12-24 a head
Expensive ?24 and upwards
But bear in mind that the lunchtime menú del dia often allows you to eat for much less than the price category might lead you to expect; check the listings for details.
If your main criteria are price and quantity, seek out a menjador (dining room; comedor in Castilian), usually found at the back of a bar and, as often as not, unmarked, discovered only if you pass an open door. Essentially workers' cafés, they serve meals at lunchtime rather than in the evenings (when they may be closed altogether), and typically you'll pay ?5-7 for a complete meal, including a drink. A possible problem at the budget end of the scale may be the lack of written menu, with the waiter merely reeling off the day's dishes at bewildering speed. The other budget alternative is to eat in a bar or a cafetería - many are mixtures of the two - where food often comes in the form of a plato combinado ( plat combinat in Catalan) - literally a combined plate - which will be something like egg, steak or chicken and chips, or calamares and salad, usually with bread and sometimes with a drink included. This will generally cost in the region of ?3.50-5.50.
Markets, supermarkets and delis
If you want to buy fresh food, or make up your own snacks and meals, use the city's markets . There's less choice in the supermarkets , though they're worth trying for tinned products, as are the delicatessens and small central shops which specialize in tinned fish, meat and cheeses. The cheapest food and provisions shops are those in the Barrio Chino/Raval area, particularly down c/de Sant Pau - which is one of the few places you'll find food shops open on Sundays, too.
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