You are living in la la land if you think you can survive on free tapas in Madrid for the duration of your trip. But Angus Perry-Macleod from Madrid-Guide-Spain has agreed to open up his little black book and share a few of his favourite spots for eating on a shoestring in the Spanish capital…
In Spain the saying “you get what you pay for” certainly rings true in Madrid, especially when it comes to gastronomy. But couple together a few local tricks from enjoying a free hearty breakfast at your hostel, knowing the most generous Madrid tapas joints to hunting down the best local markets should keep you fed, watered and within budget.
5 best cheap eats in Madrid
El Cucurucho del Mar
Postigo de San Martin 6
Centrally located, between Gran Via and Sol, this intimate restaurant offers a wide variety of fresh seafood prepared the Spanish way at competitive prices. For about €17 each you can share a giant platter of prawns, clams and scallops with loved ones. If you want to watch Madrid go by ask for a table close to the window.
BEST FOR…AL FRESCO
El Patio Andaluz
Calle Arlaban 1
The very best of southern Spanish fare in the centre of Madrid and outdoors to boot! Select from a series of apertizers to share or follow a set meal, either way it should not come to more than €15 per person. even on grey rainy days this is a great choice if you fancy something traditional with bullfighting memorabilia covering the walls.
Plaza Santa Ana
Gourmet tapas and mondaditos, from all over the Iberian peninsula accompanied by fine wines. A little pricey if you decide to dine on Tapas but a cost effective stop for lunch or a bite on the way from Sol to the major art galleries. The patatas bravas are a firm favourite and in the evening, it’s a lively place to start your night on the town.
One cannot visit Madrid without trying the famous and traditional “Bocadillo de Calamar” (fried cuttlefish roll) at the restaurants in Plaza Mayor offering the best quality and outdoor eating at between €3.50 and €5 depending on whether you sit down or opt to eat on the move.
BEST FOR…LATE NIGHT NIBBLES
Calle Arenal 28 (and others)
Located in the hub of Madrid’s busy nightlife this chain is Spain’s only 24hr food outlet. The food is really on fit for the late night munchies but when needs must it’s the only late night option open beyond 2am.
Tips: Eat on a shoestring in Madrid
If your budget is very tight then opt to stay in a hostel to make the most of self catering facilities. You can visit the local supermarkets or buy up tasty fresh produce from local markets and prepare your own meals. Try Mercato de la Cebada on Plaza de la Cebada in the La Latina barrio. A market has been in operation here since the 15th century and it supplies some of the top restaurants in Madrid. (Openign time 9am-2pm & 5.30-8.30pm Mon-Fri, 9am-2.30pm Sat)
• Supermarkets tend to open from 10am to 10pm Monday to Saturday
• Supermarkets are closed on Sundays
• Fresh bread in Spain doesn’t last more than 18hrs, so no use for breakfast the next morning!
Go local – Menu del dia
You can just about manage a starter, main course, dessert, coffee and wine / water (depending on personal preference) for less than €10 in central Madrid. Pair this with a well stocked free breakfast at your hostel and this will keep you going for the day.
You need to look out for the “menu del dia” – the menu of the day which is a concept employed by almost every bar, cafeteria and restaurant in Madrid in order to capture the midday office trade and with Spaniards being particular as to what they eat you are assured fulfilling portions of fresh homecooked traditional Spanish food.
Whilst the majority of the cities establishments offer this option it is worth remembering that immediately in front of major tourist attractions the prices are double what they are around the next corner! At Madrids central Atocha train station departing via the principal exit you’ll find a miserly “menu del dia” for €18, if however you take the stations side exit there are six family run restaurants all offering substantially better fare at less than €10 a head!
You can pretty much forget about gorging on platefuls of free tapas in the bars of Madrid city centre. Although I do know of a small bar in front of the Barajas Metro station (“sandwiched” between the two airport stations on line 10) which will keep you well fed, if you keep the drinks orders flowing.
If you wish to try tapas on a budget then I recommend La Latina and Alonso Martinez as the “cheap and plentiful” neighbourhoods where the tapas is of a good quality and not simply a couple of olives or stale crisps on a plate. Another option is the chain 100 Montaditos where you choose from over a hundred different tapas and eat your fill for €7-8 at various locations around town.
Cheap restaurant neighbourhoods
Gran Via, literally “big street”, is home to exclusive corporate addresses, the major theatres and upmarket stores. What isn’t often mentioned is that by taking any of the numerous streets leading off this thoroughfare one can find countless restaurants and cafeterias offering very very economical eating. The majority of these restaurants are either family run or independent speciality establishments such as Asian or Chinese cuisine and a meal “a la carte” comes in at no more than €15. For dining out in Madrid there’s no cheaper alternative for a sit down meal.
All you can eat for desperados
A long time budget travellers favourite the “all you can eat” concept is yet to be accepted into mainstream Spanish culture. In fact the only restaurants offering this option in Madrid are the Chinese or Asian restaurants and to be perfectly honest the quality of foodstuffs available tends to be nothing more than deep fried frozen food or rice. But backpacker needs must so if your cash flow is running low a buffet typically costs between €7 and €9.
Visit Madrid-Guide-Spain for everything you need to know about this exciting city from airport transfers, things to do with the kids to catching a footie match.
Remember if you’re travelling to Madrid and need a place to stay we have loads of cheap hotels and hostels!
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