Tapas, the Iberian obsession that we can never get enough of. It doesn’t matter what we call them: tapas, pintxos, picaeta or raciones, because, in the end, we all like more or less the same thing. And, when I say Iberian obsession, it’s because this tradition knows no borders and extends into Portugal, where the petiscos are almost as revered as tapas are in Spain.
Each region has its own versions, combining ancestral formulas with innovative recipes, be they bite-sized morsels or dishes meant for sharing, with the size and garnish varying. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. In previous texts, I’ve talked about some of the most interesting places to get tapas. Today, I want to propose a route through Spain that jumps from bar to bar. Because that’s another thing; though we love having tapas on terraces and seated at tables, we are absolutely crazy about having them at a bar – and especially if it’s made out of wood or zinc.
Therefore, for those who love a good bar conversation, over beers while chatting with the bartender, delicacies on display, and the typical chaos of Spanish bars – regardless of how modern they are –, the following seven places are very special. Each one has its own style: from classic bars to others that are barely a year old; from North to South; from the Mediterranean to the Meseta (high plains); a simple starting point that each of us can round off with our personal preferences:
A 100% pure Andalusian tapas experience, though not the classic kind that is based on recipes found in so many other places, but rather one that is product-centric, focused on the traditional foods from the region’s mountain areas, including cheeses and cured pork products. The cheese in lard is really good, while the kidneys with Ibérico pork lard and grilled castañetas (Ibérico pork salivary glands) are outstanding. A glass of fino (dry sherry) makes the whole experience memorable.
La Doma: C/ Polonia, 2. Barrio de Los Bermejanes. Sevilla
Neighborhood tapas from Aragon, without refinements or concessions. Hearty and flavorful, the sweet breads and lamb are its signatures. The trotter flan is an explosion of both flavor and calories, as are the grilled trompitas (suckling lamb intestines). The lamb baguettes are mythical here, although, in my opinion, a visit to Cervino is obligatory for the pig’s ear. Retrospective.
Bar Cervino: C/ Ainzón, 18. Barrio de la Almozara. Zaragoza
The dining room of one of the most creative restaurants in Galicia is in the back, but next to the entrance, there is a bar where one can sample authentic surprises that range from local – like the open-faced octopus empanada or the San Xoán sardine (with smoked oil and Herbón peppers) – to global. Examples of the latter deserving of special mention include the Peking baguette with cow’s tail and sea bass tiradito.
Acio Restaurante: Rúa Galeras, 20. Santiago de Compostela.
If there’s a classic among Spanish tapas bars, than this is surely it. Joel Robuchon is said to have used the Manolín formula as the basis for his Atelier Robuchon in Paris, an anecdote that alone would have earned this Alicante establishment a place in gastronomic history. But in reality, it is this bar’s cured Spanish ham, red prawns and simple dishes like the sepionets (baby cuttlefish), that have earned it a spot among Spain’s not-to-miss tapas bars in terms of dishes and products.
Nou Manolín: C/ Villegas, 3. Alicante.
El Rincón de Antonio
Located in Zamora, this restaurant is known for its creative cuisine. However, the bar at the front entrance offers a careful selection of local cheeses, as well as some of Antonio’s signature dishes that people can try at the bar, away from the formality of the dining room – all accompanied by a wonderful selection of wines from Castile-Leon. The garbanzos with ceps and ajoarriero, and snails with chorizo sauce are a must.
El Rincón de Antonio: Rúa de los Francos, 6. Zamora.
This typical bar is adorned with posters of the local soccer team and visited by regular customers established over decades of consistent service. It’s probably not the city’s coziest establishment, but its excellent location, just steps away from the Torre del Clavero, and, particularly, its classical and wonderfully executed gastronomy, make it a classic – one of those places that fills with parishioners at midday on Sundays, eager for their plate of pork cheeks, serving of kidneys or taste of ensaladilla. Other menu classics are the breaded beef snouts, chanfaina, “drunken” potatoes, or the stewed tongue. Hearty dishes, traditional flavors and prices that are beyond reasonable… You can’t ask for more.
Bar La Viga: C/ Consuelo, 16. Salamanca.
Located right next to the cathedral, this place is particularly interesting as it’s a island in an area overwhelmingly dedicated to tourist establishments with terraces overrun with frozen paella. The ambience and decor, without pretentions or complications, make it abundantly clear that this is not the case here. And to make the distinction clearer still, our recommendation for this bar couldn’t be simpler: a beer at the bar, accompanied by some patatas bravas or ensaladilla. Nothing more. From this point on, you can decide for yourselves.
Ovejas Negras Tapas: C/ Hernando Colón, 8. Sevilla.
Photo: Jorge Guitián