Tapas Guide to Madrid

Steph Sievers is a student at The College of New Jersey and a CISabroad Madrid featured blogger! She studied in Madrid for the Spring 2017 semester.

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When my sisters came all the way to Madrid to visit me, I knew I had to do something different, fun, and representative of the culture I have grown to love so much.  Besides afternoons spent in Retiro Park, shopping on Gran Via, and a beautiful sunset with wine and chips at Templo de Debod, I decided to design my own wine and tapas tour to take them on.  Near the beginning of our semester abroad, CIS Abroad sanctioned a Wine and Tapas tour for our group, hosted by an extremely knowledgeable and eccentric man.  It is still one of the best nights we spent in Madrid; we got to see more of the city, get to know our fellow CIS students and our site director Sara better, and familiarize ourselves with both the traditional tapas and new wine creations of Madrid.  Madrid is quickly becoming one of the most important wine capitals of the world, due to its creative new ways of making wine, so that it may eventually surpass cities like Paris with their traditional but impressive approach.  For example, our second stop on our CIS tour included a raisin wine, white and sweet and accompanied of course by delicious jamon and breadsticks.  

Rather than recreate the same tour for my sisters, I decided to branch out, while taking inspiration from that experience, to form the most affordable and fun night that I could.  However, this meant that the wine part of the wine and tapas tour quickly went out the window, in favor of what each of us actually wanted to drink, and this post is more of an explanation of an Affordable Drinks and Yummy Tapas Tour.  

After a day spent hopping around trying as many rooftop bars as we could (worthy of a blog post in itself), I first brought them to the gourmet experience on the top floor of Plaza de Callao’s El Corte Ingles.  It seemed the best place to start, as I live in Callao and am completely enamored of it, and it has arguably one of the best views of the city, but we didn’t make it there on our rooftop tour.  This gourmet experience consists of many different small restaurants, as well as shops for authentic wine, cheese, olive oils, and more to take home.  We decided on the Mexican restaurant, Central Mexicana, as we had been disappointed earlier that day to find that Takos al Pastor (a Madrid treasure) was closed for renovation.  The nachos are incredible – they exceed every expectation as they are listed on the menu as simply “nachos guacamole” but are in reality completely loaded with cheese, beans, pico de gallo, and jalapenos as well.  We split the nachos along with two different kinds of tacos: tacos chaquiri and al pastor (gringa on their menu is pastor with cheese, but only comes with one whereas the rest come with two).  Central Mexicana has really fun lighting and music despite being in the middle of a ton of other shops and restaurants, and the timing was perfect so that we were able to eat and drink leisurely, then enjoy the sunset on the outdoor terrace.  Gourmet Experience El Corte Ingles

Next, I took my sisters to +K Copas, which had struck my curiosity while wandering on Calle San Alberto a few weeks before due to its sign advertising simply “Cheap Drinks.”  I had never been before, but I am definitely going back.  With a modern and clean décor, there is a ton of seating both above and below the ground floor.  Their cheap cocktails set them apart from other places in Madrid, most of which can only boast inexpensive beer and wine.  I opted to stick with beer (having to host and all), but my sisters chose their Caipiroska and Margarita Blue cocktails.  They were extremely impressed, regardless of the price.  Their menu is less authentic tapas and more bar food, but this was hardly a complaint for us (as you may have guessed from our previous decision to go to a Mexican restaurant in Spain).  The menu on the wall has photos of each dish, but after seeing a group next to us order, it became apparent that these pictures don’t do their food justice at all.  We ordered a delicious plate of wings.  At +K Copas, you have to pay for each round as you order it, which surprised us but didn’t bother us because we stayed for only one round – we had more stops to make.

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I had intended for us to next visit Meson de la Guitarra, which had been our very first stop on the CIS tour.  There we had enjoyed incredible vermouth de la grifa (from the tap) and some of the best Spanish tortilla that I have had since being in Madrid, one with chorizo and one the original recipe with eggs and potatoes.  However, on this street there are a long line of restaurants in a row all beginning with “Meson de –“ and we decided on Meson de la Tortilla, as this was the dish of which I was most anxious to show them an exceptional version.  Their outdoor seating was lovely, with a small fence covered in ivy separating the tables slightly from the street without blocking the possibility for people-watching.  Even more lovely was our waiter; he was an older gentleman who was happy to speak slower Spanish with me, and we enjoyed extremely friendly service and great conversation with both him and the table next to us.  Rather than vermouth, he recommended sangria with the tortilla we ordered (just the onion).  I hesitated because sangria is truly available anywhere in Madrid, but it was exceptional and easily the best I have had in Spain.  He was right that it went perfectly with their tortilla.  Usually I think that the bread served with Spanish tortilla is unnecessary, but the crusty bread they served complemented theirs.

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Finally, we stopped into Mercado de San Miguel which was right down the street from Meson de Tortilla and on our way back to my sisters’ hotel.  I had always thought of this indoor food and drink market as a daytime activity, and had actually taken my sisters there two days earlier, but my sister wanted to enjoy a nightcap of a “really, really good red wine,” so we went in and made a beeline for the largest wine counter in the market.  It was actually better to visit at night, because it was far less crowded and therefore easier to see all of the food and drink options available before making your choice.  As we made our way to the long tables in the middle of the market to enjoy our wine, I was thrilled to run into a few of my fellow CIS Abroad kids, and we ended our evening chatting, sipping, and laughing as we had months before on the tour that inspired this night.

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