Barcelona has no mercy when it comes to restaurants. If it’s not an instant success, the culinary scene in this city can “kill” a place within months. Case in point: The popularity of famed El Bulli—Spain’s now-closed nerve center for molecular gastronomy—created a fusion-cuisine “bubble” with dozens of restaurants offering (very) overpriced fare; those would-be stars closed one after another because, frankly, they weren’t good enough. After that fad failed, many restaurants returned to an old-school approach to cooking—traditional tapas and wine have been the biggest trends, possibly due to gourmands’ tighter budgets during the financial crisis. Right now, it's easy to have a good dinner in Barcelona (paired with a good bottle of wine) for less than 50 dollars per person. It’s hard to think of another European capital with this capacity to be competitive. Here are the five new spots to watch in the coming year:
Ca La Merçe
While this Catalan restaurant’s menu is full of seasonal ingredients, my favorite dish is the rice. Best for lunch—since it can be heavy for dinner—it is simple, yet cooked to perfection. Ask for some tapas to start (the seasoned raw cod, the vegetables, and the squid are all superb) and enjoy a very generous list of wines, cavas, and beers. It’s a bit off the typical traveler’s circuits, but totally worth the visit.
Pepito is my favorite on this list of newcomers because I’m a sandwich lover. The name refers to a sandwich made with a chunk of tender steak served between slices of delicious, crunchy bread. They offer many variations of this classic Barcelona recipe, and all of them are fabulous. Their hamburger is also magnificent.
The best thing about Baribau is how it feels so casual, whether you go there for a cocktail after work, or to sit and order a full meal. Both experiences are wonderful: they have an excellent lamb dish, a great steak plate, and some fantastic tapas (I recommend the chicken wings). The wine menu offers a carefully curated selection of bottles as well.
This restaurant with a wine store inside has become a trendy spot that functions extremely well in a crowded part of town. It has a cozy ambience (patterned hard-wood walls, warm lighting), an elegant menu (the prawn won-tons and jamón iberico are favorites for sharing, and the French-fry-esque bravas are splendid) and, above all, an excellent selection of wines, with a wide representation of local bottles. Ask for a Priorat, a classic from Catalonia.
Manolete is a tapas place—nothing more, nothing less—and an excellent example of traditional cuisine in Barcelona. Their menu highlights classic ingredients: jamón iberico, tomato and tuna salad, and huevos rotos (eggs fried over chips, with different kinds of sausages or ham), and their selection of wines is short but notable. Try, for example, the Matsu, a fantastic wine (made from Tinta de Toro grapes, grown in sandy soil) at a fantastic price.