Saturated in history, culture, stunning buildings and some very tempting edibles, the city of Madrid is one not to be avoided.
The reason we were here was because it was our gateway to the continent after our stint in Iceland, and seeing we’d done Madrid back in 2002, running around the well-trodden tourist trail in blistering summer heat wasn’t on the agenda.
It was time to settle into our cute Airbnb apartment in Chueca, hang out at cafés, seek out some decent, inexpensive food and relax.
The great thing about staying in Chueca is how central it is. As small as the neighbourhood is, it sure packs it in when it comes to shopping, eating and nightlife; and being the city’s premier gay barrio, you can strut your stuff along with the locals and have a fabulous time doing it.
It isn’t all about Chueca, though, as the neighbourhoods on its peripheries are just as character-filled and full of shopping and eating opportunities.
Although one must bear in mind that as soon as you hit Gran Via and head in the direction of Plaza de la Puerto del Sol and Plaza Mayor, you’re in the thick of tourist central. This area can get a tad much with hundreds of dawdling humans wielding cameras and selfie sticks.
La Campana – Calle Botoneras, 6
Nothing a good bocadillo de calamares (2.9) won’t remedy. This is one of the city’s iconic snacks and you see it everywhere, with people crowding eateries and counters to get their hands on one. As I did at the very popular La Campana just down from Plaza Mayor.
Impossibly tender fried calamari in a bread roll. That’s it. So good!
Coffee & Kicks – Calle de las Navas de Tolosa, 6
HanSo Café – Calle del Pez, 20
Coffee snobs can rejoice with some very good, if not excellent, espresso bars tucked in the backstreets. Two joints definitely worth sniffing out are very close to Gran Via, the first of which is Coffee & Kicks, found in a cute side street of Callau.
Owned by a lover of sneakers and caffeine, this hole-in-the-wall offers excellent espresso-based drinks, filter coffee, plus a few cakes, cookies and simple breakfast like pan con tomate.
Head towards Noviciado and you’ll come across HanSo Café, a very popular corner eatery and third wave coffee spot. Get your Chemix, Kalita, V60 and Aeropress, fork into a slice of matcha & white chocolate or red bean cake, maybe some avo on toast, slump in the window seats and enjoy the vibe.
One thing I love about Madrid is the abundance of good bread. Not just that: the good bakeries that come along with it, as well. You could go crazy in those places!
One of our staples is always the good old bocadillo. Fresh crusty bread, shavings of jamón and cheese and nothing more. They’re delicious, easy and cheap.
If you want the full array of goods, I’d say head somewhere like Pannus, a name you can see in many of the major centres in Spain. These guys pump out the artisan goods, including really good bread, cakes, cookies and excellent pastries. Perfect spot for coffee and a snack.
Pannus – Calle de Hortaleza, 38
Spread over three floors is a food market that simply has to be visited in Chueca. The first floor of San Antón Market offers your usuals of fresh fruit and veg, meat, seafood and pantry items.
Head up the escalators and you enter a tavern and wine bar-style emporium filled with vendors offering tapas and pintxos, takeaway packs, sweets and drinks. Plenty of seating to enjoy it all, too.
The top floor boasts Cocina de San Antón, a restaurant which specialises in local and International food. They’ll even cook what you bought down on level one for several euros.
Mercado de San Antón – Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24B
Khachapuri – Calle de Víctor Hugo, 5
When the prospect of trying Georgian food for the first time came up, we jumped right onto it. I mean, does the average person even know much about it? And no, I’m not talking about the American state.
Khachapuri, which translates to bread boat, is a Georgian bakery that specialises in wood-fired breads shaped and filled with cheeses, egg and other simple ingredients. The moment you walk into the bakery, which actually looks like a contemporary restaurant, you’re hit with the glorious smell of a wood fire.
The menu is filled with items typical of Georgia including adjaruli khachapuri (11.6), bread dough that’s filled with three cheeses and an egg. Once it emerges from the wood oven you’re also given a bucket of butter cubes, yes a bucket, of which you dot over the hot khachapuri, let it melt a little, stir it all together with your fork, roll it into a cigar shape and eat it. Your arteries will love it.
Another typical dish of Georgia is khinkali (1.5 each). These dumplings are filled with meat, soup and sometimes onions and herbs. Simply pick up the puckered top with your fingers, douse it with black pepper, bite into the pastry and suck out the delicious soup. You then eat the rest, although some leave the thick pastry uneaten.
Then there’s kubdari (13), a bread disc filled with small chunks of beef. Typical of Georgia’s mountain region, it’s a rustic dish that also has onion and spices through the meat, but ours seemed to lack those seasonings.
Vesuvio Pizza – Calle de Hortaleza, 4
When the pizza craving hit, we looked to Vesuvio out of pure convenience. It’s on the main Chueca strip and does personal-sized pizza, unlike the squares and slices you see so much of in these parts.
This 1979 stalwart heaves with people on any given night, and nabbing a table or bar stool is your ticket to no frills pizza, pasta and very decent antipasto selections. The house vino is no slouch, either, especially when it’s only €1.50 a glass.