Great food in Madrid: 4 dishes to try

A new wave of innovative cuisine has swept through Spain in recent years. It has raised the country’s culinary game. La Nueva Cocina, the new kitchen, instilled in the industry a new confidence to experiment with flavors and techniques and inspired some world-class chefs, including Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, one of the most experimental restaurants in the world.

But despite modern Spanish dishes taking the dining world by storm, for most on a luxury escape to Madrid, it’s the traditional dishes that charm the most. A leisurely tapas meal is one of the oldest pleasures in Spanish life and the classic flavor combinations never fall out of fashion.

Guided by locals’ recommendations, I went in search of the authentic great food in Madrid, to discover not only the best traditional dishes but the best places to try them too.

Cocido Madrileño at La Bola Taberna

Where better to sample Madrid’s most famous dish than the restaurant many consider to be its home. La Bola was busy, boisterous and full of locals – a good sign. From our table at the back, almost everyone appeared to be savoring a steaming pot of stew – another good sign. My companion and I ordered a cocido madrileño to share.

Food in Madrid 4 dishes to try 1

Rich, fragrant and extremely filling, cocido is perfect for when it’s cold outside or when you’re especially hungry. For four generations, this family-run restaurant has been preparing the dish using traditional techniques, cooking each in an individual pot over an oak chargrill.

Food in Madrid 4 dishes to try 2

The steaming dish of pork, potatoes, beans and vegetables arrived promptly. The slow-cooked pork was succulent while the vegetables and beans added a pleasing texture. But it’s the rich broth that had me and my companion scrapping the bottom of the pot and secretly wishing we’d order one each.

Oreja de cerdo at Casa Toni

As a former vegetarian, when I learned what oreja de cerdo was, I admit my stomach did a mini somersault. Pig ears — largely skin, cartilage, and fat — fried over a hot skillet. It didn’t sound like the most appetizing of Spanish dishes but, determined to track down a real taste of Madrid, I left my preconceptions at the door of Casa Toni.

Food in Madrid 4 dishes to try 3

Image Source: By Tamorlan via Wikimedia Commons

According to my faithful guide, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Huetas fries up some of the best oreja in the city. The secret? Get them nice and crispy; I’m told the sign of a poorly cooked oreja is a slimy finish. The hearty dish of crispy meat served on a bed of salted potatoes didn’t have a hint of slime. Despite the cartilage, the meat was tender and delicious. When in Madrid, this is a dish you simply must try.

Food in Madrid 4 dishes to try 4

Image Source: By Takeaway via Wikimedia Commons

Bocadillo de calamares at El Brillante

On your way home after a few too many cañas? That’s Spanish for beer, by the way. North Americans stave off a hangover with a slice of pizza on the way to bed. The British stop off at the kebab shop. Well, in Spain, the dish of choice for night-time revelers is the bocadillo de calamares.

Food in Madrid 4 dishes to try 5

At the entrance of El Brillante, stands a model bocadillo de calamares that reaches up above my head. Emblazon above it are the words El Major Bocadillo de Calamares en Madrid: the best calamari in Madrid. In light of this bold claim, it was hard not to get my hopes up. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

Food in Madrid 4 dishes to try 6

The bread was warm and soft, presumably recently baked. The deep-fried squid was crispy on the outside and tender in the middle. As far as sandwiches with deep-fried filling goes, this could be as good as it gets. It’s no delicacy, but bocadillo de calamares is a Madrid specialty that’s guaranteed to satisfy your appetite.

Churros at Chocolateria San Gines

It’s fair to say that much of Madrid’s most famous cuisine while delicious isn’t kind to your waistline. Churros is no exception. These popular fried pastries are mainly eaten as the first meal of the day. Dipped in rich chocolate or a café con leche, this could well be the world’s most indulgent breakfast item.

Food in Madrid 4 dishes to try 7

Image Source: By Manuel via Wikimedia Commons

Most locals agree the best churros are found at Chocolateria San Gines. This Madrid institution, with its white marble bar and tiled floor, has been renowned for its chocolate con churros since 1894. My companion and I arrived outside the café’s green front door early in the morning to find a long line of tourists and locals already queuing to get a table.

Food in Madrid 4 dishes to try 8

Since many locals enjoy a quick breakfast of churros en route to work, the line moved quickly and we were soon seated with a precariously balanced pile of fried delights between us. Although made from fried dough, the churros were light and crispy, and the chocolate dip wickedly indulgent. The pile soon disappeared.

Top Image Source: By Grey World via Wikimedia Commons

Charlotte Claxton

Charlie is a freelance writer who specialises in travel, luxury and food. Having earned her chops as a staff writer for international travel brands and digital marketing companies, she now writes for freelance clients and runs her own travel blog. Charlie grew up in London and has since lived in Canada and Australia. She currently writes from various cafés, hammocks and beaches as she travels the world, bringing LuxeInACity readers first-hand insight into the best luxury experiences worldwide. Get to know Charlie better at

Latest posts by Charlotte Claxton (see all)