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Eat best at Barcelona’s ‘worst’ restaurants


It’s lunchtime. You’re walking down Barcelonetta trying to choose a restaurant. There’s the “Since 1940” blue striped sea view one, the “ 40 years of Spanish cuisine” one, the “traditional Catalan restaurant“ and so on. You look for the menu at the entry, a few waiters wave you in, some places are packed with tourists. Hungry and tired you finally choose the “since 1940” tourist packed, 20 euro grilled fish special restaurant at the corner. Congratulations! You’ve just missed “La Bombeta” one of the most loved by locals fish bistro, that’s just around that corner.

How did you come to miss their “bombetas” ( mashed potato balls mixed with meat and herbs ) and their freshly caught fish? First of all, you assumed that no good restaurant could be on a side street so you didn’t even bother to turn left. Second, you looked for places packed with tourists instead of those packed with locals. Have you seen any locals at the “Since 1940” ? And last but not least, even if, by accident, you would have passed by “la Bombeta” and seen the wooden façade, modest chairs, people pushing trays inside and drinking house wine outside, waiting in line, you would have concluded that it’s a “bad place”. And it is. The good kind of “bad” place.

During my 5 days stay in Barcelona, at the beginning of this year, I indulged in a lot of local favorites that most tourists wouldn’t find or wouldn’t try on their own. Because I don’t want you to make the same mistake, I’m going to tell you three ways you can spot these places.

Full of locals? Go in.

Nothing sounds better than hot chocolate in December right? So if you’re taking a stroll in the evening and see a small terrace with huge mugs of hot chocolate on every table and warmed up, happy Barcelonans, what do you do? I’m hoping that by this point in the article you are at least tempted to say “Go in and try some?” That’s exactly what we did at Buenas Migas and got a Xoxo Bomba, a chocolat bomb. Melted dark chocolate mixed with milk and topped with pieces of cake. “Topped” may be an understatement because what they really did was shove so much cake in that mug that the hot chocolate overflowed. It appeared to be their trademark since all mugs around us were dripping chocolate and nobody seemed to mind. And why would they since it was warming, creamy and decadently sweet?

Get out of your “tourist” zone

One mid-morning, while walking through El Born we stumbled upon Santa Ecaterina Market. A smaller and tourist-less version of La Boqueria. Since locals were coming out with bags full of groceries while others were hanging on the outside benches, snacking on delicious looking treats, we had to go in. Like kids in a candy shop, we drooled and walked around aimlessly through mountains of free fish, garlands of smoked chorizo and my Achilles’ heel : cheeses. Big cheeses, small cheeses, yellow, white, rolls, chunks, salty, fresh, maturated, sheep, cow, goat. I had to try something – because I couldn’t try them all – so I went for a goat cheese roll wrapped in dried pineapple pieces. For the full experience I found en empty bench in the sun, in front of the market and nibbled on my new found treasure while thinking that in the last hour I haven’t seen one single tourist. “Ain’t that a shame? All those mountains and garlands and rolls and no tourist to enjoy them. They’re probably all down at La Boqueria getting shoved around and stepped on while talking pictures of food they’re not going to try.”

Don’t look for posh.

Take Can Eusebio, for example – an unpretentious brownish tapas bar that looked like a kiosk. The day we went there, we were “invited” to cram at a one person table for two, next to the small hallway that led to the toilet. We took a look at the long tapas menu while I tried to remember my rusty Spanish and match the pictures with the words. After some back and forth sign language and “Spanish for dummies”, we got the grilled sardines with fresh parsley and “somsos” – little fried fish staked in a small pyramid. The moment we took our first bite we forgot all about the place, the small uncomfortable chair, the TV hanging from the wall and felt like the guest of a premium restaurant. Ok, the homemade Sangria might have had something to do with that, but the taste buds don’t lie. Can Eusebio remains to this day our favorite recommendation at every dinner party where people brag about their travels.

Fact box:
Can Eusebio Tapas Bar : Poble-Sec, Carrer Vila i Vila 84
Santa Ecaterina Market: Av. de Francesc Cambó, 16 (www.mercatsantacaterina.com)
Buenas Migas: Ronda Sant Pere, 27 ( there are many more around Barcelona, visit www.buenasmigas.com )

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