Five Best Places to Dine in Barcelona’s Old Town
Barcelona is famous for its artistic and eclectic mix of architecture, sculpture, and fine arts – but few would guess that this Spanish metropolis extends its aesthetic heritage into the world of cuisine. The Barcelona culinary world deserves a greater reputation, however, as it features some of the most unique dining experiences on the Iberian peninsula. Your evening stroll along the avenues of the Old Town will bring you a universe of fascinating dinner choices. Here are five terrific locations where your heart and your taste buds can both be satisfied:
1) Los Caracoles – As travel to Barcelona becomes easier and more frequent for American and British visitors, more and more restaurants favored by the locals are being swarmed by the tourist set. Los Caracoles is one victim of the new popularity, but if you are able to avoid the crowds you will be rewarded with one of the best selections of traditional entrees anywhere in the city. Los Caracoles, which means “Snails,” is instantly recognizable by the racks of whole chickens roasting slowly on rotating spits in the main entrance’s window. Diners walk through the bustling kitchen on the way to their table in the back, allowing for some delightful peeks of that evening’s specials. Another section of tables is located in a balcony overlooking the downstairs dining room. A long bar at the front allows patrons to relax with a drink as they wait for an opening in the dinner service. As can be guessed from the restaurant’s name, snails are a regular menu delicacy but for those guests looking for a more traditional meal, Los Caracoles offers fresh roasted chicken, succulent steaks and a wide variety of Spanish tapas. Elevated prices and the rather indifferent wait staff are reflective of the heavy tourist clientele but that is a small issue for one of the best restaurants in all of Barcelona. Los Caracoles, Calle Escudellers 14, Telephone: (0034) 93 302 3185.
2) El Xampanyet – The undisputed prince of tapas bars! After viewing the cubist masterpieces at the nearby Picasso Museum, it is only a brief walk on a narrow cobblestone street to another artistic gem, El Xampanyet. This visually pretty champagne lounge might give the impression of swanky aloofness, with its tiled walls, marble stone tables and arresting antiques. Yet under that rich mask dwells a warm, inviting place with caring ownership, irresistible authentic food and perfect, delicious Spanish champagne. Both locals and tourists mingle freely here, and the management is routinely on-site, welcoming first-timers at the bar, making fine recommendations, and staying late to entertain. A bottle of Cava will typically run under ten Euros, an amazing bargain considering its addictive flavor. Food prices are just as reasonable. El Xampanyet is the star of Barcelona, and must never be missed. El Xampanyet, Calle Montcada 22, Telephone (0034) 93 319 7003.
3) Agut – While other Barcelona establishments work hard to attract the young, club-hopping guests that rush into the city in the summer, Agut maintains its classic, scholarly, and professional atmosphere as it has since the 1920s. That is both good and bad in that while having a secure menu history from which to draw, Agut sometimes fails to work hard for the customer’s satisfaction. This is not so much a restaurant as an institution, a favorite choice for politicians, lawyers, business titans, and academics. Prices can therefore reflect the deep pockets of the diners and service can appear cold and indifferent to those making a one-time visit. Yet this is the place for textbook Catalan cuisine, serving model creations like monkfish stew, fideua, and pigs’ trotters stuffed with foie gras and truffles. The restaurant’s ambiance is unforgettable as you enter the dining room by descending from street level to a cavernous, vaulted basement. Agut has been given some significant press in Western guidebooks which might result in heavier crowds and limited seating times. Agut is worth seeing. Whether it is still worth eating there is uncertain. Agut, Calle Gignas 16, Telephone: (0034) 93 315 1709.
4) Can Ramonet – No review of Barcelona dining would be complete without a stop at the famous, historic Can Ramonet. Located in the very heart of Barcelona’s harborside district, it has been in continuous use as a restaurant and tavern for over 240 years. It has withstood world wars, Napoleonic, British, and Spanish empires, Fascists, Monarchs, and European Unions – all this while serving what may be the most authentic paella on the continent. Tourists are not always certain of its ingredients however the freshness of the seafood is never an issue. Guests dine at large wooden barrels while seated on stools. There is something of a cheesy “Pirate’s Cove” feeling to the décor which is not helped by the fact that virtually nothing remains of the tavern’s historic origins. Prices are historic as well; a single entrée can run as much as 20 to 25 Euros, testifying to the cost of Can Ramonet’s lofty upkeep in this expensive part of town. Not a bad place to enjoy the Mediterranean’s breezes and classic seafood, but genuine history can be found elsewhere and at lower prices. Can Ramonet, Placa de la Maquinista 17, Telephone: (0034) 93 319 3064.
5) Bar Celta – In this most southern city of Spain, you can still find the cuisine of the country’s most northern population. Bar Celta is yet another Barcelona tapas eatery - however the specialty here is the culture of Galicia, a Spanish district bordering on the North Atlantic and sitting atop Portugal. In Bar Celta, you eat as a Galician, sampling all manner of Atlantic shellfish and cubed octopus – all while sipping extraordinary Galician wines like Albarino and Valdeorras. The setting is informal and inexpensive, with a long dining counter decorated with orange and white stripes. The food is universally excellent and the service is both prompt and helpful. This is a delicious and little-known gourmet haven, a perfect place for tasting classic Spanish delights, avoiding the tourist traps, and not breaking the budget. Bar Celta, Carrer de la Merce 16, Telephone: (0034) 93 315 0006.