Eating out in Spain - What You Need To Know
Eating out in Spain is one of the best reasons to visit the country, and there are many options to choose from including restaurants, fast food outlets, cafeterias and great tapas bars.
Explore the off beaten tourist path or follow the locals and you will find many good places to eat at the best prices.
For some culinary inspiration please check out our famous Spanish recipes section then read on to find out about eating out in Spain.
Top tips when eating out in Spain
- Eat where the locals eat for the best food and prices.
- Check the total menu price including extras before sitting down.
- Make sure VAT and any service tax is included in the price.
- Choose wisely where to sit, terrace seating can be more expensive.
- To save time, know what your first drink order is before sitting down.
- For best deals check which places offer a free drink with your food.
- Some bars will give a free tapa when you order a drink.
- Eat-in a group and enjoy a wider variety of food to share.
- If you're not happy.. complain.
Breakfast Snacks and Sandwiches
Eating out in Spain starts with a traditional Spanish breakfast such as chocolate con churros – long tubular doughnuts (not for the weak of stomach) served with thick hot and sweet drinking chocolate.
A variety of toasts are always popular such as tostadas (toast) with aceite ( oil ) or con mantequilla (with butter ) and mermelada ( jam ), or perhaps with huevos fritos (fried eggs), Tortilla (potato omelette) or panceta ( grilled bacon ) make for an excellent breakfast.
Coffee and pastries ( pasteles or bollos ) or doughnuts are available at most cafés, too, though for a wider selection of cakes and fresh bread you should head for pastelerías ( cake shop ) or panadería ( bread bakery )
Some bars specialise in bocadillos – hearty bread rolls French bread-style sandwiches with a choice of fillings. If you want them wrapped to take away with you, ask for them para llevar.
Tapas, often called pinchos or pintxos in northern Spain, are small dishes of a variety of food and which traditionally served up with a free drink, tapas are the mainstay of eating out in Spain.
These days you often have to pay for anything more than a few olives, but a single helping rarely costs more than 2.50 Euros unless you’re somewhere upmarket.
Many tapas bars will also server larger plates of food ( Raciones ) typically cost between 5 and 9 Euros.
Raciones are often ordered to share between friends at the table. In Spain it's quite normal for a group to share various plates of food in the middle of the table, just grab a fork and dive in!
The more people you’re with, of course, the better; half a dozen tapas or pinchos and three raciones can make a varied and quite filling meal for a group of friends.
Tascas, bodegas, cervecerías and tabernas are all types of bar where you’ll find tapas and raciones.
Many will vary the price depending on whether you stand at the bar to eat (the basic charge) or sit at tables (up to fifty per cent more expensive – and even more if you sit out on a terrace).
Wherever you have tapas, it is important to find out what the local speciality is and order it.
The locals will commonly move from bar to bar, enjoying the best tapa from each bar, this is known in Spain as a Tapa-Crawl. This is a great way to have a fun night out whilst trying many different types of tapa plates.
Replacing comedores to some extent are cafeterías, which the local authorities grade from one to three cups.
These can be good value, too, especially the self-service places, but their emphasis is more northern European and the light snack-meals served tend to be more basic.
Cafeterias are alright for eating out in Spain if you're looking for a quick cheese and ham sandwich or a coffee and pastry.
Food in Spain often comes in the form of a plato combinado – literally a combined plate – which will be something like egg and pork with chips, hamburger and fries or a mixed salad served with bread.
Restaurant dining is offered in many different types of establishments such as comedores, cafetería, marisquería, ventas and bar-restaurantes.
Restaurants at the lower end are often great places to eat out in Spain and generally offer the best value food.
A fixed-price menu of the day ( menu del dia ) is often better value though: generally three courses plus wine and bread for around 8 to 12 Euros.
Move above two forks, however, or find yourself in one of the more fancy marisquerías (as opposed to a basic seafront fish-fry place ), and prices can escalate rapidly.
Most of the top restaurants offer an upmarket menu ( menu de degustacion ) a sampler meal, usually including wine, which is good value and will allow you to try many of the house specialities in one sitting.
Highstreet Food Chains
Restaurant chains such as La Surena have sprung up around Spain over the last five years or so and offer excellent value for money dining.
One of the best things is that a number of these restaurants offer 2 for 1 night and are a great way to eat out on the cheap.
Spaniards generally eat very late, so many places serve food from around 1 until 4 pm and from 8 pm to midnight.
When eating out in higher-end eateries it's best to check to see if VAT ( IVA) is included in the price, that way you won't get any unwanted surprises at the end of your meal.
Many restaurants close on Sunday or Monday evening.
Beer ( Cerveza ) is usally sold in 300-ml bottles ( botellines ) or, for about the same price, on tap – a cana of draught beer is a small glass, a caña doble is larger, and asking for un tubo (a tubular glass) gets you about half a pint.
Mahou, Cruz Campo, San Miguel, Victoria, Estrella de Galicia or Alhambra are all very decent Spanish lager beers
Spain is blessed with a huge selection of wine ( vino ) superb red, white and rose wines which start from as little as £2.5 a bottle.
For a full report on fine wines from Spain see our guide to Spanish wine.
Equally refreshing, though often deceptively strong, is sangria, a wine-and-fruit punch which you’ll come across at fiestas and in tourist bars.
Tinto de verano is a similar red wine and soda or lemonade combination which is a great refresher in high temperatures.
In mid-afternoon – or even at breakfast – many Spaniards like a small liqueur with their coffee. The most popular is anis (like Pernod) or cheaper local brandy such as Magno or Soberano.
Most brandies are produced by the great sherry houses of Jerez, but an equally good one that isn’t is Mascaro, produced in Catalonia and resembling an Armagnac.
In bars, spirits are ordered by brand name since there are generally less expensive Spanish equivalents for standard imports.
Larios gin from Malaga, for instance, is about half the price of Gordon’s.
Specify the national brand when ordering will avoid getting an expensive bill at the end of the evening.
Spirits can be very expensive at the trendier bars; however, wherever they are served, they tend to be staggeringly generous – the bar staff pouring from the bottle until you suggest they stop.
Mixed drinks are universally known as Copa or Cubata, though strictly speaking the latter is rum and Coke.
Other popular mixers include orange juice ( zumo de Naranja ) lemon, limon and tonic tonica.
Coffee is one of Spain's most popular drinks and is sold in many different ways.
Popular ways of drinking coffee include express ( espresso ) slightly bitter, with milk ( cafe con leche ) or served black ( cafe solo ).
If you want a coffee with little milk ask for a cafe cortado. For a large cup of weaker coffee ask for an americano.
Coffee is also frequently mixed with brandy, cognac or whisky, all such concoctions being called carajillo.
Iced coffee is cafe con hielo, another great high summer refresher: a cafe solo is served with a glass of ice cubes.
Tea (Te) is also available at most bars, although bear in mind that Spaniards usually drink it black. If you want milk it’s safest to ask for it afterwards, since ordering te con leche might well get you a glass of milk with a tea bag floating on top.
Perhaps a better bet would be herbal teas and most bars keep these: manzanilla (camomile, not to be confused with the sherry of the same name), menta poleo (mint tea) and hierba luisa (lemon verbena) are all popular herbal infusions.
Hot chocolate ( Chocolate Caliente ) can be quite thick and sweet and is a popular early-morning drink after a long night on the town.
If you’d prefer a normal hot chocolate drink ask for ask for a brand name, like Cola Cao.
Local soft drinks include granizado (an icy slush) or horchata (a milky drink made from tiger nuts or almonds). You can get these drinks from horchaterías and from heladerías ( ice cream – helados – parlours ), or in Catalonia from the wonderful milk bars known as Granjas.
Although you can drink the water almost everywhere it usually tastes better out of the bottle. Mineral water comes either sparkling ( con gas ) or still ( sin gas ).
When you are eating out in Spain it is quite normal to ask for a glass of water ( Agua de la Casa ) which is not charged, only bottled water will add to your bill.