The 7 Tapas You Need to Try in Madrid, According to Locals

Tapas are foundational to Madrid’s eating and drinking scene. Here’s the ones you need to try.

Two people enjoying various Spanish tapas al fresco

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While I typically don't take unsolicited advice from strangers, I can make an exception when it comes to eating great food when traveling. 

On my first day in Madrid, Spain's bustling capital, I strolled through the famed El Retiro park, weaving my way in and out of its lush gardens, around its glittering lake filled with paddle boats, and finding plenty of quiet spaces for a moment of solitude in between. But amid my wandering, a warm, older gentleman approached me and offered to share some local history with me, which I gladly accepted. However, the real excitement began when he learned I was a food writer. 

"Tapas, you need to get tapas," he exclaimed while being more than prepared to rattle off every single place I could score a tasty morsel in the city.

And sure, I knew about this category of food, often a companion to drinks, but I didn't realize just how much I didn't know. Like how the teeny, tiny dish's name, Living Language explained, translates to "top" or "cover." The small physical plate was used during the reign of Alfonso X, the king of Castile and Leon, to cover glasses of wine and ale so the flies wouldn't get in. At the same time, King Alfonso ordered that all taverns must serve food with any alcohol. So, as the story goes, the pubs got creative and put a small portion of food on top of the "tapa" covering each drink.

Today, tapas can be found in bars and restaurants throughout Spain, ranging from marinated olives to elaborate creations like croquetas. Along my culinary journey, I realized it would be impossible to try them all. So, I asked more friendly locals and bartenders for their must-try tapas. Here’s the final list of the must-eat Spanish tapas to have in Madrid, according to locals. 

Patatas Bravas

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Patatas Bravas

The one food recommended to me over and over again was patatas bravas – and for good reason. How could anyone go wrong with cubed potatoes fried to perfection served with a spicy tomato-based sauce (known as salsa brava)? This dish is a quintessential tapa beloved throughout Spain, served in most bars and restaurants, and is a must-try. 


Croquetas are a popular Spanish tapa that consists of small, round, breaded, and deep-fried rolls filled with a dreamy béchamel sauce. Fillings include ham, chicken, seafood, vegetables, or a combination of those things, but traditionally it is made with ham. For those who cherish feeling joy, prioritize getting a plate or two of these.

Jamon Iberico

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Jamón ibérico

Just as iconic as Patatas Bravas, and possibly the mascot for tapas in its entirety, is jamón ibérico. A delicacy of Spain, this cured meat is made from the hind legs of Iberian pigs (a breed of pig native to the Iberian Peninsula) known for its unique diet of acorns that lend the meat its nutty and decadent flavor. Lucky for you, typically every bar, restaurant, and market I went to, large legs of jamón ibérico were readily available for slices of salty-delicious goodness. Even during my stay at the Madrid Mandarin Oriental, its over-the-top breakfast spread had it front and center (and yes, I had it each morning).  

Bocadillo de Calamares and Calamares a la Romana

Spaniards perfected deep-fried squid rings by packing them into a freshly baked roll of bread, typically served with aioli and a lemon wedge known as Bocadillo de Calamares. On my trip, the storefronts devoted to this Madrid specialty were packed with locals and tourists alike. Sans bread, Calamares a la Romana is the counterpart to this sandwich, consisting of just the golden fried squid rings, and can be found at virtually every bar and restaurant.

Boquerones en Vinagre

Out for a solo glass of sangria, the bartender asked me what tapas I would like (which I loved because the question wasn’t do you want tapas, it was which one). I said surprise me, and was served a plate of boquerones, anchovies marinated in vinegar and seasoned with garlic and parsley. The Iberian Peninsula boasts some of the freshest and most delicious seafood in the world. Although you can’t really go wrong with any seafood fish in Madrid, this specific tapa was so delicious I could have spent the rest of my trip sipping on wine and snacking on anchovies. 

Tortilla de España

Now, I’m an all-day kind of egg eater. This classic Spanish dish is often served either as a tapa or side of a larger meal, and this egg-forward dish is made with eggs, potatoes, onions (depends on where you get it), and olive oil and is a favorite among the various locals I spoke to, and is now one of mine, too. 

Manchego cheese

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Queso manchego

Queso Manchego is a type of cheese made from the milk of Manchega sheep after the La Mancha region of Spain. It is a semi-firm cheese with a distinctive flavor and a slightly salty taste. This cheese is a popular ingredient in many Spanish dishes and is often served on its own, cubed, along with a variety of other small plates, like briny olives, freshly baked bread, and of course, jamón ibérico. Although this cheese is stellar, I suggest trying a variety of cheeses served throughout the city's bars, as they're all tasty.

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