Even at the height of Spain’s avant-garde cooking boom, Madrid wasn’t at the cutting edge. While innovation happened in Catalonia and the Basque region, madrileños relished their old-school tapas bars, tabernas and tascas, where floors were scattered with napkins and toothpicks, bullfights blared on the TV, and waiters shouted orders for croquetas and callos (tripe stew). Paradoxically, the recession gripping Spain since 2008 has helped turn Madrid into one of Europe’s most exciting restaurant cities. A new generation of tapas bar has arrived: cool, casual spots that stay true to tradition while also breaking the rules. On a recent visit, I was floored by how maverick chefs are embracing the city’s international flavors and employing unexpected techniques. Nowadays, tapas might be cross-pollinated with dim sum, and an emulsion of Caribbean mojo may sauce classic meatballs. Recession be damned—these cooks are having the time of their lives. “Spherification? Liquid-nitrogenation? Who even remembers these things?” Raúl Prior, the force behind the always packed Álbora, asked me. “Right now we want food that’s simply enjoyable.” Read on for some essential (and, yes, cutting-edge) stops on your next Madrid eating tour.