Classic Barcelona Restaurants

canfabes.jpgIn recent decades, Catalan cuisine has undergone a transformation as Catalonia continues to rediscover its roots and identity. Experimental cuisine d’auteur in Barcelona has transformed this Mediterranean port city into one of the hottest culinary destinations in Europe. Below are ten classic restaurants that currently reign as a few of the city’s best:

Botafumeiro
On Gracia’s main thoroughfare, Barcelona’s finest Galician restaurant mobilizes fleets of waiters in spotless white outfits moving at the speed of light. The bank-breaking Mariscada Botafumeiro is a seafood medley from shellfish to fin-fish to cuttlefish to caviar. An assortment of media racion (half-ration) selections are available at the bar, where pulpo a feira (squid on slices of potato), jamon bellota (acorn-fed ham) and pan con tomate (toasted bread with olive oil and tomato) make great late-night snacks. Gran de Gracia 81. 93/218-4230. Reservations essential, even at the bar. Open 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. 365 days a year.

Ca l’Isidre
A favorite with Barcelona’s art mob, the restaurant’s walls hold works by Salvador Dali, Antoni Tapies, and Joan Pere Viladecans. The traditional Catalan cooking draws on fresh produce from the nearby Boqueria and has a French accent. Isidre’s wines are invariably novelties from all over the Iberian Peninsula; ask for advice and you will get a great wine. The homemade foie gras is superb. Come and go by cab at night, as the neighborhood can be dicey. Carrer de Les Flors 12. 93/441-1139. Reservations essential. Closed Sun., Easter week, and mid-July ti mid-Aug.

Cal Pep
Pep and his merry crew continue to make this boisterous counter one of Barcelona’s surest bets for fine dining. The back room is bearable for those who can’t stand to wait half an hour, but the counter out front, where you can watch Pep and his boys prepare your food, is position A. Placa de les Olles 8. 93/319-6183. Reservations accepted for back room only. Closed Sun., Mon. lunch.

Can Fabes
Santi Santamaria’s master class in Mediterranean cuisine merits the 45-minute train ride (or 30-minute drive) north of Barcelona to Sant Celoni. Every detail, from the six flavors of freshly baked bread to the cheese selection, is superb. The taster’s menu is the wisest solution. The RENFE stations are at Passeig de Gracia or Sants (the last train back is at 10:24 p.m., so this is a lunchtime or early-dinner solution). Reservations essential. Sant Joan 6. 93/867-2851. Closed Mon., first two weeks of Feb., and late June to early July. No dinner Sun.

Can Majo
On the beach in Barceloneta, Can Majo is one of Barcelona’s premier seafood restaurants. House specialties are caldero de bogavante (a cross between paella and lobster bouillabaisse) and suquet (fish stewed in its own juices), but whatever you choose will be excellent. In summer, the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean is the closest you can come these days to the Barceloneta chiringuitos (shanty restaurants) that used to line the beach here. Almirall Aixada 23. 93/221-5455. Reservations essential. No dinner Sun. Closed Mon.

Casa Leopoldo
Hidden in the rough and tumble Raval west of the Rambla, this restaurant owned by the Gil family serves fine seafood and Catalan fare. To get here, approach along Carrer Hospital, take a left through the Passage Bernardi Martorell, and go 50 feet right on Sant Rafael to the Gil front door. Try the revuelto de ajos tiernos y gambas (eggs scrambled with young garlic and shrimp), or the famous cap-i-pota (stewed head and hoof of pork). Albarinos and Priorats are among Rosa Gil’s favorites. Carrer Sant Rafael 24. 93/441-3014. Reservations advised. Closed Mon. No dinner Sun.

Gaig
This Barcelona favorite is famous for carefully prepared cuisine. Market-fresh ingredients and original combinations are solidly rooted in traditional recipes from Catalan home cooking, while the menu balances seafood and upland specialties, game, and domestic raw edibles. Try the perdiz asada con jamon iberico (roast partridge with Iberian ham), or if it’s available, becada (woodcock), for which Carles Gaig is a recognized master. Carrer d’Arago 214. 93/429-1017. Reservations essential. Closed Mon., Easter week, and Aug.

Gorria
Fermin Gorria’s place, now run by his son Javier, is quite simply the best classic Basque cooking in Barcelona. Everything from the stewed pochas (white beans) to the heroic chuleton (beefsteak) is as clean, clear, and pure as the Navarran Pyrenees. The Castillo de Sajazarra reserva ’95, a semi-secret brick-red Rioja, provides the perfect accompaniment. Diputacio 421. 93/245-1164. Reservations advisable. Closed Sun.

Neichel
Alsatian chef Jean-Louis Neichel continues to masterfully manage an ample gamut of exquisite ingredients, from foie gras and truffles to wild mushrooms, herbs, and seasonal Mediterranean vegetables. His delicacies include ensalada de gambas de Palamos al sesamo con puerros (shrimp from Palamos with sesame-seed and leeks) and espardenyes amb salicornia (sea slugs and sea asparagus) on sun-dried tomato paste. Carrer Bertran i Rozpide 1 (off Av. Pedralbes). 93/203-8408. Reservations essential. Closed Sun., Mon., and Aug.

Tram-Tram
At the end of the old tram line above the village of Sarria, Isidre Soler and his wife, Reyes, have put together one of Barcelona’s finest culinary offerings. Marinated tuna salad, cod medallions, and venison filet mignon are among the fine and tasty creations. Perfectly sized portions served up in a streamlined space within this traditional Sarria house—especially in or near the garden out back—make this a memorable dining experience. Reservations are a good idea, but Reyes can almost always invent a table. Major de Sarria 121. 93/204-8518. Closed Sun. and late Dec.–early Jan. No lunch Sat.

Faded Glories:

Amaya
This was a leading Basque option on the Rambla but is now lackluster at best.

Beltxenea
An upscale Basque establishment in the 70s and 80s, Beltxenea is coasting.

Los Caracoles
A tourist mainstay for decades, this Castilian-style meson no longer attracts locals.

Reno
Once a gourmet haven, this classic spot has been overshadowed by new stars.

Set Portes
Once the place to dine, the fare here is now dated and the service undistinguished.

—George Semler

Photo courtesy of Can Fabes

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