Barcelona is a world-class city, home to a vast array of restaurants, cafes, bars and skilled and talented chefs who excel in the preparation of local and international cuisine. For those who live here, and for those who visit, the city is truly a food-lover’s paradise.
The fact is that dining out in Barcelona is always a highly-anticipated event – a real pleasure. According to recently-released statistics, there are more than 11,000 restaurants, snack bars, tapas bars, cafes and open-air terraces scattered throughout the city. Catalan cuisine dominates the culinary landscape, but it is by no means the only choice available to diners. Restaurants also serve the cuisine popular in other parts of Spain as well as cuisine from other parts of the world, most notably Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Mexican.
As you might expect, prices vary greatly - from expensive and fashionable “in” restaurants to less-formal moderately-priced establishments to inexpensive “quick bite” fast-food places. In truth, there are restaurants, bars and cafes to suit every taste and meet every budget.
The first meal of the day (called desayuno or esmorzar in Catalan) begins for Barcelona’s early-risers at around 8 A.M. and lasts until about 10 A.M. It’s a hearty meal, by any standards, and generally includes bocadillos (sandwiches made with French bread or rolls) filled with a variety of tasty ingredients – everything from fresh tuna fish to delicious omelets to bacon and tomato to cheese and much, much more.
Some early morning diners prefer tortillas (omelets) also available with a variety of tempting ingredients, croissants, sweet buns or Spain’s famous churros – tasty strips of deep-fried dough. Breakfast in most restaurants also includes a choice of freshly-squeezed orange juice or coffee.
A full breakfast is surprisingly affordable and generally costs between 5-10 Euros, depending on what has been ordered.
Lunch … a mid-afternoon break from work.
The midday meal (comida del mediodia o dinar in Catalan) starts late in Barcelona, usually right around 1 P.M. and lasts even later – until about 4 P.M. Most restaurants include a daily menu del dia, a prix fixe offering that includes a starter of soup or salad, a hearty main course, bread or rolls, desert and a drink which can be either water, Coca Cola, beer or wine.
Many Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the city offer lunchtime diners a buffet libre. This is an old-fashioned “all you can eat” buffet that includes a vast array of food – from soup to salad to main course to desert – all without limit. The cost for this “endless feast” is generally between 8-15 Euros.
However, keep this thought in mind: some restaurants do not include any drink – soda, water, beer, wine or coffee — in their menu del dia or buffet libre menu. In these establishments, there is an additional charge for these drinks that often tends to be overpriced. For example, a 0.5 liter bottle of water that generally costs no more than 50-75 Eurocents in a supermarket can cost as much as 2 Euros in a restaurant that chooses to charge for it.
It’s important to note that many restaurants add a 7% VAT to the bill making the cost of the meal somewhat more expensive. Additionally, menu del dia meals are generally available only from Monday through Friday and not on weekends.
Dinner … everybody’s favorite meal.
Spain has always been a country where dinner is eaten late in the evening. That is still true in Barcelona. It’s a custom to which visitors need to adjust.
Although many restaurants open at 8 P.M., Cena (sopar in Catalan) begins after 9 P.M. and continues – happily for diners – until midnight, sometimes even later. For Catalans, Cena is more than an evening meal it’s a celebration, especially on weekends. It’s a time to be enjoyed with family and friends.
It is also the meal in which prices are their highest … and restaurants are most crowded. In fact, it is a good idea to call in advance and reserve a table. Those who forget to do so are likely to find themselves waiting for fifteen minutes, or more, until a table becomes available.
The rule of thumb for reservations is this: if your group is four people or more and your restaurant of choice is in the mid-to-upper-price-range – call in advance and book a reservation.
Couples interested in enjoying a romantic dinner should call in advance, as well, in order to assure being seated at a table that is not near the restaurant entrance … its noisy kitchen … or the restrooms.
Spain’s anti-tobacco law became effective on January 1, 2006. Considered one of the toughest laws in all of Europe, it has not resulted in a smoking ban in most Spanish restaurants. In fact, more than 85% of Barcelona’s restaurants currently permit smoking. For those who find tobacco smoke annoying, most restaurants make a no-smoking section available.
Restaurant personnel are generally very friendly and helpful. As such, it is customary for diners to leave a modest tip equal to about 5% of the bill. It is not required, but it is a good idea to do it and show how much the good service is appreciated.
There’s no doubt about it. Dining out in Barcelona is like being part of an all-day fiesta – every day. From breakfast to lunch to late night dinner – there are wonderful meals to experience and enjoy at prices that are right for every budget. From standard Catalan fare to exotic cuisines from around the world, Barcelona is now, and always has been, a food lover’s dream. Enjoy it.