A TASTY TAPAS TOUR IN MADRID
When in Madrid Spain, you MUST experience tapas, bite-sized pieces of gourmet goodness! It’s fun to share small plates with your family. And if you want to make this culinary experience even more enjoyable…imagine eating your tapas meal…in a CAVE!
This turned out to be one of the most memorable lunches our family has ever had. While Madrid has hundreds of tapas restaurants, being able to dine deep below Madrid’s Plaza Mayor in a series of atmospheric cavas (former wine cellars) created a truly unforgettable, uniquely Spanish experience for our gang.
I first discovered these cozy caves when I stumbled upon them over 20 years ago as an adventurous backpacker. My memories of our late-night “cave hopping” escapades drinking sangria and munching tasty tapas remain vivid in my mind. After (selectively) sharing these stories with my girls, we set out to rediscover Madrid’s cavas. As it turned out, they were still open for business after all these years, and they were even better than I remembered.
Getting started on your “tapas cavas adventure”
Head to the Plaza Mayor and then look for the signs that hang from each of the Caves of Calle San Miguel. The entrances are on the outside perimeter of the Plaza, across the street from the Mercado de San Miguel (more about that later). If you get lost, ask locals for directions.
There are many caves to choose from but with these small portions, why just choose one? I recommend picking at least three caves and ordering one or two dishes at each one.
During our tasty tapas tour, we made three separate stops in the caves. Our girls marveled at the unique interiors of each of these different Madrid restaurants.
Tip: For a more family-friendly experience, I recommend visiting the cavas for lunch.
Here are our choice Cavas:
Meson del Champignon (“House of Mushrooms”)
Calle Cava de San Miguel, 17
This restaurant was just as fun and quirky as I remembered from 1993, and the mushrooms were every bit as delicious! The ambiance at Meson del Champignon is unforgettable: an eclectic painted cave where you can watch delectable mushrooms being cooked right before your eyes.
Hmm, now what to order? MUSHROOMS of course! They are amazing: grilled, brushed with oil, garlic and parsley, filled with Serrano ham or chorizo. We all couldn’t stop popping them into their mouths! My girls and hubby wanted a second order, but I reminded my crew to pace themselves. We were just getting started.
Calle Cava de San Miguel, 6
Next stop: Mazmora, which translates to “dungeon” in English! My kids loved eating in a restaurant designed to resemble a medieval DUNGEON. We descended a narrow, steep staircase and found low wooden tables and benches. Mazmora was dark, intimate and really cool!
The highlight dish, tasty patatas con salsas (potatoes with a variety of sauces) was the perfect “kid food.” We also indulged in pimientos padron ala plancha (slightly charred padron peppers sprinkled with sea salt). Those were an adventure unto themselves. Upon ordering the small, thin-skinned Spanish peppers our charming server warned us that one out of every 10 peppers will be super spicy. We cautiously braved the plate and lucked out…we didn’t get any of the hot ones!
Meson de la Guitarra (“House of the Guitar”)
Cava de San Miguel, 13
Our third cava, the Meson de la Guitar, was bigger than the other two Madrid restaurants but just as cozy and definitely fun! Here we sampled the classic Spanish delicacy paella (traditional Spanish rice dish with seafood and, if desired, meats like chorizo). Meson de la Guitarra is a great place in Madrid for Mom and Dad to try some Spanish sangria as you and your family sit back and enjoy the authentic paella and super-delicious crusty pan (bread).
We loved all three of our tapas stops. All of the cavas were reasonably priced with fun and friendly wait staff. No restaurant gave us a hard time for ordering just a dish or two for all of us. They encourage cave-hopping! And I encourage you to experience the tapas-cava lunch. It’s an unforgettable way to share a family-friendly authentic Spanish meal together.
More Madrid Restaurants
When planning your cavas adventure, there’s plenty more to do in Madrid. You must include a stop “above ground” in the charming Plaza Mayor. Throughout Spanish history, this plaza has witnessed tournaments, celebrations, executions and bullfights. Today, Plaza Mayor is a hub of activity with restaurants and bars, coin and stamp fairs, live concerts, street artists, retail stores and great people-watching with a mixture of locals and tourists. Take time to stroll through Plaza Mayor, buy a few souvenirs, watch the street performers and stop into the famous bar, La Torre del Oro (Plaza Mayor 26). At this place, my girls were hypnotically drawn to the many bull heads mounted on the walls, matador costumes and pictures of famous bullfights.
Mercado de San Miguel
Even after your gourmet lunch, your culinary adventure continues. Right next to Plaza Mayor, you’ll find the gorgeous glass food hall, Mercado de San Miguel. My girls loved wandering the aisles, taking in the sights and smells of this exotic gourmet food market…fragrant coffee, beers and wine, delicate pastries, fresh Spanish fruits and vegetables, gourmet meats and more delicacies. Locals and tourists mingle as they sample some of the finest quality food in Madrid. If something strikes your eye, and you can’t resist one more tapas plate or a small dessert, go for it! BUT save room because our traveling food tour has one more stop!
Chololateria San Gines
Walk just five minutes from Mercado de San Miguel and visit…mmm…the world-famous Chocolateria San Gines (Pasadizo de San Gines, 5). Enter this charming Madrid chocolateria, built in 1894, filled with antique mirrors, green wood paneling and black and white photos of celebrities, for a taste of old world charm – and indulge in the thickest and strongest hot chocolate con churros (made with a hot deep fried batter). We followed what the locals did and dipped our churros in that magnificent chocolate concoction. Perfection! Order at the counter; the service is fast and efficient with plenty of seating both inside and out. Bravo!
Where to Stay in Madrid
Hilton Madrid Airport is conveniently located to both the airport and the metro which whisks you into the city center.
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