My Spanish level hovers between what I learned from a 5th grade general language class, Dora the Explorer, and the Taco Bell dog.
This proficiency helps exactly zero percent when visiting Catalan, where Spanish rules are more or less thrown out the window. (In a moment of panic at the airport, I Googled “how to say ‘hello’ in Catalan,” fearful my concept of how similar the two languages actually are would be betrayed upon my arrival.)
Thankfully, miming has been a strong suit of mine ever since I dressed as Marcel Marceau one year for Halloween, and even more thankfully, most people in Barcelona speak English. As much as I wish I could banter with the locals in their language rather than barging in with mine, my Spanish isn’t there…yet. Let’s pray to the Duolingo gods for that one.
I spent much of my first day wandering and trying to find my way around the city, narrowly missing some of Gaudi’s masterpieces more times than I’d care to admit. I began with tapas and a tinto at a restaurant that my Airbnb host recommended, Cervecería Catalana. It was definitely a touristy place, but the food was good and fairly cheap, and I was really just looking for some patatas bravas. I read and watched the other patrons around me; the women sitting next to me animatedly pointed to the mini montaditos that lined the bar as I leaned in close to the bartender to ask questions about the tapas.
My first major tourist attraction was Park Güell, an unsuccessful Gaudi project that was originally meant to be a bourgeoise housing development. Now it’s a beautiful and unique park, unfortunately for Eusebi Güell, who bankrolled the whole operation. The mosaics there were absolutely breathtaking, and I only wished I could have lingered around the whole day. After the park, I drifted down the streets of Gràcia, a charming neighborhood in the north of the city, eventually making my way to a tapas bar on the patio of La Rambla de Cataluña.
Over the course of the next few days, I visited many celebrated spots in Barcelona, including Sagrada Familia, possibly the most beautiful church I have ever been to, where the light seemed to bleed through the stained glass and onto the milling crowds. However, it’s widely known as Gaudi’s great yet unfinished work, and is expected to be completed in 2026 — 100 years after Gaudi’s death.
But beyond the sites and sounds and roofs of the city, some of my favorite — and perhaps most treasured — memories of Barcelona are the meals I ate there. People often ask me who I travel with (myself), and who I eat with (myself) and what it’s like. Is it lonely or boring? What do you do if you aren’t talking to someone? My secret is that often I prefer traveling alone, away from distractions that may prevent me from fully consuming the city.
That said, I do prefer to sit at the bar, so I can observe the happenings of the restaurant, talk to bartenders, and, if I’m lucky, get a glimpse into the kitchen. All my meals in Barcelona were delicious, but per George Orwell’s rules, some were more delicious than others. And those, my friends, are the ones I’d like to share. (I also spent Friday evening on the Food Lover Tour of Barcelona, which you can read about here!)
My dinner here is possibly the best meal I’ve ever had in my life, and I don’t use the term lightly.
I arrived about 10 minutes after they opened, per all the recommendations online saying that if I showed up any later it would be impossible to get a table (Note: getting a table for one is generally not that hard). In the empty restaurant as the staff dispersed from their pre-shift meeting, I took my perch at the bar, with a nice view of the restaurant and into the kitchen. As I sipped on my cava and nibbled the pan con tomate, I peeked into the kitchen to see one of the cooks pull a pig out of a box in the kitchen. It looked as fresh as it possibly could, and in that moment I knew I had made the right choice with my dinner location.
After getting an explanation of every dish on the tapas menu — an easy feat when you are still the only restaurant patron at 9 p.m. — I chose the tàrtar de dèntol amb alvocat i ous de truita (red snapper tartar with avocado and trout caviar) and canelon de rabo de buey (an oxtail caneloni with morels in a cream sauce). As I ate and sipped on the wine from the nearby Terra Alta, I watched the staff joke with each other and greet guests as if they were longtime friends. I finished the meal with an amaretto ice cream over chocolate cake and a shot of ratafia, a liqueur made from local herbs and spices.
I dined at many other tapas places during my time in Barcelona, but this is the one that remains engrained in my memory of the city; the one that is calling me back.
With former El Bulli chef Marc Singla in the kitchen (and without the El Bulli cost or reservation), I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dine at La Mar Salada, just at the edge of Barceloneta. It is a haven for fresh seafood straight from the Mediterranean, which made me giddy at the thought. Eager for fish from the Barceloneta auction, I ordered the rapet de la llotja amb gnoquis de carbassa i salsa de rostit (monkfish from Barceloneta auction with pumpkin gnocchi). The fish arrived still attached to its spine as the gnocchi swam in a delicate little tomato sauce as I watched the crowds go by, imagining the looks they would get if they were to dress the same way in Paris. That sort of bliss is something that can only be created by new flavors and new things to see.
My first night in Barcelona, I was in desperate search of paella but wanted to save going to La Barceloneta for La Mar Salada. I combed through website after website looking for a good place to find it (though Barceloneta really is where one should eat it), and eventually landed on Arume, at the end of many side streets in El Raval. It was definitely off the beaten track, and had a lively atmosphere and good food — and especially good sangria. I sat at the bar here too, and ended up meeting a French man who lives in Canada who was also dining solo. We shared a pitcher of sangria and pondered which of the cocktails used kumquat as a garnish…any ideas?? ♦
Other Favorite Barcelona Spots
Le Mercat de la Boqueria — Each of the neighborhoods has a market, many of which exist more as a market and are less touristy than this one! Here I got small tasting portions of jamon and manchego, sat at a bar for some fried baby squids, got a cup of fresh pineapple and papaya, and watched as prawns jumped up on ice.
Lo Pinyol — A tapas bar with a special of a tapa + cava for 3€. Also have good vermut!
Casa Milà — I will always climb for good views.
Palau Güell — Again, go for the view.
I’ve been experimenting with short videos some from my travels — please let me know what you think! Hopefully I’ll branch out into longer ones soon 🙂