The Sobrino de Botín (tel. 91-366-30-26 or 91-366-42-17) may be touristy these days, but the setting and atmosphere of the city's oldest restaurant (it claims to be the oldest in the world) more than compensate. Rafters, beams, and nooks abound, and the effective service is accompanied by some first-rate Castilian specialties, such as lechona.
Okay, so it's money-is-no-object time. With supreme Basque cuisine at Zalacaín (tel. 91-561-48-40), you can let yourself go for once. Long rated as the best eating spot in Madrid, it's still holding out well against the Catalan tsunami of fashionable nouvelle cuisine.
A stylish repository of fine Mediterranean cuisine located in the immaculate Hotel Hesperia, Santceloni (tel. 91-210-88-40) is, for many, the tops in town. Chef Santi Santamaría conjures up further-inspired Catalan dishes such as fennel-based John Dory.
For those who do favor tradition-shattering gourmet delights, then La Broche (tel. 91-399-34-37), the dining room of the Hotel Miguel Angel, still provides some of the most imaginative offerings you'll encounter in the city, with Angel Palacio now ably replacing original star chef Sergi Arola to produce more Michelin-awarded cuisine.
Sergi hasn't moved far: Just a five-minute stroll from La Broche is the acclaimed chef's new gourmet paradise Sergi Arola Gastro (tel. 91-310-21-69). Its secluded location and low-key exterior cannily hide one of the city's genuine new gourmet treats. His tasting menus (be warned that they aren't cheap!) are in a class of their own.
Best for a Romantic Dinner
El Amparo (tel. 91-431-64-56) sits in one of Madrid's most elegant enclaves, with cascading vines on its facade. You can dine grandly on nouveau Basque cuisine, enjoying not only the romantic ambience but also some of the finest food in the city. A sloping skylight bathes the interior with sunlight during the day, and at night lanterns cast soft, flattering glows, making you and your date look luscious.
Best for a Business Lunch
For decades the influential leaders of Madrid have come to Jockey (tel. 91-319-24-35) to combine power lunches with one of the true gastronomic experiences in Madrid. In spite of increased competition, Jockey is still among the favorite rendezvous sites for heads of state, international celebrities, and diplomats. It's the perfect place to close that business deal with your Spanish partner -- he or she will be impressed with your selection.
Best for a Celebration
At night the whole area around Plaza Mayor becomes one giant Spanish fiesta, with singers, guitar players, and bands of roving students serenading for their sangria and tapas money. Since 1884 it has always been party night at Los Galayos (tel. 91-366-30-28) too, with tables and chairs set out on the sidewalk for people-watching. The food's good as well -- everything from suckling pig to roast lamb. What else would you expect from the best eating spot in the Plaza Mayor?
The cafe tables on the terrace of the Café de Oriente (tel. 91-541-39-74) afford one of the most panoramic views of classical buildings and monuments in Madrid -- a view that takes in everything from the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) to the Teatro Real. Diplomats, even royalty, have patronized this place, known for its good food and attractive Belle Epoque decor, which includes banquettes and regal paneling.
Las Cuatro Estaciones (tel. 91-553-63-05) has the most spectacular floral displays in Madrid. These flowers, naturally, change with the seasons, so you never know what you'll see when you arrive to dine. The entrance might be filled with hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, or poinsettias. The food is equally superb, a magnificent blend of classical and modern, but it's the stunningly modern and inviting decor that makes Las Cuatro Estaciones the perfect place for a lavish dinner on the town.
Best for Kids
Foster's Hollywood (tel. 91-564-63-08) wins almost hands-down. Since 1971 it has lured kids with Tex-Mex selections, one of the juiciest hamburgers in town, and what a New York Times reporter found to be "probably the best onion rings in the world." The atmosphere is fun too, evoking a movie studio with props.
Best Basque Cuisine
Some food critics regard Zalacaín (tel. 91-561-48-40) as the best restaurant in Madrid. Its name comes from Pío Baroja's 1909 novel, Zalacaín El Aventurero, but its cuisine comes straight from heaven. When the maitre d' suggests a main dish of cheeks of hake, you might turn away in horror -- until you try it. Whatever is served here is sure to be among the finest food you'll taste in Spain -- all the foie gras and truffles you desire, but many innovative dishes to tempt the palate as well.
Best American Cuisine
Not everything on the menu at La Gamella (tel. 91-532-45-09) is American, but what there is here is choice, inspired by California. Owner Dick Stephens, a former choreographer, now runs this prestigious restaurant in the house where the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset was born. Even the king and queen of Spain have tasted the savory fare, which includes everything from an all-American cheesecake to a Caesar salad with strips of marinated anchovies. It's also known for serving what one food critic called "the only edible hamburger in Madrid," and that palate had tasted the hamburger at Foster's Hollywood . Its wine list is comprehensive, covering a wide range of national and world vintages.
Best Continental Cuisine
Although the chef at the small but enchanting El Mentidero de la Villa (tel. 91-308-12-85) roams the world for culinary inspirations, much of the cookery is firmly rooted in French cuisine. Continental favorites are updated here and given new twists and flavors, sometimes betraying a Japanese influence. From France come the most perfect noisettes of veal (flavored with fresh tarragon) that you're likely to be served in Spain. Even the Spanish dishes have been brought up-to-date and are lighter and subtler in flavor.
For the freshest of fresh Atlantic fish and nary a sign of a steak or leg of lamb, La Trainera (tel. 91-576-80-35) on the elegant western edge of the Salamanca district close to shop-filled Serrano Avenue is without a par. Whatever you choose in this deceptively spacious marine-oriented haven, from luscious bogavante (lobster) to humble almeja (clam), will be of optimum quality.
Spanish steaks at their finest are offered at Casa Paco (tel. 91-366-31-66). Señor Paco was the first in Madrid to sear steaks in boiling oil before serving, so that the almost-raw meat continues to cook on the plate, preserving the natural juices. This Old Town favorite also has plenty of atmosphere, and has long been a celebrity favorite as well.
Best Roast Suckling Pig
Even hard-to-please Hemingway agreed: The roast suckling pig served at Sobrino de Botín (tel. 91-366-30-26) since 1725 is the best and most aromatic dish in the Old Town. You'd have to travel to Segovia (home of the specialty) for better fare than this. Under time-aged beams, you can wash down your meal with Rioja wine.
Malacatín (tel. 91-365-52-41). Cocido madrileño is the capital's favorite dish, a hearty combo of chickpeas, cabbage, salt pork, beef, and chicken designed to combat the winter cold. If you like it, come here: Having raised it to the peak of perfection, they've decided to serve nothing else. The restaurant is small, atmospheric, and excellent value -- the fixed price also includes wine and dessert. Prior booking of both dish and table is essential.
Best Wine List
Maybe the fact that it's half French has something to do with it, but La Cava Real (tel. 91-442-54-32) in the heart of trendy Chamberí takes the palm when it comes for a really delectable cross section of wines, especially when you're given such expert advice on exactly which one to have.
Best Value Lunch
For quality, good service, and simple but delicious dishes (like chargrilled vegetables and fresh pan-fried rice) at a highly competitive price, the bright modern Finca de Susana (tel. 91-369-35-57) beats most of its rivals hands-down. You need to arrive earlier than usual in Spain for the bargain three-course lunch (say 1:30pm) in order to avoid the lines (no reservations). Similar good value is provided by its sister restaurant in Chueca: Bazaar.
Best Vegetarian Fare
Al Natural (tel. 91-369-47-09). Obviously, politicians' gourmet tastes are changing -- this totally "green" eating spot situated right behind the Congreso de Diputados enjoys the patronage of many a parliamentary member. Rice, vegetables, and veggie pizzas feature strongly, though some platos have chicken or fish included. It's packed by noon so try to get here early for lunch.
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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.