El Amparo, Madrid (tel. 91-431-64-56)
In the old days of Franco, gastronomes flocked to Jockey or Horcher. Today their savvy sons and daughters head to El Amparo, the trendiest of Madrid's gourmet restaurants. It serves haute Basque cuisine against a backdrop of cosmopolitan glamour. Patrons sample everything from cold marinated salmon with a tomato sorbet to ravioli stuffed with seafood.
Sobrino de Botín, Madrid (tel. 91-366-42-17)
Since 1725, this restaurant has been celebrated for its roast suckling pig, prepared in a 200-year-old tile oven. Hemingway even mentioned it in The Sun Also Rises. The roast Segovian lamb is equally delectable. There is little subtlety of flavor here -- the food is prepared according to time-tested recipes that have appealed to kings as well as Castilian peasants. The aromas waft clear across Madrid's Old Town.
Mesón de Cándido, Segovia (tel. 92-142-59-11)
Foodies from around the country flock to this 19th-century Spanish inn, the "House of Cándido," for one dish: roast suckling pig, acclaimed as the best in Spain (even by Hemingway, who might otherwise have been seen at Botín in Madrid). In Spanish it's called cochinillo asado, and it's delectable -- prepared according to a century-old recipe. The cordero asado, or roast baby lamb, is not as well known, but it's equally flavorful.
Mesón Casa Colgadas, Cuenca (tel. 96-922-35-09)
Without a doubt, this is the most spectacularly situated restaurant in Spain -- a "hanging house" precariously suspended over a precipice. The food is Spanish and international, with an emphasis on regional ingredients. The dishes can be ingenious, but the culinary repertoire usually includes proven classics that might have pleased your grandparents.
Chez Víctor, Salamanca; tel. 92-321-31-23)
In the historic center of this university town, Chez Víctor is the most glamorous Continental restaurant around. Chef Victoriano Salvador gives customers terrific value for their euros with his imaginative, oft-renewed menus. The freshly prepared fish and his traditional version of roast lamb are especially tempting. Regionally rooted but modern in outlook, Salvador has a finely honed technique and isn't afraid to be inventive on occasion.
El Caballo Rojo, Córdoba (tel. 95-747-53-75)
Begin your evening with a sherry in the popular bar, followed by a visit to the traditional dining room. Not only Andalusian dishes are served here; some classics are based on ancient Sephardic and Mozarabic specialties. Most guests begin with a soothing gazpacho and wash everything down with sangria. Finish off the meal with one of the homemade ice creams -- we recommend pistachio.
Torrijos, Valencia (tel. 96-373-29-49)
The Costa Levante's best restaurant, in the city that's said to have "invented" paella, this stellar restaurant serves a Mediterranean and international cuisine, and does so superbly well. Expect a flavor-filled cuisine based on the freshest of ingredients.
Jaume de Provença, Barcelona (tel. 93-430-00-29)
The Catalan capital has more great restaurants than even Madrid. At the western end of the Eixample district, this Catalan/French restaurant is the domain of one of the city's most talented chefs, Jaume Bargués. He serves modern interpretations of traditional Catalan and southern French cuisine -- such dishes as pigs' feet with plums and truffles, or crabmeat lasagna. His personal cooking repertoire is distinctive, and he has been known to create new taste sensations when he's feeling experimental.
La Dama, Barcelona (tel. 93-202-06-86)
Among the most acclaimed restaurants in Spain, this "dame" serves one of the most refined Catalan and international cuisines along the country's east coast. Stylish and well managed, it turns out masterpieces based on the season's best in food shopping.
Botafumeiro, Barcelona (tel. 93-218-42-30)
The city's finest seafood is prepared here, in a glistening, modern kitchen visible from the dining room. The king of Spain is a frequent patron, enjoying paellas, zarzuelas, or any of the 100 or so ultrafresh seafood dishes. The chef's treatment of fish is the most intelligent and subtle in town -- but don't expect such quality to come cheap.
Empordá, Figueres (tel. 97-250-05-62)
Although ordinary on the outside, this hotel restaurant is one of the finest on the Costa Brava. It was a favorite of Salvador Dalí, who once wrote his own cookbook. Haute Catalan cuisine is the specialty -- everything from duck foie gras with Armagnac to suprême of sea bass with flan. The flavors are refined yet definite.
Akelare, San Sebastián (tel. 94-321-20-52)
The Basques are renowned for their cooking, and the owner-chef of this San Sebastián restaurant, Pedro Sabijana, pioneered the school of nueva cocina vasca (modern Basque cuisine). His restaurant has attracted gourmets from around Europe. Sabijana transforms such seemingly simple dishes as fish cooked on a griddle with garlic and parsley into something magical. No other eatery in northern Spain comes close to equaling the superb viands dispensed here. There are those (and we are among them) who consider Subijana the best chef in Spain.
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