If you want to eat tapas where the locals eat tapas in Madrid, Calle Ponzano is calling your name.
You could think of Calle Ponzano as similar to Cava Baja in that it’s one of the most legendary streets for tapas in Madrid. But while Cava Baja draws its fair share of tourists due to its central location, Calle Ponzano is as local as it gets.
Today, Yoly and I will show you five of our favourite tapas bars on this famous street in Chamberí. Some are as traditional as it gets; others are modern and cutting-edge. But the one thing these places all have in common is that they each embody everything we love about Spanish food and tapas culture.
The 5 Best Tapas Bars on Calle Ponzano
1. El Doble
Trust me when I say that you’ll want to start your Calle Ponzano tapas crawl at a classic, no-frills joint like El Doble. This place has become such an institution that there are now two on the same street, but we went to the original.
This kind of place makes the perfect pre-dinner stop for a caña of beer or a vermouth. But you have to try the food here as well (we’re on a tapas crawl, after all!). And El Doble represents a classic style of Madrid seafood bar – where you drink beer or vermouth, and the menu is packed with seafood, much of it canned (yes, canned food in Spain is a delicacy).
I had to start off with boquerones en vinagre (€7 for a half portion), which might just be my favourite tapa of all time. These vinegar-marinated anchovies are garnished simply with garlic and parsley. A bar like El Doble will serve them with a side of potato chips so you can put each boquerón on a chip and eat them at the same time for a sort of Spanish-style fish and chips.
We also ordered what might be one of the best salads I’ve ever tasted (€15). Though it consisted of just tuna belly, tomato, roasted red pepper and onion all drizzled with oil, vinegar and salt, the flavours come together in the most beautiful way.
And I love how owner Jesús just made it right there on the spot, without a cutting board or anything . This is truly simply Spanish cuisine!
2. Sala de Despiece
Where El Doble is your classic, no-frills Madrid tapas bar de toda la vida, Sala de Despiece is a whole different animal. And I mean that almost literally—the star of the show at this industrial-cool restaurant is the meat.
They take great care to ensure the quality of every single ingredient is as high as possible, and it shows in everything from the open food-prep area behind the counter down to the menu itself. (It’s not even really a menu—more like a list of ingredients; almost like a packing slip for a market.)
We started off with a strip of pancetta topped with caramelized sugar, egg yolk, a wine sauce and foie (€6.50). This was a small but intense bite packed with tons of flavour, including a nice smoky touch courtesy of the blowtorch (they call this dish a “Rolex” because it literally looks like a watch).
Next up was one of Sala de Despiece’s most innovative dishes: chuletón zenital (€9). This modern twist on a t-bone steak starts with strips of raw beef from Madrid. From there, they add tomato, cracked pepper, salt and oil, and finish it off with a little mix of mushrooms, olives and truffle. This dish was a true testament to the quality and freshness of the ingredients—the pure beef flavour was the star, and the other ingredients complemented it well.
Our third dish was probably the healthiest thing we ate all day, as well as one of the most modern and exotic. It was a unique beetroot-based tapa (€7, off-menu) served over a sort of yogurt sauce with a touch of pecan. A far cry from what you’ll find at Madrid’s traditional tapas bars, but a nice contemporary bite all the same.
We finished up with a lettuce wrap (€14) stuffed with fried garlic, beef, soy, carrot and onion, which came served in individual portions in a marble bowl. This was another small bite that packed a big punch—you’ve got the melted fat from the beef, but the lettuce and garlic provide a nice lightness at the same time.
Note: If you want to go to Sala de Despiece, you’ll need to queue. They do take reservations at their Mesa de Despiece space alongside, but that restaurant has a minimum spend. So most people simply get there early and hit the line.
Seafood time! Like El Doble, Fide has two locations on the same street. And this time, we also went to the original.
By the time Yoly and I arrived around lunchtime, the place was bursting with locals on their midday break. Many of them old boys enjoying their retirement with a little pre-lunch drink.
The main draw here is the seafood, and though this traditional spot is nothing like Sala de Despiece’s contemporary vibe, both places place an immense amount of respect on the ingredients. This attention to quality is one of my favourite things about Spanish cuisine!
Here, we had some pulpo a la gallega (Galician-style octopus, €18), in which fresh octopus is boiled and covered with plenty of smoked paprika and salt. The result: a tender, meaty, smoky dish with tons of flavour despite the scant list of ingredients.
We also tried some of the zamburiñas (€12), which are similar to scallops. Here, they cook them lightly on the grill and serve them in their own juices with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. They’re delicious, tender, salty and juicy—everything you could want in a scallop. And you can literally drink the scallop juice out of the shell – incredible!
4. El Sainete
Here they have 18 craft beers on tap, including brands from Madrid.
It’s hard to even give recommendations for the drinks we tried, because the beer menu changes literally every day. That’s because they work with small breweries that can only provide enough product for one day at a time. Not only is this a great business strategy, but it also allows them to rotate the craft beer menu and provide a wider range of artisanal brews.
The first drink we tried was a “beermouth,” or a raspberry beer mixed with vermouth botanicals and topped with orange foam (€4.50). I’d liken it to dessert in a glass, but Yoly found it more similar to a perfumed IPA. Whatever you call it, it was delicious and certainly unique.
We also had a Nomada Passiflora Sour beer (€2.80) brewed right here in Madrid, which was nice and citrusy.
And of course, we can’t forget about the food. This place also leaned toward the more modern side, as seen in the first bite we tried: a solomillo brioche (€8). This was, as you might imagine, a brioche topped with steak tartare as well as pickles and mustard, with a hint of cumin. It wasn’t my favourite thing we tried, but it was definitely interesting.
Even the patatas bravas (€6.50) at this place had a bit of a modern touch. The chunky potato wedges were served alongside the sauce, which was meant for dipping. In addition to the usual bravas sauce, they also came with an alioli foamlike concoction.
In summary: the food here is good (kind of like modern, yummy beer food) but it’s the craft beer that’s the star.
If you speak a little Spanish, you might have guessed what the star ingredient at DeAtún is. That’s right—tuna!
But not just any tuna. This is almadraba tuna from southern Spain. Almadraba refers to the millennia-old technique of catching red tuna in strategically placed nets at a specific time of year.
Although this tuna is caught in Spain, 85% is sent straight to Japan (where they will happy pay the high prices for the meat). Which means very little winds up in Spain. But at DeAtún they’ve managed to secure a yearly-portion, meaning this is a fantastic opportunity to taste this local delicacy.
We started off with a delicious tuna carpaccio garnished with wakame and teriyaki sauce (€19 for 6). Next was something that I’d almost call a Spanish take on sashimi (€19 for 6). This was raw tuna that’s been caramelized a bit by the blowtorch with an oloroso sherry and soy sauce dressing. A bit of alioli and a spear of asparagus made it a uniquely flavourful bite.
Our third dish at DeAtún started with a lettuce leaf that was then topped with chunks of raw tuna, kimchi seeds, caviar, ginger, curry sauce and wasabi (€22 for 4). We realised a bit too late that we were meant to wrap the whole thing up in the leaf like a taco rather than eat a bite of it at a time with a fork.
Appropriately enough, the next thing we ordered was a taco—a chimichurri tuna taco (€6.50), to be exact. It was a little messy to eat, but delicious—Yoly called it her favourite thing we’d tried so far. To finish off our Calle Ponzano tapas crawl, we ordered tuna confit on truffle with quail egg (€6.50). It was so simple, so delicious, and so light that it practically collapses in your mouth.
Keep in mind that this is a wealthier part of Madrid so the tapas on Calle Ponzano are a little pricier than others parts of the city. But, like the tapas bars in the Ibiza neighbourhood, I really think the high quality more than makes up for the slightly elevated prices.
How busy does it get? We visited on a Wednesday over lunch, but it does get pretty hectic on a Friday or Saturday night. Just want to need for a fun, rowdy night of tapas!
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If you’re travelling to Spain, remember to download my free guide to my favourite tapas bars in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and San Sebastian! It’s a free PDF with my top 5 favourite tapas bars in each of those cities, plus other tips and tricks and recommendations. Salud!