Emerge from Lavapiés’ metro into the Mediterranean Maghreb. Meander through its narrow, winding streets lined with candy-coloured facades and Juliette balconies, and catch a glimpse of the Middle East and Africa, but also Asia, Latin America and of course, Madrid.
Swing open the door to your chosen destination and see the art, hear the music and smell the food. Do you feel the metro rumble beneath your feet? That means your adventure is about to begin.
CUBAN FOOD AT RINCÓN DE MARCO
Illuminating the dimly lit end of Calle Cabestreros with a distinctive dusk-pink glow is a little Cuban bar blasting Caribbean music through its sealed windows. Like all great eateries, El Rincón de Marco is decorated very personally. The place is so unique and homely, you feel like you’re eating in someone’s kitchen, not a restaurant.
SEAFOOD AT MERCADO DE LA CEBADA
One of my favourite places to enjoy the oceans’ unadorned offerings is Mercado de la Cebada. Despite this markets colossal equidistance from any sea or ocean, it’s host to dozens of fantastic seafood stalls with fish as fresh as it comes. On a weekday you can buy your usual weight of fish for supper, but just wait until Saturday’s seafood party, when this market really comes to life.
MORE NO-FRILLS SEAFOOD AT BAR EL BOQUERÓN
Just off the bottom of Plaza Lavapiés lies a traditional Madrid institution serving up some of the best seafood around. Step inside, back to 1949, and discover a seam of Andalusia that’s made it all the way up to Lavapiés.
SENEGALESE FOOD AT DAKAR
There are few places in Madrid where both immigrants and locals dine alongside one another, but this Senegalese eatery closes the gap. Dakar is a well-known meeting point for the Senegalese community, and a place for absolutely everyone else to come and eat too. Food brings people together, and always will – especially when it’s this good.
MORE SENEGALESE FOOD AT MANDELA 100
Hearty, home-cooked Senegalese food rolls out of the kitchen fast at newly opened Mandela 100. This Africa-themed diner has hit the ground running, much to the delight – and relief – of Lavapiés locals, as it feels increasingly rare to see a restaurant open up in this neighbourhood that isn’t a chain.
LOCAL CLASSICS AT BAR EL JAMÓN
In the thick of busy Indian restaurants and foreign food stores, a jazzy facade with bold retro lettering stands out from the crowd. This neighbourhood veteran is Bar El Jamón, the Godfather of Lavapiés. It’s always busy at lunchtime with both regulars and passersby, so join them for a traditional €7.50 menú del día or €10 cocido completo.
MOROCCAN FOOD AT IKRAM
Mohamed serves delicious Moroccan food, which he makes himself in his tiny kitchen at the back of the restaurant. The food at Ikram is even better than meals I’ve had in Morocco, and you’ll find it right here in the northernmost neighbourhood of Africa: Lavapiés.
ANCIENT SALVADORAN STREET FOOD AT THE PUPUSERÍA
Tip: order nothing but pupusas (stuffed rice or maize flour pancakes filled with black beans, cheese, various meats or loroco flowers). They’re served piping hot – crispy on the outside and chewy and melty on the inside. So, so good.
These street-style €1 samosas are the most authentic item of Indian food I’ve found in Madrid so far. In fact, they’re just like the ones you can pick up from the roadside in Delhi.
LAST STOP FOR DESSERT…
SYRIAN BAKLAVA AT PASTELERÍA SALAMAT
Pastelería Salamat is owned by Jihad, a Syrian confectioner from Aleppo. Ten years ago, Jihad opened up his bakery just off Plaza Lavapiés and, since then, has proudly boasted one of the largest selections of baklava in Madrid. They’re also the sweetest, crunchiest, stickiest and all-round best in the barrio, if not the whole of Madrid.