Where to eat in La Latina

Want to know where to eat in La Latina, Madrid? Here are my favourite spots…

Casual and classy, this is Cava Baja’s saving grace

A bright spot amid the thick forest of Cava Baja bars, Casa Lucas nails it with a smart wine selection and moreish raciones and pinchos. It’s perfect for either casual dining or no-nonsense at-the-bar boozing, and the food is old-school Spanish with the ante upped. For example, there’s octopus carpaccio, served on a potato, pimentón and bacon mash, or bacalao gratin, with wild mushrooms, eggplant and salsa vizcaina. If you’re all Rioja-ed out, the reasonably-priced wine list includes up-and-coming regions like Toro and Priorat, and there’s sherry and cava by the glass. The grub ain’t cheap (raciones are €15 – €20 and pinchos €5 – €7), but it’s top-notch and the servings are generous. If there are two of you, I suggest one ración plus a few pinchos (including pork sirloin, tuna belly, and blood sausage with caramelised onion). I’ve found a few dishes to be a little sweet, but that’s a minor criticism. The place is small and packs out in the evening, so either request a table (there are only about six) at the bar and wait (you can’t book) or rub shoulders with the rest of us, eating and drinking on your feet.

Calle Cava Baja, 30, 28005
casalucas.es (funny ol’ website, but don’t worry, the important details are there)
913 650 804
Metro: La Latina (line 5)

Teary virgins, smoky sherry and sea anemones

Sanlúcar, an Andalusian bar in La Latina, at night

Sanlúcar: In the guts of La Latina, a doorway to southern Spain.

Along a narrow street, down in La Latina’s depths, a short stagger from the bustling bars of Calle Cava Baja, is Sanlúcar. A slice of the south, this picturesque tavern – gaudy colours, flamenco soundtrack, weeping virgins – is one of my favourite spots for sherry and Andalusian food. Each drink comes with bowl of sharp-as-tacks olives or slippery lupins (WTF: lupins???) and the dishes to order are damn fine across the board. Try the tortillitas (crispy shrimp fritters), fresh salmorejo, sweet presa ibérica (a juicy cut from the black-hoof pig) and breaded and fried ortiguillas, or sea anemones (a classic southern tapa that’s a mushy mouthful of ocean). The sherry prices run a tad higher than La Venencia, but the range is a less rustic – Sanlúcar’s oloroso tastes deliciously like smoke. Check out the images of three flamenco greats behind the bar: Paco de LuciaCamarón de la Isla and Lola Flores (photographed prancing about the – presumably southern – seashore in an outrageous white ruffled dress).

Calle de San Isidro Labrador, 14
913 540 052
Metro: La Latina (line 5)

Delicious tostas in the thick of the Rastro rumpus

The Rastro is a battleground. Tourists, Spaniards, small but strong old ladies. It zaps your strength. Enter El Capricho Extremeño. This rowdy hole in the wall serves big, ballsy and cheap (€2-3) tostas – chunky slices of bread layered with savoury toppings and a generous pour of olive oil. Salty bacalao (cod), anchovies, shrimps, tortilla, goat cheese and jelly or big rouge slices of ham – the list of toppings is long. So is the queue, often snaking out and down the hill. But fear not! It moves quick as a wink thanks to the gypsy girl-cum-sergeant major directing proceedings. But she’s no Soup Nazi – it’s all in good humour. Get a glass of the house wine or the strong, fruit-packed sangria and eat in the street, delighting in the sensation of olive oil running up your wrists.

Calle de Carlos Arniches, 30, 28005
924 68 05 26
Metro: La Latina or Puerta del Toledo (line 5)

Looks dangerous, is anything but

Let the Rastro/battleground metaphor continue (see above). You staved off the pangs at El Capricho Extremeño. But that was an hour ago. A lifetime in Rastro-time. You’re sweaty, you have thirst, you have hunger, you have just realised that, like every other flea market in the world, the Rastro sells only hippy clothes, ironic t-shirts and cheap socks. Let Santurce provide succour. Opened in the 70s, this bar hasn’t changed an iota since and looks like the kind of place fights break out in. But Santurce is in fact gentle, kind and… well, the grilled sardines are jaw-shudderingly good. As are the calamares and cold mugs of beer. But people come for the sardines. As well as the simple menu, the low prices and the excellent service. If you’re claustrophobic, back away now. This place fills to the brim, and then another fifty people squeeze in. Shoulder to shoulder, everybody eating sardines and tossing the bones to the floor. So watch your step. If I haven’t piqued your interest, then you’re no use to me. Once you’ve had your fill at Santurce, let the Rastro binge continue at Los Caracoles around the corner. But that’s another post.

A plate of grilled sardines at Bar Santurce, Madrid

Bar Santurce: the food.

Rubbish on the floor in Bar Santurce, Madrid

Bar Santurce: the floor.

Plaza General Vara del Rey, 14
646 23 83 03
Metro: La Latina, Tirso de Molina

Age-old, cosy wine bar serving top-flight simple food

Wine bottles lined on the bar in Almacen de Vinos, wine bar in La Latina Madrid

If Woody Allen was a Madrilenian, he’d have shot a scene from Annie Hall in Almacén de Vinos. This century-old La Latina tavern is emblematic to those who know about it, but, given the bolt-hole bar is a bugger to find, those in the know are a select, lucky bunch. The place is rough, fusty and gloriously castizo (ie. authentic), and yet it’s developed with age; adapting to modern tastes without severing its roots. Jazz plays softly, there’s a broad selection of Spanish wine by the glass, craft beer bottles share wall space with massive, antiquated tinajas (wine vats) and the keenly-priced food swings from blood sausage with roast piquillo peppers to very un-Spanish flavours like smoked salmon with wasabi ice-cream. The crowd is low-key, making this the perfect refuge to huddle over good wine, food and a book, or get gracefully hammered with friends. Service is generous and these guys know their tempranillo from their prieto picud. The menu includes raciones, cured meats, fifteen types of cheese and around twenty tostas (food on toasted bread). The tostas are especially popular, all priced at €4.50, and all big, ballsy and tasty. I recommend the leek and mushroom. By the way, the bar is also known as Casa Gerardo.

Calle Calatrava, 21, 28005
912 219 660
Metro: La Latina (line 5)

A time warp tucked in La Latina’s back pocket

Casa Dani, an old La Latina, Madrid bar

I feel for Casa Dani. Down a gorgeously threadbare and little-transited Madrid street, this over-100-year-old bar – the perfect refuge for lovers of simple wine and sensational charcuterie – is often half empty. Such is a plight of some of Madrid’s most castizo (i.e. authentic) bars. But with intricately tiled walls, basic furniture, a no-nonsense zinc bar, impeccable service and a small but outstanding selection of cheese and cured meats, Casa Dani is a pure breed, a Madrid tasca as they once were. The wine selection is limited, and is served in narrow thimble-like glasses. There are also “chatos”, a slowly-disappearing Madrid concept where the wine is a “clarete” (claret) – a mix of red and white. The upshot? It’s lighter (in taste and alcohol) so you can knock back five with friends and food, without falling off your stool. Dani père has since passed away, and the bar now run by his son, also Dani. It’s been in the family for 40 years, but first opened its doors in the 1870s. A recommendation: get the cured manchego cheese – some of the best I’ve had in lord knows how long. And the only jamón option is a three-year-cured jamón ibérico de bellota – now that’s class.

Calle Calatrava, 11, 28005
913 65 26 21
Metro: La Latina (line 5)

A low-key & largely overlooked gem on Cava Baja

Another oasis in the oozing orgy of Cava Baja bars. La Concha taps into my soft spot for Spanish taverns that tightly guard the spirit and aesthetic of the past, without turning divey or fusty (I like those too, but in a different way…). The afternoon sun ricochets off worn floor tiles, the marble bar is smooth and broad, the wine list well-chosen and the service always generous. I love La Concha on hazy weekend afternoons, for a pre-lunch aperitif, when the tavern is lethargic and I’m drinking next to a young chap who’s reading the weekend papers over a softly fizzing cava. The food (tostas and raciones) is rooted in tradition, but done with a modern light touch. The stewed pork cheek is sweet and rich and the matrimonio (vinegar marinated and salt-cured anchovy filets side-by-side) has a fabulous citrusy spark. My aperitif of choice is their vermouth cocktail, which goes something like this: spray the inside of a cocktail glass with gin, pour in vermouth (they use Zarro brand, from the bottle), add a dash of Campari, drop in a single ice cube and garnish with a twist of orange peel and an olive impaled on a toothpick. Repeat.

Calle Cava Baja, 7, 28005
616 910 671 (this is a mobile phone number)
Metro: La Latina (line 5)

An underground, parallel flamenco universe

Al Vicente Copas, flamenco bar in Madrid

Al Vicente Copas. Vicente at his leisure.

More cave than bar, this hole-in-the-wall is probably the craziest and most compact flamenco joint on Earth. Up one end is a plasma TV on which Vicente – bar owner, sole bartender and the establishment’s namesake – broadcasts flamenco performances at soul-shuddering volumes. There’s something about the short, stocky, mutton-chopped proprietor that makes him an unlikely flamenco freak. But Vicente is an aficionado of the first order, with a collection totalling several hundred hours of fully-juiced, true-blue live cante jondo. Tap beer is the drink du jour and each brew comes with a free tapa of bread smothered in biting salmorejo and topped with succulent ham (there are also cured meats, cheeses and canned seafood if you’re peckish). This is one of those bars set in aspic, where all the oddball nicknacks have long since congealed into one surreal package. A crucifix wrapped in flashing lights hangs alongside a poster depicting a myriad of ways to make love (a reminder that Spain is both devout and profane). And perhaps most strange is the upside-down Christmas tree rooted into the low ceiling. “The woman upstairs waters it for me,” grins Vicente, before turning back to the TV and clapping his meaty hands to the syncopated flamenco beat.

Plaza de Puerta Cerrada, 7 (note: although the address …and Google Maps… say the bar is in the plaza, it’s actually a little ways down Calle Segovia, on your left. For some reason the sign above the door says San Román, rather than Al Vicente Copas – how’s that for speakeasy!).
91 366 4299
Metro: La Latina (line 5)

James Blick

8 thoughts on “Where to eat in La Latina

  1. Hi James, I’ve really enjoyed reading your tips. Taking my Da to Madrid for a weekend shortly and will make sure to give a couple of these a visit. All the best, Hugh

  2. Iam a madrileño through my mother & school hols with my spanish family in san blas. Going for short break with my eldest daughter to introduce her to it all!!! Brought up all my kids on tapas, have written a list of your suggestions, can’t wait. Asta pronto jax.

  3. I have done a few of your Tips about 18 month ago and Al Vicente Copas was a an odd experience but really cool.Vincente had the music loud that we nearly couldn’t understand each other but at the time answering a phone call.Amazing.The free Tapa was really nice.Enjoyed it and looking back to be there in 2 weeks again

    • Yeah, it’s a really surreal place! I love it. Enjoy it when you head back there soon (I believe he’s re-decorated slightly – or at least given his place a paint job)

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