Granada sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Andalusian region of Southern Spain. Visgoths, Romans, Moors and Christians have left their marks on the city that is now Granada. The Moors surrendered Granada to Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, completing the Reconquista and ending 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain.
Despite all of its rich history, the city has a youthful energy thanks to the University of Granada, which has 80,000 students on five campuses around the city. Granada is filled with young people lounging in the parks and sitting outside at cafes.
Eating out is a favorite past time in Andalusia, and Granada is one of the few Spanish cities where you still get free tapas with drinks. This tradition of always having a bite of food with alcohol goes back centuries. In fact, it is rare to see Spaniards drinking without something to nibble.
The customary way to go for tapas is to move from bar to bar, having a drink and small bite at each spot. It’s no secret that our favorite way to explore a city is by food crawling our way around. Here, food crawling is a part of the lifestyle.
It took us less than two hours to get to Granada from Malaga by bus. We arrived in the afternoon, and it was 5 pm before we finally headed out to eat – a big rookie mistake! Since there are so many restaurants in Granada, we did some research and made a list of places we thought would be interesting. The first few places that we tried had already closed at 4 pm and wouldn’t reopen until 8 pm.
We ditched our list and headed toward the cathedral. We knew there would be restaurants in the nearby plazas open for tourists and resigned ourselves to mediocre food as punishment for our bad timing. We couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out that the best tapas bar in Granada just may be the one that is open right next to you.
El Pescaito de Carmela
We were lifted out of our despair when we found El Pescaito de Carmela. People filled the sidewalk tables lingering over the remains of their lunch. We went inside where the raw bar caught our eye and convinced us to stay.
It was quiet inside at the bar, but that didn’t diminish the attention that the bartender gave us. We started with two glasses of vermouth and received what we thought was the best free tapa ever – a beautiful plate of gambas (shrimp). These shrimp were so delicate that we didn’t even have to peel them. We followed up by ordering a couple of glasses of Albariño and a plate of pulpo a la gallega (Galician octopus) prepared in the traditional Galician way of sliced tentacles seasoned simply with olive oil, salt, and a sprinkle of paprika. It was tender and delicious.
Granada may be land-locked, but they have access to fresh seafood from both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts. The light, easy going atmosphere of El Pescaito de Carmela is a reminder of the nearby Mediterranean Sea, which is only about 40 miles to the south. They also make life easy by being open from noon until midnight everyday. Sorry carnivores, there isn’t much meat on the menu so you have to like seafood to appreciate this place.
This restaurant near the Plaza de Gracia is mentioned on several “Best Tapas” lists, so we specifically sought it out. It wasn’t easy. The first time we looked they were closed and we walked right by without seeing the door. We came back the next day during their lunch hours of 1 – 4 pm, and it was right where we had expected it to be. It didn’t help that the sign above the door says OMKA-KOOL, the name on the website is Café OMKA, and we were looking for Om Kalsoum. Named after the famous Egyptian singer Om Kalsum, I’m still not sure of the actual name of the restaurant.
They serve Arabic-influenced tapas with flavors from North Africa and the Middle East. They offer an amazing deal of a bottle of wine and eight tapas for €15. We ordered a bottle of Tempranillo and asked the server to bring us his choice of tapas. Falafel and brewat (chicken pastries) were delicious but the veal kefta (meatballs) were so good that we ordered extra. These flavorful meatballs were served in a tangine which kept them juicy and steaming hot.
The long walk uphill toward the Alhambra, the famous Moorish citadel that looks over the city, wound us through streets that were lined with bars. We got a bit off track and spent some time wandering through these streets.
Needing refreshments, we stopped into a little hole in the wall called Bar Candela. It was one of the smallest bars we’ve ever been in, but it was big on character. Their house vermouth was some of the best that we’ve had. We had three drinks and got simple but nice tapas of montaditos (slices of bread with interesting toppings) with chorizo or sliced ham free with each drink. There was only one person to serve the handful of people at the bar, but she managed well and served everyone with a smile. Their kitchen is open all day on weekends.
7 Gatos is another great option when you need to eat during off hours. They are open from 8 am until 1 am without closing in the afternoon. Their sidewalk tables are constantly busy, from coffee and pastry for breakfast to pinchos (small bites with toothpicks in them) throughout the rest of the day.
The tortillas rellenas (stuffed tortillas de patatas) stared out of us from behind the glass in the front of the bar. Siete Gatos has taken something already delicious, sliced it open, and stuffed it with all kinds of tempting things.
We selected a pincho de tortilla rellena de champinones, which was stuffed with ham, mushroom, bechamel sauce and who knows what else. We also had a pincho of mi-cuit con setas, which was bread topped with two thick slices of foie gras and mushroom that was an unbelievable amount of foie gras for €2.50.
Our total food bill was only €5. We also had two bottles of sparkling water which were almost as much as the food at €2.20 each. This is one of the mysteries of eating in Andalusia, where water can be the same price as beer or wine and it doesn’t get you a free tapa. Still, it’s hard to complain with food this affordable and good.
There are hundreds and hundreds of restaurants in this small city; too many to cover in one blog post and many of which you won’t find on the Internet. When trying to follow a list of restaurant recommendations, we discovered that many of them didn’t exist or had elusive business hours. What worked best for us was walking through the city and being spontaneous. In the end, we found that the best tapas restaurant in Granada truly was the one right next to us.
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