Eating at tapas bars allows you to try lots of small dishes with the premise that if you like it, you can order more but if you don’t then, not to worry, you can move on and try something else. This is ideal when you consider that some tapas only cost €1 or €2 each and, in many places, come free with your drinks.
In some tapas bars you may also see ‘racion’ or ‘media racion’ on the menu – these are larger servings (full- and half-size) and, by default, more expensive than tapas but still good value.
One of my favourite things to do whenever I spend time in a new city is to wander from bar to bar sampling the different tapas on offer. If you’re short on time though it’s a good idea to take a tapas tour where local guides with plenty of inside information will take you on a food and drink tour around the very best bars in the city (often not on the usual tourist trail).
I’ve eaten lots of tapas in the time I’ve been living in Spain but I haven’t been able to try absolutely everything (yet) so, as well as writing about my favourites, I’ve joined forces with some fellow travel bloggers to find out their top choices.
Russian salad is a staple of just about every tapas menu in Spain. The recipe varies from region to region and even from bar to bar but is, essentially, a mixture of potatoes and eggs (boiled and chopped) in creamy mayonnaise, sometimes with peas and carrots, sometimes without. The most common addition to the mix is tuna, but you might also find it with prawns as we did on our foodie tour of Seville.
As you can probably guess, Russian salad started life, not in Spain, but in the kitchens of Moscow where it was invented by a Belgian chef, Lucien Olivier, in the 1860s. Over the years the original recipe, which contained expensive gourmet ingredients, has been adapted to suit the times leaving us with the Russian salad we know and love.
Pimientos de Padron – favourite tapa of Laura from Travelers Universe
Pimientos de Padrón (aka Padrón peppers) are some of the most simple vegan tapas you can eat in Spain. They are original from a municipality in Galicia that also gave them their name and are incredibly easy to prepare. You just heat some olive oil in a pan, add the small, green peppers and toss them occasionally until the skin starts to soften. The result is a delicious side dish that can accompany fried eggs, potatoes or meat.
I like to think of these peppers as a surprise on a plate. That’s because while most of them are mild, a very small percentage of them are really hot. So you never know. First time I tried them was years ago at San Miguel Market in Madrid. This is a wonderful foodie meeting place and a real must-see even if you spend even as little as 3 days in Madrid. But you can also order them in most tapas bars around Spain.
Patatas Bravas – favourite tapa of Vicki from Vicki Viaja
One thing you have to try before leaving Spain is its delicious tapas. Even after living in the country for more than three years now, I enjoy the delicious tapas at least once a week. My absolute favourite and one of the ‘tapas basics’ are patatas bravas. Even though the recipe might be pretty simple, the taste is amazing. It’s basically just fried pieces of potato (patatas) served with brava sauce. The sauce is a mixture of tomato sauce and mayonnaise. Even though the sauce is so easy to make it tastes different in every place you might try it.
The best patatas bravas I’ve ever tried I found in my hometown Barcelona where there are some bars and restaurants in which they taste amazing. Often it’s those little places that are rather hidden where you can find the best ones made following traditional family recipes.
Huevos Rotos – favourite tapa of Maggie from The World Was Here First
You can find a lot of iterations of egg and potato dishes in Spain, but one of the best is undoubtedly huevos rotos. Literally translated, this dish means ‘broken eggs’ and, despite its simplicity, it is one of the most delicious tapas to eat in Spain.
In its most basic form, huevos rotos only uses two ingredients: eggs and potatoes. Many restaurants will make this dish in their own unique way but it typically consists of a couple of gooey fried eggs set atop a bed of potatoes. More often than not, you can also get this dish with any number of toppings. Some of the most common you will see are huevos rotos con jamón (with ham), con chorizo, con pimientos (with peppers), or con morcilla (with blood sausage).
Unlike many Spanish dishes that are strictly regional, you can find huevos rotos on many menus in any city that you may visit on a Spain itinerary.
Espinacas con Garbanzos – favourite tapa of Mayuri from To Some Place New
Known for its delicious cuisines and centuries-old restaurants and bars, the city of Seville in southern Spain is a beautiful destination worth visiting. Of the must-try tapas in Seville is the spinach and chickpea stew, also known as Espinacas con Garbanzos. It is a tapas-style or starter size plate served with a glass of white wine. This dish is a vegetarian specialty, and perfect for those who don’t like spicy food.
We tried this dish on a tapas food tour in Seville and enjoyed it completely. This simple spinach and the popular chickpeas combination with a special mix of species is a Sevillian traditional cuisine, and you will easily find one in every tapas bar in the city!
The combination of spinach and chickpeas just blew our minds – it is a unique combo – that we have never tried before visiting Andalucia. In our culture, chickpeas are prepared with heavy curry, and spices (and it is hot), and we never mix any green leafy vegetables! Traditionally, Espinacas con Garbanzos is considered a part of the typical tapas served during the spring days of Holy Week.
Olives – favourite tapa of Victoria from Guide Your Travel
A cold drink on a hot day combined with a bowl of fresh olives is what Spain is all about. You find these fresh olives (aceitunas) almost everywhere in the country in many different varieties. Some are black, some green, some stuffed, some marinated with herbs and garlic, or some are simply plain. An olive tapa usually includes some slices of bread and should not costs more than 2€. Almost everywhere you will see olive plantations where the olives you just tried came from. You can’t get them any fresher than that!
If you’re lucky you will get some olives in a restaurant or pub for free with a meal or a drink sometimes. They’re that popular! More local or fresher than in Spain is almost not possible. They’re an absolute must-try when you go to Spain and one of the simplest but most also most delicious tapas out there.
Membrillo con Queso – favourite tapa of Milijana from World Travel Connector
Yummy Manchego cheese with quince jam, or ‘queso Manchego con membrillo’ in Spanish, is a classic Spanish tapa and definitely one of the most delicious tapas to eat in Spain.
Iconic Manchego cheese is the most famous Spanish cheese with a distinctive salty but somewhat nutty and sweet caramel flavour. Needless to say, authentic Manchego cheese is one of the most famous Spanish foods to try in Spain. Because of its distinctive flavour, Manchego cheese pairs well with honey, jams, fruits, and toasted almonds. It especially goes well with quince jam.
While salty cheese and sweet jam might sound simple, the taste of Spanish ‘queso Manchego con membrillo’ is nothing less than pure perfection! The unique mix of sweet quince jam and salty-nutty authentic Manchego cheese tastes simply divine.
I’ve tried this tasty tapa on my Andalusia trip in the famous ‘Taberna Casa Manteca’ in Cadiz. Legendary Taberna Casa Manteca is a popular tapas bar in Cadiz, well-known for the great choice of first-class tapas, wines, and beers, and above all outstanding atmosphere.
If you are traveling to Cadiz and if you want to try one of the most delicious tapas in Spain, head to Casa Manteca and order heavenly queso Manchego con membrillo.
Salmorejo – favourite tapa of Paulina from Paulina on the Road
Salmorejo is a Spanish dish made using tomato and bread. It is a cold soup that originated from Cordoba in Andalucia. I tried this dish during my visit to Cordoba. Its main ingredients include tomatoes, bread, oil, and garlic.
They serve it cold by garnishing it with diced hard-boiled eggs and diced Spanish Serrano ham. What makes the dish special is its history. Whenever people think of Cordoba, the first thing striking their mind is salmorejo. The thick texture of the cold soup is the reflection of people’s inheritance of the Liberian Peninsula and many years of culinary knowledge.
The soup is also served as a sauce. Made from Spanish ingredients including garlic, olive oil, bread, vinegar, and salt, the dish is linked to an old historic fact – the dish changing its colour from white to red. The recipe for this soup reached Spain in the 15th century from America but it was not popular until the 18th century. Some people of Cordoba consider salmorejo as gazpacho, which is another regional soup, while others consider it as a unique dish. However, the Salmorejo recipe is a bit different because of the amount of bread used. I recommend it because of its texture and traditional taste.
Berenjenas con miel – favourite tapa of Joanna from The World in my Pocket
Berenjenas con miel is one of the most delicious vegetarian tapas you can have in Spain. This tapa is traditional to the South of Spain and you will find it in most of the tapas bars around Andalucia. It is a simple but delicious snack that is often served alongside cold drinks.
Berenjenas con miel translates as aubergines with honey, even though there is no honey in this recipe. The thin slices of aubergines are soaked in milk to remove the bitterness of this vegetable, then they are coated in flour and deep fried in olive oil. They are served with a syrup made from molasses and soy sauce, drizzled on top. The soy sauce is added to remove the excessive sweetness of the molasses.
Once deep fried, the aubergine slices become crispy, with a similar texture as crisps. They are actually a fantastic healthier option than potato crisps. I am usually not a fan of aubergines because of their mushy texture, but I will eat the berenjenas con miel any time because they are crispy and full of flavour.
Fish and Seafood Tapas
Tortillitas de Camarones
These crispy, crunchy fritters made with tiny whole shrimps (camarones), chopped spring onions and parsley are, quite possibly, my favourite of all the delicious tapas that Spain has to offer.
Tortillitas de camarones are an Andalucian speciality and are most commonly found on the Costa de la Luz in one of the many freidurias (fried fish restaurants) popular in the region. If you ever visit Cadiz I’d recommend a visit to Freiduria las Flores where you can people watch over a plate of tortillitas while enjoying an ice-cold beer or sipping a sherry.
Gambas Pil Pil
There’s nothing quite like dipping fresh crusty bread into a sizzling terracotta dish of gambas pil pil (prawns cooked with slices of garlic, chilli and olive oil) to soak up the spicy infused oil.
This is another Andalucian speciality but, if you don’t like garlic, you might want to give it a miss! The oil should still be bubbling when it’s brought to your table so, although you’ll want to dive straight in for a plump juicy prawn, caution is recommended if you want to avoid burning your mouth!
Boquerones en vinagre
Sometimes the simplest foods are the tastiest and the humble anchovy definitely falls into this category.
Boquerones en vinagre (anchovies in vinegar) are fillets which have been marinated in vinegar, seasoned with garlic and served with a drizzle of olive oil (and a cold beer).
Boquerones fritos – favourite tapa of Cristina from My Little World of Travelling
When you visit Malaga, you must try boquerones fritos – anchovies that are gently covered in flour and then fried. They are often served with aioli sauce or lemon halves which add extra freshness to the fish.
It seems like a simple dish, but it’s delicious when made correctly. Also, it’s a good tapa because it won’t fill you up, which is perfect if you want to try other ones or have a main course.
The best places to eat boquerones fritos are in chiringuitos, traditional beach bars or restaurants, and Restaurante Los Mellizos that offers other fresh fish and seafood dishes too.
You may also want to add rosada frita or calamares (fried squid) to your list.
Although this is a very traditional dish in Malaga, to the point that locals are informally called ‘boquerones’, you can also find it in any other Andalusian destinations.
Espetos – favourite tapa of Joanna from The World in my Pocket
There is no better way of spending a Sunday on Costa Tropical than on the beach, at a chiringuito, having a cold beer and a plate of espetos – fish on a stick.
Becoming popular in Spain in the 1950s, the chiringuitos are now part of the Spanish beach culture and a must go to when on vacation on any of the coastal towns in the country. The chiringuitos are simple beach bars with plastic tables and chairs set right on the sand, which serve grilled fish. The grills are usually in the shape of an old boat filled with sand and covered with olive tree wood. The tapa espetos consists of 10 sardines pushed onto a skewer which is then grilled over the open fire at a 45 degrees angle. The only seasoning these sardines have is a little bit of olive oil and some sea salt. It is served with a wedge of lemon on the side.
The espetos are meant to be eaten whole, with the head and the tail. They are absolutely delicious! A plate of espetos with 10 sardines on it costs around 5 euros.
Pulpo a la Gallega – favourite tapa of Campbell and Alya from the Stingy Nomads
Spain is a real paradise for food lovers – every region has its specialties so it’s always a fun thing to go out and try different tapas. One of my favourite tapas in Spain is Pulpo a la Gallega – a traditional Galician dish. The first time I tried this dish was in a bar in Ferrol when we were about to start the Camino Inglés, one of the Camino de Santiago routes. I’m a big fan of seafood and always try new things in different countries, but Galician Pulpo is something very special.
Pulpo a la Gallega or Polbo á Feira (the local name) means a fair-style octopus’. It is not difficult to guess that octopus is the main ingredient of the dish. The cooking process is the following: first octopus is boiled in a big copper pot for 50 minutes to one hour. After that it’s left in the pot for another 20 minutes – the octopus must be ready but not overcooked. When it’s done it’s cut into pieces (usually only the tentacles are served), seasoned with salt, herbs, and paprika and sprinkled with olive oil. It’s a great tapa to have with beer or wine and when we go out in Galicia we always order pimientos de Padrón with it as well.
Gambas al ajillo – favourite tapa of Noel from This Hawaii Life
If you like Spanish tapas, shrimp, and garlic, then you should try the popular tapa dish called gambas al ajillo or shrimp with garlic. Garlic lovers will just love this tasty and simple dish that is popular in central and southern Spain but even more so in the ocean areas where shrimp is plentiful to source and create this dish fresh. What’s not to like with big shrimp swimming in delicious olive oil, lots of garlic, red pepper, paprika and white wine or sherry? It is easy to make and delicious to eat with nice crusty bread. Gambas al ajillo is one of those popular tapa dishes in Andalucia that everyone craves and is always on the menu at any tapas bars or restaurants anywhere you go in Andalucia.
Gambas shrimp are mostly from Catalan and the Costa Brava region where the shrimp are a bright red colour and a fine taste to create a delicious bite and with simple ingredients to use is also easy to make on your own. If you are visiting a tapas bar anywhere in Spain, make sure you order a plate (or a few plates) of gambas al ajillo and some bread to wipe up all the delicious juices.
Morcilla de Burgos – favourite tapa of Roxanne from Faraway Worlds
Morcilla de Burgos is a must-try food for any trip to Northern Spain. Similar to black pudding, morcilla is essentially a sausage made primarily from onions, rice, lard, blood and spices. Traditionally, there is no meat in the sausage. It’s then sliced and served on bread, typical for pintxos in Northern Spain. The result is slightly creamy and a little spicy, but with a milder flavour than black pudding.
While you can find morcilla on tapas menus throughout Spain, the dish is originally from the city of Burgos in the Castilla-León region. In Burgos, morcilla is made with a locally grown onion which gives the sausage a distinctive flavour. If you find yourself in the region, make sure to try morcilla in its hometown – as a bonus, Burgos is a lovely city which makes a great stop on a road trip through Northern Spain.
Jamon Tostadas – favourite Tapa of Lavina from Continent Hop
When it comes to tapas, one of the best things about it that one will notice is how simple items, when put together, turn out to be the most delicious combinations!
One such item is jamon tostadas. The one I tried in Santander wasn’t dry as one would expect but was very flavourful. The bread was toasted just right and extra virgin olive oil was generously drizzled over it.
Slices of chunky tomato were then placed over the toast and coarse salt was sprinkled over it to flavour it well. The last bit was of course the Iberico Jamon. Slices of this were placed over the tomato so that the entire toast was covered with it. Another version I tried had the ingredients placed inside a toasted baguette which also tasted equally well.
Santander is one of the best places for tapas and you can find jamon tostadas at almost any bar in the city centre, which is a great spot to try the tapas here.
Chorizo in red wine – favourite tapa of Sabine from The Tasty Chilli
Chorizo sausage plays an important role as the base of quite some classic Spanish tapas dishes. I first tried Spanish chorizo in red wine, or chorizo al vino tinto when I was living in Madrid, but it is a tapas dish that is found all over Spain. It is closely connected with the chorizo a la sidra tapa, where the chorizo is braised in sweet Asturian apple cider.
Chorizo sausage pairs really well with a full body red wine as it brings a great balance to the slightly fatty sausage and the pimenton spice, with which the chorizo is flavoured. Consider using a good quality wine for the best flavour combination. Come to think of it, you can’t really go wrong with any wine from Spain.
While braising the sausage in the red wine, make a few cuts in the skin of the sausage so the juices of the chorizo can slowly mix with the red wine. Doing this will also help keep the meat nice and juicy.
Don’t use all the wine for the sauce, because you should serve these tapas with some in a glass and crunchy bread alongside to mop up the delicious sauce.
Croquetas – favourite tapa of Sam from Alternative Travelers
Croquetas are one of the most traditionally Spanish tapas and certainly a ‘must eat’ for visitors to Spain. Also known in English as croquettes, croquetas share an origin story with many dishes in Spain, as a way to repurpose leftovers. For this reason, these breaded and fried balls of deliciousness can be filled with any number of ingredients, mixed with a creamy béchamel sauce. Traditional fillings include jamón (cured Spanish ham), chorizo, or cod. Vegetarian fillings such as mushroom, leek, spinach, and squash are also popular.
Our favourite croqueta, which also won ‘best tapa’ in a neighbourhood tapas festival, can be found at Distrito Vegano, one of the best vegan restaurants in Madrid. But since croquetas are so common, you can try them in practically any traditional Spanish restaurant or bar. This finger food is the perfect accompaniment to a glass of Spanish wine or a caña (small beer). They’re usually served in a sharing plate, so make sure to go with eating companions!
Churros con chocolate – favourite tapa of Leyla from Women on the Road
Chocolate con churros is the quintessential Spanish snack, often eaten for Sunday breakfast or in the early hours of the morning after a late night out.
A churro is simply a ridged tube of deep-fried dough, usually lightly sprinkled with sugar. Most often, it is dunked in a cup of hot chocolate, not the watery drink many are used to but a thick, creamy syrup that wraps itself around the churro, clinging to every delightful ridge.
You can find churros in many Spanish cities but some of the best are to be sampled at the Chocolateria San Ginés in Madrid, near the old town. The decor, with its marble tables and wall mirrors, hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1894 and is typical of Madrid’s turn of the century cafes.
And while cafes are atmospheric venues for churro sampling, they’re also occasionally sold by street vendors. Like fish and chips in England, there’s a certain cachet to eating them out of a paper cone…
Some tapas are super easy to make yourself so, if you fancy recreating your Spanish holiday at home, there are some excellent recipe books available.
My favourite is ‘A Passion for Tapas‘ which has lots of delicious (and easy) recipes inside.
Of course, you’ll also need the dishes too for the authentic tapas experience. Most tapas bars use terracotta dishes as they’re heatproof – perfect for bringing a sizzling dish of gambas pil pil to the table.
Has your favourite been mentioned? Drop a comment and let me know what tapas you always choose.
This post was written in September 2019, and updated in June 2021.