The Best Spanish Tapas to Try in Spain

The 14 Best Spanish Tapas you Have to Try in Spain

If you’re planning a trip to Spain, you’ve absolutely got to make time for a tapas crawl. Tapas are small plates of food that are sometimes served for free with drinks at bars throughout Spain. The simple complimentary tapas are usually along the lines of marinated olives, croquettes, or toasted slices of baguette with cured meats. Go to a tapas restaurant that serves small plates, and you can gorge on hearty stews, grilled seafood, and loaded fries for less than €5 a portion!

Tapas are more than just Spanish food. They’re an essential ingredient in the local culture, bringing people together and helping build strong relationships. Colleagues go out for tapas after work, friends pop out for drinks and a couple of tapas before dinner, and family members get together and turn a few small plates into a giant buffet-style feast. 

The name “tapa” literally translates into English as “lid.” This is because tapas were first invented to place over the top of a drink to stop flies from dropping in. The original tapa was usually a slice of bread, ham, or cheese handed out by bartenders to people drinking outside. Today, the dishes are much more elaborate and tempting, although they still go by the same name. 

We’ve done our best to try as many different tapas as possible from all over Spain to find out which are the absolute best Spanish tapas. So you don’t fill up on mediocre eats, we’ve compiled our favorites and listed them below. Here are the top 14 tapas you’ve got to try the next time you visit the Spanish foodie paradise!

14 Popular Spanish Tapas to Try in Spain

1. Gambas al Ajillo 

Spanish Tapas You Have to Try in Spain: Gambas al Ajillo

One of the most popular tapas in Spain among seafood lovers, gambas al ajillo is a delicious prawn dish that’s served all over mainland Spain and the archipelagoes. This tapa is made up of a terracotta dish filled with hot, bubbling oil, thinly-sliced garlic cloves, and some of the biggest, juiciest shrimp you’ve ever seen.

Even if you’re not really keen on seafood, the smell of this dish as the server walks it through the restaurant will be enough to leave you drooling. It’s usually served with several slices of thick, crusty bread so you can enjoy every last drop of the delicious garlicky oil. Some chefs get a little creative and add some smoky paprika or a dash of sweet sherry to make the dish even better. 

La Casa Del Abuelo serves up some of the most incredible gambas al ajillo in Madrid. This local place has a typical Spanish tapas bar-vibe and also dishes up amazing gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimp).


2. Jamón Serrano

Best Tapa Dishes in Spain: Jamón Serrano

Another one of the best Spanish tapas, Jamón Serrano is so common that many small bars give it out for free. It is a slow-aged ham made from the meat of a hind pork leg cut. 

It’s the meat’s delicate aging process and the addition of just one ingredient (salt) that makes the flavor so special. Jamón Serrano gets its melt-in-the-mouth texture because it’s cut so finely that you can almost see through it. 

Most bars don’t buy this meat from a supplier. They have a dried and cured pig’s leg on the bar that they gently carve slices off just before serving. If you get the chance to watch a server slice the meat, you’ll see that it’s really a work of art! 

Jamón Serrano is most commonly served on slices of crusty bread, but it tastes so good that it’s also regularly served simply on a plate on its own. 

Bar Las Teresas is well-known for serving some of the very best Jamón Serrano in Seville. This small place is half store and half restaurant. You can buy all the products here in their entirety (including the giant legs of Jamón Serrano hanging above the bar) or sit down at one of the few tiny tables and eat a portion of the goodies there.


3. Chorizo al Vino Tinto

Delicious Spanish Tapas in Spain: Chorizo al Vino Tinto

You’ve probably tried the bright red and slightly spicy sausage known as chorizo before. But have you ever tried it when it’s been slowly simmered in a robust red wine? 

Chorizo al vino tinto is usually served in a terracotta dish filled with chunks of chorizo and plenty of chorizo-infused red wine sauce. There’s crusty bread on the side, so you can enjoy every last drop of the flavor-packed sauce. 

If you’re not a fan of red wine but would still like to try the dish, be on the lookout for chorizo a la sidra. This dish replaces red wine with a sweet sparkling cider and is much lighter than the alternative. 

Bodega Biarritz in Barcelona offers chorizo al vinto tinto and chorizo a la sidra, both of which are fantastic. It’s impossible to pick a favorite, so we suggest ordering both. The menu is brimming with all kinds of local tapas, which are available for shockingly affordable prices. 


4. Tortilla Española

Popular Spanish Tapas to Try in Spain: Tortilla Española

Another one of the best Spanish tapas that’s often served in bars for free is tortilla española. Known in English as Spanish omelet, this delicious dish is as far away from your typical breakfast omelet as you can imagine. It’s made by frying slices or small cubes of fluffy potatoes in an abundance of oil in a deep skillet, giving them a buttery, indulgent flavor and texture.

Eggs are beaten and then poured into the frying pan, completely covering the potatoes. When the bottom side is cooked, the whole thing is flipped over so the top side gets to cook. When it’s done just right, the inside of the tortilla is wonderfully soft and almost melts, while the outside is solid and golden. There’s nothing like it! 

To make it a little more interesting, some chefs cook onions with the potatoes or add a dash of red pepper flakes. In the Canary Islands, some places even add bananas and gofio (a sweet flour made from roasted grains). 

Casa Dani in Madrid really does serve the very best tortilla española in all of Spain. This unassuming restaurant has won several awards for its incredible omelet. It was even featured on an episode of Somebody Feed Phil!


5. Pimientos de Padrón

Best Spanish Tapas in Spain: Pimientos de Padrón

A lot of Spanish tapas are heavy on seafood or meat. But pimientos de padrón is a dish that everyone can enjoy, vegans and vegetarians, too. These small green peppers come from Galicia in the north of Spain and are quickly deep-fried before they’re generously sprinkled with sea salt and served while they’re still hot. 

Most padrón peppers are very mild in flavor with low capsaicin levels, meaning they’re hardly spicy at all. But every now and then, you’ll get a rogue pepper that’s shockingly spicy and wakes up your taste buds. Make sure you’ve got a drink nearby to counteract the heat!

They may look a bit overdone. But the black blisters that develop on the peppers due to the high heat of the oil have a fantastic texture and flavor. After your first nibble, you won’t be able to stop until your plate is empty! 

Chiringuito Los Tony’s is the place to go for pimientos de padrón if you find yourself in Marbella. This cute and casual beachside restaurant serves generous portions of the peppers with giant salt flakes that really bring out their flavor. 


6. Boquerones en Vinagre

Best Tapa Dishes in Spain: Boquerones en Vinagre

Boquerones en vinagre is one of the most traditional Spanish tapas, although some people will say it has a very acquired taste. Boquerones are a type of anchovy that is marinated for around 3 hours in salt water to make this dish. 

After their salt-water bath, they’re placed into a bowl of sweet vinegar and olive oil, where they’re left to marinate for another 6 hours. The fish are lightly drained and seasoned with salt, garlic, and parsley just before serving.

When you think of anchovies, you probably think of the super-salty dark-colored fish that sometimes come on the top of pizzas. But the anchovies in boquerones en vinagre are completely different. They have a really soft, delicate texture and deliciously sweet flavor from the vinegar. They’re surprisingly rich, and just a few mouthfuls is usually enough. 

Because this is one of the most popular tapas in Spain, you can find it prepared and ready to eat in most supermarkets throughout the country. But if you’d rather try it out, we suggest stopping by Bar El Estrecho if you’re ever in Marcella. This traditional Spanish tapas bar serves a huge range of small plates, including some of the best boquerones en vinagre you’ll ever try!


7. Ensaladilla Rusa

Best Spanish Tapas in Spain: Ensaladilla Rusa

Ensaladilla rusa translates into English as “Russian salad” which doesn’t exactly sound like something you’d expect to be one of the best tapas dishes in Spain. Its name comes from the fact that it’s a potato salad instead of the typical leafy green salad that most “ensaladas” are in the country.

Ensaladilla rusa is made of a mixture of mashed potato, mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, peas, and tuna. Everything is thoroughly combined and served cold with a couple of slices of crusty bread. It sounds really unusual, but the flavors work incredibly well together and the texture is velvet-smooth. 

Just like boquerones en vinagre, ensaladilla rusa is so popular that you’ll also find it ready-made in most supermarkets. If you’re looking for a restaurant, Gresca in Barcelona is well-known for its superb ensaladilla rusa. This place serves traditional Spanish tapas with a modern spin and beautiful presentation. Whatever you order is guaranteed to be fantastic! 


8. Albondigas en Salsa

Top Spanish Tapas to Try in Spain: Albondigas en Salsa

The perfect tapa to order when there’s a slight chill in the air, albondigas en salsa will warm you right up. This tempting dish is comprised of meatballs made of pork and beef cooked in a rich and moderately spicy tomato sauce. The meatballs are wonderfully light, and the sauce is so moreish you’ll be eating it with a spoon, like soup!

Albondigas en salsa is subtly flavored with garlic, cumin, and paprika, creating an amazing smell that you won’t be able to get enough of. Like many tapas in Spain, the dish is often served with crusty bread, so not even a smidgen of sauce has to go to waste. 

La Sitarilla in Granada dishes up some incredible albondigas en salsa. As well as the huge meatballs, delicious sauce, and freshly-baked bread, you also get some fries to go with it! As you’d guess, this isn’t one of the free tapas, but the small price is definitely worth the generous portion. 


9. Queso Manchego

Best Spanish Tapas in Spain: Queso Manchego

Spain produces an almost never-ending number of cheese varieties. If you only get the chance to try one, it’s got to be queso manchego. Manchego cheese is a type of cheese made from the milk of sheep raised in the Castilla region. It’s fairly hard and has the most fantastic buttery, sweet, and nutty flavor.

You may be given a few slices of this moreish cheese on its own or on some bread when you order a drink from a tapas bar in Spain. If you don’t, you can always order a small plate of it. 

Most tapas bars have a tabla de queso (cheese plate) or tabla mixta (cheese and ham plate), which will almost certainly include this type of cheese. Failing that, you can always seek some out in the grocery store. 

Restaurante El Madrono is the place to go for queso manchego if you’re in Madrid. Here the local cheese is served for free with each drink, although you can also splash out a bit and order a full platter of it. It’s worth ordering the sangria here, too. It’s excellent and goes beautifully with the cheese.


10. Patatas Bravas

Popular Spanish Tapas to Try in Spain: Patatas Bravas

The perfect accompaniment to whatever you’re having, patatas bravas is one of those dishes you just never get tired of. There’s a good reason this is one of the most popular tapas in Spain!

It’s made of small cubed potatoes, which are deep-fried until they’re crispy on the outside, then smothered with a hot and spicy tomato sauce. To balance the heat, some places drizzle on a cooling aioli. It’s like the yin-yang of potato dishes! 

Each potato is mostly light golden on the outside, but the edges are wonderfully brown and crispy. The inside is super fluffy, creating an awesome texture contrast in each bite. 

Many places use frozen pre-cut potatoes for this dish since it saves on time and they’re able to serve it in just minutes. But if you’re in Barcelona, we suggest going to Bar Tomás de Sarrià

This tapas bar is hugely popular among locals for its patatas bravas – primarily because they’re made with hand-cut potato cubes made from scratch. You wouldn’t think it makes much of a difference, but the hand-cut cubes have a phenomenal texture that’s so much better than the frozen ones. 


11. Croquetas

Spanish Tapas You Have to Try in Spain: Croquetas

Croquetas have got to be one of the most common tapas dishes in Spain that are eaten all over the world. These bite-sized pieces of delight are made by combining a thick béchamel sauce with mashed potato and cheese before adding in all kinds of extras, from ham and shrimp to truffles and sausage. The mixture is then rolled into a ball or cylinder, covered in fine breadcrumbs, and deep-fried to golden perfection.

One of the best things about ordering croquetas as a tapa in Spain is that you can usually mix and match whatever’s on the menu. Whichever flavors are available on a given day are often available to order individually. To get a taste for them, you can try ordering one of every flavor and then order a few more of the ones you like best.

Another added bonus is that croquetas are really cheap. You can pick them up for around €1 each. Better still, because they’re so cheap, many bars on established tapas streets give them away for free with every drink you order. 

Visit B13 Bar if you’re looking for traditional croquetas with a modern twist. This Madrid restaurant serves a huge range of plant-based croquetas. They do a great job of imitating fish- and meat-based croquetas. So good, in fact, that if you didn’t know it was a plant-based restaurant, you’d swear you were eating the real thing!


12. Pimientos Piquillos Relleno de Bacalao

Best Tapa Dishes in Spain: Pimientos Piquillos Relleno de Bacalao

While most Spanish tapas are modestly presented, pimientos piquillos relleno de bacalao are designed to wow. This popular dish is made by roasting small red peppers until the skin is crispy and has a slightly smoked flavor. They’re then used like a cone to hold a savory stuffing made of cooked cod, vegetables, and all kinds of aromatic spices.

The stuffed peppers are covered with a lightly spiced tomato-based sauce before being brought over to your table piping hot. When done correctly, the dish can almost look too good to eat. But as soon as the delicious smell hits you, you won’t be able to resist. 

Bodega La Tinaja in Barcelona doesn’t just boast a huge range of Spanish wines. They also serve up a comprehensive menu of traditional tapas, pimientos piquillos relleno de bacalao included. The expert sommeliers will be able to recommend the perfect wine to accompany the dish and any others you choose to order, too.


13. Calamares a la romana

Spanish Tapas You Have to Try in Spain: Calamares a la romana

Also known as fried squid rings, calamares a la romana tastes so good that it can even convert seafood haters. The best places to order it are from restaurants very close to the sea. These places almost always get their seafood fresh that very morning and you really can taste the difference.

To make calamares a la romana, you need to slice the main body of a squid up into rings, coat each ring in a light batter, and deep-fry them all until they’re super crispy and golden brown. When the seafood is fresh, it has a beautifully sweet and buttery flavor. It’s so rich that camalares a la romana is often served with aioli and lemon wedges to cut through the richness. 

Ca’n Manolo serves up some of the finest calamares a la romana in all of Mallorca. This seafront restaurant manages to cook the dish perfectly every single time, so the insides are melt-in-your-mouth soft, while the outsides are crispy and crunchy. 


14. Queso Asado

If you’re planning on visiting the Canary Islands, you’ve absolutely got to try queso asado. This dish translates into English as “roasted cheese,” but it’s so much better than that. 

Queso asado is comprised of two generous slabs of queso palmero (special smoked goat cheese made in La Palma). The thick slices of cheese are placed on a hot plate and cooked for just a couple of minutes until they develop an amazing brown crust.

They’re then placed on a plate and topped with either red mojo sauce, green mojo sauce, or honey from La Palma. The result is an addictive combination of sweet, smoky, and savory cheese, which is never enough, no matter how much you eat. You’ll find queso asado available at all guachinches (tiny restaurants in the Canary Islands run by families who make their own wine), as well as traditional Canarian restaurants.

Tasca el Olivo in Tenerife serves an amazing queso asado. You can enjoy the cheese and sauces on their own as a tapa or order them on top of a salad for a light yet satisfying meal. 

There you have it! Our list of 14 popular tapas to try in Spain. Did we miss any of the best tapas dishes in Spain? Add your favorite tapas dishes in the comments below.


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Author

  • Nicola Quinn

    Nicola is a freelance writer with an insatiable hunger for travel. She swapped her home in the UK for the sunny Canary Islands when she was just 11 and she has been based there ever since.

    From crawling on her hands and knees inside pyramids in Egypt to swimming with baby sharks in Bali and searching (fruitlessly!) for the Northern Lights in Iceland, Nicola takes every chance she gets to explore new places.

    The incredible experiences she has around the world fuels her writing and inspires her to plan even more adventures for the future.

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