For affordable eating in Madrid, you can choose between tapas or more expensive entrees in regular restaurants. Tapas, the famous side plates served in bars throughout Spain, are usually served with a caña (small beer) or a “caña doble,” if you’re really thirsty (it’s a better deal).
If you opt for tapas, you should consider hopping from one tapas bar to another. Each place will offer a different selection of plates, from the big and generous to the almost nonexistent (next!). Many of the best tapas bars in Madrid are located in “Zona Centro,” the liveliest neighborhood for nightlife. After downing some tapas, you can explore the nightlife on the hopping Calle Huertas.
Here is a quick list of my favorite restaurants that will provide an evening of excellent tapas tasting:
Calle Cádiz, 9 (Metro Sol), open daily from 10.30 PM to 2 AM
It’s best to visit the informal Malaspina at night, when Calle Cadiz and Calle Barcelona are bustling with life, people and, well, “madrileños and madrileñas de toda la vida” (regulars). In addition to tapas, Malaspina serves a great sangria and good raciones (oversized tapas to share with friends). If your group is less than six people, you can order a “media-racion.” All Spanish classics are covered from the “tortilla” (omelet with potatoes) to “pulpo” (octopus). Expect to pay around €15 per person for an entree. A beer and a couple of tapas is cheaper.
La Tia Cebolla
Calle de la Cruz, 27 (Metro Sol), open daily from 12 PM to 2 AM (kitchen from 1 PM to 2 AM)
Although the tables at La Tia Cebolla host a fair number of tourists, you’ll still get real Madrid-style cuisine with prices made for locals. The “croquetas” are a a house specialty made of olive oil, flour, egg, milk and tuna or jamón (not to be confused with ham, which is worlds apart from the Spanish jamon). Croquetas go for around €5 for six pieces, and a small beer on the overcrowded terrace is about €2. Go before 10 PM to beat the crowd.
Il Picolino De Farfalla
Calle de las Huertas, 6 (Metro Sol or Anton Martin), open daily from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM (lunch) and 8:30 PM to 2:30 AM
Il Picolino De Farfalla offers international cuisine at amazingly cheap prices. “Asado,” a traditional Argentinian dish made of various types of meat, goes for a little over €10. Portions are more than enough to fill you up. A chorizo, with appetizer and a glass of wine included, makes a satisfying €10 dinner. As with all bars and restaurants in this area, go at 8 or 9 PM before the crowd gets in to avoid a wait.
Post tapas: Bar-hopping and free drinks
Did you really think you’d call it a night after tapas, beers, and dinner? But you haven’t hit the bars yet!
Bar-hopping is best done on Calle Huertas, the main thoroughfare of the Huertas neighborhood. Just walk the street and let the bars’ staff convince you to sample a free “chupito,” usually a hard local liquor made of fruits. You can go from bar to bar this way without spending a single euro. No worries about leaving without buying another drink– it’s not mandatory.
After reaching the end of the street, you should be quite ready to go to bed happy. If you still have energy, go dancing at the famous five-floor nightclub Kapital (Calle Atocha 125). Other club options are Ananda (also near the Atocha train station) or Pacha (Calle de Barceló 11, metro Tribunal).