In some cities, foodies queue to sample the newest celebrity chef opening and follow the Instagram likes to the latest buzzy restaurant, trending cuisine or fanciful gimmick.
That’s also true of Barcelona, the Catalan city known for its fantastical architecture and high-octane nightlife.
Sure, there are modern, even Michelin-courting openings aplenty, but if you want authentic, mouthwatering Spanish plates, head to the atmospheric family-run institutions with simple, inexpensive menus and – shock – not even an Instagram account to promote themselves. There’s no need – their legacy has been spread by word-of-mouth for generations. Here are five long-time city favourites.
It’s a city that runs late, but it pays to set an alarm for a morning at La Boqueria. Walk through the market and watch providores set up stalls of freshly shucked oysters, farm-fresh fruits and charcuterie, before snagging a stool at Pinotxo. Hot coffee with steamed milk arrives as café con leche, but when on holiday, cava (the local sparkling wine) seems appropriate – particularly with the encouragement of the charming owner, Juanito Bayen. Ask about the daily specials, but a thick slice of egg tortilla layered with potato will put you in good stead.
Quimet & Quimet
For four generations, Quimet & Quimet has remained in the hands of the Quim family. It opened as a tavern in 1914, and today you’ll find bottles of wine and sherry stacked to the ceiling. The front counter is populated with the finest conservas (canned meat and seafood), cheeses, meats and condiments, ready to create towering tapas combinations you wouldn’t think possible. After ordering, fight the crowds in the compact venue to find a table, counter or bar space to savour every morsel.
La Cova Fumada
If ever there was a culinary example of not judging a book by its cover, La Cova Fumada is it. Situated off the bustle of Barceloneta beach, behind a fading facade hides a neighbourhood haunt that hasn’t changed in over 70 years. Fancy it isn’t, but the vibe is familial and welcoming, and the dishes – scrawled on a chalkboard – hearty. The proteins are great, but the bomba de patatas (deep-fried, stuffed potato balls) will make you rethink any aversion you have to carbs. Carrer Baluard, 56, +34 932214061
Nestled in the upmarket Sarrià neighbourhood, north of the city’s main thoroughfare Avinguda Diagonal, is Bar Tomas. This unobtrusive cafe attracts a cosmopolitan crowd clamouring for a table to sit, drink and while away a few hours. The empanadas are excellent but it’s the patatas bravas (deep-fried cubes of potato) that star. Carrer Major de Sarrià, 49
Barcelona’s version of Cheers: if the team didn’t know your name before you walked in – repeat visitors to the city have this address committed to memory – they will by the end of the night. It’s a small, unassuming, split-level space in the El Born district. When the sun goes down, every table is packed. The drinks aren’t molecular or innovative, but the atmosphere keeps people coming back. Even if you’re alone, you’re bound to connect with another traveller over a G&T (or three). Carrer de la Vidrieria, 15
In a city made for walking, it pays to grab and go. Since 1957, Conesa has been home to the best sandwiches in town. Nothing fancy, just a simple equation: good bread and great fillings served warm from the griddle. Think the Spanish version of the panini, but swap the parma ham and mozzarella for combinations that celebrate Spain’s contribution to the culinary world: chorizo, peppers and manchego. Get there early to avoid the queues. Carrer de la Llibreteria, 1
Cathay Pacific flies to Barcelona from Hong Kong four times a week