As a departure from the thematic resonance seen in Parts 1 & 2 of my Barcelona round-up – an account of Tapas so thorough that it needed to be split into two like a work of Young Adult Literature – Part 3 serves to tie up all of the loose ends; the street food and fast food and the bars with nothing else in common other than the fact they’re not Tapas.
La Sagrada Familia is surrounded by exactly the sort of restaurant you’d expect at a major tourist attraction. As soon as you emerge from the Metro you’re met with 2 of the Big 3 fast food chains. Cross the road on any of the Cathedral’s four sides to get a better view of it, and you’ll be faced with restaurants plastered in photographs of pale hotdogs and limp bravas, looped infinitely like a cartoon backdrop.
Remarkably, La Taqueria – a tiny, busy, authentic Mexican street food cantina – sits just two minutes walk away from all of that, down a quiet leafy side-street (Passatge de Font) at the back of the Sagrada Familia that you wouldn’t think to wander down without a good reason – memories of eating there last year was enough reason for me.
Walking past it – even stopping to peer through the window into the dimly-lit dining room – it all looks fairly unassuming. Open the door though, and you’re met by a combination of sounds and smells as incongruous to its surroundings as a prohibition speakeasy – it feels like you’ve just opened a pipe of crisps in a Pringles advert. It’s an exciting feeling – but one you should try and savour, it soon begins to wane.
Anticipating how busy it was likely to be, and the fact it’s such a small restaurant (I counted 32 covers squeezed into the 20 x 12ft operable floor space) we booked our table for six in advance – no problems there. When we arrived our table for 6 was actually a table for 4, with an extra two stools pulled up so that two people could sit on the end of the table, right in the centre aisle of the dining room. Our order for Margaritas was taken pretty quickly, but it took 20 minutes for them to arrive, and another 10 for the Michelada I ordered at the same time.
Credit where it’s due, the Margaritas were huge and faultless, and the Michelada – with an umami grunt coming from the clam juice – erased all others (admittedly, only one or two) from my memory, but there’s not a drink in the world that I’d happily wait half an hour for.
Shortly after this, our waiter sauntered to the table and took our orders – six people, each ordering various starters, mains and sides, and he didn’t even write anything down on a notepad. “How impressive!” we thought; “What a professional! Let’s applaud his aptitude and admire his nonchalance”.
When the food started to arrive we continued to be impressed; the first mouthful of refried beans was a lot to take in – pinto beans slow-cooked to a paste with bacon fat and heaped with powdered pork scratchings; the world’s most deliciously irresponsible corner yoghurt. More pork fat came in the form of Chicharrón – a bowl of gelatinous rinds from a pigs cooked with onions and cactus, which despite my best efforts, I couldn’t fully get on board with.
The Queso Fundidos was very disappointing. I expected something billed as “Melted cheese with Longaniza” to be a kind of sausage fondue, rather than a pork pie with the pastry replaced by cheese. Eating it was like chewing an old sponge used to dab pools of excess oil from cheese on toast, and once the flavour had gone, all that remained was an elastic mass of cheese-texture in the mouth; an exam desk’s-worth of old, tasteless chewing gum.
The Nachos were nachos – the thing about them that most caught my attention was that they were topped with the finest diced, sweet onion I’ve ever encountered. If you’re not as enamoured by dicing-aptitude as I am though, there’s little that would stick in your memory.
The Beef Tongue Taco, was the small, soft kind that lay open on your plate, showing off just how much is inside them. The tongue was surprisingly tender, with a little give in it, but not enough so that it gets dragged out of the taco and leaves filling all over your lap. The Arrachera Special reminded me of a Mexican take on the Thai dish Khao Kluk Kapi, or the British delicacy Dairlylea Lunchable; your plate contains a little bit of several things to combine at your leisure. In this case our plates had flank steak, rice, guacamole, frijole charros – “Cowbow beans” with a rich, smokey taste of bacon – a cheese-stuffed jalapeno and grilled cactus. As the doting Father of several cacti and other succulents, I felt more guilt about eating one of them than I did about eating the piece of cow; and right there and then, a simple Mexican Dairlyea Lunchable transformed into a catalyst for analysing the inconsistencies in my moral compass. Time for the bill.
Predictably, the bill contained many mistakes. Being charged for unwanted guacamole, missing Poblano peppers, more drinks that never got round to arriving at the table – and then being accused of lying about it obviously isn’t enough to ruin a holiday, but it’s an inconvenience that could have been avoided if our eaiter had just written down our order, instead of acting like Matthew McConaughey in an apron. Ignore the shitty service though and La Taqueria is a great place to eat, and not bad value at about €30 per head, including booze and a well-earned 0% service charge.
As a bonus across the street is an amazing little bodega owned by the same people as the cantina, where you can try & buy hot sauce, imported tequilas, soft drinks, graphic-novellas featuring thick-thighed, gun-toting cholitas and all sorts. If like me, you’re the kind of person who goes to New York and spends longer in the supermarket condiment aisle than looking at the Empire State Building, you’ll really dig this place.
The burger I ate at Kiosko last year immediately stood out for being like no burger I’d ever eaten before – a medium-rare patty, thoughtful toppings, and served in something called a brioche; it was madness. So good that I ate another one straight away, and then returned the next day for another. I’d heard about these trendy burgers – tales from London had made their way north, but how was I to know if they were true or fable?
Shortly afterwards, burger joints started popping up in Leeds – just one or two at first, then a new one each month, then several every month, soon they were setting up shop in every publicly accessible nook and cranny. The rise in the presence of burgers over the past 12 months has been enormous (as illustrated by the highly scientific graph below); In terms of ubiquity the only thing that came close to a parallel is Pharrell Williams. I know, I should have said “Pharrellel“.
So how would Kiosko fare this time round? I’m a hardened, jaded burger veteran now, it takes a lot to impress me – I eat burgers in brioche for breakfast (literally, in a few cases).
The Cayena was only ok (the fact as I write this, only two weeks after eating it, I had to check the menu on the website to remind myself of what I ate isn’t a great omen); the goats cheese was excellent by burger standards but underrepresented, and the tomato and chilli chutney wasn’t different enough from the homemade Picante Ketchup to make an impression.
La Bacoa – with Bacon, cheddar, manchego and spicy mustard – suffered the same problem, but for the opposite reason; everything was too present, and it was impossible to pick out any of the individual elements. Also it was absolutely huge, there was no way to eat this with your hands – even with the provided innovative burger holders (which I definitely didn’t mistake for a hat and briefly put on top of my head).
Luckily, we also ordered the more modest Japonesa, which was their standard burger, cooked in a Teriyaki sauce. Not as good as Patty & Bun’s Mr Miyagi, but easily my favourite of the day. They brag about selling the biggest burgers in Barcelona, and I can believe it, so a less-is-more philosophy when it comes to picking toppings definitely pays off.
Three burgers, two fries and two beers came in at €24, bargain.
La Taguara is an Areperia was recommended by the guys from Good Gobble Blog – considering they peddle street food under the alias Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! (previously reviewed here), I trusted they knew what they were talking about.
There’s a satisfying crispy skin on the outside of the arepas where the maize dough has been in contact with the surface of the hot griddle, and the inside is light and fluffy for the first one or two bites – When you get past that point, the juices from the fillings – along with the unnecessary slick of butter – absorb into the dough, and give it the consistency of clay. One would have been enough, but due to indecisiveness (read: greed) I opted for two; finishing one, and just picking the chicken, beans and plantain out of the other one.
La Taguara is a bit of a paradox: It has tall tables and bars without chairs indicating that they’re looking for a quick turnaround of customers, but the service is dithersome and the food – which necessitated a trip to the bathroom afterwards for face and beard-adjustment – isn’t conducive to mobility.
At €24 for 4 Arepas and two fresh juices though, you can’t complain too much. Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! does it better though – Perhaps it was a tactical recommendation to make themselves look better in comparison…
After a few beers in the charming Cat Bar – 10 rotating Craft-Draughts (Craughts) and a fridge full of unknown pleasures you can peruse at your own leisure – we took the advice of a British regular who looked like he knew his stuff, and found Lime Bar.
The sign above the door says Lime Bar, but when we tried to find it again a few days later there was no sign of it on road or on Google – like a cursed antiques shop from The Twilight Zone. It’s only when we got home that we found out it just goes by the name Rubi Bar online.
Basic bitches on Yelp and Tripadvisor can’t seem to get over the fact that Lime Bar sells a big Mojito for less than €5 – but I was far more interested in the 50-odd flavoured gins that they brew in house. All of the flavours are the mind-grapes of the owner, who stands behind the bar imparting impeccable knowledge – like the owner of a cursed antiques shop from The Twilight Zone.
Rather than straying into Corky’s Flavoured Shots territory, all of the flavours are well-considered combinations that work with the botanicals of their base-gin – simple “Why hasn’t anybody thought of that before” infusions like celery (served with soda and crushed walnut), Darjeeling and Honeydew melon; more adventurous but still plausible Szechaun pepper, Beetroot and Gherkin; right through to “Seriously, you’re gonna drink that?” – Sundried Tomato & Basil and Roquefort.
Incredibly all of the ones I tried (all of the ones above) worked, and worked well. Choose your flavour, trust the staff to choose what mixer and garnishes to accompany it with, and you’re gonna have a good time. I spoke to the owner for a good amount of time while I was ticking off flavours, and he revealed plans to add Roast Garlic, Roast Potato and Lamb gins to his collection – that alone is enough to make me book a flight back.
Bouzu had a stall at the festival, so I tried some Gyoza and Takoyaki (Octopus Dumplings) on the first night before resorting to €4 foot-longs for sustenance, and it was obviously the classiest food I’ve ever tried at a festival.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try Cal Pep, so that’s a top priority for next time, along with La Paradeta, Canete, and another, extended visit to Bier Cab – a different craft ale bar with 20 rotating Craughts all at €5 a pint. Even with all of these good intentions though, I suspect I’ll do what I did for the majority of this trip and eat crisps for most meals. Oh you should see the crisps; Ketchup and Mayonaise flavour, Olive Oil, Rosemary, Jamon, Cheeseburger!
Check back in a few days for the Fourth and final instalment of this feature, when I’ll be counting down the twenty best crisp flavours in Barcelona!
(Not really. Maybe)