I think that Spanish food is underrated. It may not contain a lot of spices or seasonings but it’s fresh and simple. Jamón serrano or jamón iberico (two types of cured ham), served by itself or on a piece of bread, is a typical Spanish tapa (Spanish for a small plate). The ham has been cured so there’s no need to add anything else to it, less is more. Even the vegetables are simple. Judías verdes, flat green beans simply cooked in oil with ham, is another common Spanish tapa. When it comes to food, the Spanish are of the belief: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
I admire this style of cooking. Letting the food itself stand out and shine shows pride in the base ingredients. BUT. Around month 1 or 2 of my year teaching abroad in Madrid, I started to crave something a little different. Maybe a spice here or there, maybe something with a little less salt, or maybe even a meat other than ham. Eating the same tapas everyday can get boring after a while. So, I began my quest to find great non-Spanish restaurants, here’s 6 of the Best Non-Spanish Places to Eat in Madrid.
- Colores – Senegalese
Prior to living in Madrid, I had never had Senegalese food, it wasn’t even on my radar. Colores is located on one of the main streets in the Lavapies neighborhood, calle Meson de Paredes. After trying Colores for the first time, I quickly learned that one meal here in particular was the missing piece to my life. Mafe. Mafe is slow braised beef, accompanied with roasted potatoes and carrots, mixed in a peanut sauce, poured onto small grain rice. The smoothness of the peanut sauce and the tenderness of the braised beef melt in your mouth. Colores serves big portions so I usually shared my order of Mafe or I’d bring some home for the next day. And, if you like spice, I’d recommend asking for some picante and mixing it in.
- Takos al Pastor – Mexican
Let me begin by saying, these tacos are a euro a piece (except for Arrachera, that’s €1.50), I’ll repeat a EURO a PIECE! Takos al Pastor has 2 locations, one behind Gran Via and the other outside of the Plaza Mayor. These little tacos are jam packed with flavor and spice. The Pastor taco, for example, is a grilled pork topped with crisp white onion and fresh pineapple. The salty, sweet, and spice is the perfect combination for the soft, warm corn tortillas that it’s served in. If I’m hungry, I’ll usually get 5 (don’t judge, they’re small!). And do yourself a favor and get a Jarrita, Mexican fruit sodas, they’re delicious!
- Pupusería Madrid Rio Grande Atocha – Salvadorian
Salvadorian food was another type of food I had never thought to try before moving to Madrid. Pupusería Madrid Rio Grande Atcoha primarily serves pupusas. You have the option of corn or flour and what you’d like them to be filled with. I usually order 2 or 3 revueltas, braised pork with cheese and refried beans, in a corn dough. Adding the slightly spicy tomato sauce on top of the pupusas is optional but…it’s really not. It’s so good, just add it. These pupusas are the perfect comfort food. There were many cold, winter nights in Madrid when I walked around the corner from my first apartment and devoured a couple of revueltas, it’s the perfect comfort food.
- Ramen Kagura – Japanese
Ramen Kagura not only has amazing ramen but also has a great menu del día. Menu del día is a God send. It’s a flat price for, usually, a drink, an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. We don’t really have them in the US but, we should. At Ramen Kagura, the menu del día is €9.80 for a drink, pork gyozas, 200g bowl of ramen, and a dessert. I guarantee you will not leave here hungry! There are a variety of ramen flavors and sizes to choose from. My go-to is the Tonkotsu miso, ramen with pork, vegetables, and half an egg, in a pork broth. During Madrid’s rainy fall season, my roommates and I would go to Ramen Kagura and to be instantly warmed up with their savory broths and tender ramen noodles.
- Café Sonali – Indian
I was very surprised when I learned about the street in Madrid, in the Lavapies neighborhood, that has all Indian restaurants, lined up perfectly, one by one. Why was I surprised? Because, Spaniards do NOT like spice. American expats joke that Spaniards find avocados and ketchup spicy. So, what do Indians living in Spain do with their normally spicy dishes? They bring that spice level down to 0. Now this isn’t to say that the flavor is gone. On the contrary, the flavor is still very present, in the sauces, in the meat, everything, it’s just not spicy.
*Story time: The first time I went to Café Sonali and ordered beef vindaloo, the server said, “are you sure? It’s very spicy.” (No it wasn’t). I said, “ya, don’t worry, I’m not Spanish.” He chuckled and brought me delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, beef vindaloo.*
If you’re in Madrid and craving some Indian flavors go to Lavapies and find Café Sonali, you may not get the heat but your taste buds will not be disappointed. And by the way, they also have a great menu del día for €9.50 (thank you God for menu del días!)
- Sahuaro – Mexican
We’ve come to Sahuaro, another Mexican joint on my list. Located on the border of Lavapies and La Latina, Sahuaro does not fail to impress. First off, the mojitos and margaritas are €3.90… €3.90! (the maracuyá mojito, so damn delicious). Second, the food. Oh my God, the food is so delicious that when I lived in Madrid (around the corner, thankfully) I use to go to Sahuaro probably once every week or so, even if just for a drink. The menu spans from tacos to mole to nachos. the meals are fresh, clean, and not too heavy. Third, the atmosphere. The restaurant has a roof covered open patio that is perfect for those warm Madrid evenings when you want to stay outside as long as possible. Overall this is key spot for Mexican food with some other Latin twists.
What do you think of these non-Spanish places? Are they places you’d probably try if you visited Madrid?