If you’re reading this post it’s because you’re interested in real tapas tradition. By real tapas tradition I mean this Spanish idea of bringing you free food with your beer. I’m talking gastronomic hospitality. I’m talking no-BS, low-maintenance, what-you-see-is-what-you-get tapas beer bar. What I’m not talking about is shitty tourist tapas that cost 5 euro for a tiny plate of 5 green olives. The best tapas in Barcelona is at a local bar well away from the Barri Gotic and Sagrada Familia. The Bar is called El Capritxo, and it’s in the Sants neighborhood, actually not far from where I studied in Barcelona.
Usually I’m hesitant to write about authentic places that I find because I don’t want to contribute to the flow of tourists, which tends to destroy a place. But this place is already on the likes of Foursquare and Yelp, and has already been written about and ranked.
And hell, I want to help establishments thrive that shrug off the trends of our times. Obviously I cannot claim that this is the best tapas bar in Barcelona, which is subjective no matter who says it, but from my idiosyncratic experience, this bar fits the bill.
What is El Capritxo like?
Design freaks love modern bars that choose a theme or some artistic concept to base their service around. They love lights, class, and minute elements that are over-thought. I’m envisioning those bars with perfect trim around the counter top, creative sounds rippling through the air, and sophisticated people, the first few buttons undone.
El Capritxo does none of that. It is a tapas bar in the purest sense of the word. There are 4 walls, good solid wooden tables, a regular un-presumptuous crowd and good fried food and myriad tapas.
You walk in, nod, sit down, order a 2 euro beer and wait for the round of tapas. It’s that simple. The bar is open from 12pm to 12am Tuesday to Sunday. That’s Monday it’s closed. Here are some photos so you can recognize it:
Who manages this tapas bar?
Jose and Araceli are from Sevilla and Cadiz respectively. They’re a soft-spoken couple who nonetheless show enthusiasm for serving their customers. They might move quietly in the bar, but you can tell that they have passion for their work.
I sat at the bar to chat with them at midday when their clients had gone back to work after siesta. It turns out that this is their 5th location in 7 years.
“We have a place, we save, we sell, buy another bigger place, and continue,” Jose told me.
In years passed, they’d been at the Nou Rambla, in Barceloneta; they’d had a place called La Campana Magoria, they’d been in Plaza San Jaime, and their last place had been called Carile before moving to their current location in Sants under the name El Capritxo.
They buy their fish in bulk from the Mercado Central Mercabarna, which is a wholesale market that caters only to restaurant and food sales businesses (so make some friends if you want to get inside).
How does tapas in Barcelona work?
For those who are unfamiliar with this country, there’s a big difference between Catalunya and the rest of Spain. Spain is made up mostly of autonomous regions, with Madrid as its centralized big brother. Catalans are fiercely independent.
Tapas is not a Catalan tradition.
Pretty much every tapas bar in Barcelona will charge you for tapas. “Tapas” means covering, and the idea is that these small plates of food come out to cover your table. In much of Spain, you buy a beer and they give you tapas. In some places, you can even request that a certain tapas be exchanged for another.
Not in Barcelona.
You can find good tapas elsewhere in Barcelona, but tapas, for me, and for many Spaniards, also refers to the tapas custom, which means complimentary food with a beer.
This is what makes El Capritxo so special. They adhere to the tapas custom. The rarity of such a bar is reason enough for calling this place one of the best tapas bars in Barcelona, and it fits the bill of something well off the beaten path.
What does El Capritxo serve?
Beer. Cruzcampo, to be precise. For those uninitiated in the order of standard Spanish lagers, all you need to know is that Cruzcampo is a Sevilla beer. The Spanish be damned, say the Catalans, who drink Estrella or Moritz.
This is not a Catalan establishment. But we’re talking about the best tapas in Barcelona, so it doesn’t really matter, and really, it makes sense that the best tapas in BCN aren’t served in a Catalan joint.
At El Capritxo, you will find an assortment of fish, most notably the deep fried anchovies. Each plate comes with the purchase of a beer, so you can easily call this a meal, one high in caloric intake. Jose and Araceli allowed me to photograph the simple process, so instead of blabbering on, I give you a photographic journey into my favorite tapas in Barcelona:
What else do they serve to eat?
I enjoy these tiny fish, which you eat whole from head to tail. But at El Capritxo, they also serve up trunks of fish, and full fillets as well. The trick is to stay long enough to try the different varieties. It’s a quite bar until around 9 or 10, when it starts to get packed. If you come that late, you might not get to try some of the other tapas on offer. I leave you with these:
A map of where you find El Capritxo: my favorite, or, the best tapas in Barcelona:
The address is:
C/ Melcior de Palau, 62
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 12-22h (not strict)