What do Americans think when they hear Spain? Bullfighting, flamenco, and tapas. The third part is the most correctly assumed and ubiquitous tradition of the three. But what do Americans experience when they eat tapas in the US? Overpriced, under-portioned, highfalutin gastropub bullshit. Not anything like the delicious yet simple vegan tapas in Madrid that we’ve had.
Tapas places in the U.S. got the small plate idea right, but that’s where the similarities end.
Nothing on American tapas plates resembles Spanish food or Spanish culinary sensibility, or what us common folk eat out at bars and restaurants. For example, the Spanish put delicious pimentón, a sweet and savory tasting smoked paprika, in and on almost everything, including non-traditonal foods, like hummus. I didn’t experience that until I came to Spain.
A Brief Tapas Primer
American Spanish places have missed one of the biggest draws of tapas – they are usually free.
That’s right – we will repeat.
Tapas are free.
They are a snack that comes with every drink you buy, whether it’s a caña (a small beer), a glass of wine, or cocktail. Lunch is the biggest meal here, so dinner is a smaller, more shared, para picar (meaning, for picking at) affair. Also, the Spanish culture of drinking isn’t about falling face down into a sewer drain. They like to eat while they drink, mediating their alcohol intake.
Yet sometimes you may want more than just small plates of olives and chips (the usual accidentally vegan tapas in Madrid). Raciónes are larger plates of tapas that you order. These can be anywhere from 3 – 9 euros, depending on the quality and quantity of food. While patatas bravas (fried potato chunks) are cheap and plentiful, croquetas (cylindrical bread-crumb covered fried deliciousness) can cost a euro a piece.
While the tradition is generally to receive free tapas with every drink, this isn’t universal in Madrid. It seems that shitty bars with garbage food (we’re looking at you El Tigre) aimed at students and tourists who don’t know better give the best portions – but the worst quality. On the flip side, places that offer nicer and/or vegan tapas in Madrid do not give huge portions, if they give any at all.
A general rule of thumb is this: order your drinks first and wait for tapas. If they come, have a couple more drinks and each subsequent tapa will upgrade in quality. If nothing comes, then get ready order a ración or two.
Generally, people start going out for tapas at 9 pm. However, you might want to go earlier as some of these spots are small and get crowded. Nothing is open earlier than 8 pm, and many places close on Sunday and Monday nights, so double check hours.
These are our favorite spots. We have been to more but these are the ones we like the best, tend to frequent, and can recommend for vegan tapas in Madrid.
All Vegan Tapas in Madrid
We love it here and are regulars. Distrito Vegano is a clean, alt/punk space adorned with locally made art that changes every month or so. They know their food is great and are reluctant to share any recipes – which we respect. Everything is made from scratch and they are always trying out new things, like currywurst and red velvet cupcakes. So expect a mix of new and traditional offerings with a slightly different take. Their prices fit neatly in between not the cheapest, but definitely not the most expensive.
If you come here, you must get their croquetas. Best in town, in their own league. Don’t just take our word for it – they won an award during the annual Tapapies festival.
If you’re looking for a sharing plate, the nachos are amazing. They’re honestly the only authentic vegan Mexican nachos (we’ve had) in town. We have learned that there’s a gulf as wide as the Grand Canyon for what passes for nachos in Madrid. Drizzled with melted cheese and black beans, with a big scoop of guacamole, and pico de gallo salsa, the nachos at Distrito Vegano are leagues above the grease soaked nacho troughs all too common in American bars.
Everything on their carta (regular menu) is delicious, but whatever you do, get those croquetas. And if you go on a Saturday night, they may still have their weekly tortilla, a vegan potato omelet, also the best in town.
Note: Small space, you may want to reserve. Takes credit. Croquetas may run out.
If you want to experience traditional Spanish tapas made vegan, don’t miss this spot. Whether it’s calamari bocadillos (sandwiches), tortilla, or chorizo (traditional smoked paprika sausage), the food at B13 is housemade, oily, and indulgent.
B13 has been around and subsequently has developed a hardcore following. The veganist of vegans come here to feel like being vegan is just normal.
Everything is good here but we always get the tortilla and any of the burgers or sandwiches. Hearty portions, cheap prices, and high patronage mean you should come to fill up your belly.
Note: Cash only. Almost always busy. Get here when it opens and expect a line even then. Doesn’t take reservations.
If you want to eat all your tapas away from the bustling crowds, we highly recommend this Argentine-run bar/restaurant. We’ve had both the menú del día and tapas here and Llantén never disappoints. Everything is super savory and appropriately textured, especially the faux meats. Get the chorivegano (vegan chorizo), empanadas, polenta pizza, and anything seitan.
Bear in mind that this is not in the middle of the nightlife scene in the center of Madrid, so don’t plan this for a multi-stop tour of the vegan tapas in Madrid, unless you want to do some traveling.
Note: slightly off center. Accepts credit card.
This very feminist dive is not for the masculine faint of heart. Vaginas adorn the walls and they even have a feminist board game you can play where the winner gets crowned queen of feminism.
We recommend coming here for the great prices and punky atmosphere. The big winner is the chorivegano (they have some misses on the menu – be forewarned) but simple staples like fries and burgers satisfied even our carnivorous friend. Expect service with an attitude but don’t you dare be anything but nice back.
Note: like B13, it’s a local fav and gets packed. Come early. After 9 on a weekend, don’t press your luck.
Places with Vegan Options
Loukanikos has a socialist vibe, with a pro-labor poster and one with a sarcastic list of “public enemies” who were simply radical leftists. The bar is named after a famous Greek riot dog.
This place recently went full vegetarian (after having just one lone meat option on the menu) and has a new menu with all vegan options clearly marked. No free tapas with drinks but you can always can get olives. Come here for their hard to beat sweet spot of cheap raciónes and hearty portions.
We recommend their lentil burger with potatoes that comes with a drink for 4.5. Or their patata bravas, thick cut potato chunks smothered in brava sauce for 3.5. Or even the salmorejo, a cold and creamy tomato soup. We don’t recommend the dips or the fried eggplant. Also has some craft beers, including a proudly vegan one.
Note: Cash only, gets unbearably crowded very quickly, especially in the winter and weekends.
This is a good reliable go-to for vegan tapas in Madrid, but we also suspect it’s stubbornly part of the old vegan-friendly vanguard, due to its lack of updated vegan products.
Sit at the bar with a smile and they are generous with their tapas. Order some raciónes, but the best things here are the tortilla, anything on chapata (ciabatta bread), and the phenomenal vegan cakes. So best to come after you’ve had a good fill of tapas, or only looking to snack.
Note: 10% surcharge for table seating. Stick to bar for this one.
A couple doors up the hill from Viva Chapata is a bar twice the size and a bit less divey. Don’t fret it if it seems packed – check the extra dining space in the back.
Ideally, sit at the bar as the seasoned bartenders are quick on the draw and fun to watch. The tapas generously flow here in the form of mixed nuts, red potato chips, and seasoned olives. With an impressive selection of bottled beers, Spanish vermut on tap (nothing like the vermouth in the States), and several wines, this is a great destination to get particular with your beverages.
If you have room for more munchables, we can recommend the alcachofa (artichoke) dip and the tofu sandwich on a toasted mollete, a roundish flatbread from the Andalusian region.
We love this small kitchen and counter spot. It’s a great chance to hang in an indoor market, the Mercado San Fernando in the barrio of Lavapies. Non-vegan items are the exception here – vegan options are marked with an encircled green V.
We heartily recommend the lasaña (lasagna) and any tosta of the day (bread with toppings). Just take a gander at the deli counter and go for whatever looks delicious.
Note: Cash only, hours subject to Mercado’s schedule (latest hours are on the weekends and still it closes at 11 pm – early for Madrid).
A super local, young punky divey spot that we like to start at with friends because it’s so close to where we live and rarely packed when you start the night.
The best part of Atrakón? They always have several vegan options for tapas and are proud of it. Grab a caña (a little beer) or a botella de sidra (bottle of cider) to share with friends, and enjoy their generous tapas. Every new round you order, they will level up your tapas.
While they do have a few regular menu items labeled vegan, their tapas of the day interest us more – a nice change of pace from the usual vegan options of fried potatoes and veggie burgers.
Note: super local, off-center spot, best if you plan to have a couple of drinks, vegan tapas upon request.
This is a spot that has virtually everything we want in a bar. The interior of exposed brick, photos of pets, odd knick-knacks hanging about, great food, appropriate music and sassy bartender(s) ties together a locally packed Spanish bar. An alternative Spaniard friend showed us the spot and since then every friend we bring loves it as well.
The Tapas: Always come with drinks and they’re more than happy to offer if you don’t ask for them. The carta has a few vegan options with allergens labeled, but after some investigation, we can certify and recommend the following vegan raciónes:
Papas en mojo – a Canary Island staple of salt water boiled potatoes served sliced, with two side sauces, of parsley and smoked paprika.
Salmorejo – hold the egg and ham (sin huevo y jamón), and you’ll have a Southern Spanish staple of cool creamy tomato soup, thick enough to dip bread in.
Alcachofa mus – artichoke dip
Very often when we’re on our way back home, we stop in a for caña. Or two. We always request their in-house seasoned olives and they always bust our chops before giving us some.
Note: Cash only. Politely ask for vegan tapas when you order your first drink, and they’ll gladly figure something out.
Tapas are definitely one of our favorite Spanish meal traditions, right next to los menús del dia. One may think that the only authentic Spanish experience is a non-vegan one, but that’d go contrary to many Madrileños typical night out.
Further Madrid Resources:
Ultimate Vegan Guide to Madrid: Our massive resources with all of the vegan restaurants, cafes, and places with vegan options in Madrid.
Places for Vegan Menu del dia in Madrid: Where to have the best vegan lunch specials – a Spanish tradition!
Main Sights in Madrid Free and Cheap: The low down on how to visit Madrid’s main sights on a budget.
Have you had vegan tapas in Madrid? Anything you can recommend that we haven’t tried?