An urban pearl on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Barcelona is known for its picturesque beaches, unique architectural masterpieces, and delectable cuisine. The city is bursting with Catalan tradition—just take a stroll down Las Ramblas, through the Gothic Quarter, or up the hill to Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell. These points of interest will introduce you to the culture and history of this spectacular city, but will require patience as you’ll most likely be waiting in lines or threading through bodies on crowded cobblestone streets.
Your wallet will also take a hit. Escape from the tourist areas by visiting the quaint El Poble-sec neighborhood, only a 15–20 minute walk from the city center. Once there, take a walk through the lush gardens of the Greek Theater at the base of Montjuϊc Mountain, browse the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (free on the first Sunday of every month), or simply snack your way up and down the historic streets.
El Poble-sec has some of the best food in Barcelona for the price. Spend anywhere from €1–€10, and you can indulge in a variety of traditional Catalan flavors. When your tummy starts to rumble, be kind to your bank account and patronize one of the following options.
Carrer de Blai
Carrer de Blai is not a restaurant—it’s an entire street lined with pintxos bars. And what is a pintxo exactly? Typically, a pintxo is a portion of one or more ingredients served atop a slice of bread, all skewered together with a toothpick. Ingredients range from simple to elaborate, and include everything from salmon and avocado to goat cheese and caramelized onions. Think of it as a mini half-sandwich. Pintxos are more common than tapas in Barcelona, and Carrer de Blai might have the highest concentration of options. You can spend the entire night pintxo-hopping from bar to bar, enjoying a caña (small glass of beer, €1) and a pintxo (€1–€2) at each establishment. Blai Tonight, La Tasqueta de Blai, and Blai 9 are all fantastic choices. They operate on the honor system—take as many pintxos as you like from the bar, and pay at the end of your meal by calculating the number of toothpicks left on your plate.
Quimet & Quimet
There’s no argument that Quimet & Quimet (Poeta Cabanyes 25, +34 934 42 31 42, 12pm-4pm and 7pm-10:30pm daily) will be our first stop in Barcelona next time we’re in town. A meal at this small, lively tapas bar is deliciously gluttonous, but won’t break the bank. Order an array of items from the small sandwiches menu and indulge! The combinations are nearly endless and range from tuna belly with sea urchin to salmon with yogurt and truffled honey to mussels topped with caviar. For the heavy eater, this might not be considered a full meal, but for a small price tag of around €10 per person, this is sure to hold you over until your next meal.
We know what you’re thinking—I can’t eat Mexican food when I’m traveling in Spain! Trust us, you can and you should. This casual spot just off of Carrer de Blai has some superb happy hour deals (€1,50 per taco every day from 5pm to 8pm), but is still affordable anytime of day (€1,80 per taco). The meats at Tacos Tacos (Calle Tapioles, 9, +34 931 79 11 20, 6pm-12am daily) are the standout ingredients—cochinita, beef neck, chicken with mole sauce, and the list goes on. The tacos are simple but impressive in their textures and flavors. Don’t miss out on €1 tacos all day on Tuesdays!
A warm, cozy cafe just steps from Carrer de Blai, Rekons (Calle Comte D’Urgell, 32, +34 934 24 63 83, 10am-12am daily) specializes in homemade empanadas. The mini-pies are stuffed with fine cheeses, vegetables, meats, and seasonings. Rekons also offers tasty salads, sandwiches, and other small plates, including a very respectable version of patatas bravas. The atmosphere is charming and the service is friendly and prompt. However, the empanadas are what you’ll write home about. And at just €2 each, you’ll be back to try them all.
Almost every market in El Poble-sec will have some budget snack options for on-the-go travelers and homebodies alike. If you’re looking to cook your own meals or take a picnic to The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, you can pick up an €.80 box of wine (which tastes better than most $5-$10 bottles in the states), fresh fruits, and cheese. If you’re in need of a freshly baked baguette for your picnic, visit one of the many bakeries in the neighborhood: Forn de Pa Artesà or Pa Sarra are great places to start.
Culturally diverse, bohemian, and the ideal place for cheap yet delicious refreshments, El Poble-sec is a hidden gem in a sprawling metropolis. Avoid the tourists, save a few Euros, and eat and drink to your heart’s content.
Pick up a copy of Andy Steves’ Europe: City-Hopping on a Budget for more European travel tips.