Salamanca, Spain, with its splendid architecture and tidy cobbled streets, is one of Europe’s most inviting destinations. A robust student population gives the city a youthful vibe. The Plaza Mayor is the life and soul of daily life here, and has been for centuries. Against this backdrop, cafes, bars and restaurants turn out wonderful food in a country known for culinary achievement. Regional wines surprise with their smooth tannins and flavors. They are ideal for accompanying the robust foods of Castilla y Leon. When Tom and I visited, our goal was to seek out the best tapas restaurants in Salamanca. To our delight, our brief stay provided us with meals to remember, and inspiration to return for more.
A delightful Spanish “capital of tapas”
Tapas, called pinchos (pickings) in Salamanca, are a marvelously Spanish way to sample the region’s food and wine. An evening de pinchos can be enjoyed one restaurant at a time, or in a bar-hopping extravaganza. Tapas are made for sharing. Pinchos in Salamanca can be bite-sized flavor bombs, exquisite small dishes, or generous plates of cured meats and local cheeses.
Tapas are front and center at eateries all over town. The Plaza Mayor boasts many bars and terraces serving traditional tapas. The aroma of grilled meats wafts through the city’s Van Dyck neighborhood, with its dozens of bars and cafes. To know where innovative chefs are taking the notion of pinchos and raciones (full portions), though, means a restaurant meal. It takes time, and often, a reservation.
We booked our stay in a comfortable, centrally located apartment overlooking a leafy plaza. Javier, our host, turned out to be a passionate ambassador for Salamanca’s gastronomy. He enthusiastically shared his personal recommendations for dining spots and top wines.
Ordering tapas in Salamanca
What to order and how much, depends on several factors. How many people will share the food? Is this a snack or a meal? These things, along with personal inclination and dietary requirements help with decision-making. Our first decision was to make a meal of every tapas experience. We combined pinchos and raciones, and ordered local wines by the glass. We kept fried dishes to a minimum. Call it compensation, but we gloried in dessert at every meal.
Spain is the world’s largest consumer of ham and the Salamanca region, a major pork producer. Menus at the city’s tapas restaurants are pork-intensive, offering assortments of Iberian cured ham, loin and chorizo. Other meat dishes are likely to be stewed, grilled, or tucked into a bocadillo (sandwich). House specialties range from morucha (beefsteak) to roast cochinillo (suckling pig) and embutidos (sausages) with jam and cheese. Fish and seafood options include anchovies from Santoña, and tempura of prawns or lobster.
Veggie selections—tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, legumes and leeks—are splendid complements to all the meat. Garnishes and sides include avocado, pico de gallo, and endive. Chilled soups (thank you, Andalusia!) take a tomato base in different directions. Gazpacho, a classic summer cooler features chopped cucumber and peppers. Salmorejo, tomatoes creamed with garlic and bread, is more filling. Desserts range from seasonal fruits to pastry creations. Spanish-style versions of cheesecake and French toast can be revelations. The cheesecake is pudding-like, and a delightful departure from the New York version we know best. Torrijas are melt-in-your-mouth creamy with a crisp exterior.
Salamanca’s best tapas restaurants
Armed with advice from Javier and our Spanish friends, we did not have a single disappointing food moment in Salamanca. With limited time, we could get to only a few of the places suggested to us. Happily, we can heartily recommend them all! Tom and I met our goals for tapas in Salamanca at the following restaurants:
We ate at Momo just after we arrived. Velvety chilled tomato soup, pluma ibérica on potatoes and scrumptious desserts set a high bar for every meal to follow. For example, Momo’s tiramisu, a confection topped with a cookie reminded me of our first visit to Modena, and Massimo Boturra’s famous Oops dessert.
Bambú Tapas y Brasas
Chef Jose Manuel Pascua bills his creations as “perfectly imperfect”, but to our way of thinking, “simply perfect” would do. For us, pincho standouts were bites of jamón ibérico de bellota (cured ham from black Iberian pigs) with Indian-spiced chickpeas, and a bocadillo (sandwich) on homemade brioche buns. For dessert at Bambú, we loved the cheesecake.
Montero’s Leo Martin is a maestro jamonero (master carver). He wields his craft with an attention to detail that turns a plate of jámon into a work of art. Prepared dishes at Montero were also a treat. The croquetas de jamón ibérico de bellota were especially good, as were the leeks. We had torrijas for a fine finish to our meal.
We ate lunch at Vinodiario after visiting the nearby Convento de San Esteban, and returned later for a glass of wine. Luncheon highlights on our table were many, but salmorejo and a plate of endive with tuna and sardines especially tickled our taste buds. The extensive wine list gave us a chance to try several regional specialties.
Restaurante Corte y Cata
To be honest, everything at Corte y Cata was a hit, but my favorite pincho was a plate of tiny squid on pineapple chutney with a smear of black-garlic aioli alongside. We combined our tapas selections with the daily menu: gazpacho and Iberian pork with honey mustard, and a dessert of mille-feuille of chocolate truffle and glazed orange.
If you go
- Be aware that most tapas restaurants in Salamanca observe standard opening hours for lunch and dinner. Most take online reservations. Check opening hours before you go, to avoid disappointment.
- For an impromptu experience, go to any tapas bar/restaurant just prior to published opening times. Chances are good you can beat the crowds and snag a table.
- Depending on your hunger level, consider building a full menu by combining pinchos and raciones and sharing everything with your companion(s).
- Sample tapas at a wine bar. You will be rewarded with a wide variety of wines from Ribera del Duero, Toro, and Rioja regions to try by the glass.
Every bite we had, in every restaurant we visited, teased our palates and made us eager to return. The regional wines, all of them new to us, provided a superb complement to the food. We have many dishes and places yet to try here, and we look forward to growing our list of the best tapas restaurants in Salamanca.