Eat like a local in Marbella
Come with us and taste Spanish specialties off the beaten track, in the most popular high-end tourist town of the Costa del Sol. Yes! It's possible!
Marbella caters to high-end tourists, who come mainly for the climate and the beach. Costa del Sol is one of the only places in Europe, where you can be sure to enjoy outdoor dining all year round. With international visitors outnumbering the locals, it might be hard to discover authentic Spanish places that cater to the residents. After 10 years of exploring, learning the language and seeking out places off the beaten track, here is our shortlist of restaurants for those who want to do Spain like the Spanish. Do not expect sea views, menus in Russian or German, or finding hundreds of reviews in English on tripadvisor. The Spaniards know that each place has it's specialty. They go there specifically for that... so if you order other dishes you might have another experience!
EATING LIKE THE LOCALS These local places usually open for lunch around 2 to 4pm, and dinner 8 to 11pm. If you are used to having dinner at 5 or 6 pm, this might take some getting used to. There are plenty of alternatives in Marbella that serve food all day long if that is your schedule! On the Paseo and in town, tourist-oriented businesses have kitchens open all day. But it won't fit for Spanish family run places. Let yourself fall into what we call "Andalucia hypnosis" and it's 8pm before you even know what happened to the day!
SPECIALTIES People love to enjoy seafood and fish on the Costa del Sol , you will find it everywhere. Everybody knows "Gazpacho", but do you know... Salmorejo (photo above)? This is a cold soup made from dry bread and olive oil emulsion, with roasted peppers and tomatos, garlic and onions... An incredible unctuous treat. It is usually topped with little slices of bellota ham, and a hard boiled egg. Sometimes it comes with bits of tuna on top. Of course you will find fried calamari but why not try whole fried baby calamari, which come under the name of chopitos or puntillitas. Delicious. Acorn fed ham called Bellota or Iberico is also a delicacy, and in our opinion has a more distinct taste than Italian parma ham. Very expensive, 10-15 euros for a little plate, but this is the "foie gras" of Spanish cuisine. Manchego cheese can be young or aged. A very good aged Manchego is comparable to a good wedge of Parmesan. Virgin olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice are the preferred seasonings for everything from salad to fried fish. Maldon salt flakes add texture and seasoning, it really makes a difference when a restaurant uses these salt flakes instead of iodized salt-shaker salt. Cantabrico anchovies are an incredible delicacy, huge and meaty without the bones you find in normal "pizza" anchovies. They are very expensive 1-3 euros a piece, but the experience is worth is. Steamed octopus Pulpo a la Gallega is served lukewarm on a bed of boiled potato slices, with smoked paprika, maldon salt and olive oil; in the best places this should come on a wooden plate and be served just warm to the tough. In the worst places you will get tinned potatoes and cold octopus. Beach restaurants have open fires and cook seafood over skewers all day and night. The sardine skewer is the most famous and in our opinion just as delicious as pricier fish!
WHERE TO GO IN MARBELLA Here is our short list of local tapas bars and restaurants, where you will meet essentially Spanish diners, and where simple food is king and each place has it's specialty.
Jamon y Vino - just behind the Paseo in center Marbella near the park and taxi stands. Go here for the cantabrico anchovies, served on toasted baguette with salmorejo sauce. Addictive. And for the aged Iberico ham, you can choose between young, older, oldest. The aged Manchego cheese is divine. The meatballs with Andalucian almond sauce are also delicious, as is the pork cheek (carillada), with hints of Moroccan spices.
La Sacristia by Casa Curro - Is a neighborhood tapas bar with barrels and stools on the sidewalk, behind Boulevard Soriano where the law and notary offices are. This is a residential neighborhood with lots of retirees, and the mixture of clients at this place is great; young professionals, families, retirees that live in the building next door... Only a few tourists...
Go here for the Huevos Rotos Pil Pil - a plate of french fries with fried eggs and gambas pil pil poured over the top. Crazy and delicious! One plate is enough for 2 people! Also excellent here: the Chicharonnes, or pork rinds, more like a cold terrine of cured pork. The salmorejo is highly recommended, pulpo gallego is served in the rules of the art, the simple tomato and ventresca tuna salad (or try the fish roe if you are adventurous) is a masterpiece and when you order it you might notice the waiter and barman running down to the corner to pick up the tomatoes from the greengrocer next door.
Bar Altamirano is the place for seafood in the old town. A bit more touristic because of its location, this is nevertheless a well loved haunt of the local population. No point arriving before 8pm. There are often flamenco dancers or street performers on this picturesque square in the old town which makes for an enjoyable evening.
Spanish families flock here to share generous seafood platters. The bar is decorated with Spanish tiles and football paraphernalia. Go inside to the display case, to see what is on offer today. You can order anything they have fried to serve or plancha. Go for the fried baby calamari (chopitos), the fried anchovies (boquerones) or calamari. If you like prawns look first and ask for the price of what you are ordering - by the piece, priced by weight. If you ask first you won't be surprised. Go for the Malaga red shrimp or the Caribineri king prawns. Excellent. This place is all about the fish. Do not order anything with potatoes here as they come from a tin. For a more formal dining experience, shhhhhh... we are going to give away a local secret.
Restaurant GASPAR caters to local families and some in-the-know tourists. Fresh country food, hand-written menu, vegetables from the finca, classic Spanish specialties, and with a moroccan chef in the kitchen the best couscous this side of Ouarzazate. The portions are so incredibly huge here you must (frustratingly) order one dish for two people. Average cost for 2 course dinner and drinks rarely goes above 35 euros. Go here with a relaxed attitude, prepare to wait for your freshly cooked meal, try to speak a little Spanish... you won't be disappointed! Our favorite dishes: the ensalada malaguena, the couscous, the pistou, the fresh tuna steak from Tarifa when they have it, the chick-pea soup with chunks of fried salt cod...