Moments Tasca Hopping

Madrid's equivalent of London's pub-crawl is tasca hopping. Tascas are local taverns serving tapas along with beer and wine (the hard stuff, too). Many tascas specialize in one dish, perhaps mushrooms or else shrimp, although most of them serve a wide array of tasty appetizers. Since the dining hour is late in Madrid, often around 10pm, Madrileños patronize these tascas and satisfy their predinner appetites with one "small plate" after another. It's amazing they are still hungry when it's time for dinner.

Our favorite tascas include Casa Mingo, Paseo de la Florida 34 (& 91-5477918), which Madrileños patronize for the best cider in town, often consuming it with a piece of cabrales or goat cheese from the northwestern province of Asturias. Roast chicken, served at communal tables, is the other specialty of the kitchen. A tankard of cider goes for 3.90€ ($5.05), a serving of cabrales for 5€ ($6.50), and a whole roasted chicken for 7.50€ ($9.75). Service is daily 11am to midnight. No credit cards. Metro: Principe Pio, then a 5-minute walk.

One of the most patronized tascas in Old Madrid is Taberna Toscana, Manuel Fernández y Gonzales 10 (& 91-429-6031), where you sit on country stools and order some of the best tapas in town. These include chorizo (the spicy Spanish sausage), lacón y cecina (boiled ham), and tasty habas or broad beans. The kidneys in sherry sauce and the snails in hot sauce are also delectable. A glass of wine starts at 1€ ($1.30), and tapas range from 3.60€ to 16€ ($4.70-$20.80). MasterCard and Visa are accepted, and hours are Tuesday to Saturday noon to 4pm and 8pm to midnight. Metro: Puerta del Sol or Sevilla.

Cervecería Santa Barbara, Plaza de Santa Barbara 8 (& 91-319-0449), set in one of old Madrid's most colorful squares, is the outlet for a beer factory. The two most popular brews are cerveza negra (black beer) and cerveza dorada (golden beer). This cerveza is consumed with homemade potato chips and such seafood delights as barnacles, fresh lobster or shrimp, or crabmeat. Tapas cost 1€ to 10€ ($1.30-$13), with a beer going for 1.15€ ($1.50). MasterCard and Visa are accepted. Open daily 11:30am to midnight. Metro: Alonzo Martínez. Bus: 3, 7, or 21.

Another well-patronized tapas outlet, Cervecería Alemania, Plaza de Santa Ana 6 (& 91-429-7033), opens onto an even more colorful square. Evocative of the turn of the 20th century, it offers little tables that are jam-packed nightly with locals sampling the fried sardines or a Spanish omelet. A beer costs 2€ to 2.50€ ($2.60-$3.25), with tapas going from 4€ to 10€ ($5.20-$13). No credit cards. Open Sunday and Thursday 11am to 12:30am, Friday and Saturday 11am to 2am. Metro: Tirso de Molina or Puerta del Sol.

El Ampar ★★ BASQUE A former carriage house was converted into this elegant enclave of refined Basque cuisine, which some food critics hail as the finest provincial food in Spain. The cuisine has a real modern accent, made with top-notch ingredients that are fashioned into imaginative and flavorful platters. Under rough-hewn wooden beams, you can partake of such specialties as ravioli with crayfish or roulades of lobster flavored with soy sauce.

Callejón de Puigcerdà 8. & 91-431-6456. Reservations required. Main courses 24€-33€ ($31.20-$42.90).AE, DC, MC, V. Mon-Fri 1:30-3:30pm; Mon-Sat 9-11:30pm. Closed Easter week. Metro: Serrano. Bus: 19,21, or 53.

El Chaflán & SPANISH This restaurant is the showcase for the culinary talents of one of Madrid's hottest chefs, Jean Pablo Felipe Tablado, who draws enthusiastic diners and rave reviews. He puts his own spin on every dish that comes out of his kitchen, emphasizing flavor and texture. The best fish, local meats, and produce attract native foodies and discerning visitors alike—try the perfectly prepared roast suckling pig. Av. Pio XII 34. & 91-350-6193. Reservations required. Main courses 26€-41€ ($33.80-$53.30). Fixed-price menu 77€ ($100). AE, DC, MC, V. Mon-Fri 1:30-4pm; Mon-Sat 9-11:30pm. Metro: Pio XII.

El Espejo £ Value INTERNATIONAL Located near Plaza de las Cortés, this restaurant features one of the best menu values in town, the list of international specialties changing daily. The chefs enhance the pristine flavors of food with skill and restraint, and dish after dish, such as guinea fowl flavored with Armagnac, has won our enthusiasm. The setting is a beautiful Art Nouveau dining room, with outdoor tables available during most months of the year.

Paseo de Recoletos 31. & 91-308-2347. Reservations required. Fixed-price menu 23€ ($29.90).AE, DC, MC,V. Daily 1-4pm and 9pm-midnight. Metro: Colón. Bus: 5,27, 45, or 105.

El Olivo Restaurant MEDITERRANEAN This chic restaurant is for devotees of olive oil and Spanish sherry. It took a Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Vandelle, to exploit two of Spain's culinary resources in this showcase of fine cuisine. A cart stocked with 40 regional olive oils is wheeled from table to table so diners can select a variety to soak up with chunks of bread. The cooking shows imagination and solid technique. The sherry bar features 100 different brands, one of the largest selections in Spain. General Gellgos 1. & 91-359-1535. Reservations recommended. Main courses 24€-27€ ($31.20-$35.10). Fixed-price menus 45€ ($58.50). AE, DC, MC,V.Tues-Sat 1-4pm and 9pm-midnight. Closed Aug 15-31 and 4 days around Easter. Metro: Plaza de Castilla or Cuzco.

La Boitika (H Value VEGETARIAN Vegetarian cuisine doesn't get a lot of attention in most Madrid restaurants, but this discovery is a rare exception. Opening east of the landmark Plaza Santa Ana, La Boitika is intimate and charming. It serves the capital's best macrobiotic vegetarian cuisine, and does so exceedingly well. We always begin with one of the homemade soups, which are made fresh daily, then have one of the large, fresh salads. One specialty is a "meatball without meat" (made with vegetables but shaped like a meatball).

Amor de Dios 3. & 91-429-07-80. Main courses 7.50€-11€ ($9.75-$14.30); menú del dia 8.50€-10.70€ ($11.05-$13.90). No credit cards. Daily 1-5pm and 8-11:30pm. Métro: Antón Martin.

La Bola (Finds MADRILEÑA When Ava Gardner was filming The Barefoot Contessa in 1954 (with Bogie), she would show up here with an entourage of matadors. Ava's long gone, but this remains one of the most evocative of the 19th-century red-doored restaurants of Madrid. Against a backdrop of Venetian crystal, ever-loyal fans show up to dine on cocido madrilène, the traditional Castilian Sunday boiled dinner. The tried-and-true recipes of Old Castile are still served here.

Calle de la Bola 5. & 91-547-6930. Reservations required. Main courses 16€-25€ ($20.80-$32.50). No credit cards. Daily 1:30-5pm; Mon-Sat 8:30-11pm. Metro: Opera or Santo Domingo. Bus: 25 or 39.

La Gamella (S(S Finds CASTILIAN/INTERNATIONAL An unusual mix and successful offering of Californian and Castilian cuisine is delectably served at this expat outpost under the guidance of Ohio-born Dick Stephens. In the 19th-century building where Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, was born, Stephens has cooked for such notable personas as the king and queen of Spain. The chefs here know just how to coax the most flavor out of the premium ingredients used, and you can invariably count on a delightful evening.

Alfonso XII 4. & 91-532-4509. www.lagamella.com. Reservations required. Main courses 15€-19€ ($19.50-$24.70).AE, DC, MC,V. Mon-Fri 1:30-4pm; Mon-Sat 9pm-midnight. Metro: Retiro or Banco de España. Bus: 19,27,34,45, 51, or 52.

La Paloma BASQUE/FRENCH Two of Europe's greatest cuisines—French and Basque—are wed harmoniously at this exclusive retreat in the elegant Salamanca district. The chef and owner, Segundo Alonso, is known for his perfectly prepared and "robust" dishes, specializing in various meats, such as pigs' trotters, which he fashions into divine concoctions. The welcome and the service are flawless. Jorge Juan 39. & 91-576-8692. Reservations required. Main courses 50€-55€ ($65-$71.50). Menú de degustación 56€ ($72.80). AE, DC, MC,V Mon-Sat 1:30-4pm and 9pm-midnight. Metro: Vergara or Velázquez.

Lhardy <m SPANISH/INTERNATIONAL A Madrid legend since its opening in 1839, this was once the preferred dining choice of the capital's cognoscenti, especially its literary and political leaders. In an antique setting of marble and hardwood, a ground-floor deli still dispenses cups of steaming consommé from silver samovars into little porcelain cups. On the second floor, in an ornate Belle Epoque-styled restaurant, specialties that might have been known to Queen Isabella II are still prepared—and done so exceedingly well.

Carrera de San Jerónimo 8. & 91-521-3385. Reservations recommended for the upstairs dining room. Main courses 30€-40€ ($39-$52). AE, DC, MC, V. Mon-Sat 1-3:30pm and 8:30-11pm. Closed Aug. Metro: Puerta del Sol.

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