Churros, the long, skinny, crenellated, sweet fried crullers made from just flour, water and salt, have been enjoyed for centuries in Spain, with hot chocolate and without. However, in Barcelona, xurros, as they are called in Catalan, are becoming an endangered species. In recent years, more than half of the xurrerias in the city have disappeared. Many of the old-timer xurreros who still survive have the odds stacked against them: permit renewal for a street stall is near impossible; rent has become prohibitively expensive and continues to increase; or required updates to old infrastructure might prove extremely costly. However, we know of one young newcomer who has emerged with fresh energy and inspiration, incorporating lessons from the masters in his creative take on xurros. The best way to save this endangered species is to eat it, so here are our five favorite xurrerias, which make these star-shaped doughnuts with great care – and with delicious results that are worth seeking out.
Churrería Manuel San Román
This xurreria, which opened back in 1968, makes crunchy, non-greasy, loop-shaped xurros with perfect consistency and at top speed, ensuring that you always get the freshest batch. Owner Manuel San Román, whose grandmother was a xurrera, has been making xurros for 55 years, and his son Luis follows closely on his heels, with his 30 years of experience. Both belong to the trade union Gremi Artesà de Xurrers de Catalunya. San Román explained to us that the secret to making the best xurros in town is thinking in people and not money. He makes his dough out of hard wheat flour, altering it as needed to account for the ambient temperature and humidity, and keeps a close eye on the temperature of the oil (a combination of peanut, sunflower and olive oils that has a high smoke point). The history of churros is murky at best, but San Román claims that the oldest reference to this trade was found in the tomb of Ramses III and that the job of make sweet fried dough came to Spain with the Egyptians, who came looking to mine iron, expanding throughout the country in the 18th century after Charles III installed an artisan xurrero in his palace. (We have been unable to confirm these claims.) Today, San Román’s xurreria in the Barrio Gótico makes their renowned confections for places that specialize in hot chocolate with xurros, such as the old Catalan granjas Dulcinea and La Palleresa and the modern Xocoa on Carrer Petrixol. San Román is widely acknowledged to be one of the city’s masters of this craft. The family’s three locations offer different kinds of churros and other fried specialties, including amazing – possibly perfect – potato chips, but no drinks.
This recently minted (2013) xurreria, the brainchild of Marc Muñoz and Lluis Estrada Canal (of the eponymous family with the famed patisserie, just next door), infuses technique with modern creativity. The xurros here are thin, light, imaginatively and expertly made. Besides the traditional kind, there are versions topped with fruit and cream and all kinds of chocolate, as well as innovations like the “Xurritos Bravos,” which, as you might have guessed, substitutes xurros for the spuds in patatas bravas in a bravura mashup. Everything here is fried in pure virgin olive oil and presented with the wonderful hypnotic pink “xurri-characters” designed by Losiento Estudi. Muñoz explained to us that when they decided to jump into this project, they spent a great deal of time learning all they could from some of the best artisanal xurreros in Barelona – like Manuel San Román. Muñoz and Canal are also members of El Gremi Artesà de Xurrers de Catalunya.
The perfect spot for a coffee break, Layetana, which opened in 1975, makes wonderful thin, light xurros and porras, which are similar to the former but bigger, made with yeast and more commonly found in Madrid. José Ruz Martínez, a joyful man with 43 years of xurrero experience, grew up in his father’s xurreria, on Carrer Princessa, which is no longer. When he was 14, he began to learn that something as simple in appearance as a xurro needed an expert hand to be truly good. He works alongside his wife, Ana María Jiménez, and an additional employee helps out on Sundays. Their cozy, bare-bones shop is frequented mostly by locals and area office workers, who come for good coffee or hot chocolate with xurros and porras for breakfast or on their breaks.
Churrería J. Argilés
Argilés is a street xurro icon. The stall’s long, thin fried batons can come with sugar, extra salt or in any number of other delicious variations. José Argilés, who founded the operation in 1958, is the president of El Gremi Artesà de Xurrers de Catalunya. His stand is now lovingly managed by Montse Roche, while Argilés runs a small factory that specializes in fried items such as potato chips and supplies the original stand as well as other shops throughout Catalonia. At the stand, Roche makes fresh xurros and great xuxos, soft crullers filled with a decadent cream and topped with sugar. Open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays, the stall is a staple for club kids and other late-night revelers, offering much-needed calories to offset all the dancing and drinking. Speaking of drinks, Argilés also serves hot chocolate and cold beverages.
Xurreria El Trebol (1950)
El Trebol, whose name means “clover,” might be the oldest extant xurreria in Barcelona. The xurros are extra long, thick and very crunchy, a bit on the toastier, more cooked side. Cecilia Martínez explained to us that she and her husband, Juan Bacells, started making xurros in the 1940s, and around 1950 they opened this shop in front of the original one, which is long gone. Now retired, she is still a member of the trade union. El Trebol was the first xurreria in Barcelona to branch out beyond xurros and xuxos to other fried items, such as cod fritters and cañas with Argentinian dulce de leche. Martínez’s son, Ramón Bacells, runs the business with her grandson Alex, who is most likely the one you’ll find behind the counter. Open 24 hours on the weekends, which is also when they do their peak business, the shop makes 20 to 30 trays of fresh xurros per day. They also have good hot chocolate and sell cold drinks.