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Editor’s note: We’re celebrating another year of excellent backstreets eating by taking a look back at our favorite restaurants and dishes of 2015.

La Panxa del Bisbe
Xavi Codina has created a menu of almost 30 tapas or platillos (small dishes) and four desserts, combining traditional Catalan cuisine with international influences that Codina has encountered in his life or in the neighborhood. Much of the menu changes according to season and customers’ tastes, but there are a few perennial favorites, such as the homey croquettes, with their generous quantity of chicken and carrots; duck liver with pears and wine; and the cap i pota, a traditional dish made from pork trotters and head, which the chef tweaks throughout the year.

We’re particularly drawn to Codina’s seafood and meat dishes – recent standouts included Galician clams with El Prat artichoke hearts in an almond and bread sauce and picanya (an Argentinian beef chop) with potato threads and béarnaise.


Sense PressaSense Pressa's José Luís Díaz, photo by Paula Mourenza
At this cozy little restaurant, José Luís Díaz serves up dishes from many Spanish regional traditions, using that magic combination of simplicity and remarkable ingredients. For 25 lucky diners each night – there’s one seating only and reservations are obligatory – Díaz offers a fixed menu and also a roster of seasonal dishes that change daily.

One of the best dishes we had all year was the chickpeas with a “broken” fried egg and espardenyes, a kind of sea cucumber, traditionally eaten along the entire Spanish Mediterranean coast and still very much a delicacy. Every table orders this dish, to eat individually or to share as a starter. The chickpeas, from Fuentesaúco IGP (Protected Geographical Indication), are profoundly luscious and creamy. The egg unifies all the ingredients but also allows their individual identities to shine.

La Teca de Vila Viniteca
This gourmet food shop/bar in El Born ages and sells more than 400 international and around 100 Catalan cheeses, and overseeing them all is affineur Eva Vila, one of the most important cheese specialists in Spain. She and her team work with artisan producers to create innovative, unique cheeses, which then mature in the special cavas (caves) under the care of La Teca’s team.

Among the new wave of Catalan cheeses being made today, we were most bowled over by the raw cow’s milk Sant Ignasi, made by Mas Reixagó, which has a soft rind and paste, with an almost liquid center, intense barnyard flavor, grassy notes and a lengthy finish; Fermió, made by La Balda, an elegant, full-bodied and delectable soft cheese; and Puigpedrós, which has a distinctive orange rind, firm interior and concentrated nuttiness with floral notes.

— Paula Mourenza

Can VilaróStewed pig's feet at Can Vilaró, photo by Mireia Font
A traditional eatery located in front of Sant Antoni market, Can Vilaró pays tribute to offal – cuts of pork, lamb and beef that most Catalan people seem to have turned their backs on these days. The interior is bare-bones, but third-generation owners Dolors, her über-friendly husband Sisco and their hardworking daughters, Aida, Alba and Anna, make regulars and newcomers feel like they are eating at Grandma’s house.

Dolors’s legion of fans – who come to this humble eatery from all over the city and the country – delight in her superb cap i pota, as well as lletons amb mongetes (sweetbreads with baked beans), fetge amb salsa (liver with sauce), tripa amb cigrons (tripe with chickpeas), peus de porc amb bolets (pig’s trotters with wild mushrooms), cervells a la romana (battered lamb brains), callos (beef tripe and pork feet stew) or conill amb herbes (rabbit with herbs) for breakfast or lunch.

Entrepanes Díaz
With this charming, inviting bar, restaurateur Kim Díaz pays tribute to one of the humblest of Spanish snacks: the sandwich. He spent months searching until he found just the right bread – made by Forn de Sant Josep, an old bakery just a few blocks away – to serve as the canvas for chef Victor Lema’s creations. Lema has turned classic plated dishes into gourmet sandwiches, the most popular of which are calamares (calamari with squid ink mayonnaise), rabo de buey (oxtail), cochinillo (roast suckling pork), kokotxas al pil-pil (lower part of the cod chin cooked in parsley and garlic) and the Antxón (red pork sausage and poached egg).

Entrepanes Díaz, photo by Mireia FontBesides sandwiches, there are plenty of tapas and daily specials to choose from, and brunch offerings as well.

— Mireia Font

El Set del Born
Though it might not look like much from the street, El Set del Born instantly won us over when that first cool, fresh and flavorful platter of esqueixada de bacallà arrived at our table. Esqueixat means “to shred” in Catalan, and that is exactly what the chefs of El Set del Born do to the tender, silky salt cod after having soaked it for over 36 hours in water, purging the flesh of salt and leaving it ready to eat without ever needing to be heated. This authentic Catalan salad is found in many bars and restaurants in Barcelona, but the quality varies greatly from one kitchen to another. All too often the morsels of bacallà are too large, not fresh or, sadly, swimming in pools of bland tomato water. Here the pristine fillets of cod are hand-shredded and mixed with diced tomatoes, peppers, onion, olives and dried herbs (thyme, oregano and perhaps a bit of dill), all in perfect harmony. Served chilled and strained on a bed of bitter radicchio and bib lettuce and drizzled with good olive oil, this might be our very favorite way to eat salt cod, despite its innumerable preparations countrywide. If you’re in the mood for more Catalan classics, try El Set’s faves a la Catalana — baby broad beans stewed with bits of jamón, botifarra and chorizo, then spiked with anise liqueur and fresh mint.

Can Solé
A member of Barcelona’s exclusive cadre of restaurants that have celebrated their centennial and are still alive and kicking, Can Solé sits on a typically narrow and noticeably grimy street just meters from the port in Barceloneta and has been serving rice and seafood since 1903. Perfect for a relaxed lunch away from the tourist crowds that line the beach, Can Solé is a bit more pricey than most of the xiringuitos. However, the great service, crisp white tablecloths and old-school quality make it all worthwhile. Every inch of its dining room walls is covered in framed photos of Can Solé’s owners with the many celebrities who have come to enjoy the house specialty – arròs caldós Can Solé (deeply flavored brothy rice enriched with lobster, scallops, sea cucumber, sea urchin, crab, prawns and/or clams). In addition to the multitude of rice dishes (including the typical paella for those who like a drier, crispier rice dish), the menu features myriad Catalan favorites and seasonal specials.

— Sam Zucker
(top two photos by Paula Mourenza; remaining photos by Mireia Font)
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Published on December 18, 2015

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