There’s something so soothing about taking refuge in a simple restaurant in the middle of a tough work day. These temples of comfort food dot Barcelona streets, with their daily specials written on a flimsy piece of paper or a blackboard. Come midday, laborers of all kinds – from blue-collar workers to executives in suits and freelancers in jeans – stream in, relaxing their minds in front of a good homey dish, one that’s free of ornamentation.
In Spain, lunch is usually the main meal of the day, and most companies break for this midday meal between 2 and 4 p.m. This pause allows for a moment of spontaneous team building or a small escape; most people return to their workplace with a renewed vigor.
The idea of a restorative lunch dates back to what many believe was the first restaurant – a spot in Paris opened in 1765 by a Parisian named Boulanger. The establishment’s Latin motto was supposedly Venite ad me omnes qui stomacho laboratis et ego restaurabo vos, which means “Come to me, men of fatigued stomach, and I will restore you” in English. His restorative soups were quickly imitated across Europe.
With this concept of lunch in mind, we put together a list of simple, classic eateries in the city that focus on restorative midday meals. While there are many traditional options for lunch in Barcelona, including Restaurante Gelida and Bodega Carlos, these four spots specialize in home-style mains that soothe the fatigued stomachs of neighborhood workers.
Restaurante Sant Joan
Located on the busy corner of Passeig de Sant Joan and Carrer d’Aragó, this family-run restaurant offers very homey Catalan traditional market cuisine a la carte (i.e., no menu del día) cooked by two generations: Gloria and her daughter Maria Gloria. Each day, the ever-rotating cast of dishes is displayed on a blackboard. You’ll find soups; traditional stews like callos (beef tripe) with chickpeas, or fricandó (slow cooked beef stew with mushrooms); traditional Catalan salads like xató; local seafood; several meat options, from pig’s feet to a good entrecote; and house desserts, all of them prepared with care and expertise. They don’t accept reservations, so be sure to arrive early.
Bar Bodega Gol
A former bodega, Bar Bodega Gol is a survivor; still stocked with wooden wine barrels and offering up vermut, this old-school spot is surrounded by all kinds of hipster bars, shops and restaurants on Carrer Parlament. Despite the unmistakable football drawn on the door’s signage, its name actually comes from Isidre Gol Solé, grandfather of the current owner, who founded it in 1943. Clients are mostly blue-collar workers who have been neighbors for most of their lives and, allergic to all things hipster, are nostalgic for mom’s home cooking. Again, all the dishes are a la carte, with no menu del día, and are sung by the waiter when he comes to your table. Many of the traditional restorative “musts,” from soups and stews to local fish and meat recipes, can be found here.
Opened in 1985 by Antonio Valero Domínguez, this family-run restaurant is a well-known spot in the Poblenou neighborhood. It’s a large restaurant with a mix of small and long tables, and an interesting and colorful décor that combines rock n’ roll with trencadís, the Catalan broken tile mosaics that were a hallmark of Gaudí – Antonio, an amateur artist, made some of them himself. A popular place for working lunches, Restaurante Antonio’s offers daily specials or a menu del día of two courses, dessert and a drink for €11.30, as well as four other menus for groups at different price points. The food has a more contemporary Spanish twist but it still firmly rooted in traditional cuisine.
This tiny Galician restaurant is almost a century old and looks it, too: the original blue stone bar is still intact, as is the older street terrace. Located very close to La Modelo, a historic building that was formerly a prison but will soon be transformed into facilities and a green space for the neighborhood, the restaurant is run by the couple Fidel and Rosario. He oversees the bar while she runs the kitchen, and both are warm and chatty.
The menu is rooted in traditional Galician cuisine, making it a real refuge for Galician expats in Barcelona (of which Fidel is one). They offer a menu del día for €11; other dishes include a traditional Galician soup (the real deal with unto, a Galician version of cured leaf lard, and grelos, turnip tops), Galician seafood dishes like clam stew and grilled razor clams, and Galician veal, a specialty from the Lugo province.
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