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In Spain, the word chiringuito evokes fond memories of summers spent at the beach. While the country’s coastline is famous, chiringuito technically refers to something more beach-adjacent: the small, mostly permanent bars and restaurants that line the sandy shores.

The term, which has post-colonial Caribbean roots, is relatively recent, having been used for the first time in 1949, as the name for a restaurant in Sitges, a village southwest of Barcelona (that restaurant, by the way, is still frying squid on La Ribera beach). But the tradition of eating and drinking by the beach in Spain goes back further than that. Covered wood terraces or open-air tables with fishermen grilling sardines and serving wine were widespread along the Andalucia Coast over the last couple of centuries. Starting from the end of the 19th century and especially after the Spanish Civil War, it also became very popular to eat paella at the restaurants by Barceloneta beach, in Barcelona proper.

With the arrival of mass tourism, though, many of these beach bars switched concepts, often attempting to look more Polynesian than Mediterranean in a bid to attract more visitors. This includes some of the most famous chiringuitos in Barcelona, like Vai Moana, a classic spot with good food and service, and decor inspired by Easter Island.

As this trend continues to spread up and down the coast, we wanted to share some of our favorite chiringuitos that haven’t caved to the pressures of globalization and are still preserving a more local character. Generally speaking, though, it’s good to keep in mind that chiringuitos are not temples of high gastronomy (although there are some exceptions). The food is normally pretty standard, from fried seafood tapas to burgers, and prices can be a bit high, although by no means exorbitant, due to being so close to the beach. But we love nothing more than joining the tanned crowds at one of these chiringuitos for a lunch of fried seafood and cold beer – it’s a quintessential summer experience.

Chiringuito

This chiringuito, the mother of all other Spanish chiringuitos, was originally an open-air restaurant (merendero in Spanish) called El Kiosket. Established in 1913, it was frequented by bohemian types and Spaniards who returned to the country after living in las Américas. In 1949, one of their regulars, a famous journalist, suggested a name change – according to the story, he was inspired by his time in Cuba, where “chiringo” referred to the coffee drunk by workers at sugar cane plantations; this drink was given the nickname “chiringuito,” which also described the small stands where it was served.

Located in Sitges, on La Ribera beach, this spot is actually along a boardwalk rather than the beach itself, and offers drinks and tapas to a mix of locals and tourists. All the classic tapas are on offer and are generally well executed, although the prices are a bit high. So we recommend keeping it simple: a cold beer with fried anchovies, a mix of fried fish or chipirones (baby squid). Throw in a salad for good measure. As you enjoy your meal, feel the history under your feet – you are at Spain’s first and oldest chiringuito.

Xiringuito Escribà

Xiringuito Escribá (chiringuito is spelled here the Catalan way with an “x”) is probably the most gastronomic beach eatery in Barcelona province. Despite being a relative newcomer compared to the rest of the list, it’s already iconic and an important landmark in the city. The Escribà family, who own some of the best patisseries of the city, opened this spot on Bogatell beach in 1992 for the Olympics. Now they oversee a slew of other beach restaurants, all built on the popularity and success of the original.

This chiringuito offers a fantastic Mediterranean menu with a vermut aperitif, excellent seafood and fish dishes, from the traditional suquet (a type of fish soup) to grilled fish or clams stewed a la marinera (Spanish style). But they specialize in rice dishes: paellas, black rice, creamy rice… and fideuá, similar to paella but with noodles in place of rice. The paellas are made in the open kitchen and arrive to the table perfectly cooked: the rice is al dente, tasty and not salted, with a thin crusty bottom and yet still so tender. They usually offer the option of sharing the paella, which involves eating directly from the pan with a wooden spoon, as is traditional in Valencia. But individual portions are probably more suitable nowadays.

Chiringuito de Garraf

After driving along the cliffs and the curves of El Garraf Natural Park road, which follows the Barcelona coastline to the south, a medium-sized beach appears amidst a landscape of bushes, evergreen oaks, pines and indigenous dwarf palms. El Garraf beach, as it’s called, is lined with century-old white and green wooden fishermen shacks and bathing huts known as Les Casetes del Garraf. On the small cape close to the beach you can find a few other white houses with a traditional Mediterranean look, including Chiringuito de Garraf, which is directly connected to La Cúpula, a more upscale restaurant behind it. Both were opened in 1976 by Isidro Fauste, and still to this day have some of the best terraces and sea views out of all the eateries along the coast.

Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Chiringuito de Garraf functions as a restaurant or tapas bar, depending on the time of day. The menu has all the classics, including the typical seafood and fish tapas as well as the traditional rice dishes. Even though the prices can be a bit high (not surprising given the stunning views), the food is always very good quality and comes in satisfying portions.

Banys Verge del Carme

Situated next to traditional white beach houses and old bathing cabins that date from 1928, this restaurant on San Juan beach in Mongat (to the north of Barcelona) is a charming souvenir from another time. It has two entrances, one from the upper street and the other from the beach, and is perhaps best known for its wide terrace full of old-school rectangular tables, many of which are often crowded with clients.

Since it’s such a popular spot, the service can be slow, making it the kind of restaurant that you will either love or hate depending on the day. But summer after summer we return – we love the hustle and bustle. The menu ranges from traditional tapas to salads, sandwiches and burgers. We almost always order the classic tapas like fried anchovies, the chipirones and salted prawns. But without a doubt, our favorite here is one of the most classic menu items: grilled sardines. They often sell out before closing, so we recommend putting in your order a day or two before. Simple and delicious, grilled sardines are the flavor we most associate with Mediterranean beaches. When paired with a good salad or a tapa of Padrón peppers and a cold beer, the mess around you melts away and all you feel is pure happiness, completed by the sea breeze and a bit of shade.

La Donzella de la Costa

Another restaurant that was built close to traditional bathing cabins is La Donzella de la Costa (which translates as “The Coast Maiden”). Situated in Badalona, the biggest city in the northern Barcelona metropolitan area, this spot offers a two-in-one: a restaurant upstairs (a wide, modernized space with sea views) and a chiringuito (more casual and old-school) downstairs on Los Pescadores beach. Built in 1962 over some wooden beach huts, the current building also contains changing cabins in addition to the restaurant and the chiringuito.

The menu is basically the same in both areas and includes a small assortment of tapas, but is more focused on first and second courses with fish, meat and rice dishes, including their very popular chuletones (T-bone steaks) and traditional versions of cod, grilled fish and fish suquet. But we almost always order one of their rice dishes, which are made with the excellent Molí d’en Rafelet rice from Delta del Ebre.

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