This looks good, what is it?” I ask the waiter in front of me. The answer gets lost somewhere between the background noise of the bar and his strong Andalusian accent. It doesn’t matter really, I’m not even hungry.
Seeing the perfectly displayed tapas in front of me, a glass of Rioja in hand, I’m ready to devour it all!
This is my 5th time in Málaga. A mere 10 km away, the resorts serve up stodgy paella and sickly sangria. But the city has managed to preserve its soul and I’m on a mission to find the best tapas bars in Málaga!
“Tapear” or how to do tapas?
“Tapear”, “ir de tapas” or “ir de tapeo” simply means to go out for tapas. Nothing difficult about it; you just go from one bar to another and dive into an endless array of bite-sized food morsels, whether they are fried sea creatures, grilled veggies, mouth-watering jamón or the traditional “tortilla de patata”.
On a busy evening “ir de tapeo” can be a bit overwhelming for a first-timer though, so follow these tips and you’ll soon be ordering your tapas from the best tapas bars in Málaga like a local!
- Any time is a good time to go for tapas, but locals tend to go later in the evening. I would suggest starting your tapas tour around 8pm. The crowds start gathering, but you can still move about. It’s a good time to ease into it, before the mayhem starts.
- Push your way forward. In the smaller tapas bar there will be no table service, you simply order at the bar. All good, but you’ll soon notice that Spanish aren’t a big fan of the UK’s “queuing” system. It’s survival of the fittest here. Push yourself forward, shout your order and you might be in with a chance. No need to be polite or wait till the waiter makes eye contact, just grab his attention, if not you’ll still be starving by the end of the night!
- Don’t stuff yourself all in one bar. Oh it’s tempting! After having spent endless amounts of time in Spain, I still struggle with this one! Some bars are just too nice to leave and you simply want to taste more! Try not to. Discerning locals know where you can get the best jamón iberico, the best “patatas bravas”, etc and they’ll switch between bars to taste the specialties. Have a look what they order and follow their example.
- Share. Order a few tapas amongst friends and share, so you can taste loads of different ones! In most bars, tapas will come in 3 different sizes:
– tapas size: a bite-sized, small morsel
– media ración: half a portion
– ración: a full portion
Sizes depend on the bar and the type of food too, in some bars the ‘media ración’ is huge, in other ones, barely enough for two. Order a few media raciónes or raciónes between a few people and start from there. You can order more later, if you’re still hungry.
- Look out for free tapas! Yes, you read that right. In some bars when you order a beer, you get a small tapa for free. Most of the time, it’ll be a few olives, but sometimes you can come across a really tasty morsel. In Burgos, I even got a small onion soup!
- If you are in a Basque tapas bar, the tapas are very likely to be “pintxos”. They are basically like tapas, except that they are ‘spiked’ to a piece of bread with a toothpick. They are displayed on the counter, or brought along by a waiter on a plate, and you just grab whatever takes your fancy. Make sure to keep the toothpicks! You hand them in at the counter, where they are counted and make up your bill. Pintxos are usually eaten in the north of Spain, but in major cities you might come across Basque tapas bars.
What should I order in a tapas bar?
Oh my, where do I start? You can probably fill a small book with all regional varieties but this post is about discovering the best tapas bars in Málaga, so I’ll focus on the tapas that you are most likely to find in an Andalusian tapas bar:
- Tortilla de patata. Let’s start off with a classic, which can be found all over Spain. The tortilla de patata is basically a potato omelette, often with bits of onion added into it. It should still be moist inside and is quite filling.
- Patatas bravas: another classic. Patatas bravas are small potato cubes, fried in oil and served with a spicy tomato sauce. The quality of the patatas bravas can vary greatly from bar to bar!
- Albóndigas: meatballs, mostly served with some sort of tomato sauce. They can be ok-ish, or really nice. I usually opt for that if I’m not inspired.
- Croquetas: not your ordinary croquettes! Most ‘croquetas’ are home made. Ham croquetes are the most common ones, but make sure you try the spinach or oxtail ones.
- Flamenquín. The flamenquín consists of a slice of pork or veal, covered with a slice of ham, rolled into a tube and then breaded and fried. Often cheese is added too. Nice, but quite heavy.
- Rabo de toro: oxtail stew, usually braised or slow-cooked. Very rich!
- Gambas al pil-pil: prawns sizzled in olive oil, with garlic and chili. One of my favourites!
- Gazpacho/salmorejo. Gazpacho is a cold, blended soup made of tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and onion. Salmorejo is a thicker version, with often some egg or jamón on top. Very refreshing on a hot day!
- Ensaladilla rusa: potato salad with peas, carrots and onions, smothered in mayonnaise. Sometime ham or tuna is added. Not a fan!
- Pimientos de padrón: small green peppers, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. They vary from mild to really fiery!
- Secreto ibérico: the “Iberian secret”. A thin and tender cut from the famous “Iberian pork”. Cooked over a griddle or hot flame and sprinkled with coarse salt. Perfect food for carnivores!
- Cazón en adobo: bites of fried fish, marinated in oil and vinegar
- Pinchito moruno: small brochettes of marinated pork or chicken
- Riñones al jerez: kidneys (often lamb) cooked in Jerez wine. I’ve never tried them.
- Berenjenas con miel: deep-fried, crispy aubergine fritters, covered with honey.
The best tapas bars in Málaga
Málaga is situated on the Costa del Sol, but somehow very much overlooked by sun-worshippers heading straight for the costas. It’s a city that has managed to keep its local flair. All of the bars below are situated in walking distance from the city centre. Stroll from bar to bar and you are sure to taste some of the best tapas in Málaga!
1/ La Tranca
My favourite one! Very close to the city centre, but as a visitor on your way to the main attractions, you probably wouldn’t come this way. Make sure you do! It’s always packed, you might have to wait a bit to get in, but it’s worth it! Enjoy truly delicious tapas and a tasty vermut amidst a kitschy decor, great music and really nice vibes. It’s the perfect combination of a pub and tapas bar. Your bill is written with chalk on the barrels or the wall behind you.
Address: Calle Carreteria 92
2/ Colmado 93
Almost opposite La Tranca, this bar is a mix between an ‘ultramarinos’ (small shop selling preserved cans, local products, …) and a tapas bar. There are very few stools and again, it fills up quickly. The vermut is the best in town, they offer tasty portions of cheese and ham and the bar has charm galore!
Address: Calle Carreteria 93
3/ Cortijo de Pepe
Cortijo de Pepe was supposed to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2021… because of Covid-19 they had to close instead! But hooray, they’re back! A popular bar on Plaza Merced, Cortijo de Pepe is a firm favourite with locals. It’s a place where waiters shout their orders into the kitchen, where drinks flows abundantly and the grill is working overtime. Really glad they are back!
Address: Plaza de la Merced 2
4/ Casa Lola
There seem to be quite a few establishments with roughly the same name around the city centre, but this is the original one. Despite it being in the middle of the city centre, it hasn’t become a tourist trap and it still delivers tasty, well-priced tapas and friendly service. The blue and white tiles on the façade give the place an old-worldly look. You could easily spend the whole evening on the terrace or sitting at the counter, wondering what tapas to get next. The croquetas are particularly good here! Be prepared to queue, it is one of the most popular places in the whole of Málaga!
Address: Calle Granada 46
5/ Mesón Mariano
Oh my, I would make a detour for the artichokes at Mesón Mariano! This tapas bar/restaurant specializes in artichokes (you can get plenty of other dishes too) and boy, they do it well! The ‘alcachofas a la plancha’ (grilled artichokes) are served drizzled with olive oil and some lemon. Simple, but deadly! Traditional decor and friendly staff.
Address: Calle Granados 2
6/ La Pechá
This very popular and local bar is situated in the Soho district of Málaga. It’s small, so often people sit or stand outside, a drink in hand. Cosy atmosphere, tasty tapas and nice drinks! Everything a good tapas bar should be!
Address: Calle San Lorenzo 14
7/ La Farola de Orellana
Right off busy Calle Larios, La Farola de Orellana is a lovely little tapas bar. The terrace attracts a good mix of locals and visitors. Tasty ‘berenjenas con miel’ and friendly staff. Hop in if you’re in the area!
8/ Las Merchanas
More worth it for the atmosphere and the decor than the tapas. They are cheap, so have a caña and whatever takes your fancy whilst admiring the walls and statues adorning this traditional bar. Everything is themed around the ‘Semana Santa’. (Holy Week) Worth to pop in and have a look at least once!
Address: Calle Mosquera 5
9/ Bodega Bar El Pimpi
El Pimp is an institute in Málaga! Included in every list of “best tapas bars in Malaga”, the place is a labyrinth of cellars where the walls are adorned with old wine barrels, bull fighting posters and signatures of famous Andalusians. It’s in every guide book, so it gets its fair share of tourists. The food is ok, it wouldn’t be my favourite bar, but if this is your first time in Málaga, you should definitely check it out!
It’s more a restaurant than a tiny tapas bar, so this might be the place to go for a bigger “ración”
Address: Calle Granada 62
Is your favourite one on this list of the best tapas bars in Malaga? If not, which one would you add? Looking forward to reading them in the comments!