Mini Walking Guide II: Ethnic Eats in the Vila de Gràcia (Barcelona)
Editor‘s Note: This is Part II of an on-going series of culinary walking guides for Barcelona neighborhoods by EatCatalunya’s resident walking food expert, Jordi, who provides us with not only strictly Catalan picks, but also international fare for those hungry and on a budget. Bon profit!
Welcome to another appetite-opening walking guide to Barcelona eateries! Today we’ll be visiting five ethnic restaurants in the district of Gràcia, more precisely in the Vila de Gràcia, which is the part beneath the Travessera de Dalt. Until the city’s expansion in 1897, Gràcia used to be a separate town from Barcelona, giving the neighborhood a distinctive feel which persists to this day. Today Gràcia is a trendy, artsy and countercultural district, chock full of bars and eateries, small speciality shops, boutiques and art galleries peppered throughout its narrow streets and numerous plazas. In August, the Festes de Gràcia last nine days and brings millions of partiers to drink and dance in the streets, many creatively decorated for the occasion (both partiers and streets).
A typical Gràcia program is to catch a flick at the Verdi (website, map) or Verdi Park cinemas, where the movies are subtitled instead of dubbed. Because driving and parking in the neighborhood is a nightmare, most people take the metro and get out at Fontana, which is the nearest stop to the cinemas and the Plaça del Sol. In the short distance between the metro and the movies, you will pass by a gadzillion eateries of every persuasion, except on Verdi street, where only shwarma and falafel eateries are allowed. Now let’s say you’re peckish, or maybe you’re with a date (maybe even the same one you took on the vegetarian eateries walk) and need a place to make a good impression because your date just LOVES ethnic food and is like an international EXPERT on all things ethnic so better not F*CK UP, baby!
Fortunately, in your total smoothness, you had peeked EatCatalunya to get the skinny on ethnic eateries in the area. You even printed out the map (below!), which you’re carrying in your pocket, which is not a bad idea if you’re not familiar with the territory. And so we begin, walking out of Fontana metro station and taking a left on Asturies, now a pedestrian-only street. Here we find WOKI (website), which as the name suggests, is dedicated to Thai-style wok of noodles or rice served to go. The offering is pretty standard in terms of fixings, but the noodles are tasty and the hot sauce is actually nose-dripping hot. For about 7 euros (with 3 fixings) you get the large container which is enough to satisfy individuals who are not hosting tapeworms. Woki is also an organic food market, which makes the short wait for the noodles more entertaining if you’re into that kind of thing. Perfect for eats on the go, a pre- or post-movie pit stop. Vegetarian friendly.
Now, if you’ve just seen a romantic movie at the Verdi Park on Torrijos street, what better way to follow up but with a dinner at the CANTINA MACHITO (website), possibly Barcelona’s best Mexican restaurant, definitely the most authentic. Suffice it to say you can order Chiles en nogada at any time, and they always have it. Try asking for this dish at other “Mexican” restaurants and you get a blank stare in response. This is a litmus test for true Mexican eateries, a test which the Cantina Machito passes with flying colors. The place is a bit small and cramped, but the decoration isn’t too overdone and of course the food makes it all worthwhile. It is a must to try their aguas or scented waters (another litmus test), fantastic agua de lima and of course traditional agua de jamaica made of Hibiscus flowers. 20-25 euros per person for dinner: for two people a dish of totopos con guacamole and a main dish each will leave just enough space for a spot of dessert, unless the tapeworm demands more frijoles refritos nomás.
Right near the eastern border of the Vila, on Torrent de les Flors, is perhaps the most trendy ethnic restaurant of the moment, the ABISSINIA Ethiopian restaurant. At this popular eatery (don’t say I didn’t warn you), they have big pillows instead of tables and little stools for a better ethnic feel. The food is served on large copper trays; more precisely, it is served on a large pancake that sits atop a copper tray. Small portions of various meat and meatless dishes are piled near the center of the pancake; the eaters tear bits of pancake off the sides and use them to pick up the food. As said, all deliciously ethnic. The food is tasty and different, spicy but not in a standard way. About 17-20 euros per person, and I’ll skip the tasteless joke about how many Ethiopians it takes to run a restaurant.
Heading down into the Gypsy part of Gràcia (the Vila has an established community practically as old as the town itself), on Milá i Fontanals we find the Nepalese NEPALI restaurant, also known as the Himali depending on which of their signs you prefer. The Nepalí is located in an Gràcia ex-landmark beer hall and conserves the original windows painted with famous Catalan personalities, with one little difference: now they all have a little red dot on their foreheads. This restaurant is a magnet for English-speaking clientele, probably because of the similarity between Nepalese and Indian cooking, rice and curries, lassis and naan. The food is very correct, the price is fine (15-20 euros) and the Nepalese staff are humorous and gentle. Don’t forget to wish them Namaste when entering… it will gain you a surreptitious discount on the bill. Vegetarian friendly.
Finally, we venture beyond the confines of Gràcia and raid Sant Gervasi to find the smallest and best-hidden Thai in town, the PETIT BANGKOK on Saragossa street above Guillem Tell. This place is small, five small cramped tables and a small counter in front of a small kitchen. It may or may not be popular, but it’s always full. The menu is mini too, standard green or red fare, but the dishes are generous and the cooking is as gourmet as the name of the place implies. 20+ euros depending on how much Thai beer you need to put out the curry (hint: more than one). Good place to display a very sexy command of local resources, but for the love of Bob get a reservation. In case you decide to try luck, plan B would be to take a ten minute stroll to the Woki; it ain’t gourmet, but it’s Thai and you won’t need no stinkin’ reservation.
Five eateries in Gràcia, ethnic or otherwise, is but a single chickpea in the big falafel sandwich that is the district’s full edible offer. From the greasiest hot dog dive to the most conceptual tapas offer, this town within the city has it all and then some. For example, with the arrival of the warm weather, we’ll be keeping an eye on the offer of artisan Italian gelato, which is already at a very acceptable level. Keep an eye on your favorite Catalan food resource for upcoming all-new guides, and above all, keep walking. What better way to justify a healthy appetite?
Jordi is a professional writer and contributor to EatCatalunya who also blogs over at 99 Percent Space.
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Image of Carrer Verdi and Sant Salvador by lin padgham on Flickr.
Image of WOKI dish by Loris CandyLaftis via Creative Commons.