Some find it a bit of a mystery that Almería has been named Spain’s gastronomic capital for 2019. The modest city in the south-eastern corner of the peninsula is often overlooked and draws fewer visitors than the rest of Andalucía. Yet it boasts Europe’s largest Islamic fortress, after Granada’s Alhambra, with 10th-century walls clambering over two rocky hills, peering down over the compact city below. Islamic flavours don’t stop there as, following centuries of connecting Almería’s traders with the Arab world, there are daily ferries from Algeria and Morocco. Their imprint is part of the food scene – along with succulent seafood fresh from the Mediterranean.
Remember that many places are closed on Monday.
Bar Casa Puga
This venerable tapas bar opened in 1870 and, though the service can be offhand, it thrives on an enticing, buzzy ambience, with jamones dangling from the ceiling, varnished wood shining like a mirror and shelves crammed with bottles and cheeses. The free tapas – with a glass of wine (the house Albuñol is €1.80) or beer – are minimal but for €8-€10 more substantial half raciones of grilled kidneys, fried fish, octopus or a juicy Raf tomato salad are available. Get there when the doors open at noon and again at 8pm for elbow room.
• Calle Jovellanos 7, +34 950 231 530, barcasapuga.es
Bar Bahía de Palma
I think this is the friendliest tapas bar in Almería. It dates from 1963 when the original owner arrived from Mallorca – hence the name Bay of Palma. Bullfighting memorabilia dominates beside the pictures of flamenco artists, a performance tradition that continues sporadically (check its Facebook page). As a daytime bar (open 9am-5pm) it serves copious Spanish breakfasts and weekday set lunches (€12). There are a few outside tables but sit there and you will miss out on the classic tiled interior and general bonhomie. Free tapas (fried fish, cod pil pil, croquetas) are generous, particularly on Fridays when migas (fried breadcrumbs with black pudding, chorizo and green pepper) is on the menu.
• Calle Mariana 17, +34 661 20 59 59, on Facebook
Once you’ve puffed your way uphill to the fortress, then back down again, duck into this Moroccan tearoom to recover. The tranquil retreat has charm, both at outside tables in a plant-filled alleyway and in the traditional salons inside. Sip fresh mint tea (€5), enjoy a taboulé (€5-€7), tuck into lamb couscous (€15) or a chicken, almond and olive tagine (€10). This delicious Moroccan food is prepared and served by a father, son and daughter team from across the Strait of Gibraltar.
• Calle Paz 2, +34 629 27 78 27, on Facebook
A more upmarket, contemporary option, Valentín is found amid a tight network of winding streets. Here there is a choice between white-linen tablecloths in the slick restaurant, or more relaxed dining on the high stools in the back room and outside. Valentín is renowned for mouth-watering, high-quality seafood: langoustines, red prawns, cuttlefish, squid-ink rice with prawns or a seafood paella. And no, the paella is not a tourist-focused creation but for locals who love this stalwart of the Levant (Spain’s eastern coast). Count on €40-€50 for an à la carte experience.
• Calle Tenor Iribarne 19, +34 950 26 44 75 restaurantevalentin.es
Bodega Las Botas
Down a narrow alleyway near Valentín, Las Botas is distinctive for its low, handpainted chairs and tables outside. Inside, it’s delightfully old-fashioned jamón-land with a dizzying lineup of top Cinco Jotas (ham) legs, a bull’s head, and a smattering of related photos. It is not the cheapest (a ración of red mullet is €14, six seafood croquettes €8) but service is excellent and the wine selection is good: a glass of smooth Ribera del Duero is €2. Order grilled meat and the waiter will go up the alleyway to its mother restaurant, Marisquería Baviera, where owner Pedro Sánchez, who started work in a bar aged eight, has held forth since 1968.
• Calle Fructuosa Pérez 3, +34 950 23 42 39, on Facebook
Across the broad Paseo de Almería, just behind the market, a spacious, cool restaurant and cocktail bar has recently opened. Tito’s is the offshoot of an eponymous beach-bar in cosmopolitan Mojácar – a 90-minute drive up the coast – and is run by Tesne, the founder’s daughter. The menu is a blast of world food and will satisfy vegans and vegetarians, as well as those looking for something different to the city’s traditional dishes. Vegan tapas include tofu satay with basmati rice (€3.50) and quinoa with wok-fried vegetables and almonds (€3). Copious salads (€10) are inventive, a red prawn Thai curry (€14) delicious and homemade cakes really hit the spot. There’s live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
• Rambla Obispo Orberá 17, +34 950 30 73 78, on Facebook
For vegetarians and seafood fans on a budget, this little cafe is perfect. Amid the buzz of Almería’s renovated food market, this is where to bring fish, shellfish, vegetables or meat to be freshly grilled by the charming Inmaculada. The seafood section of the market is downstairs – ask for the fish to be cleaned. Grilling a generous portion costs €6, washed down with a glass of Almerían wine (€2) or beer. Inmaculada recommends local specialities, including fat red prawns, anchovies, red mullet, calamares and tuna. Raf tomato salad with anchovies works well as a starter.
• Stand 17, Mercado Central, on Facebook
A couple of blocks south of the market, you have it all – breakfast, tapas, lunch, cakes and cocktails at tables and sofas in a mellow atmosphere, perfect for when those cloudless Almerían skies take a break or the heat sizzles. With a strong artsy agenda and plentiful bookshelves, Cyrano has carved out a niche. Free (generous) tapas are listed on a blackboard, while a changing menu includes inventive salads, sandwiches, burgers (€10), as well as Korean bulgogi (barbecued beef, €15) and a red velvet layer cake to finish. Draught beers, good wines and coffee crown what’s on offer.
• Calle Mendez Nuñez 19, +34 950 58 99 64, on Facebook
With a traditional tiled-and-beamed setting, this popular tavern justifies a walk to its rather uninspiring location east of the centre. Carnivores will be thrilled (Ibérico pork secreto, €18, caramelised pork knuckles, juicy rib steak, Black Angus steak, wagyu beef carpaccio, €15), also pescatarians (octopus, bonito tuna salad, €14) and vegans, too. Plus, sherry aficionados are in for a treat. For cheaper prices, eat on a stool at the lengthy bar where you pick your tapas (about €2), though the restaurant at the back is warm, cheerful and perfect for protracted indulgence.
• Calle Francisco García Góngora 11, +34 950 25 75 61, tabernaentrevinos.net
It is worth investing €12-€15 in a taxi to whisk you to this chiringuito, a local legend for more than 40 years and open every day of the year. Although uninspiring to look at, this simple restaurant has a great beach location. Ultra-fresh seafood, of course, heads the menu: choose from a counter of fresh shellfish and fish but beware, as prices climb according to weight. Don’t miss the soupy arroz de mariscos (seafood and rice, €15), delicious semolina migas (€7) or patatas a lo pobre (poor man’s potatoes, €8). Book a table in the front section with a view over the Med.