mmm_US. Calle del Duque de Rivas, 5. Madrid

Once you get over the daft name, you can start enjoying the great atmosphere and stellar service at this hip city eatery. This is what Madrid has been doing well recently: combining home-cooked food with cosy modish spaces, resembling a hyperactive veggie cafe, the kind of place that has been proliferating in most important cities from San Francisco to Sydney. Blackboard tables with chalk provided in mini-beakers, freshly-baked bread, subculture magazines, quotes and posters scattered on the walls: all are present and correct. Alhambra beer is on tap, and there is no official food menu; waiting staff will tell you what’s available. The Thai chicken with rice had run out by the time we lunched at 3.15pm, but both the crema de puerro and the crema de lentejas were excellent, filling little soups. The burger Lola has to be ordered to be believed: a small high-quality beef patty between two tortillas – the Spanish omelette kind, not the Mexican wrap variety. It’s a heavy combo, and great value for €6. There’s no fixed-price menu, so watch your spending when you start ordering the delicious cakes and multiple glasses of wine. This place definitely brightens up a dull backstreet.

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Metro Tirso de Molina

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Casa Alberto. Calle de las Huertas, 18. Madrid

Heritage, especially on a touristy street with constantly-changing bars and restaurants, is essential to hang onto. Casa Alberto has so much of it, such a rep to protect, that it’s one of the most reliably consistent wine and tapas joints in the city. For those wanting to eat more, and more formally, there are tables at the back and longer menus to order from. However it’s the bar at the front which is buzzing, not every hour of the night, but it ebbs and flows. There’s definitely a charm here which can’t be replicated, and the service has something to do with that; you’ve got to be quick and sharp and know what you want, and they’ll treat you well. Wine is good and the olives sit in a spiky cayenne-laced oil which you just want to dip hunks of absorbent bread into. Highly recommended are the pricier tostas: the best is the pimiento con queso de cabra y langostinos (€4.50), the delicious prawns seared and butterflied on a creamy, rather than crumbly, goats cheese. The solomillo in Don Ximenez sherry with onion tosta (€4.75) is also a substantially-sized, tasty snack.

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Metro Anton Martin

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YokaLoka. Mercado Anton Martin, Calle Santa Isabel. Madrid

There had been murmurings about this place for a few months before I actually took the steps down into the basement of the Mercado Anton Martin. It’s one of the only stalls inside to remain open all day, along with a cheese vendor and butcher’s nearby. There are usually two sushi chefs at any one time, and I must have had chats with all three rotating staffers in a mix of ungrammatical Japanese and comfortable Spanish. There was a time that Delusionaryculinary actually had to learn the finer points of hiragana, katakana and kanji in order to know what he was eating for a whole year in the Japanese countryside and it’s amazing how much has been retained. I ordered an old favourite: takoyaki, balls of minced octopus with green onion, covered with bonito flakes and a smothering of a type of mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce. It is definitely a winter-warmer, along with their wonderful miso soup containing a single large shrimp head. The fusion sushi rolls have excellent texture, and the inari is firm and fresh too. The crisis platter of sushi is a good place to start, and the pez mantequilla with truffle is divine. The key strength of YokaLoka is that everything is made fresh, on the spot, for an absolute bargain. They have books to read if you’re waiting for any longer than a few minutes, and there’s conversation to be had as well as an open kitchen to watch. Friendly and fulfilling. Keep this one quiet; the neighborhood buzz is growing.

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Metro Anton Martin

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Antigua Taquería. Calle de los Cabestreros, 4. Madrid

Unique varieties of single tacos, nachos, cocktails, vermouth on tap and great service, all in a small converted bar with retro fittings, make this one of my new favourite bars/eateries in the city. Right next to the better-known Senegalese joint Baobab, it definitely comes into its own at night. Waitresses/barmaids are very patient and friendly, seats are comfy and prices are low. What’s not to like?

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Metro Lavapies / La Latina / Tirso de Molina

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Baobab. Calle de los Cabestreros, 1. Madrid

It’ll take a little while for even the best Ghanaian and Senegalese restaurants in Madrid to reach the stage where they do not run out of many of the dishes on the menu. It’s all about one of the main difficulties of running an eatery: keeping lots of fresh meat, veg and spices available everyday to make a decent range of choices. A restaurant that can offer everything on its menu is actually quite a recent concept; I actually walked out of one a few months ago as they had run out of all fish, thereby leaving nothing for La Alta to chow down on. African cuisine in the city has also jumped from a backstreet business to a mainstream neighbourhood activity that Lavapies can be proud of.
Baobab is the largest and strongest of the local Senegalese joints, and I’d hazard to say it could be one of the best in Europe. They had indeed run out of a fair few dishes, but the veg, fish and chicken options were available. I was initially dismayed by the lack of lamb that was promised, but resolved to come back at the start of the lunch shift.
The thiebou dienne was marvelous, as was the thiebou vegetal, both boasting short-grain rice cooked in stock and spices, yam and stewed vegetables. A confit of tamarind adds a sweet bite to the deep, mellow flavours. Fish used here is hake and tilapia, and the chicken in the yassa, a curry based around an onion sauce is a whole succulent leg.
Certainly no complaints about the food then, but a draft comes in through the open door during cold windy days, the service can be even slower than the rest of the city, and the pop music is piped through a TV channel. The terrace out front has a great view of the neighbourhood though, and is perfect for sunny days. Terrific flavours at very reasonable prices.

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Metro Lavapies / La Latina / Tirso de Molina

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