By Madrid, we were kind of done with Spanish food. Wait! Let me explain! I know Spain is renowned for its Michelin-starred chefs, its tasty chorizo, cheese, seafood, and paella. People are quick to name drop Ferran Adria, whose innovations have made El Bulli (when it's open) THE destination for "serious" foodies. And yes, when we went to El Corte Ingles (the ubiquitous supermarket) or an outdoor market and bought our own ingredients, we feasted like reyes. Jamon iberico, manchego cheese, every imaginable olive variety. Eating at home is affordable and rewarding, assuming you want to cart around your olive oil, salt, and pepper to every city (which we did to some extent). Here's Spain's problem: there is no mid-range good food. Go to Italy, to France, to London even...part of the fun of these places is stumbling upon an amazing local eatery where you pay next to nothing for the best meal of your life. I love eating at fancy restaurants and, to be honest, if El Bulli had been open, we'd have reserved a table. But Spain shouldn't be only that. Spain has charisma and history. It has a precedent for Good Food. Why then is it impossible to find something between uninspired bar food and self-conscious haute cuisine??
One thing I will say for Spain: I am in love with the concept of beer + lemon soda, which is usually on draught (Damm Limon being the most prevalent). Even if they don't have it, they'll mix it right up for you or you can try the wine equivalent: vino de verano-- like a less sweet and more refreshing sangria. Another thing I'll say: MEXICAN FOOD. This seems like a really strange recommendation, but I swear to you I've never had better than El Chaparrito. Get the guacamole nachos, the pollo de flor de calabaza, and the olla cafe. Oh my GOD, y'all. Also, the froyo place in Mercado San Miguel is obscenely good. So there...in Spain I can recommend booze, Mexican food, and frozen yogurt. Sad or awesome?
I think Barcelona, as expected, was our fave. Guys, it's a charmer. We searched out every Gaudi structure (why is Park Guell covered in sand? not fun on a slightly windy day) and found a lot of lesser known architecture just as fascinating. Even a lot of seemingly basic apartment buildings had cheery, ornate paint jobs. By Barcelona, we knew that we'd have to research if we wanted to find a good restaurant, so after a LOT of internet research, we came up with La Divina, in the Barri Gotic. It was full of expats and we had some pretty delicious devil shrimp. Another traveler's note: get a recommendation if you're going for what could be a painful esthetic experience. Ouch.