An affordable eatery near Madrid’s Gran Via

Steamed Mussels

Mejillones al Vapor

By Geri Dreiling

Madrid has world-class museums such as The Prado and Reina Sofia. It has the interesting architecture of the Gran Via. It has the Plaza Mayor, a preserved medieval grand square that stands as a testament to the reign of the Hapsburgs.

But it also has tasty tapas. And a visit to Spain’s capital would not be complete without exploring the city through food.

If you visit Madrid, a restaurant and tapas bar to consider is El Labriego, located about a block off of the Gran Via and a ten-minute walk from the Hotel Atlántico. With a great selection of tapas, a full restaurant menu and Spanish beer served in an atmosphere that is not overwhelmed with tourists, El Labriego is the perfect place to sample a variety of dishes without destroying your travel budget.

El Labriego Interior

El Labriego Interior

Even though E and I discovered it through a search on Trip Advisor, El Labriego is not particularly touristy. When we visited on a Friday around 8 pm, the patrons included middle-aged Spaniards who looked as though they had gone out for a Friday night happy hour after work, couples on dates and college students.

The cuisine at El Labriego has strong Galician and Portugese influences. I have learned that it is a mistake to think of Spain as a homogenous country when it comes to cooking. Instead, cuisine is heavily influenced by Spain’s varied regions. Galicia is located in northwest Spain and shares a border with Portugal. The cuisine favors fish and shellfish as well as hearty meats and stews.

El Labriego is divided into two sections. The front section is for drinks and tapas. For those who want a more traditional dinner, there is a restaurant in the back. Madrid natives may not sit down for lunch until 2 or 3 pm. It isn’t unusual to have dinner at 9 or 10 pm. So, it isn’t surprising that El Labriego doesn’t open until 1 pm and it closes at 1 am.   

Tapas at El Labriego

Potato and Chorizo Tapas

On our Friday night visit, we sat in the front of the restaurant. I opted for an Estrella Damm beer, a pale pilsner made by a Barcelona brewer that has been around since 1876. When the waitress brought out our drinks, she also plopped down a small plate of tapas, a juicy, spicy mix of chorizo, moist potatoes, flavorful onion and red peppers. It was followed by another tapas dish of potatoes and spicy chicken.

We also decided to try some of the samples listed on the sugerencias menu – the suggested menu – posted on the wall next to us. I chose the mejillones al vapor, a plate of mussels steamed in lemon, olive oil and a dash of spices then served with a lemon wedge garnish. The taste was refreshing and light.

E chose the Lacon a la Gallega, a dish made from pork shoulder and spiced with paprika and blended with potatoes.

Lacon a la Gallega

Lacon a la Gallega

We finished around 9:30 pm, just as El Labriego was starting to get crowded. We headed back out onto the bustling Gran Via and walked. Even in January, the sidewalks were crowded and the streets packed with cars. We walked as far at the intersection of the Gran Via and Calle de Alcala before returning to the hotel.

Gran Via and Calle de Alcala

Calle de Alcala on a Friday Night in Madrid

Over the next few days, I found myself daydreaming about the steamed mussels. And so, the day before returning to the U.S., we decided to stop there again, but this time for lunch. It was a quiet Thursday around 3 pm. Two old men talked to the waiter in Spanish and a few couples were scattered around in the tapas area.

Once again, we ordered drinks. Tapas were delivered alongside our refreshments. Once again, we also decided to try some of the dishes listed in the menu. I repeated the steamed mussels. E ordered two different montados or small sandwiches. My favorite was the lomo adobado con queso, warmed marinated pork loin and a melted soft cheese served on thick, white Galician bread with a dark, brown crust and fluffy, chewy center. The other mantado was made from lacon, the grilled pork shoulder.

lomo adobado con queso

Lomo adobado con queso (marinated pork loin with soft cheese sandwich)


Lacon montado

Lacon (pork sandwich)

And for another taste adventure, E suggested that I try callos, a traditional Spanish dish that is a mix of beef tripe and chorizo swimming in broth flavored with paprika, garlic, peppercorns and onion and served in earthenware. It came with a basket of sliced Galician bread, perfect dipping into the broth. This was my first experience eating tripe, which consists of portions of the cow stomach. The tripe was moist, with a soft, gummy texture. It wasn’t a bad taste experience, and I’m glad I tried it, but tripe isn’t one of those foods that I think I will crave.

Callos and Chorizo

Traditional Spanish Dish of Callos

You don’t have to order extra rations when visiting El Labriego as we did, but, if you do, the meal won’t set you back far at all. We spent about 15 euros each night per person and walked away stuffed and our culinary curiosity satisfied.

I am fortunate to have my own personal interpreter so I did not try to order in English. However, the Trip Advisor reviews did not flag language as a problem and the service was prompt. 

Would I return? Definitely. And if you give it a try, let me know what you think.