Getting Aragonese in Zaragoza

PilarMuch of old Zaragoza  has been rebuilt along the lines of the original streets. The beautiful Pilar is the main touristic draw. I have stayed at the dingy but centrally located Zaragoza Royal. My colleagues now stay at the hotel in the super-modern railway station but it’s a bit of a trek into town.

There are essentially three options from the Royal when it comes to eating here. Stay in or near the hotel , or turn left on Gran Via and go to the Plaza San Francisco (15 mins walk) or turn right on Gran Via and head to the old town (20 mins brisk walk). As a general rule of thumb the further you walk, the better the food gets…

In the old town…

A great area is ‘El Tubo‘, a maze of narrow streets immediately behind the Puerta Cinegia shopping centre in Plaza Espania. One way to access it is walk to through the shopping centre. When you come out, if you turn immediate right, 100 yards down you will find the orange-fronted El Plata cabaret club at 33 C/ Cuatro de Agosto. It´s nationally famous for it´s risque performances. Shows start at 8 and 11pm but arrive 45 mins early to be assured of getting in (entrance is free, they make their money on the drinks).

Nearby Pascualillo is a famous tapas bar with adjoining restaurant (out of the shopping centre but straight ahead, it´s fairly soon on the left). They have an 11 euro Menu del Dia until Friday lunch, and a different one at the weekend for 19 euro.

Around the corner is La Bodeguilla de la Santa Cruz at 3 C/Santa Cruz, which looks very nice and trad, but perhaps a bit expensive. The same people run La Republicana, a nice bar at 38 C/Mundez. Casa Lac, one of the oldest restaurants in Spain (since 1825, Botin in Madrid is the oldest, founded in 1725), is at 12 C/Martires, opposite El Plata. Lots of other gems around here too.

El Fuelle (Intermediate B), 59 C/Major.

A traditional Aragonese meat restaurant, which opens at 7.30(!) and seats at least 200, but was nearly full by 9 on Saturday night. Nice atmosphere, friendly service . Sadly the Menu Degustacion (6 entrees, ternasco a la brasa con patates a lo pobre, pud, wine etc) was for a minimum of 2 people. However, as it was my last night in town, I splashed out a bit and got sopa de ajo con judias, the ternasco and a bottle of excellent local red (Senorio de Lazan DOC, 17.50 euros). The total came to 34.90 but it was very enjoyable. Go with a friend to make it cheaper.

Al-Kareni (Intermediate A), C/Don Teobaldo (a left off C/Major).

On the unfashionable edge of the old town, hard to find but well worth the effort, this is a posh couscous restaurant with a great atmosphere and excellent food. Dark yellow and ochre walls, with ceramics, lanterns, mirrors, paintings, copperware, woodwork and moorish motifs covering every surface. A great option for veggies and carnivores alike. The 12 euro veg cus-cus probably includes onion, tomato, carrot, celery, courgette, leek and suede. I had the 14 euro signature dish which included the former, and a spit of char-grilled lamb, chicken and kofta. (The lamb was the star, so maybe just go for the all-lamb version). To suit local palates, there was very little heat in the chickpea & veg soup, so if you like it hot, ask for a pot of harissa to whip in before pouring it over the rest of the food. The powerful house red was a perfect match. I also got a wonderfully aromatic aperitif, a bowl of chillis and olives, and a plate of boiled new potatoes in their skins, dressed and still warm, all complementary. The ‘sorbet’ turned out to be mixed with rose-scent and cream to produce a kind of milkshake, but was still very nice. Wonderful place. Lots of lively student bars further along the street.

Marisqueria Tony (Elementary A), 40 C/Don Jaime (the best street for accessing the old town). GEM ALERT!

A cult spot for seafoodies, get your goose barnacles and razor shells here. I´m half Norwegian and very fussy about my prawns so when I tell you the gambas a la plancha are some of the best I have ever tasted, please believe me! At 8 euros they are not cheap but they are just sooo good. Cañas are 1.50. Very friendly staff, good place to practice Spanish.

Once you find Tony´s you will be able to locate a small alleyway one door down that is the start of a good tapas trail. You will walk past a couple of places which I’m sure are very good but maybe wait until you get into the tiny Plaza Santa Marta at the end. I remember that Mapy´s, the red and blue place on the left has nice food, the decor has a bullfighting theme. It´s a good spot to sit outside in the summer but it was closed this time in November.

Vitorinos II (Elementary A), Plaza Santa Marta (opposite Mapy’s)

The bloke behind the bar could do with cheering up a bit, but he and his wife make great tapas. There’s lots of fish but also curados, quesos, patés and ahumados on thick slabs of french stick. The red pureed stuff is a mix of ham and cheese which was powerful but ok tasting. The anchovy with pickle, and spicy sausages were good. Ask for another slice of bread on top to make a sandwich. Cheap and filling, the tapas were 2.25 each and the cañas 1.20.

Nearby Plaza Magdalena is also a good place for tapas and sitting outside in the summer. Lots of restaurants around there too.

El Calamar Bravo (Elementary B-), 5 C/Moneva (a parallel back street once block east of Indepencia) & 14 Cinco de Marzo.

Feel the need for a big greasy sandwich? This establishment claims to have invented the Bocadillo de Calamares, a popular local fast food. Basically it´s a small loaf, cut in half, filled with fried squid doused in garlic mayo and optional hot sauce. Cheap (3 euros), filling and only slightly queasiness inducing. Avoid the long queue for takeout (para llevar) and just go straight in. The waiter will stand you at a plastic barrel and take your order. Jarras are 2.10.

Around Plaza San Francisco

There are lots of other restaurants and bars all around this square, including an Irish pub on C/Latassa. The bar two doors down looks nicer though. On the way here, you will pass an internet place at 31-33 Gran Via, just before the bridge, 2 doors along from another Irish pub. Handy if the free internet in the hotel isn´t working.

La Rinconada de Lorenzo (Intermediate A), 3 C/La Salle. (Hard to find on the street map but it is a very short street off Plaza San Francisco, where it meets C/Santa Teresa de Jesus). GEM ALERT!

This place is very well-known locally, an old school Aragonese restaurant famous for meat, although they do serve fish too. Tiled, wooden and lacy, it has a nice atmosphere with attentive waiters dressed in black and white (though mine was rather unfriendly on this occasion, speaking better Spanish probably helps). For the 20 euro Menu del Dia they gave me a delicous bean and chorizo soup (A). The following veal steak (B) and chips (C) were a bit greasy but still very good, as was the cheesecake (B). Wine (A) was included.

La Bodega de Cheme 34 C/Latassa is another good place, just off Plaza San Francisco, but opens rather late at 9.

I had the 18 euro Menu Especial, consisting of garbanzos con bogavente (chickpea and lobster soup, B), bacalao pil pil con chipirones (C), helado de turron (B) and a great bottle of red. However I found the salt cod to be rather disappointing and needed an excuse to finish the good wine, so I got Entrecot de Ternera del Pirineo al Gusto (A) with chips, to finish the job properly, before the dessert I hasten to add. Although this was also a Menu Especial item it added 16.50 to the bill. Choose wisely is the lesson. Still, as they forgot my welcome aperitif I wheedled a free orujo at the end.

The Lebanese Restaurant Mustafa, two doors down at 32 C/Latassa, seems very friendly and reasonable. There is a Turkish takeaway/restaurant at 20 C/Fernando El Catolico (the continuation of Gran Via) and an Indian place at 66 Fernando El Catolico. Ate at the latter a few years ago and remember it being ok, ask for extra heat.

A local comment: ‘For me La rinconada de Lorenzo is one of the best but I think you don´t know La Lobera de Martín, it´s 10 minutes walking or less from the Plaza, besides the Parque Grande (a beautiful park to walk and take a drink in spring and summer), the food is really nice and I enjoy eating there. Anyway, there are a lot of good restaurants like La Forja (C/ Mayor) which in my opnion is better and cheaper than El Fuelle about traditional food.’

Near the old hotel…

Eliseos (Intermediate B), 4 Paseo Sagasta (left out of the hotel, right and 2nd right, it´s opposite El Corte Ingles).

Very moderne, squirty bottle style. They had 2 Menu del Dias, one for 16 and one for 24, which I think included wine. Had a nice risotto, deer chops and a nice fruit sponge from the latter.

Antigua La Brasa (D), 23 C/ de la Gasca (turn right out of the hotel, turn first right, it´s on the left, 2 mins walk).

Very convenient but be warned that a colleague was made very ill from eating the salt cod here in 2005, but then I suppose that could happen anywhere. I tried it again for the cheap 10 euro Menu del Dia, for which I got a passable bean soup (potaje de legumbres, B). The second course was a breaded chicken breast (pechuga empanada, more like chickened sawdust, C) served with a dollop of mayo and overly greasy potatoes (D) which I couldn´t eat. Mandarins for dessert and a half litre of red wine were included in the price. Cheap as (inedible) chips but perhaps avoid the fish.

I ate in the old hotel ages ago and remembering it being good, I just like to walk up an appetite. Their current Menu del Dia is 20 euro. The guy with the dark hair and specs behind the hotel bar is a huge Liverpool fan and will happily chat footie if you want to practice your Spanglish.

For drinks, the Clipper ‘tavern’ over the road from the hotel looks pretty bleak, but it´s ok in the evening for watching footie. Cardinal Mendoza brandy is less that 4 euro here. La Bocatelia, three doors down looks better, sells Guiness and has an 8.25 Menu del Dia, but I haven’t tried it. Don´t even think about going into Bar Pavarotti, it’s a pretty horrible hostess bar. If you turn right onto Gran Via, there is a nicer, larger and more modern bar called Antigua on the second block down on the right at No.7. It’s a restaurant too with a Menu del Dia for 15 euro. If you just want a bocadillo, you’re best off going to the pasteleria in the basement of El Corte Ingles.

Marly bar at 50 Gran Via is famous for its deep-fried tapas, if that´s your thing. Bit too greasy for me though.

Other good places I heard about but didn’t get around to visiting include La Matilde (the ´best´ and most expensive but with a huge wine selection), Casa Emilio, El Peirón (Paseo San Francisco, for tapas), and La Feria (a Lebanese place). Let me know if you go.

Last updated Nov 2008

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