Barrio Las Letras (aka Las Cortes) is the area south of the bottom ends of Calle Gran Via and Calle de Alcala. It’s bordered by Paseo del Prado to the east, Calle de la Cruz to the west and Calle de Atocha to the south. Barrio map here. General map here.
The barrio contains Calle de las Huertas, one of the main tapeo strips, and Plaza de Santa Anna, a pleasant square containing many restaurants (separate post here). The southern half around Huertas is also known as Barrio de las Letras. Personally I like to start my tapeo on Calle de Jesus at the bottom of the hill and head up Huertas to Plaza Santa Ana.
Los Gatos (Intermediate A), 2 Calle de Jesus Los Gatos bar
Madrilènos are known as “los gatos” (the cats) because they like to stay out so late.
Despite being accused of being a tourist trap, with prices to match, this is my favourite tapas bar on this street, just for the bizarre decoration which covers every inch of the ceilings and walls.
Bull fighting paraphernalia fights for space with classical and pop art treasures
I love the eccentricity of it all.
The tapas are top quality too, which makes it a good place to start a night on the tiles.
Beers and canapés are €2.50 each and a racion of Salpicon de Maris is €11 (in 2015).
La Fabrica (Intermediate B+), 2 Calle de Jesus (next door to Los Gatos above), www.cervezaslafabrica.com
Loved the Roquefort canapé (although the waitress told me it was Cabrales) with a salted anchovy (B+).
The Bacala over tomato pulp and topped with a mild chilli is also good (B).
With two creamy cervezas this came to €5, which isn’t too bad at all. Cheaper than their more famous neighbours I think.
El Diario (Intermediate A), Calle de Jesus (no number but a couple of doors down from the above, on the corner with Calle Cervantes).
This Andalucian tapas bar is my second favourite place on the strip, due to the friendliness of the staff (unlike others along this street) and the quality of the food.
Their Calamares a la Andaluza are very good, especially with their sublime honey alioli, although I wish they’d remove the beaks as they can be a bit off putting (A-).
And, in summer, their tuna salad is also one of the best I’ve ever tasted (A) but not quite as good in winter (B).
When you’ve finished, complementary chupitos (shots) of Orujo des Hierbas come as standard.
Los Dolores (Intermediate A), 4 Placa Jesus (just along the street from Los Gatos above).
This is a classic 1920’s place with a beautiful tiled exterior and an atmospheric old wood bar inside.
The tapas are very good but quite traditional and a bit expensive. Cañas are €1.50
I love the boquerones (A).
Casa Alberto (Advanced B), 18 Calle Huertas, www.casaalberto.es
This is another beautiful old place with a classic zinc bar. Apparently Cervantes used to live above it.
You can have tapas in the busy bar or sit down in the restaurant at the back. The Rabo de Toro is well reputed here.
Service is brusque but efficient because they’re busy.
Vermout Grigio (B+), from the tap, is €2 a glass here.
With that I got a complimentary plate of pork scratchings (B+).
With a second vermouth, I had a canapé with Solomillo Iberico con Cebolla Caramelizada al PX y Queso de Cabra for €4.75, which was heaven on bread (A).