Over two trips I’ve spent a couple of weeks in Almeria so I’ve managed to get a bit of a handle on the dining scene. Almeria is a big tapas town so most of the places below are tapas bars but a few double as restaurants. As there are so many I’ve had to break them down into separate posts to make them more accessible. This one is on Traditional Tapas Bars in the Centro but there are others on…
Out of all of the great tapas bars in town, I think this one is unmissable…
Casa Puga (Intermediate A+), 7 Calle Jovelllanos, www.barcasapuga.es GEM ALERT!
The most famous tapas bar in town, so of course it’s in all the guides, but for good reason…
It’s been around since 1870 and the atmospheric interior is covered with beautiful old ceramic tiles and pictures of days gone by.
Three huge earthenware wine jars fill one end of the restaurant area while the old wooden bar is where most people choose to stand and talk.
Everything I ate here was superb. My first visit was with a friend on a Saturday night when we did well to get a seat as it was heaving inside and out. We had three plates of sliced Chorizo, Salchicha (A)…
…and Manchego Curado with toasted almonds (A)…
…along with a decent 2002 Rioja Crianza (A).
We were the last ones in the place but our excellent waiter still came to fill our shot glasses with a second complimentary Pacharan, this one tasting more like cough medicine than usual (B).
I was working nearby the next day so came back for lunch where, after another complimentary slice of ‘queso viejo’ (matured Manchego) with toasted almonds, I got stuck into the fishy side of things. I had a plate of sublime creamy Pulpo a la Gallega, still warm octopus sprinkled with paprika and olive oil (A+). (Pic was blurry sorry).
Also a plate of Salmonetes (Red Mullet)…
…and a mixed salad with Ventresca (belly tuna) (both A).
This went well with a glass of dry white Verdejo ‘Monasterio de Palazuelos’ from Rueda (B).
To finish, the Tartita al Whisky looked worryingly different from other times I’d had it. Unlike previous occasions though this one was partly made with ice cream which was a winner (A).
With this two glasses of sweet dessert wine, called simply Vino Dulce, made on the premises (A+).
I had the same old boy looking after me as the night before, which he did very well (thanks Juan). I was literally purring with contentment when I left.
Not far from Puga is the Alcazaba, the ancient fortress on the hill. There was no way I was going to make it up any kind of incline in the heat after that little lot, so it might be an idea to do the sightseeing before you eat.
Casa Sevilla (Advanced B+), 14 Rueda Lopez, Galería Comercial Almericentro, www.casa-sevilla.com
This restaurant and tapas bar is the most famous high end place in town, perhaps because it’s one of the oldest (since 1958). In summer it’s best to sit outside in the terrace. I say ‘in’ because it’s in a tunnel but that’s okay because you catch a bit of a breeze. The waiters weren’t particularly friendly but they warmed up a bit with time.
I had the Berenjenas Fritas con Miel de Cana which has been on the menu since they opened. They were very nice (B+) if rather calorific. The aubergines are sliced thinly, battered and deep-fried. You get a bottle of cane sugar to pour over them. Must have a go at making this when I get home.
I was in the mood for meat so I had the Gallego Entrecote de Buey which I asked for ‘pocho hecho’. I should have said ‘jugoso’ as it wasn’t bloody at all but I still enjoyed it (B+) along with the skinny chips (B+). The salt looks like Maldon but it’s a local copy.
To go with it the Rincon Postrero Crianza, a Syrah Merlot blend which was okay (B).
A beer, a Torres 10 year old brandy (B) and the bread took the bill to just under €60. Expensive for Almeria but it was all good tackle.
Bodega Las Botas (Intermediate B+), 3 Calle Fructuoso Perez
This is another atmospheric old joint in the historic centre, tucked down a back street. It’s hard to find but worth it for the beautiful interior, packed with bullfighting memorabilia, including a couple of huge horned heads peering down at you from the wall.
You can also sit outside in the alleyway on some beautifully painted but very uncomfortable traditional chairs and tiny tables (hence the A minus).
As with all other places in Almeria, you immediately get a complimentary tapa on the house, in our case a plate of unshelled almonds and some fantastic ham on tomato bread (A).
My choice of crinkly under-ripe Raf tomatoes (a local speciality) with raw garlic wasn’t the best (B-) as the huge plateful really needed something else to go with it.
The house salad has lots of ingredients but was just ok (B).
There were some beautiful looking canapés on other tables as well. Service was just ok. One negative for me was that this is accordion player territory, but you may like music with your food.
Marisqueria Baviera (Intermediate B), 10 Calle Tenor Iribarne
This seafood specialist is the sister restaurant of Las Botas just around the corner. I had a hankering for some grilled prawns so I had a half dozen Gamba Blanca for €6 which, although very heavy on the salt, pressed the right buttons once I’d brushed it off (B). Not sure I’d come here for any other reason though.
Kiosco Amalia (Elementary B+), 10 Plaza Manuel Pérez García, www.facebook.com/KioskoAmalia
This street kiosk is a quite a famous spot in Almeria, popular with daytime customers and late night clubbers alike. They sell a local coffee drink called Café Americano which is made of milk, cinnamon, lemon rind and a dash of a cola cream liquer called Kola Cortails.
Sadly I didn’t find the right time to try one but instead I had another well known local drink, a Jabega de Menta, basically a slush puppy with a shot of Licor de Peppermint, which is very thirst quenching on a hot day (A).
As you can see in the photo, Jerry Garcia is a regular here.
Bar Bahía de Palma (Intermediate B), 17 Calle Mariana
An old school bull fighting bar, plain and simple but with plenty of character. I found it a good place to meet locals and had a couple of good conversations with an old teacher and a young gypsy guy.
And a couple of places to avoid…
Parrilla Pasaje (Elementary C), 1 Calle Rueda López
This bar is famous for the Chérigan, a popular tapa served in many bars around the city. I was slightly disappointed to discover that it’s basically just a piece of toasted bread spread with aioli (or sometimes tomato) and a topping, such as tuna, cheese, tortilla, serrano ham, mackerel, quail egg, or in my case Jamon de York.
However, it did prompt me to find out why ham from my county in England is so popular in Spain. It turns out that in 1860, the cured hams produced by butcher Robert Burrow Atkinson, whose premises were on Blossom Street in York, became so popular that visiting customers exported the name and, in other British locations, they requested York-style cured ham. It is even mentioned by Auguste Escoffier in Le Guide Culinaire and in fact I have eaten it in Lyon (post here) with a Madeira wine sauce.
It seems the name Chérigan may be a corruption of “Sheriff”, perhaps from the Westerns that they film at the nearby Tabernas desert or possibly from the nickname of a bossy waiter (or chef, explanations vary) who once worked in the bar.
Bar Casa Joaquín (Intermediate C), 111 Calle Real
This historical tapas bar just down the road from La Mala (see next post) gets recommendations from both the Frommers and Michelin guides, perhaps because it has been around such a long time, although probably too long in my opinion. The first time I tried to go the waiter told me they opened at 21.00 which was too late for me. The second time I went for lunch at 13.15 which again was too early really but they were open and serving drinks and tapas so I went in.
My ‘Hola, buenas’ wasn’t even acknowledged which wasn’t a good start. I had two beers and two compliementary tapas; a Pisto which was good (B) and some boiled Squid which tasted okay at the time but which I think upset my plumbing later. I think it had been standing unrefridgerated for a bit too long. I wanted some of their excellent looking seafood out of the glass fridge but it wasn’t 2pm yet so I wasn’t allowed. Don’t think I’ll be going back. Miserable waiters and suspect food.
La Encina (Intermediate C), 16 Calle Marin
This place comes recommended by Michelin, Frommers and Repsol, perhaps because it’s in an old (not especially) atmospheric building containing a Moorish well. I might have chosen badly but I wasn’t impressed by the tapas I had in the front area. The restaurant at the back might be better.
This was my first try of Patatas Pobre, a classic local dish which I think just isn’t for me. The pale potatoes were edible (C), but only just. Don’t be put off though, you can get better elsewhere.
The Arroz Negro was a bit too oily for my taste (C) and the Croquetas failed to impress (C).
I asked for a local wine and was given a bottle called Carum which was undrinkable (D). They were nice enough to replace it with a glass of Ribera though (B).
Don’t think I’ll go again though as there are plenty of other places around.
Modern tapas bars next!