Taking recommendations on good restaurants in Spain is one thing, but it's a more fun to explore and find your own favorites. But how do you know if a restaurant in Spain is any good?
A lot of people choose their restaurants by price and deco: if it looks nice and isn't too expensive, it's probably good. But that's not the case in Spain. In fact, often it's the deco you're paying for.
These tips will help you decide if a restaurant in Spain is any good. Scoring well on all of these points will be tricky, but one or two is a good start.
But where are the good restaurants? In Madrid they're here: Madrid Restaurants
1. How to Spot a Good Restaurant in Spain: It's Busy
The Spanish eat out a lot (usually several times a week), so they know if a restaurant is good or not. If the restaurant you enter is empty, it means one of two things - you've come at the wrong time of day, or it's not a very good restaurant.
In Spain, especially at lunchtime, everyone likes to eat at the same time - hence the fact that if you walk in at the wrong time of day, there'll be no-one there. If you find a restaurant is too busy to seat you, come back a little earlier the following day. Most restaurants will start serving at about 1pm and it should still be quiet then.
2. How to Spot a Good Restaurant in Spain: The Bread Looks Good
Bread comes as standard with every meal in Spain (though some restaurants are cheeky enough to charge for it). So every table should have a little bread on their table. Some restaurants freshly bake (or at least part-bake) their bread on-site. Others may have a great rustic specialty bread. But if it looks like slices of day-old baguettes, you probably have a good idea of what the food will be like.
3. How to Spot a Good Restaurant in Spain: The Wine Glasses Are Big
Spain produces a lot of wine - a fair bit of it is dreadful, but there's plenty of good stuff too. The majority of Spaniards know a bit about wine and know to swirl the wine in the glass to release the flavors. If the glasses are too small to do that, you have to ask why. Either the restaurant doesn't want you to release the flavor of the wine (more bad flavor means it will taste even worse!) or the restaurant doesn't respect its wine. And if they don't respect their wine, how can you be sure they'll respect their ingredients?
If the red wine is cold, this is also a bad sign. But beware, red wine served at the right temperature can sometimes appear cold. Find out why: Red Wine Temperatures in Spain
4. How to Spot a Good Restaurant in Spain: The Paella is for a Minimum of Two
Paella can be served in a number of ways in Spain. Often it is made hours earlier and reheated in a microwave when needed. In other restaurants they're made off-site, frozen and defrosted to order. But a real, freshly cooked paella will almost always be cooked in a reasonably large pan - far too much for one person. So to ensure you are getting one of the latter types of paella, make sure there is a stipulation that the paella is for 'mínimo dos personas'.
Even if you're not eating paella, seeing this on the menu suggests you're eating somewhere with good quality food.
5. How to Spot a Good Restaurant in Spain: 'IVA' is included
IVA is the Spanish for 'value added tax' (sales tax) and in most restaurants it will be included in the price. The only reason they wouldn't include the tax in the price is to catch people out - and the only people likely to be caught out are tourists. Therefore, you can assume that any restaurant that doesn't include the tax in the bill doesn't have a great deal of respect for visitors.
Read more about the +IVA Restaurant Scam in Spain
6. How to Spot a Good Restaurant in Spain: The Beer is Not Cruzcampo
Spain's cheapest mainstream beer is Cruzcampo - it is gassy, tasteless and, unfortunately, just about everywhere. Though you will find a good restaurant that thoughtlessly tarnishes its meals with this foul beer (and indeed some of Spain's culinary gems are cheap little places that will probably have Cruzcampo on tap), you can certainly give an eatery a bit more kudos if they serve something different.
San Miguel is nearly as bad as Cruzcampo. Yeah, you may have drunk it all over the world; that just means it's well marketed, not that it's any good.
More: Beer in Spain
7. How to Spot a Good Restaurant in Spain: Try the Tapas
Though this requires sitting down and buying a drink and some tapas (unless you're in one of those places where the tapas is free), taking a small bite from the tapas menu will give you a good indication of how good the rest of the menu will be.
Thanks to my Twitter follower @Guide2Granada for this handy tip.