Madrid Comfort Food —  my top eating picks for a little trip around the world (while we still can’t travel)

‘May you live in interesting times’ goes the popular expression, which seems to have been the mantra of everybody’s 2020/early 2021. I’d say we’ve had a massive dose of ‘interesting’ over the year, with new lockdowns and curfews in place to fight the third wave of Covid-19. Like you all, I am just coronavirus-weary, and dream of better days when we can hug each other again, sans masks, eat and drink at restaurants and bars with big groups of friends, and (gasp!) travel beyond the borders of our barrios.

If my experience of the last spring lockdown was honestly rather tranquil with languid kitchen days, slow cooker sessions and banana bread baking in between Zoom calls, and my summer in Ibiza with the volume turned down showed some hopeful signs of a recovering world, I can honestly say that I went through an emotional hellscape during the last fall and early winter —marked by the deaths of my mother and a good friend, and then the sudden breakup of a long-term relationship which sent me spiralling to my “new normal” winter of discontent. I will spare you all by not getting into the weeds, but suffice to say I’m still in the process of healing. And part of that process has been daily doses of positive energies of good friends, meditation, and comfort food.

And Madrid has some incredible corners of comfort food. The city’s gastronomic landscape has certainly changed so much over the past decade. There is so much more diversity and variety now, and in fact, a visiting cousin who used to live in Madrid remarked that she was pretty impressed with the vibrant Asian and Latin American food choices now on offer, which didn’t exist a decade ago. Enjoy this short list of some top comfort food spots— and they deliver!

1. La Desayuneria : All-day American breakfast

Best Madrid brunch place, hands down. Chicken and Waffles anyone?

Did you say 2 for 1 pancake Thursdays!?

Finally an authentic American breakfast spot in Madrid (that won’t break the bank!) Just a few streets off Gran Vía at the heart of Chueca lies this cozy all-day breakfast haven serving every star in your breakfast reverie: pancakes, waffles, bacon and eggs, milkshakes, fried chicken, French toast, unlimited coffee and fresh orange juice. What I love about this place is that it brings back so many delicious memories of those all-day diners in the U.S., with generous American-sized servings. The Madrid branch is actually the third locale to open in Spain, after two successful ventures in Barcelona. La Desayuneria is the passion project of co-owners Paula and Laura, the minds behind an inspired menu that’s not unlike their travel diary — chronicling their experience backpacking across North America, savouring the big breakfasts in every state, and collecting traditional family recipes along the way.

After several visits, I can honestly say that everything on the menu is incredible. There is so much heart that goes into each dish, from the classic Chicken and Waffles (3 piece fried chicken with homemade waffles, scrambled eggs with cheese, and sausage gravy); Amish Breakfast (French toast, skillet potatoes, cheese tortilla with sausage gravy); and Manchito’s Tail (pancakes, scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, bacon and French fries). I’ve even come here for lunch and dinner to try their hearty Bacon Cheese Burger and Steak Tips (stir-fried beef strips with teriyaki sauce served with green and red peppers and mixed greens).

Pro tip: as this place does not take reservations, best to come earlier right before the hungry crowd gathers (11h-12h is a good time for breakfast/brunch). If you do find yourself in line outside, worry not because the line moves relatively fast. Come with an empty stomach because the generous platters are enough to feed you for 2 days!

2. Takos Al Pastor : Authentic and affordable Mexican food

There is a line snaking perennially outside the doors of Takos Pastor, and for very good reason. They serve the cheapest tacos in Madrid (between 1 and 1.5 euro) that are packed with authentic Mexican flavors and spices. Yes you read that right — tacos for 1 euro!

As an avid “Takoliko” (their name for fans of this restaurant), I come back again and again for their takos al pastor (marinated pork with chopped onions, pineapple and cilantro), cochinita pibil (Yucatan pulled pork), suadero (beef with chopped onions and cilantro) and nopal con queso (cactus with cheese), savoured after a hefty squeeze of lime. The homemade corn tortillas make all the delicious difference, and they’re perfectly washed down with frozen margaritas and micheladas (a spicy Mexican cocktail of beer, lime juice and assorted spices).

3. Pupusería Madrid Rio Grande Atocha : Bringing El Salvador street food to Madrid

A stone’s throw from the Reina Sofía (on Paseo de Santa María de la Cabeza) is a gateway to El Salvador. The vibrant colors, murals, and catchy Latin American music are just the prelude for their star plate: pupusas, the traditional flatbread that is the El Salvadorian national dish.

Eaten by hand, pupusas are stuffed with assorted fillings like cheese or jalapeños, and come with a plate of curtido, this heavenly, spicy cabbage slaw. Light beers and guanabana (soursop) shakes wash them down perfectly.

4. Vietnam Express – Hot noodle soup Pho you!

Vietnam in Madrid! Pho Bo beef noodle soup, perfect on a cold day

Vietnamese restaurants were nowhere in sight when I moved to Madrid in 2008. As such, Vietnam Express is a welcome addition to the city’s culinary landscape for Southeast Asian food disciples. It started as a humble food stall in the Yatai Market, the Asian street food market by the Cine Ideal movie theater, and soon expanded to a sit-down restaurant in Barrio Chamberí. It’s a no-frills, cozy place to enjoy the Vietnamese national dish, pho bo. This hearty beef and rice noodle soup is garnished with onions, chili peppers, lime, bean sprouts, basil and cilantro. Just what the doctor ordered to beat the winter blues!

5. SND Restaurant : Bringing Filipino flavors home

Fine pairings — Spanish red wine and Filipino food

Of course, I cannot talk about comfort food without mentioning the flavors of my home country, the Philippines. My most recent discovery is SNR Restaurant, (28 C/ Juan de Olias, metro: Estrecho), but given the Covid restrictions, their home delivery service has been a godsend. A minimum delivery order of 20euro can fetch you heaps of food ideal for sharing.

What brings me back to my childhood: siopao (Filipino-style stuffed porked buns), siomai (pork dimsum), sizzling sisig (chopped pork served with chili, onions and calamansi or native citrus), pancit palabok (rice noodles with seafood or pork and hard boiled egg) and lechon kawali (cripsy pork belly). After living in Madrid for 13 years, I’ve also discovered that Filipino food goes wonderfully with red wine — preferably a nice Ribera del Duero.

Happy healing, eating and drinking everyone! And if you’re a foodie feeling blue during these surreal times, whether you’re in Madrid or somewhere in the world dreaming of coming to Spain one day, feel free to email me: kusinamadrid@gmail.com for restaurant tips and recommendations! I always write back 🙂

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