How to Eat in Barcelona on the Cheap

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The picturesque streets and lively Catalan culture make the port city of Barcelona a popular draw for tourists from all points. The second-largest city in Spain is also renowned for high-end restaurants where Spanish, French, Italian and Catalonian culinary influences are strong. But the traveler who's on a tight budget will also find high-quality dining options.

Market Food

Barcelona and any other major city in Spain will offer a daily food market, either along a public street or under the canopies of a permanent structure. Markets offer comestibles of all kinds, with an emphasis on local production, as well as inexpensive prepared meals from vendors, carts and food trucks. The most popular such establishment in Barcelona is La Boqueria, located along the busy central boulevard known as La Rambla. The Sant Antoni market on Ronda St. Paul is a larger, less tourist-congested alternative.

Takeout Food

Barcelona groceries also offer a wide variety of takeout meals, either ready to eat or ready to cook, that will delight the hungry cheapskate. A franchise food chain known as Nostrum has both dine-in and takeout meals, with prices starting at 1 euro, as well as microwaves on the premises that allow customers to heat and eat. Available are simple pasta dishes, soups and croquettes. The chain also offers discounts through a membership club. Las Empas in the Gracia quarter offers a build-your-own menu of empanadas, an Argentine filled pastry specialty that's found widespread popularity throughout Spain.

Afternoon Tapas

Spain's familiar afternoon ritual of tapas gives foodhounds a chance to sample tasty appetizers: ham, cheese, olives, shrimp, mini-pizzas, squid, clams and the latest creations from imaginative bar kitchens. Many Barcelona pubs offer a free sampling of tapas for the price of a drink, while others have a full buffet available for a minimal charge. If you're thirsty as well as hungry, a low-priced tapas menu is a sociable and inexpensive way to fill up.

Chains and Buffets

Although food snobs might avoid them, chain restaurants provide economical and filling meals, a shorter wait and generally more convenient hours. In Barcelona, Pans and Company works up sandwiches, sides, salads and hamburgers on an inexpensive menu. FresCo is a buffet restaurant chain with pasta, pizza, salads, fresh fruit and drinks for a relatively low all-you-can-eat price. Anyone strolling through Barcelona's neighborhoods will inevitably come across a local Buenas Migas, Bocatta or Telepizza -- with the last of these also offering delivery service.

Tip

  • American chains also do a brisk business in Barca: Subways, Burger Kings and KFCs pop up here and there, with menus in Catalan and Spanish and moderate prices.

Promotions and Discounts

People gotta eat, and restaurants gotta promote. Fortunately for those seeking an inexpensive meal, there's the Internet and the website BCNRestaurantes.com, which allows you to surf through a very long list of restaurants seeking to drum up some local buzz by offering free or heavily discounted meals. You'll need to keep tabs on the site and make quick reservations, as space is understandably limited. The site is also useful for searching Barcelona restaurants by type, price and location.

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