If you love gin and tonics and jamón, then Barcelona is the city for you.
Dawn Perry and Matt Duckor are the food-obsessed people you want to eat all of your meals with. The two work in food media—Perry as the food director at Real Simple and Duckor as an executive producer at Bon Appetit and Epicurious—and recently tied the knot after working together at Bon Appetit magazine. The couple spent five days eating their way through Barcelona in November, and we recently caught up with them to hear all about their favorite meals, bars, and the few sightseeing stops they made between feasts. Check out the slideshow below for their full list of Barcelona eats.
Let’s start with the obvious question. Why Barcelona?
Dawn: We got married in July and Matt’s sister got married in September, so we had just seen a lot of our families in the months leading up to the holidays. We felt like we had a pass to skip Thanksgiving. We first thought about going back to Italy or Paris.
Matt: But we went to Paris when we got engaged, and we were there for a night at the beginning of our honeymoon because we just really like Paris—I mean, who doesn’t like Paris? Neither of us had been to Barcelona, and I had never been to Spain at all. Barcelona is one of those cities that I’ve never heard anyone say that they didn’t love it. When you mention that you’re going to Barcelona, you just sort of get this effusive praise from everyone you talk to about it.
Did Barcelona live up to the hype?
M: Definitely! Right before we left, everyone from chef Andrew Tarlow, who is a restauranteur in New York and our friend and neighbor, to just about everyone we work with were all saying, “Oh, you’re going to Barcelona. Let me give you my list!” We were surprised at the approachability of Barcelona both from the fact that it was really walkable and easy to navigate and also not financially burdensome. We went to some of the better restaurants in Barcelona, but we rarely had an expensive meal. The most expensive meal we had was around 120 euros for both of us and that included wine, dessert, coffee, and so much food. That was surprising because I think of Barcelona as a world-class food destination and a cultural hub, but you’re not going to break the bank while you’re there.
What was the best advice that you got?
M: Andrew Tarlow told us to really go for it at lunch, just don’t hold back. Order a bottle of wine, order all of the food, do it up. We took his advice and had a number of long leisurely lunches, which is such a pleasure. We tend to lunch on vacation anyway because we don’t really do lunch back home.
Where was your favorite leisurely lunch?
M: We had a long lunch at Ca L’Estevet that was really good. My favorite dish was hake with garlic, potato, and olive oil. It was super simple but the roasted garlic was crispy and the hake was cooked perfectly.
D: I just loved the use of olive oil as sauce there and at a lot of other places. They just poured it over every single dish like it’s any other condiment.
What were some other favorites?
M: Paco Meralgo was recommended to us as one of Eric Ripert’s favorite restaurants in Barcelona, and I think it was our favorite meal as well. It was probably the most fine-dining restaurant we went to, but it was still a tapas-style format and was really affordable for what we had. The cooking was the most precise of anywhere we had been. The classics like pan con tomate, patatas bravas, and crema Catalana were the best versions of each that we had eaten on the trip.
D: I agree; everything there was so good. We had what was basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that I loved and seared tuna with sesame seeds that seemed more Japanese-inspired than Spanish. The shrimp in garlic sauce was just so delicious, too.
M: Cal Pep was also a highlight. They offer to pick your food for you, and everyone just accepts that. At an establishment that’s a legend like this, you just go with the flow. We had an incredible sausage dish with beans and some sort of reduction, and the razor clams were very good. We also loved the deep-fried artichokes and their tortilla, which was super runny and topped with aioli.
D: Cal Pep is one of those places where you go in knowing that you are going to be taken care of. There’s this thing about good restaurants where you just know that they’ve got it, and you can trust they’re going to make sure that you have a great meal.
D: Old Fashioned Gin Tonic & Cocktail Bar was definitely one of my highlights. They have a menu that is just pages and pages of gin and tonic varieties. They basically pair the different tonics with the flavor profiles of each gin.
M: They also serve them in these big goblet wine glasses, which is cool and different. The bar itself is ornate and beautiful. When you’re in Barcelona, gin and tonics are something you have to have at least once. This place is the best in class. Their gin and tonics were on point and really inventive. We also enjoyed Collage Cocktail Bar in El Born. It was the most vibey and traditional bar that we went to. I had an old fashioned and Dawn tried a cocktail with cannabis bitters. We stayed out until around 2 a.m. that night.
Did you go anywhere twice?
D: We went to La Boqueria twice. Matt wanted to stay there all week!
M: I have never been to a market that was so amazing. I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t think it was going to be as awesome as it was. We walked around and ate jamón and manchego out of these paper cones—which is the best invention of all time—but Andrew Knowlton from Bon Appetit told us to go to El Quim De La Boqueria. That’s where we had what Dawn calls “the best shrimp of our lives.”
D: Yes, the best shrimp of our whole lives! An 11-year-old friend of ours—her parents are restauranteurs—once said to us “I only eat shrimp in Spain” and we were like “OK, kid, whatever you say.” Then after we had these shrimp we were like oh man she is not kidding! They were meaty and fresh. It’s what a shrimp should taste like.
What did you do when you weren’t eating?
M: When we weren’t stuffing our faces with food, we took a lot of naps, but we also walked nearly everywhere. We went to Barcelona Cathedral and it felt so grand, like all churches do. Even if you’re not a religious person, you can understand the gravity of what the people who believe feel, and you can’t help but respect it when you walk into those places. There is something spiritual happening there.
D: The best cathedral tour I ever went on was Westminster Abbey and I just remember the pamphlet said something like “Imagine the faith it would take to work on this one thing your entire life and never see it finished” and that’s really clear when you walk into these big old places of worship, regardless of who’s worshipping there. We also went to Park Güell—the Gaudí park—and that was beautiful and interesting.
M: We also went to Foundación Joan Miró, which was amazing and beautiful. I hadn’t seen much of his work, but the museum is situated on a hill overlooking the city and there’s also a rooftop area with some sculptures and it’s just a stunning view.
Dawn, since you’re a trained cook, did all of these delicious meals inspire some home cooking?
D: We haven’t really tried to recreate anything that we ate there because we hit the ground running into the holidays when we got back. I usually tend to funnel food inspiration from my travels into the cooking that I do at work.
M: We have made a lot of jamón plates at home.
D: Yes, a lot of jamón!
M: I will say that in the summertime—we have a deck and a grill at our house and we might try to take on paella this year. It’s a really fun thing to do with a group to just have that big pan on the grill. It makes everyone feel like they’re part of the cooking process. I mean, who doesn’t love fish and sausage and chicken parts with a ton of rice in a delicious broth that gets cooked down with these crispy bits? We were definitely inspired by their reverence for paella.
Do you have any advice for anyone who’s planning a trip there or thinking of planning a trip there?
M: I would definitely pass along the long lunch advice. In some cities you do lunch because you want to go to a fancy restaurant and they have the cheaper deal at lunch so you can afford to eat there. In Barcelona, it’s really a part of the city and people there do it right. You can get a feel for how the city works by having a leisurely midday meal— if you do that, you will really understand Barcelona.