Zesty olive oils, seafood fresh from the boat, one-of-a-kind sherries, herb-infused cheeses, some of Andalucia’s most irresistible tapas – that’s just a taste of what’s on the menu in the stirring southern Spanish town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which was recently named Capital Española de la Gastronomía 2022 (Spanish Capital of Gastronomy).

Over the past decade, every year Spain has spotlighted a lesser-known city or region that works wonders with local produce and flavors and promotes its delicious gastronomy as a key tourist attraction. . Today, the capital of gastronomy is one of the most anticipated events in the exciting Spanish culinary calendar, with gastronomic competitions, tables of chefs, tapas routes and much more. As Sanlúcar slips on its unparalleled new foodie shoes, here’s a look at Spain’s drool-worthy foodie capitals.

Fresh paella at EntreBotas in Cadiz, Spain © EntreBotas

Sanlucar de Barrameda, Andalucia

Picture this: you’ve crammed into a tapas bar, and then a thin, fresh shrimp fritter with parsley and chopped onions appears on the counter. This is the beloved tortillita de camarones from the province of Cádiz, a typical specialty of Sanlúcar flavored with salt, perched at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir in western Andalusia. Even better when washed down with a glass of manzanilla, the Atlantic-influenced sherry is only produced in Sanlúcar.

Fried acedías (flounders) and chocos (cuttlefish), arroz con pato (rice with duck) and seafood stews and rice dishes like arroz caldoso are among Sanlúcar’s endless delights. Velvety local potatoes appear in papas aliñás, a punchy potato salad seasoned with olive oil, onion, parsley, sherry vinegar and, usually, melva (tuna). Immerse yourself in the bustle of Plaza del Cabildo, whose lively tapas bars – Barbiana, Casa Balbino – spill out onto a huge terrace, or head to Bajo de Guía, the famous boulevard of open-air restaurants that runs along the Guadalquivir , where the classic Casa Bigote is located. For a creative twist on sanluqueño products, try El Espejo (in historic Barrio Alto) or EntreBotas (hidden inside the Bodegas Hidalgo–La Gitana sherry winery), both from chef José Luis Tallafigo. Sanlúcar Smile, meanwhile, runs expert-led food tours and the town’s Mercado de Abastos is a feast of fresh Andalusian produce.

Marinera is a Russian salad cover on a bun with anchovies and olives, typical of Murcia, food from Spain
Marinera is a Russian salad on a bun with anchovies and olives, typical of Murcia, Spain © Miguel Garcia Garcia / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Murcia

Nestled between Andalusia and Valencia, with nearly 300 km of sun-drenched Mediterranean coastline, Murcia is known for its beautiful huerta (Moorish-era vegetable gardens), always fresh seafood, delicious bomba rice and its paprika made from ñora peppers. Here in Spain’s Food Capital 2020-21, you’ll sample frito murciano (pisto), vegetable scrambles, fresh sardines, pastel de carne (a meat-stuffed pastry), paparajotes (fried breaded lemon leaves) and glorious arroces (rice dishes), served loaded with game meat inland and accented with seafood along the coast.

Logrono–La Rioja

After landing the original gastronomic crown in 2012, La Rioja offers much more than some of Spain’s best red wines. Carried by simple and earthy flavors, the cuisine of this small northern region is centered on locally grown vegetables (potatoes, cauliflower, asparagus, wild mushrooms); succulent meats, often served à la riojana (stew of peppers, garlic, tomatoes and onions); and pork products, including morcilla, chorizo, and jamón.

Spanish snacks (pintxos) on the tapas bar counter
Spanish snacks (pintxos) on tapas bar counter © Rrrainbow / Getty Images

Toledo, Castile-La Mancha

Toledo may be renowned for its splendid architecture, but it’s also an unstoppable city of Spanish inland gastronomy. Reigning queen of gastronomy in 2016, the UNESCO-listed capital of Castilla-La Mancha is cooking up a storm featuring Manchego cheese, rich meats, savory stews and simple ingredients. Stewed patridge, cochifrito (simmered then fried lamb) and arroz a la toledana (rice with pork) are just a few classics on Toledo tables; another star is La Mancha’s protected DO saffron.

Start your food tour of Toledo with tapas in the old town at Bar Ludeña, El Trébol, and El Botero; opt for the elegant Adolfo Restaurant and Winery, set in a charming finca with city views; or hunt down a centuries-old home for contemporary Spanish designs at Alfileritos 24.

If you eat one thing in… San Sebastián, Spain

Almeria, Andalusia

On Spain’s sunny Mediterranean coastline, this eastern Andalucia city has a traditionally rooted and now emerging gastronomy that earned it gastronomic capital status in 2019. Almería’s delicious creations feature seafood super fresh sea, vegetables to take away and platos de cuchara (“spoon dishes”). Tomatoes, prawns and migas (made here with fried semolina) mingle with tropical fruits (watermelons, mangoes) grown along the coast and mountain meats and jamón serrano from inland villages.

Burgos, Castile and Leon

The rich, interior flavors of this north-central gem revolve around locally sourced meats (grilled over an open fire or made into charcuterie – jamón, chorizo, morcilla), as well as queso fresco (cow’s cheese) from Burgos, seafood from the Bay of Biscay and local crops including lentils, beans, tomatoes, apples, peppers and cherries. It’s no surprise, then, that Burgos triumphed as Spain’s second gastronomic capital in 2013. Head to the city center’s crowded tapas bars such as Cervecería Morito and La Favorita or the creative El Huerto de Roque . Traditional Casa Ojeda is famous for its cordero lechal asado (roasted lamb), as is Asador San Lorenzo just outside Burgos, while La Jamada, Cobo Estratos and El Fogón de Jesusón give local produce an innovative makeover .

Huelva, Andalusia

Wedged between Seville and Portugal, the often-overlooked city of Huelva won gastronomic capital in 2017 for its delicious, unpretentious cuisine rich in seafood. Fried chocos, exquisite ham from the Sierra de Aracena, wild mushrooms , prawns blancas (white prawns), fresh fish of the day (especially tuna) and locally grown strawberries fuel the richness of Huelva; stroll through the Mercado del Carmen for a tantalizing glimpse.

Huelva’s top restaurants include tapas heaven Azabache and traditional Juan José, for the perfect tortilla. But many of the province’s best restaurants are hidden in the rolling hills of Aracena (Jesús Carrión, Experience by Fuster, Restaurante Arrieros) and along the Costa Atlantique de la Luz in sunny spots like Isla Cristina (try Rufino or Hermanos Moreno). Local chef Xanty Elías, who put Huelva on the Spanish gastronomic map with the Michelin-starred Acánthum (now closed), is behind the first Finca Alfoliz in the countryside outside the city of Huelva.


Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country

Crowned in 2014, the little-explored regional capital of the Basque Country combines an unstoppable food scene with a bustling old town filled with art and monuments. It’s all about fresh Basque ingredients here (from Idiazábal cheese to wild mushrooms and fresh river trout) and an irresistible fusion of traditional flavors with cutting-edge creativity.

Savor the gastronomic bars of the Mercado de Abastos, linger over the wines of Rioja Alavesa in the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca or jump on the pintxo-pote paths, a succession of gourmet routes to taste divine pintxos, a glass by hand. Award-winning Sagartoki, creative Toloño, lively PerretxiCo and Andalusian-inspired El Tabanko are just a few of the beloved pintxo haunts, while El Clarete entices with original seasonal menus and El Portalón serves up traditional dishes in a 15th century mansion.

A quick tapas lunch in Spain
Tapas are perfect for any meal in Spain © Chalffy / Getty Images

Leon, Castile and Leon

While sharing similarities with the cuisine of Burgos, León’s lively 2018 winner’s mouth-watering dining scene brings its own twist to beloved recipes from Castilla y León. Standout ingredients range from cecina (a cured cow meat resembling jamón) to tangy Valdeón cheese made in the remote Picos de Europa mountains and wines from the province’s two wine regions. The impressive Barrio Húmedo (Old Town) of León is also one of the liveliest tapas centers in Spain. must-see stops include Camarote Madrid, La Trébede, Ezequiel, and Racimo de Oro. Venturing into gastronomic León, boundary-pushing Cocinandos is the city’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.

Ceviche Rojo de Caravineros y Encurtidos at Torralbenc in Alaior, Menorca
Ceviche Rojo de Caravineros y Encurtidos at Torralbenc in Alaior, Menorca © Torralbenc

Menorca, Balearic Islands

Awarded in 2022 by the European region of gastronomy, the Balearic island of Menorca, surrounded by beaches, is a masterpiece of Spanish cuisine. Fresh, local ingredients and a sustainable ethos have been at the heart of Menorcan cuisine for centuries, from the artisan cheeses of Mahón to the trending wines reviving ancient grapes. Immerse yourself in Menorca’s endlessly inspiring food scene with Cómete Menorca; visit the fresh produce markets in Ciutadella and Maó; and seek out Mon de Ciutadella (by Michelin-starred Menorcan chef Felip Llufriu), rural Torralbenc (a luxuriously restored farmhouse), lively Ses Forquilles de Maó (a wine and tapas favourite) and more.

Caceres, Extremadura

Bordering Portugal, untouristy Extremadura produces some of Spain’s most prized jamón ibérico (Iberian ham), and the monument-studded ancient city of Cáceres (named Culinary Capital in 2015) is a magical place to afternoon tea. Feeling plucked from the Middle Ages, the UNESCO-listed Ciudad Monumental de Cáceres also feasts on artisan Torta del Casar cheese, local morcilla (blood sausage), La Vera paprika, grilled meats, honey from the hills of Extremadura and cherries from Jerte.

Hidden between Renaissance palaces, Atrio ranks among Spain’s most inspired and enduring restaurants, with chef Toño Pérez at the helm. Other temptations in Cáceres include the creative La Cacharrería, the traditional Alma del Sabor, the revisited classic La Tahona and the elegant Tapería Yuste.