El Nacional BCN, Barcelona, Spain

Welcome to the amusement park of Catalan gastronomy!  One of the coolest places in all of Barcelona.  For such a large space, it’s not the easiest place in the world to find.  Built inside of a restored factory, it has all the gorgeous iron work and design details one imagines in the Barcelona of your memories and dreams.  Inside there are four distinct restaurants and four distinct specialty bars, all under the same roof:  Beer Bar; Wine Bar; Oyster Bar; Cocktail Bar; La Braseria (specializing in steak); La Llotja (fresh fish cooked your way); La Taperia (tapas); La Paradeta (deli and baked goods).  All of the bars serve exquisite renditions of traditional Catalan cold tapas.  Think the most gorgeous, upscale, high design food court that your brain can conceive of, crank it up two notches, and then you’re close.

The first couple of times that I went was with a Barcelona native who had been hearing the rumors and was dying to try it.  It was like getting a grand tour of Catalonian gastronomy – from the Costa Brava to Girona, Priorat down to Valencia, all under one roof.  Our first stop was at the beer and tapes (that’s “tapas” in Catalan, friend) counter, the first little island in the middle of the place.  My companion took the excellent and chatty bartender, Colombian by birth (friendly Colombians:  there’s a theme here), on a tour of his own wares, netting us fresh tins of anchovies L’Escala; a version of your grandpa’s favorite delicacy unparalleled by any other coast.  So much yum!

Honestly, I could swoon here for paragraphs.  But I’ll spare you.  Just do yourself a favor and go, and go hungry.  Everything is on point:  from the wine selections to the fish preparations, the balanced cocktails to the perfectly shucked oysters – just do it.

El Nacional BCN, Passéig de Gracia 24 bis (down an alley between Carrer de la Diputació and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes), Barcelona, Spain

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