casual sandwich and orange juice
Food

Eating Out in Spain: Casual Dining Alternatives for Travelers

Sitting outdoors. Kids playing in the plaza. An elderly couple out for a walk in their Sunday best. Sunny with a light breeze. A bottle of red wine to myself. A plate of ensaladilla rusa. Not a care in the world. This is eating in Spain. And these are the memories that flood my soul every time I think about traveling (and living) in Spain.

However, you many not always have the time or budget for a leisurely meal. Not to worry, there are plenty of casual food options for travelers!

Read on for some casual dining ideas you can look for while traveling in Spain.

Eating in Spain: What is it like?

Long, leisurely lunches and light dinners with friends late into the night make up the dining scene in Spain. Pick a spot at any of the numerous sidewalk cafes, and watch the world go by. Dine on shared delicacies: Spanish ham, olives, and patatas bravas to name a few. There are even plenty of vegetarian and vegan options (Check out this guide to eating vegan in Madrid.).

That being said, you may not always have the time or desire to sit and enjoy your meal. For example, perhaps you are rushed to catch a train. Likewise, you are exhausted, traveling alone, or have spent your budget for the day. 

I love sitting in the plaza for hours at a full service restaurant. That being said, sometimes I like my meals quick, easy, and inexpensive. 

So, what else can you eat besides a full service, sit-down meal at an outdoor restaurant? Enter grocery stores and fast casual eating (yes, it exists in Spain.)

Where can I find casual eating in Spain?

When you arrive in your destination, you will find any number of sidewalk cafes and small bars open for business. Nonetheless, as you travel, you may want to ditch the dining experience every once in a while to meet your needs. 

Hotels/Hostels

Check with your hotel or hostel for breakfast. Hotels usually have a breakfast buffet consisting of pastries, cold cuts, and toast. Depending on the time of day and price, it’s sometimes worth it to have a hearty meal before heading out for the day.

Breakfast at Hotel Arrizul Urumea in San Sebastián
Breakfast at Hotel Arrizul Urumea in San Sebastián

Grocery Stores

After a long day of travel, you may feel too exhausted to go out to eat. Spain has plenty of grocery stores within walking distance of any touristic area. Comparatively, the variety in Spanish grocery stores is not quite the same as in American grocery stores. Regardless, it’s easy to pull a meal together that does not have to be refrigerated.

Easy grocery store meals

  • Breakfast: pastries, yogurt, and fruit
  • Lunch: world famous Spanish jamón (ham), crusty bread, cheese, and olives
  • Dinner: prepared salads or microwaveable Spanish tortilla (omelet)

Grocery store chains to keep an eye out for

  • El Corte Inglés – find a high-end grocery store on the basement level of any El Corte Inglés department store or shop the stand-alone Supercor supermarkets
  • Dia
  • Mercadona 
  • Carrefour Express
  • Eroski
  • Lidl
Eating in Spain lunch at 100 Montaditos in Segovia
Sharing lunch at 100 Montaditos in Segovia

Fast casual chains

Find fast casual and chain restaurants in malls, train stations, and [sometimes] near major tourist attractions. Specials vary, but look out for lunch meal deals for two or similar. The recommended restaurants below serve good, fresh food. Order at the counter, and wait for your name to be called out or your meal brought to you. Open for business during the siesta (2-4pm).

  • Rodilla – Light fare, snacks, desserts, and specialty coffee. (5-8 euro)
  • Pans & Co – Delicious and healthy sandwich combos (8-10 euro).
  • 100 Montaditos – Bite-sized sandwiches, snacks, and salads. Menus and order sheets available at the table. Bring your order sheet up to the register to order and pay. Go early (12-1 for lunch; 8-9 pm for dinner) so you can get a seat. (Starts at 1 euro)
  • The Good Burger – Delectable burgers, potatoes loaded with bravas sauce, and soda, beer, or tinto de verano (red wine beverage) (8 euro)
  • McDonalds – Some of us love to try the country-specific menu items at American fast food chains. McDonalds as well as other well-known chains are readily found in Spain in larger towns and along highways during road trips.

Let’s eat in Spain

Sitting down at full service restaurants is something we all love to do from time to time. Eating in Spain is immensely enjoyable because of the lovely atmosphere, delicious and interesting food, and no-pressure service. Even so, there are times when casual eating fits in more with the traveler’s schedule, desire, or budget. Keep your eye out for grocery stores and fast casual chains, and eat on your own terms!

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Are you looking forward to eating in Spain? As much as you love long, leisurely meals at sidewalk cafes, do you ever find yourself exhausted, crunched for time, or having used your budget for the day? Check out these casual dining alternatives to look for on your next trip to Spain. Click to read our post, Eating in Spain: Casual Dining Alternatives. #spainfood #spaintravel #eatinginspain

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