Spain in general has become a popular foodie pilgrimage, and Madrid showcases its strengths with a cornucopia of cuisines, cutting-edge style, and celebrated chefs who put the city on par with Europe's most renowned dining capitals.
Top Spanish chefs fearlessly borrow from other cuisines and reinvent traditional dishes. The younger crowd, as well as movie stars and artists, flock to the casual Malasaña, Chueca, and Latina neighborhoods for the affordable restaurants and the tapas bars with truly scintillating small creations. When modern cuisine gets tiresome, seek out such local enclaves as Casa Ciriaco, Casa Botín, and Casa Paco for unpretentious and hearty home cooking.
The house wine in basic Madrid restaurants is often a sturdy, uncomplicated Valdepeñas from La Mancha. A Rioja or a more powerful, complex Ribera del Duero, the latter from northern Castile, normally accompanies serious dining. Ask your waiter's advice; a smooth Rioja, for example, may not be up to the task of accompanying a cocido or roast suckling pig. After dinner, try the anise-flavored liqueur (anís) produced outside the nearby village of Chinchón.
The best tapas spots in Madrid are in the Chueca, Latina, Sol, Santa Ana, Salamanca, and Lavapiés neighborhoods. The trendy Latina area has a concentration of good tapas bars in Plaza de la Paja and on Cava Baja, Cava Alta, and Almendro streets. Chueca is colorful and lively, and the tapas bars there reflect this casual and cheerful spirit in the food and interior design. The bars around Sol are quite traditional (many haven't changed in decades), but the constant foot traffic guarantees customers (and means the bars don't always have to strive for better food and service). In touristy Santa Ana, avoid the crowded and usually pricey tapas bars in the main plaza and go instead to the ones on the side streets. The tapas bars in the Salamanca neighborhood are more sober and traditional, but the food is often excellent. In Lavapiés, the neighborhood with the highest concentration of immigrants, there are plenty of tapas bars serving Moroccan, African, and Asian-inspired food.