La Rioja is bordered by the Basque Country and Navarre to the north, Aragon to the east and Castilla to the southwest. It’s valleys and mountain ranges, channel seven rivers into valley including the famous Ebro River. Together, they create a plush and green area that generously nurtures agriculture.
Rioja is known as a breeding ground of outstanding produce which provides the foundation to its classic, simple yet and great quality food scene. Obviously known for its luscious grapes that make internationally recognized wines it also produces lettuce, onions, artichokes, garlic, tomatoes, asparagus, beans, peas and peppers. There’s livestock too - goat and lamb are the stars because what’s wine without tiny lamb chops grilled over grapevines on open pits.
Cameros in the southern part of Rioja makes some wonderful goat cheeses. There are cutting edge chefs such as Francis Paniego of Echaurren, Marques de Riscal and Tondeluna and Ignacio Echapresto of Venta de Venta Moncalvillo as well as lots of simple traditional spots (we are all for the grilled lambchops!) . While every village has a local bar, Logroño is the tapas capital with most of the bars centered around the Calle de Laurel.
Here is a list of our favourite pintxo bars:
El champiñón de El Soriano Travesía de Laurel, 2
The mushroom at El Soriano. This tapa doesn’t beat around the bush, you either love it or not, it is a classic good ol’ grilled mushroom. Three generations make up this well oiled mushroom grilling machine. One mans the flat griddle, two at the bar taking orders and handing out the little towers of three mushrooms fixed to their bread bases with a toothpick and crowned with a small shrimp. The rest of the crew is in the back kitchen cleaning and preparing more mushrooms for the grill.
Tondeluna Muro de la Mata 9, bajo
Modern, with a firm grasp of Riojan flavors. Michelin starred chef Francis Paniego and his wife Luisa serve up beautifully presented and delicious versions of classic tapas with a twist. It’s a toss up between the Tartar de tomate bajo un carpaccio de gambas, ajo blanco y caviar de vino tinto, a tomato tartar served with a prawn carpaccio, a cold garlic and almond creamy soup and red wine caviar and the ensaladilla rusa. A classic potato salad with the works, boiled new potatoes, albacore tuna, vegetables and olives mixed with an aerated mayonnaise. Can mayonnaise be fluffy? This one is. Impossibly light.
El Sebas Calle del Albornoz, 3
Has a variety of traditional pintxos: if you’re adventurous or not you must give these a go, lecherillas are the veal’s soft underbelly fried so that it’s crispy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside. Following the same lines of the soft and crisp the ear is also a proud representative. And last but not least the famous tortilla, golden on the outside and cooked just right, you can choose to add some spice with red pepper sauce or stick to the oldie but goodie version.
El soldado de Tudelilla Calle de San Agustín, 33
Is best known for one of its tapas; El Capricho sardine, grilled green pepper and a tomato on bread, of course. They have other mini sandwich like tapas with nice soft baguette bread filled with cheese and anchovies and of course, that match made in heaven ham and tomato.
La taberna de Baco,Calle San Agustín, 10
There’s no poetic way to describe it, but the experience of eating it is inspiring. Embuchado is a legend around these parts, it’s milk fed lambs intestine, cleaned and wrapped into a tight ball kind of like a baseball. When you order it they take it into the kitchen slice it finely and fry till crisp. A liberal sprinkling of salt and some pickled Alegria pepper complete the dish . De-li-cious.
Bar Páganos, Calle del Laurel, 22
Paganos specializes in grilled meat. Pincho moruno or meat brochettes, get the ¨ibérico¨ one, made from iberian pork brought from southern Spain. This is definitely not “the other white meat.”
El Canalla Calle Albornoz, 1
Explosión de huevo or Egg explosion, a free range hen’s egg yolk wrapped in Iberian pancetta and a crispy sheet of potato. One bite. Could be considered one of the top ten best tapas in Spain.
La Universidad pulpería, Travesía de Laurel, 9
Known for its variety of octopus, the owners are originally from Galicia and you can definitely tell from one of their best tapas pulpo a la gallega, cooked and grilled octopus sprinkled with smoked paprika and soft hot peeled potatoes.
Pasion por ti - Calle Laurel, 5
We love the name and the croquettes, try the mushroom and potato one served in a shot glass with gazpacho made with chistorra, a spicy spanish sausage, to dip the croquette in.