15 Jun A food lover’s guide to eating in Santiago de Compostela
Discover mouthwatering produce and Galician specialities in my guide to eating and drinking your way around Santiago de Compostela. The city might better known as the finishing point for pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, but its best-kept secret is a wealth of fantastic food and outstanding tapas bars.
We headed to the little Galician city of Santiago de Compostela in May for a short break in search of pretty cobbled streets and churros. Happily we found plenty of both, as well as churches, museums, parks and pilgrims.
But what we hadn’t expected to find was an incredibly diverse and vibrant food scene. All of a sudden we realised that finding great food here wouldn’t be hard – finding room for it would be the challenge!
I think Santiago de Compostela might just be one of the most delicious cities I’ve ever been to. From breakfast pastries to traditional tapas, by way of market-stall treats and more modern eats, food here is fresh, local, budget-friendly and cooked with love.
I hadn’t expected to return home excited to share everything we ate. But that’s part of the joy of travel – discovering reasons to really fall in love with a place. I came for the architecture, and wanted to stay for dinner.
So here’s my our favourite places for eating out in Santiago de Compostela – plus top tapas bars and local specialties not to miss.
Want to find out more about what to do Santiago de Compostela? Check out More than the Camino: A city guide to Santiago de Compostela
Local Galician specialities to try
The climate in Galicia is cooler and wetter than most of Spain, thanks to its Atlantic coast. This means that region is able to produce different foods and flavours, so there are heaps of local specialities you wont have seen elsewhere. Food is an important part of the culture here, and the people of Galicia are understandably very proud of their produce.
Here are some of the local specialities we kept stumbling across;
Whilst the baguette in some form or other reigns proud in most of Spain, Galician bread is a beauty all of it’s own. Huge round sourdough-type loaves are cut into thin slices and either served alongside tapas or toasted (hence tostadas) until lightly brown and crispy. It’s flavoursome, chewy and oh so delicious. We found it was popular at breakfast and as a tapas.
A treat that you’ll find elsewhere in Spain, but features very prominently in Galicia. Empeñadas are flat pastries with a savoury (usually meat or fish) filling sandwiched between two layers of crisp pastry. The classic Empeñada Galego is stuffed with tuna, onion and tomato, and is common as a tapas and in bakeries. Bacalao (salt cod) also seemed really popular here – and every bakery had several fillings to choose from.
Pulpo a feira
The dish we heard most about before we arrived, and probably saw the least of. It’s a dish of octopus slow-cooked with potatos and paprika. Sounds delicious, but we only saw in the most touristy looking restaurants and we never got around to trying it.
Piments de Padron
A tapas you have to try in this part of the world. Piments de Padron are small green peppers (not chilli peppers, the sweet kind) that are fried in olive oil with a little salt – and they’re delightful. A rare tapas where a vegetable is (rightly) the star of the show.
White wines from Galicia
Think of wines from northern Spain and you’ll probably think of deep, full-flavoured Rioja. Which is scrumptious -but there’s much more to try round here.
It’s light white wines that you’ll find by the barrel load in Galicia. In most bars both the grape variety and producer are listed for you to take your pick from. We continued to stumble across Godellos (my favourite) and Albariños, but there are plenty more to try.
Torta de Santiago
You can’t move in this city without being offered a taster of this local treat. A sweet almond sponge, it’s rather nice but seems to be one for the visitors rather than a prominent pick in the local panaderias. If you’re familiar with bakewell tart, dare it say, it’s much the same but without the jam.
I doubt I’ll be allowed to return to the city now I’ve said that.
Beginning with breakfast: Starting the day the Spanish way
Let’s begin at the beginning. I love going out for breakfast in Spain.
Its always simple, delicious and filling – and I’ve never paid more than €4 to fill me up until midday at least.
You’ll mostly come across breakfast ‘deals’, much like elsewhere in this country. In Santiago, this almost always consisted of a cafe con leche (a milky coffee), a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice and either tostadas, churros or a chunk of sweet sponge cake. It’s mostly a sweet affair here in Galicia – but that was more than OK by me.
Our two favourite breakfast picks;
Milongas Bar & Cafe | Rua do Preguntoiro, 9, Santiago de Compostela
A lounge-type cafe in the heart of the old town. We stopped here for the €3,90 combination of cafe con leche, orange juice and churros on our first day and felt immediately at home.
Cafe Tertulia | Rua do Pombal, 2, Santiago de Compostela
A five minute walk from the old town, this bustling cafe is well-worth the effort of getting here. Perched on a junction, it’s a great spot for people watching from the terrace and serves up a host of different breakfasts. Tostadas is the name of the game here – try with peach jam or a more savoury topping.
Squeezing in some lunch: Best bakeries in the city
Ah, the great lunch debate.
Do you tuck into a delicious Menu do dia (lunchtime set menu) or sample a few tapas?
I’m afraid to say we buck the trend and usually do neither. Not because we don’t enjoy these options. But when we were trying to pack as much as we could into four days, we were happy to forgo a lazy lunch in favour of extended tapas time in the evening.
So to get our lunchtime fill, we headed to the city’s bakeries.
Tentacion | Rúa da Caldeirería, 21, Santiago de Compostela
This bakery has an astonishing selection of empeñadas, including lots of seafood fillings. A little touristy but tasty nonetheless.
Lestedo 1957 | Praza de Mazarelos, 8, Santiago de Compostela
We loved this place. Aside from the incredibly kind and enthusiastic lady behind the counter who explained to us the filling of every pastry in the store, everything we brought was delicious. Family-run, beautifully presented, outrageously affordable – I wish we’d found it on our first day.
Try the little dough balls (they’re a tiny €0,40) that each contain a mini chorizo. Need I say more?
Time for tapas: Where to find the best tapas in Santiago de Compostela
On to the best meal of the day.
There’s a real mixture of places in Santiago serving up a Menu do dia (a set menu, or in some cases an a la carte menu) featuring starters, mains and desserts as well as those that stick to traditional tapas. Most places with a three course menu are concentrated around Rua do Franco and aimed at hungry pilgrims with an understandably huge appetite.
Most other eateries offered a combination of tapas and raciones (a large plate that can still be mixed and matched like a tapas). This is our favourite food to eat in Spain, as well as our favourite way to eat – nibbling at delicious but modest mouthfuls whilst hopping from one charming bar to the next.
But be aware! One tapas isn’t quite like another. Nor are raciones. Portion size can vary enormously, usually depending on the bar and relative price or quality of the products. Then there’s free tapas, which I’m happy to report seems to be universal and incredibly generous in this pretty little city. To be honest, the only way to find out exactly what each bar offers is to give it a try and take a leap of faith (or take a sureptitious peek through the windows).
To help you negotiate the somewhat complicated but utterly brilliant world of tapas in Santiago, here are our favourite eateries. I’ve also included a key to give you an idea of the prices in each bar;
€ – Head here for delightfully generous complementary nibbles
€€ – Most tapas plates are €4 or less
€€€ – Expect to pay €10-12 for raciones or a larger plate
Early in the evening – a drink and a nibble
Come 6pm, every Spanish city comes alive with people strolling the streets, going about their business, and meeting friends and families for a drink. It’s not dinner time yet, but if you’ve been on your feet exploring all day there’s nothing nicer than finding a small table on a terrace and getting a nice cold drink.
Here’s where to head;
Cana Hueca | Praza da Universidade, 9, Santiago de Compostela | €
Cana Hueca isn’t the most outstanding bar in this city, but it’s a perfectly nice and quintessentially Spanish spot with small tables haphazardly crowded in the square outside. €3,60 will get you two canas (small beers – the local Estrella Galicia) and complementary bowl of crisps and of olives.
Pepe Paya | Rua do Cardeal Payá, 8 Baixo, Santiago de Compostela | €
For something completely different, try Pepe Paya.
There’s three reasons we loved it so much (and returned!). Firstly, it’s unusually contemporary, more swanky wine bar than traditional cerveceria which made it feel distinctly different to other places in town. Secondly, they’ve got a fantastic local wine menu that’s really affordably (a glass costs between €2,30 and €2,80). With all the wines chalked up on a board above the bar, it’s a great place to try something new and exciting. Lastly, the free tapas is extremely generous. For a small round of drinks we recieved bowls of olives and crisps as well as a petite platter of charcuterie sandwiches and cheese.
More traditional tapas
Sun sinking low, starting to feel a little hungry? It’s time to move on to some traditional small tapas plates.
Abastos 2.0 | Praza de Abastos, Rúa das Ameas, 13 -18, Santiago de Compostela | €€€
If you want to try the freshest of the fresh, you won’t find better than this suprisingly chic little bar. When the market closes, Abastos 2.0 starts cooking fresh seafood and shellfish to order just outside. We only stopped by for a drink, but the food and chefs working in the open kitchen looked incredible. With a new menu everyday, it only sells the very best of what is on the market – until it’s gone.
Con Culler | Rúa do Franco, 55, Santiago de Compostela | €€
This place is an absolute gem, hidden in plain sight amongst touristy neighbours on one of the busiest streets in the old town. Blink and you’ll miss the almost hidden doorway and entrance
It’s traditional tapas with a modern twist – and just the loveliest staff and interior. Soft, warm tortilla cooked to order, croquetas with chorizo and local honey, tostadas topped with melty tetilla cheese and shredded slow-cooked pork. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Bigger bites for later eats
I could eat tapas until the end of time, but we did stumble across a couple of options for delightfully big plates.
Cafe Bar La Flor | Rúa das Casas Reais, 25, Santiago de Compostela | €€€
Slightly off the beaten path to the north of the old town, this quirky cafe with a vintage feel serves up everything from brunch to big plates and cocktails. Their menu is a fun combination of traditional Spanish dishes and Tex Mex (trust me on this) classics with fresh, local ingredients. It’s got a younger, less touristy feel than most of the other bars in town and offers raciones size plates as well as smaller dishes to mix and match.
I tucked into one of my favourites, fried potatoes with egg and jamon. Ben always points out it’s really just ham, egg and chips like at home but I don’t care. It tastes magical here, Spanish comfort food at it’s best.
Pepa A Loba | Rúa do Castro, 7, Santiago de Compostela | €€
Bear with me. One thing I find endlessly fascinating in Spain, is how bars and cafes open at seemingly random (but entirely intentional) times of day. It makes you feel like even the smallest city never really sleeps.
Pepa A Loba is one of those bars. Durning the day you could walk right past and not notice it at all. Come nine thirty though, there’s a warm glow and soft voices inside. Sit down and you’ll be treated to extensive tapas with your drinks and enormous raciones. It’s a smart, cosy and inexpensive bar – and one I would happily have returned to.
So that’s your lot.
And I make no apologies if I’ve made you hungry. Santiago de Compostela is just that kind of place.
It’s a charming, friendly and surprisingly lively city that just happens to be home to some incredible food.
Santiago may be small, but come with a big appetite.
Don’t forget, there’s more about the city of Santiago de Compostela in my city guide.
P.S. Interested in finding out more about Spanish food? I’ve got a whole post dedicated to the best places to eat in Madrid (if you’re heading that way).