Vancouver has always boasted an incredible range of ethnic cuisine from all over the world, including Mexican, Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese, Indian, Italian, French, Vietnamese, Greek, and so on. But one country remains rather underrepresented: Spain. Spanish cuisine is hard to find in Vancouver, and some restaurants that claim to be "Spanish" actually serve Mexican food, which is very different. Luckily, there are a few hidden gems in the city, and Cafe Barcelona, a new tapas bar, is one of them.
About the restaurant: Cafe Barcelona is a tiny restaurant nestled in the bustle of downtown Granville Street, sandwiched between pubs, hot dog outlets and fringe shopping. You'd easily walk by it if you didn't know what you were looking for. The interior is slightly dark, with rich wood tones on the panelling and chairs, and the walls are covered with lovely photographs of Barcelona and its unique Gaudi architechture. The restaurant owner is an extremely pleasant and friendly Spanish ex-pat from Valencia who treats each customer like they're the only ones in the restaurant; the service is excellent and very prompt.
The food: Cafe Barcelona specializes in tapas, making it the perfect choice for finger-food lovers and people who enjoy smaller, lighter meals. The menu is uniquely Spanish with plenty of authentic dishes such as gambas ajillo (prawns sauteed in garlic and parsley), patatas bravas (diced and fried potato with spicy tomato sauce and allioli mayo) and tortilla de patatas, aka Spanish omelette (a thick, almost cake-like omelette with diced potato and onion). People looking for something a bit more familiar will appreciate the delicious calamari, the ham croquettes, and the Barcelona salad (very similar to Russian salad, with cold tuna and fresh onion on tomato slices). Cafe Barcelona also offers a wide range of pintxos, individual-sized dishes usually served on a small slice of bread.
The different types of dishes offer a lot of variety for the tastebuds, from the crispy tang of the fresh onions in the salad to the warm, soothing taste of the Spanish omlette. The fried items in particular are excellent, with crispy exteriors and soft, tender insides. I especially like the calamari, which are giant and chewy without too much batter. The cold tapas and pintxos are also very appealing, with fresh ingredients and appealing textures. My favorite is txaca, a smooth mix of crab, red pepper and mayonnaise piled on top of the bread. The pepper give it an extra tang that sets off the refreshing cold taste of the crab.
Cafe Barcelona also offers a few desserts. The tarte de Santiago was a bit of a letdown (an almond tart without too much flavor and a slightly rough texture) but the homemade flan is really great.
My favourites: Calamares, patatas bravas, tortilla de patatas, txaca, crotquetas (jamon), flan, tapas daily special.
Cost: Tapas is a great way to eat on a budget, and Cafe Barcelona is no exception to the rule. The most expensive tapas is only $8-11, and though it may be a bit too small to make a meal by itself, sharing two or three with a group makes for a very filling and satisfying meal. If you want a reasonably priced way to sample several at once, try the daily special tapas plate at $10, which features three or four different tapas. The pintxos are even more reasonable, at about $2-3 each.
Website and menu: Here.
Location(s): Cafe Barcelona is located on Granville Street near Smithe. Link to Google Maps.
Summary: As a lover of all things Spanish, finding Cafe Barcelona was fantastic. It brings a little taste of Spain to downtown Vancouver. It's about time Spanish cuisine got some international attention, and what better time than now, when hungry fans from all over the world are here for the Olympics?