A friend: What are you going to do in Malaga this time?
And eat I did.
It was my third trip to Malaga, the Andalucian city that keeps surpassing my every expectation and having ticked off most of the sights, I was ready to work my way deeper into the city’s culinary scene. That may sound fun, but Malaga is a complicated city for food. First of all, there are so many choices. Add an excessive number of eateries churning out tourist crap, and you can easily find yourself wandering around for hours before settling on a place that disappoints course after course. And we’ve not even started on the reality that after a couple of days of tapas, you’re probably going to be craving something fresh or different.
I know this because it’s the dining roller-coaster I ride every time I visit the city. Which is why I’ve put together this guide.
What follows is my take on where to eat in Malaga. There is tapas, as you’d expect, but this list is more than that. It covers breakfasts, lunches and location-based bites (for when you come out of the Picasso museum ravenous enough to eat your arm). There are some healthy choices, too. As much as I love tapas, it’s a very rich cuisine and my body has a fill point where cheese, meat and deep-fried breaded treats just won’t do. For the record: yes, I’m deeply disappointed that my appetite frequently insists that I get my 5 day, and not all from wine.
Want to know what to do when you’re in Malaga? Here’s my list of the 30 Best Things to Do in Malaga.
I’ve gathered together over 25 suggestions based on my three visits to Malaga and given I’m considering a longer-term relocation to the city, I’m sure there will be more to add down the line. I’ve included a link to the restaurant where they have a website or Facebook page in English. I’ve also included a link to TripAdvisor in case you want to check out more than just my opinion.
In the vaguest form of order, here’s my guide.
Breakfast, lunch and coffee shops
I loved everything about Byoko from the setting (super central) to the service to the food. If you’re into açai bowls, you’ll find them here and they’re divine. Otherwise, tuck into the huge open sandwiches which can serve as breakfast, brunch or lunch.
Best for: Breakfast or brunch in the centre of Malaga. Good veggie and vegan options.
Well located for: Malaga centre.
I was surprised to find that this place is actually a small chain. Still, the cakes are divine, the coffee is good and strong and it’s one of the few places I found open early enough to grab a quick breakfast before heading to Hammam al Andalus for their first spa slot.
Best for: pretty cakes and strong coffee. For breakfast, try the pan con tomate.
Well located for: Hammam al Andalus.
Definitely not the prettiest view (think: side street with views of a pharmacy) but there’s a reason you’ll struggle to get a seat at Santa Canela. Located in the up-and-coming SoHo district of Malaga, a short hop from Ataranzas market, this cafe was so good that I ate there several times. The coffee was some of the best I’ve tasted on all my travels, you could build your own breakfast bowls (as healthy or unhealthy as you like), and the prices were about half of what I paid elsewhere. Lunches were good too.
Best for: healthy breakfast bowls, sandwiches, cakes and some of the best coffee you’ll find anywhere (try the Brazilian – coffee, not wax!).
Well located for: Ataranzas Market, SoHo area of Malaga including CAC (Contemporary Art Museum).
Tip: go out of peak time – the place is tiny and you’re likely to be disappointed if you want a seat.
It was one of those ‘craving a salad’ kind of days and I got lucky within a stone’s throw of the Picasso museum. You’ll quickly come to realised that most of the Malaga restaurants are geared towards tapas but Restaurante Tormes had a whole salad menu. And they were not token green salads either. Don’t let the website’s terrible (sorry, but it’s true) food pictures put you off. Bonus: a small but great terrace fronting a church and winding street. Great for a post-lunch coffee complete with people watching. Even better, I wasn’t hurried along and the staff were lovely.
Best for: excellent lunch spot with salads available in addition to seafood and tapas.
Well located for: The Picasso Museum.
Tapas in Malaga
I’d rather go to Casa Lola every night and work through their menu than try my hand at several other supposed best tapas restaurants in Malaga – and this from the girl who usually prefers to explore a range of restaurants. My suggestion is to eat here early on in your trip to Malaga. I suspect you’ll quickly realise that not much else compares, which will at least allow you the chance to go back to Casa Lola.
Best for: Hands down the best tapas in Malaga IMO.
Well located for: Malaga centre.
Tip: You can book a table through the website (link above).
If I can’t get into Casa Lola, then Gorki is my second favourite tapas place in Malaga. It was a bit harder to infiltrate – I was the only tourist in the place when I visited and I got the ‘tourists not welcome’ feel when I tried to take a seat. I was handed a Spanish menu and a scowl as a last-ditch effort to chase me off but when I persisted, I was rewarded with excellent food and wine.
Best for: high-quality tapas enjoyed by the locals.
Well located for: Malaga centre.
Tip: it’s one of those places where the availability of an English menu might depend on the mood of the waiter. You can read it online in advance here. The Gorki in Muelle Uno sees more tourist foot traffic so might be more amenable to tourists. Or maybe I just visited on a bad waiter day.
It’s always such a treat when you wander into a random restaurant and find not only good food and wine but a low-key flamenco performance underway. They also had some of the best albondigas (meatballs) I have eaten in Malaga. It’s worth noting that I visited during one of my winter trips and the terrace wasn’t set up so that probably gave it more of a local feel with more cheery waiters than you might encounter mid-summer.
Best for: tapas in a bar setting with flamenco.
Well located for: Malaga centre.
You’re just at the beginning of your research if you haven’t come across El Pimpi yet. It’s in every guidebook and on every list of the best restaurants in the city. But here’s the thing – I wasn’t that impressed with El Pimpi. Don’t get me wrong – the food was lovely and it is far better than most of the tapas restaurants in Malaga. It’s just not THE best, in my opinion; which is what most of the online reviews will have you believe. My suspicion? El Pimpi has been so highly reviewed they have become a bit overconfident in the process. It is, however, worth a try if you have more than a few meal times in Malaga. And the location and decor are special so go for that alone.
Best for: very good tapas in a perfect setting.
Well located for: The Roman Theatre, Alcazaba, Gibralfaro and Malaga Cathedral.
Muelle Uno, Malaga’s port area
Well located for: Muelle Uno and all of the restaurants below are close to Malaguetta beach, Malaga lighthouse, Pompidou Centre, boat trips from the port, and Mirador Princess (Ferris wheel).
To tapas or not to tapas at Muelle Uno…
There’s no denying that Muelle Uno, Malaga’s port area, is a beautiful spot for a romantic dinner but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice for tapas in Malaga. The majority of the restaurants lining the port are international in flavour – burgers, generic Mediterranean, Indian, Mexican, Italian etc. So, for me, the port is a better stop for long lunches, post-beach eats and occasions where you’re all tapas-ed out (yes, it will happen; no, it’s not a real word). Couple that with the fact that most of the fun of tapas is moving from bar to bar, Malaga centro (city centre) is a much better choice for tapas.
All that said – it is a beautiful spot for dinner and, joy of joys, one of my favourite tapas restaurants – Gorki – happens to have a sister restaurant at the port. Although I’ve only dined in the centro Gorki, I suspect the food will be as good. If you do want a one-restaurant tapas experience at the port, I’d recommend Gorki.
Hot sun, sea views, sand in the hair, sat in Spain – ordering a Greek salad seems like the obvious choice, right? Ok, maybe not but the light salads and grilled meat and seafood at Saloniki, coupled with the location, make this a wonderful lunch spot. Add a glass of cold white wine and you’re set for the perfect holiday lunch.
Best for: Greek food with sea views. A nice break from the heavier Spanish food options.
I was in two minds about recommending Amigos but I decided to include it because it offers some alternatives to tapas. There are two Amigos restaurants in Malaga. I ate in the one in the city centre rather than by the port and wouldn’t recommend it because there are much better food options nearby. But, if you’re looking for a change of scene and cuisine, it’s not a bad option by the port. Amigos has a strange dual menu comprising Indian and Mexican. Having travelled extensively through Mexico, I can’t bear what I call ‘Fexican’ (fake Mexican) so I tried the Indiana food and it was tasty. It was the hostile waiter, who didn’t take kindly to a solo diner taking up a whole 2-person table early evening, that bothered me. Eat at the port, don’t eat alone and hopefully you won’t have to handle him slamming down plates and huffing at your presence.
Best for: Indian or Mexican food.
Ok, Spain is no Italy when it comes to pizza, so keep that in mind but the pizzas were gigantic, the service friendly, the prices low, the view excellent, and the pizzas fresh from a pizza oven. I didn’t try the pasta but looking at other people’s orders (my favourite ‘waiting for my food’ activity), they looked like gelatinous mounds making me pleased I’d gone for pizza.
Best for: a quick bite after the beach; a lively lunch or dinner with friends when you don’t need high-quality Italian food; great for families too (there were colouring sheets and crayons that I wasn’t brave enough to play with even though I wanted to).
Beer – €1. Mini sandwich – €1. Snacks – €1. Salad – €1. You get the idea. 100 Montaditos is a Spanish institution serving up quick, cheap eats and beer, and its location just off the beach in Malaga makes it perfect for those in between meal munchies. Order at the counter and for a few euros you can fill your stomach/ top up your beer tank until your next meal.
Best for: quick, hyper cheap eats. If you’re in Malaga on a budget, you can have a whole night out here and you wouldn’t be eating terribly.
Quenching your thirst in Malaga – Belros, a candy shop at the port, on the way to the beach is one of the cheapest places to get water in Malaga. It’s only €1.50 for a 2-litre bottle. You’ll pay €1 for 500 ml almost everywhere else.
Most of the places I’ve mentioned above, at Muelle Uno, are non-tapas but there are other spots around the city. Here are a few alternatives.
I’ve only had good, authentic Mexican tacos in Europe twice and this was one of the locations (the other was in Madrid). I still find the price eye-watering compared to what I am used to paying in Mexico but that country got me hooked so badly, I’d probably hand over a month’s rent just to get a hit of al pastor without having to cross the Atlantic. Beware: this is traditional Mexican food, which is not to be confused with the Tex-Mex (Americanised Mexican food) that we most commonly get served in Europe. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best restaurants in the city, even if it’s not tapas.
Best for: excellent, authentic Mexican food. Try the tacos al pastor.
Well located for: The Museum of Glass and Crystal.
I kept meaning to visit La Fabrica but I ran out of time. However, it’s made it onto my list because it’s a microbrewery and gastro pub in the SoHo area of Malaga and it was always thriving when I walked past.
Best for: a beer and gastropub food in a city of wine and tapas. Beer tastings are available.
Well located for: The SoHo area of Malaga.
Las Papas del Museo
I accept that eating a baked potato as big as your head might not be on your Malaga food list in summer but in cooler weather, I’d highly recommend Las Papas as a tapas alternative in the city. There’s very little they won’t load into these soft, buttery spuds. Just don’t expect to be able to eat for half a day afterwards.
Best for: baked potatoes loaded with any food group you can imagine.
Well located for: Malaga centre.
Smooy and/or Llaollao – outside Italy, I’m a frozen yoghurt kind of girl (because I honestly don’t believe you can get good gelato outside the motherland). Although both of these frozen yoghurt spots are chains, it doesn’t make their offerings any less delicious. My favourite: topped with dulce de leche.
Kebabs on Calle Calderia – forgive my vagueness but I’m not sure this place even has a name. A small hole-in-the-wall kebab shop on Calle Calderia serves up a divine bundle of carved meat, salad and hot sauce for just a few euros. I’m drooling right now just thinking about it.
I first tasted poke in its native land, Hawaii, and I’m thrilled that this ultra-healthy dish is becoming more widely available. Don’t know what it is? Poke is raw fish like tuna and salmon marinated in flavours like ginger and soy, served on a bed of rice or with vegetables. Think of it as a big sushi bowl. Cooked fish and meat versions are also available as well as burgers.
Best for: fresh raw fish and excellent fresh fruit juices and smoothies.
Did you know? In Hawaiian, Ohana means family.
Well located for: Carmen Thyssen Museum, Hammam al Andalus.
Spain isn’t exactly known for its vegetarian cuisine so it’s always a delight to stumble across a dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurant. Particularly when I’m ready to give my digestive system (and nature) a rest from all the meat-eating I do. Down a winding backstreet, you do need to go looking for this place but it’s worth it. Wonderfully warm staff, a cool interior and some of the best prices you’ll get for a fixed-price veggie meal in Malaga – under €10 for 3 huge courses. Bonus: you don’t need to be completely healthy – wine, beer and desserts are available.
Best for: fixed-price vegetarian and vegan food in a meat-heavy city.
Fresh food sucks in the UK. But not in Spain. With avocados bigger than your hand, tomatoes you need a sword to carve and melons you won’t be able to carry, get to Ataranzas market when your body is crying out for something not containing oil.
Note: the market is closed after 2 p.m. and all-day Sunday.
Best for: feeding your body fresh fruit and vegetables. Also ideal if you’re staying in an apartment rental. Try Booking.com for rental apartments in Malaga.
Where I didn’t have great food
I try to steer clear of the name and shame approach to reviews, especially as one person’s worst meal could be another person’s best. However, finding out where to eat can be a minefield because there are so many options. I’ve included several places in this post where the food was good but the service wasn’t – because this post is about the food. So, I’ve specifically stuck to listing the small number of places where the food was a disappointment:
- Cafe Central Malaga (Plaza de la Constitucion) – once again, friendly staff but the cake I ordered could have broken the plaza paving stones it was so stale. Great coffee, though. Just swerve the cakes;
- Cafateria Dulces Dreams (next to Hammam Andalus) – due to its location, I suspected this cafe would have high prices and low quality and I was right. My fruit yoghurt and coffee breakfast cost nearly €10 and was just basic yoghurt with a spoon of brown apple and seeded grape. Bored waiter to boot.
How to find good tapas in Malaga
There are two ways to attack the tapas scene in Malaga. Wander the streets and go pot luck. Or do your research. The problem is, neither option guarantees you will get the city’s best tapas.
I know. It’s a cheat. But here’s the thing. Malaga is a major tourist destination and many of its hundreds of eateries just aren’t up to scratch. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve tried the potluck approach and ended up paying a pretty penny for a half-nibbled dish before embarking on a tapas crawl filled with bad to mediocre food.
You’d think the guidebooks would have a better shot at it but that’s not necessarily so. In peak season, it can be hard to get a seat in these over-popular places, making service slow and aggressive (get ready to catch your croquette as it’s flung across the table). And I walked past more than one of the ‘best tapas restaurants in Malaga’ this summer and smelt fetid, overused oil. If the smell of the place makes your stomach heave, do you really want to follow the guidebook blindly?
So, how do you find the best tapas in Malaga? I have a handful of tried and tested tapas bars below – some you’ll find in the guidebooks/regularly recommended online and some I’ve found by wandering endlessly through the streets following my nose. My other tips for finding good tapas in Malaga include:
- go early (around 6 pm) in peak season and do not relinquish your seat even in the pain of death;
- sit inside even if the sun is blazing and you want to enjoy it (in fact, sit inside, especially if the sun in blazing – the sun alters the flavour of your food);
- be prepared to infiltrate the local tapas restaurants. Some basic Spanish will definitely help. This pocket Spanish guide by Lonely Planet is small, cheap and can make the difference of a yes or no when you try to sit down;
- trust your nose – even if all the guidebooks or online posts (including this one) tell you the place is top-notch, trust what your nose is telling you. Good food should smell good;
- study the menu online in advance if you can – tapas ordering can be a challenge and you’re not going to win favour with a surly waiter if you take half an hour to order each dish;
- accept that life in Malaga is highly seasonal. My first two visits were in late winter and I had no trouble getting a seat, the waiters had a lot more patience, and the food was better. My third visit was in the height of summer and with the crowds, standards slipped across the board.
Another excellent option is to take a food tour. I’ve done this is several cities and although I have yet to try one in Malaga (next time), I’ve always had a fantastic experience. Try to do this at the start of your trip as most guides will point out their favourite local dining spots for you to try later. Here are some tapas tours that get excellent reviews:
Malaga Evening Wine & Tapas Tour – 8 foods and 5 wines across 4 stops – let an expert local whisk you around Malaga’s tapas scene.
Bike Tour of Malaga: Tapas & Wine – this tour is as much about biking the sights as the food. There are only 2 tapas bars but you do swing by Malaga’s oldest bodega.
Evening Pub and Club Crawl – in Malaga to check out the nightlife but not sure where to start? Join one of the city’s pub and club crawls. I’ve been on these in other cities and they’re always fun and remove the need to try and figure out Google Maps after a few drinks.
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Photo credit: potato