Most dining-in-Spain lists begin with the much-decorated Ferran Adrià’s legendary restaurant El Bulli (which is closing for good in July) and continue with an all-star lineup: In the Basque Country, for example, around the seaside city of San Sebastián alone, there are more than a dozen Michelin-starred restaurants, including Arzak, Akelarre, Restaurante Martín Berasategui and Mugaritz. In addition to El Bulli, the region of Catalonia has three three-star restaurants: El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mar and Sant Celoni’s Racó de Can Fabes.
These restaurants and their chefs are on the cutting edge of cocina de vanguardia, or avant-garde cuisine, an ingenious, Dalí-esque genre popularized by Adrià in the mid-1990s (it’s sometimes called “molecular gastronomy,” a term that chefs like Adrià reject). It’s since been perfected by a band of like-minded Spanish disciples, many of whom have morphed into global superstars. But scattered around Spain are many more excellent restaurants, helmed by highly talented chefs, that don’t get the attention of the international press. Most, like Quique Dacosta’s eponymous restaurant in the small Mediterranean city of Dénia, are little-known outside of Spain, insider spots in far-flung places, but well worth the detour for their remarkable food. Or if they’re in the big city, they’re run by up-and-comers like the brilliant young chef Jordi Cruz, whose cooking at Barcelona’s ABaC is not only inventive but also, perhaps more importantly, exceptionally delicious. A tour of Spain’s hidden gems shows that the country’s best undiscovered restaurants offer some of the most unique and rewarding gastronomic experiences out there, ranging from astonishingly original and creative meals to impeccably crafted traditional dishes that are no less memorable for their flawless simplicity.