Vegetarian Restaurants in Madrid
By Kristen Kalenowicz
For a vegetarian in Madrid, the restaurant décor can be rather off-putting: legs of ham strung from the ceiling like holiday ornaments, heads of bulls mounted on the walls, glaring, as you sip a caña and nibble cautiously on your ración of patatas bravas.
While it would be silly to claim that vegetarianism is becoming popular in Madrid, there are quite a few restaurants and markets available and suitable for the vegetarian in all of us.
Atmosphere: cheerful, casual dining, windows and natural light sources contribute to welcoming feel.
Schedule: Open everyday; 13.30 – 16.00 & 20.00 – 0,00
Menu of the day available Monday – Friday, 13 euros
Address: c/ Bordadores, 3
Contact: Tel.: 915 480 811
When we reached this quirky restaurant, its presence made obvious by a vibrant façade complete with lime-green doors and orange trim, I feared my lunch companions and I would be turned away—not only had we arrived just fifteen minutes prior to closing, but every table was filled. To my relief (and my stomach’s), we were handed menus, assured our table would be ready shortly, and encouraged to place an order while we waited.
The plain, pale-yellow walls, light green accents, and potted plants in Yerba Buena fail to spark curiosity, or even interest, but the simplicity of the décor serves as a wonderful contrast to the colorful dishes, highlighting their complexity and unique presentation. It’s not the furnishings that capture your attention, it’s the food. Your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the artistic arrangement of ingredients on the plate before you.
Shortly after being seated, each of us was served a multi-grain roll and a chupito-sized cup of potato salad and puréed vegetables—a nice touch, and one that made Yerba Buena stand out right from the get-go.
The wait staff was attentive and helpful in offering details and suggestions about menu items. Try the spaghetti frescos (fresh spaghetti) for 7 euros. This spinach pasta, home-made and sprinkled with cheese, was delicious and thoroughly enjoyed by my hard-to-please non-vegetarian lunch guest. The emparedado de filete de soja, (soy steak sandwich), another winner, was less like a traditional sandwich and more like a moist cake layered with tofu and various cheeses. It packed a powerful blue cheese flavor. As an appetizer, the salmorejo fresco, a cold soup made of fresh puréed vegetables and soy sausages and finished with slices of hard-boiled egg and crisp tortilla chips, was very hearty.
The only problem I had at Yerba Buena was deciding what to order. The menu offers something for everyone, from a sandwich of Japanese tofu marinated in herbs to the classic American Caesar salad. The menu of the day changes often, depending on the types of fresh produce available, and vegan options are clearly marked.
Freshness and seasonality coupled with interesting flavor combinations makes Yerba Buena a restaurant a hit.
Atmosphere: Quiet, at least during the lunch hour, and cozy.
Schedule: 13:30-16:00 & 20:30-0,00
Address: Plaza de la Paja, 10,
Zona de los Austrias
Contact: Tel.: 91 365 89 82
The name of this cozy restaurant off a small square in La Latina, translates to tarragon, and much like the aromatic spice conjures feelings of home-cooking, so does the restaurant itself.
With its blue-and-white-checkered table cloths and rust-colored walls, El Estragón does not look like your typical vegetarian restaurant. This restaurant differs from others of its kind in that neither its exterior nor interior shows traces of the usual vegetarian indicators. You know the signs: leafy plants, earth-tones, chipper wait staff in green aprons. Nope, none of that. Here, you’ll find a quiet restaurant with an appealing menu that just so happens to lack meat.
The seating in El Estragón is divided into three levels, with approximately 8 to 10 tables per level. It’s a small space, with little room for elbows let alone a stroller or wheelchair, but the close corners added to the restaurant’s charm. Next to us, a young woman sat reading a novel over a bowl of soup, and a middle-aged couple chatted quietly.
I was unimpressed by the menu of the day, which although would have lightened my wallet by just 8 euros, did not stand out, and which was, I must add, a bit confusing. The menu of the day included either a first course (soup or salad) and a heartier second course (spaghetti, a vegetable omelet, or pasta shells with stewed vegetables) or a first course and a choice of one of three desserts. My lunch date decided on option number one, thus choosing to forgo dessert and opting for a second course instead (who wouldn’t want just a salad and chocolate custard for lunch?)
I, on the other hand, was excited to find that the regular menu matched my more fickle, or as I’d like to think, adventurous palette, and the Cuban rice (white rice with tomato sauce, plantains, and a fried egg on top) was quite satisfying. The portion was reasonably large, which made up for the difference in price, and I didn’t get many stares when I asked my waitress if I could have what was left of my meal “para llevar.” Well, not too many stares.
Putting all my doubts aside, the menu of the day proved to be a hit. The potato and leek soup, a broth-based delight with generous chunks of white potatoes, was well-seasoned and soothing on a cold autumn afternoon, and the spaghetti with its creamy tomato sauce and the perfect amount of freshly grated cheese was delicious.
Viva La Vida
Atmosphere: Hip, very casual
Schedule: Open everyday, 11 – 0,00
Address: c/ Costanilla de San Andres, 16, Plaza de la Paja
Smaller location at c/ Huertas, 57
Contact: Tel.: 913 663 349
Viva La Vida is one of a kind. A vibrant eat-in or take-away buffet where you fill a plate or box, weigh it, and then pay accordingly. Don’t be fooled by their flyers which advertise lower prices: dinner costs 2, 10 for every 100 grs, and dessert is slightly higher at 2, 50 per 100 grs.
Places that allow you to get-in and get-out quickly are rare in Madrid, and maybe that’s where Viva La Vida captures its audience. Or perhaps the funky rainbow colored murals, the bright pink walls, and the butterflies and ivy leaves distract its customers from what they really came in for—good food. If you’re looking for fresh, healthy dishes with the right balance of seasoning, consider going elsewhere.
The buffet consists of a large variety of dishes, from your typical Spanish tapa of croquettes (here, made with oats, mushrooms and cheese) to falafel, a middle-eastern dish of fried fava beans and chickpeas. Choose wisely here. You will learn quickly that vegetarian does not always mean healthy, as many of the foods tasted very salty and greasy, particularly the soy meatballs and hamburgers, and the buffet lacked an assortment of fresh vegetables. The salads—mainly concoctions of various dried fruits, nuts and oils, and legumes—had potential, but were loaded with so many different ingredients it was difficult to savor the various flavors. One thing they did get right was the vegetable lasagna which had a surprisingly nice sweet corn flavor.
For the dessert course, we headed downstairs with our paper plates in hand. Here we found a private dining room, which, believe it or not, would surpass the upstairs in its outrageousness–a funky garden enclosed in brick walls and doused in princess sparkles. Inside this magical dining room, you’ll find toucans, pink and orange decorative balls, and a large mirror opposite the entrance.
As far as the dessert, it seemed the chef had set out to prepare these with one feature in mind—dry. The chocolate chip cookies were nothing short of brittle, and the carrot cake lacked any sort of moisture.
Perhaps one of the most perplexing aspects of Viva La Vida, besides the glitter-covered brick walls, was the behavior of the restaurant’s employees. They did little more than lean on various surfaces chatting with one another throughout my visit, and it wasn’t until dessert that I was able to decipher the employees from the patrons. At one point, while I was deciding how to fill my biodegradable paper plate, an employee approached the buffet, plucked a meatball from under the heat-lamp, and popped the greasy morsel into her mouth.
The best thing about Viva La Vida is the organic market located in the front of the restaurant. Here you will find a small area where you can buy cereals, fruit and vegetables, oils, dairy products, and other organic items.
But if you are looking for a meal that’s fresh, healthy, and will make you feel good after you eat, look elsewhere.
Schedule: Monday – Friday 13.00-16.00 and 21.00-0,00
Saturday – Sunday 13.30-16:30 and 21- 0,00
Address: Paseo de La Florida, 53
Metro Principe Pio
Contact: Tel. 91 547 19 52
El Vergel, just west of Madrid’s center, is a chic vegetarian restaurant which also contains a fully-stocked ecological market upstairs.
For dinner, the atmosphere is one of tranquility brought on by dim lights, candles, and spring green chiffon curtains. Smooth music drifts from speakers overhead and wine bottles decorate the walls, adding a touch of elegance.
For dinner, El Vergel offers two menus. The first includes bread, a first and second course, of which three options are available for each, and dessert for 11,50. A “special” menu, available for 15 euros, offers different options for the first and second course, such as paella with mushrooms and fresh pasta au gratin. Drinks are not included, but there is an extensive list of wines.
For a first course, I ordered a salad of escarole, oranges, and avocado, and with my salad, was served ecological extra virgin olive oil, soy sauce, and salt. Second, came a spinach pie with organic escarole, and finally, the chocolate custard for dessert. The presentation was simple, as the focus on my plate seemed to be on the intricacies of the organic escarole and the perfect circles of orange, and the flavor of each ingredient stood out.
The chocolate custard was sweet and light, without being too rich. I finished feeling good about the foods I had eaten, and feeling satisfied, but not stuffed.
The staff was very polite and attentive, although the restaurant was practically empty during my visit.
One of the selling points at El Vergel is their commitment to ecological foods, which are not only served in their restaurant, but are also for sale in the market upstairs. In the production of ecological foods, fertilizers and other chemicals are not used. This practice proves to be more time consuming and explains why foods labeled ‘organic’ or ‘ecological’ are more expensive than their chemically-manipulated counterparts.
In El Vergel’s market, you can find herbs, natural cosmetics, new age library, ecological food, including fruits and vegetables.
But most exciting of all, El Vergel is the only place I have been able to find hummus (3,55). El Vergel also sells hard to find items such as peanut, cashew and almond butter—three products that can be difficult to track down outside the United States—and boasts the largest variety of veggie and soy burgers, tofu, and dairy products I have seen at one store in Madrid—and all at reasonable prices.
As an added bonus, El Vergel will deliver products directly to your home for no extra charge.
Back to main page, click here.