Guide To Navigating A Madrid Restaurant In Spanish

Madrid has a great selection of restaurants for all palates and all budgets – but how do you go about navigating your way once you have arrived, understanding the menu and ordering once you sit down.

If you’ve chosen a swanky bistro that is regularly flooded with devoted patrons, you may need to make a reservation ahead of time. Call them up on the phone and be sure to greet with a friendly salutation. Next, tell them “I would like to make a reservation for # people.” “Quisiera hacer una reserva para # persona(s).” They will then ask you, “Under whose name?” “¿Bajo el nombre de quién?”

If you’re like me and, uh, typically fail to plan well in advance, you can slip into a full restaurant by requesting a seat at the bar:

May I sit at the bar? – ¿Podría sentarme en el bar? (poh-dree-ah sen-tar-may en el bar)

Special dietary preferences are often viewed with a suspicious eye in Latin America. You really need to specify with your server what it is that you cannot eat. Clearly state:

I am vegetarian – Soy vegetariano, vegetariana (soy veh-heh-tah-ree-ah-noh, veh-heh-tah-ree-ah-nah)

I am allergic to X- Tengo alérgia a X (tehn-goh ah-lehr-hee-ah ah)

I don’t eat X – No como X. (no koh-moh)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Ecuadorian restaurants serve meat-laden soups to disappointed vegetarian friends. So, my advice to you is to always double-check that your order doesn’t contain something you don’t want to eat.

Navigating the restaurant

Restaurant – restaurante (rehs-taur-rahn-teh)

To order – pedir (peh-deer)

I would like – quisiera (kee-see-eh-rah)

The menu – el menú (ehl meh-noo)

Waiter, waitress – camarero (cah-mah-reh-roh), camarera (cah-mah-reh-rah)

Waiter, waitress (Latin America only) – mesero (meh-ser-oh), mesera (meh-ser-ah)

Table – mesa (meh-sah)

Plate – plato (plah-toh)

Fork – tenedor (teh-neh-door)

Spoon – cuchara (coo-chah-rah)

Knife – cuchillo (coo-chee-yoh)

Napkin – servilleta (sehr-vee-yeh-tah)

Bill – cuenta (kwehn-tah)

Bring me the check, please – Tráigame la cuenta, por favor (trai-gah meh lah kwehn-tah, poor fah-vohr)

The paper-signing hand gesture translates smoothly enough. Many Madrid restaurants still do not  accept credit cards, tarjetas de crédito (tahr-heh-tahs deh creh-dee-toh), so it’s best to carry some cash, efectivo (eh-fek-tee-voh)  and check before ordering!


Understanding regional food traditions

While traveling, always ask the locals:

What is the typical food of this region? – ¿Cuál es la comida típica de esta región? (kwahl ehs lah koh-mee-dah tee-pee-kah deh ehs-tah reh-hee-ohn)

What do you recommend? – ¿Qué me recomienda? (keh meh reh-koh-mee-ehn-dah) Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter what he or she recommends.

Drinks – Bebidas (beh-bee-dahs)

When seated at a restaurant, the first thing a waiter will ask is what you’d like to drink. Know your refreshment vocabulary so you can get straight to reading the menu!

White wine – vino blanco (vee-noh blahn-koh)

Red wine – vino tinto (vee-noh teen-toh)

Coffee – café (cah-feh)

Iced tea – té helado (teh eh-lah-doh)

Soda – cola (koh-lah)

Lemonade – limonada (lee-moh-nah-dah)

Juice – zumo (zoo-moh)

Smoothie or milkshake – batido (bah-tee-doh)

Common flavors of juice or smoothie you might like to order are:

Melon – melón (meh-LOHn)

Watermelon – sandía (sahn-dee-ah)

Orange – naranja (nah-rahn-hah)

Strawberry – fresa (freh-sah)

Grape – uva (oo-vah)

Breakfast – Desayuno (deh-sah-yoo-noh)

Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day. Learn how to order breakfast so you can fuel your adventure-filled day abroad!

Bread – pan (pahn)

Jam – mermelada (mehr-meh-lah-dah)

Scrambled eggs – huevo revuelto (way-voh reh-vwehl-toh)

Omelet – tortilla (tohr-tee-yah)

Bacon – tocino (toh-see-noh)

Oatmeal – avena (ah-veh-nah) Don’t be alarmed if you get something unexpected. In Latin America, oatmeal is most commonly served as a cool, sweet beverage as opposed to the sticky glop you know and love. It’s delicious!

Lunch – Almuerzo (ahl-mwer-zoh)

In Latin America it is very common to find yourself in a restaurant that has no menu. For lunch, local restaurant-goers will simply strut in, seat themselves, and request “one lunch, please” – un almuerzo, por favor (oon ahl-mwer-zoh, poor fah-vohr). Give it a try!

An almuerzo is a great representation of common home cooking, and is usually the best bargain. They serve something different daily, so you are welcome to ask:

What’s for lunch today? – ¿Qué tiene el almuerzo de hoy? (keh tee-eh-neh ehl ahl-mwer-zoh de oy)

What’s today’s menu?  ¿Cuál es el menú de hoy? (kwahl ehs ehl meh-noo deh oy)    

Does this come with X? – ¿Viene con X? (bee-eh-neh kohn X)

Almuerzo generally includes:

Soup – sopa (soh-pah)

Entrée – plato fuerte (plah-toh fwer-teh). This is usually a large plate heaping with a huge portion of rice and beans alongside small portions of meat and salad.

Dessert – postre (poh-streh)


Dinner – Merienda (meh-ree-ehn-dah)/Cena (ceh-nah)

There are two commonly used words for dinner: merienda and cenaIn most parts of Latin America, merienda refers to an average evening meal and cena is reserved for special occasions – like a big Christmas Eve turkey dinner. In Spain, merienda is a small meal meant to tide you over between el almuerzo and la cena. In both contexts, merienda is a light, simple meal – often bread and cheese, a hot chocolate, or another modest snack. Don’t worry though, after an authentic almuerzo there is a good chance you won’t even be hungry by the evening!

Here’s some important menu lingo that will get you through ordering any meal:

Seafood – Mariscos (mah-rees-kohs)

Seafood, shellfish – mariscos (mah-rees-kohs)

Shrimp – camarones (kah-mah-rohn-es)

Crab – cangrejo (kahn-greh-hoh)

Lobster – langosta (lahn-gohs-tah)

Fish – pescado (pehs-kah-doh)

Squid – calamares (pool-poh)

Tuna – atún (ah-toon)

Meats – Carne (car-nay)

Sausage – chorizo (choh-ree-zoh)

Ham – jamón (hah-mohn)

Pork tenderloin – lomo de cerdo (loh-moh deh ser-doe)

Steak – bistec (bees-tehk)

Turkey – pavo (pah-voh)

Quail – codorniz (coh-dohr-neez)

Fruits and Vegetables – Frutas y verduras (froo-tahs ee ver-doo-rahs)

Asparagus – espárragos (ehs-pah-rah-gohs)

Avocado – aguacate (ah-wah-kah-teh)

Chard – acelga (ah-sehl-gah)

Eggplant – berenjena (beh-rehn-hay-nah)

Pumpkin – calabaza (cah-lah-bah-zah)

Spinach – espinaca (eh-spee-nah-kah)

Food preparation

Fillet – filete (fee-leh-teh)

Grilled – a la plancha

Roasted – asado (ah-sah-doh)

In garlic sauce – al ajillo (ahl ah-hee-yoh)

Breaded – apanado (ah-pah-nah-doh) or empanado or empanizado *very regional word

Barbecued – a la parrilla (ah lah pah-ree-yah)

Dessert – Postre (poh-stray)

Cake – torta (tor-tah) or Tarta (Spain) 

Fruit salad – ensalada de frutas (ehn-sah-lah-dah deh froo-tahs) 

Gelatin (Jell-O) – gelatina (heh-lah-tee-nah)




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