It is impossible to find a city in all of Spain where you would eat poorly, where the tapas aren’t worth trying, and where eating is torture. Seriously, think about it. It’s impossible. The fun thing about this is that every city has its own attraction and this is the moment to focus on that northern city where tapas never fail to disappoint: Leon.
To begin the journey with success one must learn the basics of ordering a drink the way the people of Leon do, so that there are no confusions and you are not-lost in translation. If this is the first time you set foot in the city it is useful to make a cheat sheet: a corto is a small beer, what usually is called a caña in the rest of Spain. A caña is what is known elsewhere as a doble (a pint). Local wine? Try out the D.O. Tierra de Leon (you can also find it called by the name of the base grape, Prieto Picudo) or Tierra del Bierzo. For the kids a ‘cortin’ of orange soda.
In the Húmedo neighborhood and the Romantic neighborhood there is no shortage of resources to find hours and hours’ worth of infinite tapas, but today we delineate the zone and we will stay in the most famous part of Leon to have tapas, el Húmedo. The first stop is at El Rebote (Plaza de San Martín). The norm in each bar is that you will be given various options to choose from, but here you have to order the croquetas. The flavor you can choose yourself, but you can pick from morcilla, bacon, pizza, or tuna. Across the way is one of the most famous spots that also carries a bit of controversy: the owner is rude and he doesn’t hide it with his clients. Even so, it is an almost necessary stop for any newbie. But what is so special about La Bicha? Their morcilla. Under a sign which reads: “If you have nothing to do, please don’t come to do it here,” the man prepares one of the morcillas that is most in demand in the city. It’s clear that during rush hour there will be a line, and it fills up so tight you can barely move. If you go, you will leave smelling like a fryer. On one side you’ll find Competencia, the bar where tapas are nowhere near Spanish tradition: pizza lovers, this is your spot. On Calle Platerias Cardiles 1 is Casa de los Botones and if you didn’t have luck in La Bicha, this is the moment to sink your fork into some morcilla from Leon…so smooth…my treasure… And don’t forget the potatoes! Several steps away is El Flechazo where the tapa of choice is always thin cut, crunchy French fries, and if your stomach lets you (if you have eaten morcilla it will let you do it for sure) with a little bit of spice on top. You’ll be hooked. But if potatoes are what you’re looking for, in Leon everyone has a favorite and although many claim to know what the best is, the only thing you have to follow is your palate and tastes. Because nothing is written in stone. Give yourself free reign on the potato route, starting with Las Torres (Calel del Burgo Nuevo, 58) and their fries with ali-oli, or at Casa Blas (Calle de Lucas de Tuy, 15), very similar to El Flechazo but with even more crunch. But if you are around Calle Ancha and you want to to shake off all of that ali-oli go running to El Mercado (Calle Varillas, 3). The heat can be overwhelming so enjoy some refreshing salmorejo with ham and boiled egg garnish at Camarote Madrid (Plaza de la Provincia, 3).
This isn’t everything there is nor is every… but it is enough to fill the stomach, enjoy a bit of Leon, and prepare you for what is coming tonight (mark down Belmondo—on Calle San Lorenzo, 1 ready or not).
Upon finishing the route, the most spectacular views of Leon are waiting from the height of niMU Azotea, situated in the attic of the mythical hotel Conde Luna (General Lafuente s/n), which offers a menu of small dishes including some authentic patatas bravas, ensaladilla rusa with little shrimps, potato chips with sardines and ali-oli, or a pizza taco with beans and beef.
To its credit, the hotel dares to modernize an old tavern but maintains faithful to regional products with a market kitchen in Casa Mando (General Lafuente s/n) where the typical dishes from Leon like cecina,spicy sausage, manitas in the Leonese style, and an exceptional stew, all make up part of the menu which changes each season. Also, in the American bar at the Conde Luna you also can have a steak with a Bloody Mary or a Dry Martini. Tell Manolin, the bartender, that you come on our recommendation.
And before going home don’t forget to have breakfast at the sweet shop of Leon on Calle Ancha or at the Petit Café on Calle Gran Via de San Marcos.