La Latina neighborhood, stretching from Plaza de la Cebada along Calle Toledo and to Ronda de Segovia, has become synonymous to the tapas culture of Madrid, and the streets of Cava Alta and Cava Baja flaunt some of the best tapas joints in the city.
But the significance of this barrio does not end up there: present-day La Latina occupies the area where the Islamic walled citadel once stood; and the neighborhood has managed to maintain its medieval attire. Even the locals sometimes get lost within the maze of narrow cobblestone streets, and although La Latina was almost entirely rebuilt during the 19th century, there is no shortage for historic monuments in the area. Among them are Neo-Classic Basilica of San Francisco el Grande; so-called posadas – ancient taverns which would shelter travelers and merchants in the Middle Ages, but today function only as restaurants with traditional food; San Isidro Museum at Plaza San Andrés depicts the history of the city and steps away stands Church of San Andrés – a baroque masterpiece, and a dedication to the patron saint of Madrid, San Isidro Labrador, who lived nearby with his wife.
And while it is almost impossible to designate a single bar as the best of La Latina, there are certainly some which should not be missed: Casa Lucas (Cava Baja, 30) re-invented traditional tapas – creamy mushroom rice pairs excellently with delightfully fatty foie and black from squid ink cannelloni are stuffed with the perfect combination of seafood and curried vegetables. Casa Lucio (Cava Baja, 35) was founded in 1974 and ever since it has become the number one institution to taste one of the most classic tapas – huevos estrellados – fried eggs served and torn over a bed of rustic potato fries. La Paloma (Calle Toledo, 85) counts with more than 60 years of experience, and specializes in fresh seafood; their emblematic tapa – boquerones en vinagre (pickled anchovies) – has gained fame as one of the best interpretations of this hugely popular in Madrid appetizer. Juana La Loca (Plaza de Puerta de Moros, 4) boasts of highly elaborate plates, with a certain love for truffle and boletus, but their most famous dish is still classic Spanish tortilla – only here the flavor is enhanced with the addition of sweet caramelized onions.
And though the food might be the main reason the crowds head to La Latina, there is definitely much more to see and experience in this charming barrio. Here slightly crumbled facades of ancient buildings overcast shadows on quaint little squares and the jolly roar from numerous bars drowns in the bells ringing from medieval churches.