Potatoes Getting All Dressed Up: Barcelona’s Patatas Bravas

Barcelona is a city known for it’s food.

Among the legendary plates that make visitors and locals drool are patatas bravas, a simple but delicious dish that makes the perfect partner for an ice-cold beer or a glass of agua con gas.

We’ve caught ourselves comparing bravas to french fries, as it is a palatable point of reference for our American clients. However, we’ll take a plate of these fried beauties over a plate of French fries any day of the week.

The Best Ever! How to Judge Your Bravas

You’ve been walking Barcelona for hours. You’re hungry…hungry as a dog, as we like to say in Barcelona. You find a dingy looking bar and you think, “Perfect!” You walk through the wooden door and into a poorly lit world of tired looking characters at the bar and the distinct smell of dust, wood and discovery.

The menu is a laminated piece of paper which has seen better days. No-nonsense font spells out tapas of various types. Aceitunas. Pulpo. Calamares a la romana. Pinchos morunos. Pescaditos fritos.

And there, amid the unassuming black-and-white print, are the two words you’ve heard so much about: patatas bravas. 

You order them along with a frosty little glass of beer called a caña. The bravas arrive within minutes, their chunky bits most likely drizzled in red sauce and crowned with a lump of off white alioli.

You’re ready to sink your teeth into this plate of deliciousness. But wait…how do you know you’re getting the real thing?!

A good example of the kind of bravas you don't want to eat in Barcelona.
Uniform in cut, ketchupy-looking sauce, gleaming with grease….stay away!

The Holy Trinity of Bravas: Crunch, Warmth, Ungreasy

A good chunk of patatas bravas potato will excel in the following three areas: crunchiness, inner warmth and ungreasiness.

If fried correctly, your bravas will have an element of crispiness. There should be a crispy outer shell to the bravas, one that exhibits a golden brown color. If you hear a subtle crunch on your first bite., you’ve know you’re off to a good start.

A good bravas will also be warm — almost hot — on the inside. Eating a cold or room-temperature plate of bravas is like shoving the carcass of a cowardly potato in your mouth…wilted, soulless and defeated.

Finally, a good plate of bravas will be grease free. If you’re bravas are saturated in oil, you’ve struck out. If their crispy, warm and dry, you’ve hit the jackpot!

Another tip is the eye test: Do the potatoes look small and precut/prepackaged, or are they bigger and cut unevenly?

The Pretty Little Things: Alioli and Spicy Sauce

The bravas  in patatas bravas is loosely translated ‘brave’ or ‘wild’. The coastline north of Barcelona is named Costa Brava  for its rugged and rough shores. What does this have to do with patatas bravas? Great question. Many people think patatas bravas will be spicy because they’re called ‘brave potatoes’. That isn’t the case.

A proper plate of bravas should come with a white, garlic-based sauce called alioli. In many ways its the American version of mayonnaise with a nice garlic kick.

But here’s the catch…if the white sauce tastes like garlicky mayonnaise, go somewhere else next time you’re in the mood for bravas.

Unfortunately, many bars and restaurants use store-bought alioli sauce for their bravas. Look for properties that serve their bravas with dollops of alioli. This is a good indication the sauce is made by hand.

The same goes for the ‘spicy’ sauce that comes with your bravas — many places buy their sauce from stores. Many, however, do not.

One of our favorite bravas places serves up a tasty pile of homemade romesco sauce that has just the right balance of flavor and spice. Here’s a tip — if your bravas’ red sauce tastes like ketchup, you’ve been had.

The more fresh a sauce tastes and the more rustic it looks, the better. Like alioli, if the red sauce doesn’t pass the eye test go elsewhere.

If you’re hunting for the best bravas in the city, these are guidelines to live by.

This plate of patatas bravas is a perfect example of great Barcelona bravas.
A sparkling example of a perfect plate of bravas: homemade alioli and romesco sauce; crunchy, hand-cut potatoes

Popular Bravas Joints in Barcelona

A topic you’ll frequently find in the Barcelona low-culture culinary scene is the distinction of the best bravas in Barcelona. We are going to refer to those lists to give you recommendations. We aren’t going to give up our favorite spots….they’re our best kept secrets and we want to keep them that way.
One of the most exciting parts of a bravas hunt is that every restaurant and bar serves their bravas a little differently.

Bar Tomas –

This bar often pops up on the Top-10 lists. It supposedly has the best bravas in the city. We don’t think they pass the eye test.  Price is the big plus at Bar Tomas — bravas are a modest 2.40€

Lolita Taperia –

This tasty joint is located in the Sant Antoni neighborhood near Plaza Espanya. Their bravas look much different than Tomas, but they’re equally as loved. They cost a bit more: 3.90€.

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