Leon, a delicacy fit for kings. Gastronomic Capital of Spain 2018.
With the slogan 'León, manjar de Reyes', the city more famous for its fabulous Gothic Cathedral, the Basilica of San Isidoro and the Monastery of San Marcos, was declared Gastronomic Capital of Spain at the end of last year, beating Cuenca.
In reality this is no surprise to a Spaniard. The city is after all celebrated for its charcuterie of chorizo, cecina or the morcilla blood sausage. It has three DOs in the province and nine IGPs (a lower classification for protecting denomination of origin), and the fertile Vega producing quality fruit and vegetables all on display at the Wednesday and Saturday produce markets on the Plaza Mayor. The Conde Luna covered market is open from Monday to Saturday and another open market takes place on the Plaza Colón on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The locals authorities have arranged a series of 160 events throughout the year. https://capitalespanoladelagastronomia.es (in Spanish). But Leon's true gastronomic delights lay in its Tapas Bars in the rival barrios of 'El Húmedo' and 'El Rómantico' (the 'damp' and the 'romantic').
The San Isidoro Basilica is your starting point for the Romantic Quarter. Containing the Chalice of Doña Urraca (a contender for the title of Holy Grail) and the Pantheon of the Kings of Leon, known as the Sistine Chapel of the Romanesque, the museum is open daily with guided tours in Spanish. Two minutes from the Basilica you find yourself in the Plaza Torres de Omaña and the feast begins on the terrace of the youthful El Patio, traditional Pajarín with its rich caldo broth, or the busy El Nido. Next come the gastrobar Vermuteria Cervantes (Cervantes 10) with inventive tapas and dozens of brands of vermouth, and Camarote Madrid (Cervantes 8) specialising in paella, salmorejo and crispy shrimp tortitas.
Crossing the Calle Ancha you are on the edge of the Barrio Húmedo. A stop in Jamón Jamón (Cardiles 1) for the cold meats and then El Flechazo (Cardiles 2) which has only one dish (paprika potatoes), before heading for the Plaza San Martín the most famous spot for Leon´s number one tapa of blood sausage at La Bicha, a selection of croquettes in Rebote, or some traditional fare in Los Cazurros.
Without doubt your gastronomic choices are not restricted to tapas. There are a plethora of shops selling chorizo, cecina, morcilla and cheeses. On almost every city centre street corner is a pastry shop selling hojaldres, canelas, tartas or mantecadas. Nor, of course, is there a shortage of restaurants for every pocket. In the Barrio Húmedo the attractive restaurant El Mercado (Varillas 3) serves a delicious modern three course lunchtime menu for €13.50 including a glass of wine. Back in the Barrio Rómantico you will find a fantastic three course traditional menu in a historic setting for €18 weekdays or €20 weekends at the restaurant of the Hotel Real Colegiata de San Isidoro (Plaza San Martino 5).
Further afield the city has its fair share of avant guard restaurants, including one with a Michelin star: Cocinandos (cocinandos.com). Inside the Hotel Alfonso V is the laboratory restaurant LAV (restaurantelav.com). The list of restaurants proposing 'nueva cocina' in Leon grows every day. Becook Urbanfood (restaurantebecook.es), Delirios (restaurantedelirios.com), El Buche (elbuche.com) and Pablo (restaurantepablo.es) are just some of the offerings.
Now is the time to visit Leon and the city has a broad selection of hotels to fit every budget. Unfortunately the Parador of San Marcos, Leon's most emblematic hotel, is closed for renovations. Check paradores.es for details of reopening.