Five must-try traditional tapas in Logroño’s calle Laurel

Logroño’s calle Laurel is a required stop for both visitors and locals in search of tasty tapas and rioja. Nowadays, most of the bars have adapted their range of tapas to a more modern, elaborate style because of the influence of the bars in San Sebastian’s old town, but a few places here continue to offer tapas that have been popular for fifty years or more, using local raw materials or canned fish, prepared simply and cheaply. These bars are among the favorites of older natives of the region.

You should try them, too.

Calle Laurel wasn’t always a street full of bars and restaurants. In fact, it used to be one of Logroño’s red light districts. Local folklore says that the prostitutes used to hang a branch of bay leaves (‘laurel’ in Spanish) on their balcony to show prospective customers that they were free. The tradition of bars started when someone decided to open a bar where people could keep warm and have a drink while waiting for their favorite lady.

Our tour starts with

Hothouse mushrooms smothered in a garlic, olive oil and lemon sauce

Bar Soriano, Travesía de Laurel 2.  Closed Wednesdays and during the San Mateo wine harvest festival.


Bar Soriano is unquestionably the most popular bar in the old town. According to José María Barrero, who’s in charge of the griddle, they serve over 7000 mushroom tapas a week. They source their mushrooms in Pradejón in Rioja Baja. Their sauce is a closely guarded secret but my wife thinks that it’s made from olive oil, garlic and lemon juice that’s blended into a thin sauce. It sounds easy to make, but several local competitors can’t come close to matching it.

The mushrooms are cooked in a little olive oil with salt on a very hot griddle. Just before they’re done, some sauce is sprinkled on top of the mushrooms. They are speared three at a time with a toothpick topped with a small piece of shrimp and put on a slice of bread.


José María Barrero hard at work


Bar Sierra La Hez, Travesía de Laurel, 1.


What does this tapa, made with olives, hot green peppers and a salted anchovy have to do with Rita Hayworth? According to the Basque Gastronomic Academy website, this tapa was invented in 1946 in the Bar Vallés in San Sebastian, whose owner called it a ‘gilda’ because, like Rita Hayworth it was “salada”, verde y un poco picante”, literally, “salty, green and a little spicy” which aptly describes its appearance and taste but with a second meaning: “lively, uses salty language and a little provocative”.

In any case, it’s delicious. Sierra La Hez is also a great place to listen to Spanish music from the 70s and 80s and if you speak Spanish, owner Miguel Ruiz is a walking encyclopedia of this genre.

Patatas Bravas (Cooked potatoes with a spicy red and white sauce)

La Taberna del Laurel, calle Laurel 7.


This is the perfect first stop when embarking on an evening in calle Laurel because the potatoes act as a barrier against the absorption of wine, beer or whatever you’re drinking. It’s always packed but you can hear the guy behind the bar yell “¡Una de bravas!” (An order of bravas) from the street outside.

Classic recipes for patatas bravas use only the spicy red sauce but the Taberna del Laurel, red sauce and a mayonnaise-like sauce to the red sauce.

You can find the recipe at the end of this post.

Bocadillo (small sandwich) with a half sardine in olive oil and a spicy green pepper

El Soldado de Tudelilla, calle San Agustín 33.


It’s easy to make. Manolo, the owner of the bar, takes a piece of bread, slices it in half lengthwise, opens a can of sardines in olive oil and a can of spicy green peppers in olive oil, puts half a sardine and a pepper on the bread, and wraps it in a paper napkin. It tastes delicious with a glass of young red rioja.

If you want to know what bars were like 50 years ago, this is the place.  It features a zinc bar and a huge sink where tomatoes float and bottles of wine are chilling.  The wall behind the bar is covered with old bottles of rioja, some of whose labels are collectors’ items.

Sliced cod and red pepper in olive oil

Bar Achuri, Calle Laurel, 11.


If you’re looking for traditional tapas, look no further, so forget about being squeamish and dive in. Among the delicacies on offer here in addition to cod are embuchados (fried sheeps’ intestines), fried pigs’ ears and roast cloves of garlic in rioja wine vinegar. YUM! No kidding!

These bars are also places where customers can enjoy words of wisdom as they eat and drink.  Here are some examples.


La Taberna del Laurel: “It’s a beautiful day.  You’ll see how someone will come along to f@#k it up.”


img_5411Sierra La Hez: “I like to cook with wine.  Sometimes I even add it to the food.”

(Notice the tins of anchovies and sardines in olive oil behind the sign.)


My favorite: Taberna del Laurel:  “Don’t steal.  The government hates the competition.”

Recipe for patatas bravas:

According to the directoalpaladar website, the red sauce isn’t tomato-based but rather a roux (slowly fried onions, sweet and spicy paprika and flour), to which you add chicken stock until creamy, then mix in a blender.

This website recommends:

  • three medium potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces, three tablespoons of sauce (see below), extra virgin olive oil, salt and a little parsley for decoration.
  • To make the sauce: ½ onion, ½ tablespoon of sweet paprika, one tablespoon of spicy paprika, two tablespoons of flour and ½ liter of chicken stock.

Chop the onion and slowly fry in a little olive oil. Before the onion browns, add the sweet and spicy paprika, mixing them with a wooden spoon.

Add the flour, fry it for a minute it or two and when the mixture starts to blend with the olive oil making a roux, add the chicken stock little by little to make a creamy sauce. Simmer for ten minutes so that the paprika and flour are cooked through, mix it in a blender and then strain.

If you’re in a hurry or not an especially accomplished chef (making a good roux takes time), I suppose you could make a thick tomato sauce and add Tabasco, but that’s cheating!

To cook the potatoes, there’s more than one option, like most things Spanish. Some recipes recommend just frying the pieces of potato while others suggest first boiling them for two minutes and then deep frying them.



La cuadrilla

Everyone knows that one of the signs of alcoholism is drinking alone.  It’s true that Rioja has its share of alcoholics (with the cost of young Rioja at 85 U.S. cents a glass, I’m surprised that there aren’t more!)  However, drinking is a group activity in Rioja, based on ‘la cuadrilla’.

‘Cuadrilla’ can best be translated as ‘crew’, but not in the nautical sense.  A bullfighter has a ‘cuadrilla’ (the picador, the banderilleros, and the mozo de espadas), a construction company has  ‘cuadrillas’ of bricklayers, painters, plasterers, formwork specialists etc.  In addition, ‘cuadrilla’  means the group of friends that you hang out with.

Here in Rioja you can see cuadrillas going from bar to bar before lunch and dinner having a small glass of wine or beer and sometimes a tapa. Each round is paid by a different member or the money is collected at the beginning and the rounds continue until the money is gone.

Unless it’s a special occasion when everyone goes to the old part of town to the highest concentration of bars, cuadrillas drink in their own neighborhood.  Since there are several bars on every street in Logroño, and most other cities in Spain, you can have a few glasses of wine without going too far from home.

A variation on the theme of the cuadrilla is having a few glasses of wine with your spouse after work.  We do this at least three times a week, visiting several bars near the house.  It’s a great way to get a little fresh air, some exercise, see your friends and chat with the bartenders, whom we know very well, to hear the latest jokes.  You enver get drunk because the glasses are small. Spaniards are gregarious people and the streets are full between 7:30 and 10 PM every night, so it’s easy to run into friends from the neighborhood.

One of our favorite bars is El Tirador (The Shooter).  Like other bar owners in Rioja, Pedro Ruiz, his wife Toñi and their children moved to Logroño in the early 1970s.  Pedro is from San Asesnsio, one of the most important wine villages in Rioja, and the bar serves wine from the family’s small winery.  The bar takes its name from the fact that Pedro was a rifleman in the Spanish army.

El Tirador serves  a wide range of tapas: a hothouse mushroom, a piece of pig’s ear, sausage and my favorites:the VIP –  two boiled quail eggs, a pickled anchovy and chopped onion; and  the huevo frito – a fried quail egg with a piece of sausage on a piece of bread.

Bar El Tirador, Somosierra 22, Logroño.  Tel.  941 24 40 39.

The Man from Soria (El Soriano)

IMG_1380_editMost people don’t know that Spain, after Switzerland, is the most mountainous country in Europe. This has had a profound effect on demographics, as people in the north have moved from an economy based on agriculture and tending livestock in the hill country to a service economy in cities and towns.

This is what the Barrero family decided in the early 1970s.  Born and raised in a small village in the mountains of the province of Soria, near the border with La Rioja, the family moved to Logroño to make a living and soon opened a bar on the Travesía de Laurel which they named ‘El Soriano’ (the man from Soria).  It’s easy to find it because of the scores of people waiting to go inside to order a hothouse mushroom tapa, the bar’s specialty.

El Soriano is unquestionably Logroño’s most famous tapas bar, written up in newspapers and food magazines in the USA, Germany, the UK, Sweden and other countries.  Every journalist that I took through the old town for 15 years has sampled the mushrooms, taken pictures and  inquired about the recipe for the sauce, a secret that brothers José María, Ángel, Santiago and sister Marisol guard more closely than the gold in Fort Knox. 

Several other bars attempt to make a mushroom tapa like the one in El Soriano but so far, none can even come close to imitating it.  My wife and I think that the main ingredients are olive oil, garlic and lemon, but we haven’t got it right yet and the owners of the bar aren’t telling!

My recommendation:  don’t be intimidated by the number of people waiting outside.  Go inside to the far end of the bar where you will see chef José María cook the mushrooms on a hot griddle, spear them three by three with a toothpick,add a small shrimp, coat them with the secret sauce and serve them with a slice of bread. Eating this delicacy has its own secret, too:  make sure you lean forward so you don’t spill the sauce on your clothes! Just ask for “un champi y un crianza”.

The owners tell me that they serve 7,000 tapas a week, or over 330,000 a year,  more than two tapas for each resident of La Rioja!

Bar Soriano, Travesía de Laurel 2   Logroño  Tel. 941 22 88 07.  Closed Wednesdays.

Tapas Fantásticas – join Rioja for a tapas crawl in the UK!

If you ask  Riojans what their favorite leisure activity is, chances are they’ll say “going for a stroll and having some tapas”.  I wholeheartedly agree.  A tapas crawl is exercise, a meal, enjoying several glasses of wine and the chance to meet friends all rolled into one.  The only downside is that Spain is the only country, as far as I know, where you can do it .  Well, unless you’re in London on June 27 and 28, or in Manchester on July 25 and 26, because the Rioja Regulatory Council is organizing two tapas crawls in the UK!

Following the success of ‘Tapas Fantásticas’ in London in 2008, Rioja is once again taking wineries and tapas bars to the UK to show consumers how much fun a tapas crawl is, and at the same time offer Rioja seminars by UK RiojaTapas Fantásticas_edit ambassadors Olly Smith and Susy Atkins.

A number of Rioja wineries have partnered with their UK distributors to pour, and London’s and Manchester’s best tapas bars will serve tapas and Rioja by the glass.  An added attraction will be the participation of  three northern Spanish tapas bars at the London event.

Tapas Fantásticas London will take place in the Brick Lane Yard, while in Manchester, the venue will be Albert Square.

For 2 pounds, visitors will be given a tasting glass and six tokens to sample wines.  Tapas and Rioja by the glass will be available for purchase.

If you haven’t ever been on a tapas crawl in Rioja, this is your chance to try the next best thing and as an added attraction, learn about Rioja from two of the UK’s most knowledgeable experts.  ¡Salud!

For further information, visit the Rioja UK website on