Almost everyone has heard about Valencia and Andalucía. However, the sunny south-eastern corner between these two regions, Murcia, is usually forgotten. People being oblivious to its natural beauty, its architectural interest, and historical marvels.
From crowded commercial beaches in La Manga and the secluded white-sand bays of Calblanque to the impressive gothic cathedral in Murcia and the stylish modernist buildings of la Calle Mayor in Cartagena; believe it or not, you will find it all in Murcia. And then, there is also the neo-Nasrid patio of the Casino in the capital and the ancient Roman amphitheatre of the port city.
That’s not all though. Do you prefer adventure sports, such as rafting or zip line? Are you more into diving and want to discover a Phoenician ship-wreck? Do you enjoy stumbling upon street-art in unexpected places, or you fancy small fashion boutiques with unique designs? Are you a Christian looking for a place of international pilgrimage, or Easter processions to never forget? Do you love exploring old castles and fortresses or better yet, abandoned mines? Are you interested in indie music festivals, jazz festivals, or folk events? Whether the answer to any one or all of the questions is a yes, Murcia has you covered.
However, I cannot help it, for I am an unapologetic gourmand and always look forward to unique and local eats when visiting a new place. And Murcia ticks all the boxes when it comes to indulging in an outstanding culinary experience.
When searching for places to eat in Murcia, let me tell you, this is not a comprehensive list of all the fantastic places you can visit, but a selection of seven recommendations that are my personal favourites.
I lived in Cartagena, the second largest city in the region of Murcia, for around fifteen years, followed by another four in the capital of Murcia, rather originally called “Murcia.” I will talk first about the most traditional joints and escalate towards the fancier places, making sure to accommodate every budget.
Each of these places brings with it a uniqueness that makes the food of Murcia stand out amongst the rest of Spain. So, whenever in the region, take your time and remember to cherish every meal. ¡Que aproveche!
Roses is not a restaurant, but a bakery. If you want to have something to eat for under a couple of euros, but still feel fully satisfied and energised, I recommend that you try the traditional pastel de carne, a savoury meat pie that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Also, this bakery is situated in one of the most beautiful streets in the area, going from the Cathedral of Murcia to the charming Plaza Santo Domingo.
Churrería Santa Florentina, Cartagena
A must-try breakfast food, ideal after a long night of partying, but also recommended for brunch is Churros con chocolate. It is quite the understated delicacy. We don’t add cinnamon to them or fill them with cream as they do in other parts of the world or funfairs. It’s just simple dough, soft inside and crispy outside, with optional sugar on top, dipped in very rich and thick hot chocolate.
Just writing about it makes me salivate. Churrería Santa Florentina serves the best version of this dish, so please don’t miss this spot! Also, it’s a great place to have a filling breakfast for about three euros.
Tasca el Palomo, Murcia
Stepping inside Tasca el Palomo is like going back in time. The décor here isn’t something to write home about, that’s for sure. Instead, what makes it popular and will more than likely result in tears of joy, are their traditional Murcian dishes:
– Zarangollo (scrambled zucchini and onion)
– Pisto murciano (zucchini, eggplant, red pepper and tomato casserole)
– Patatas al ajo cabañil (fried potatoes with vinegar and garlic)
– Marinera (tuna and boiled legumes salad with mayo presented on top of a ring-shaped breadstick and crowned with an anchovy)
And, of course, you cannot leave without relishing the most famous dessert from Murcia: paparajotes (lemon tree leaves fritter). These are not fancy, but what a grandma from the area cooks for her family since the beginning of time. Delicious, plant-based, working-class food designed to fill your belly and your soul. It’s “real” food, comfort food, so what’s there not to like?
Bodega Nicolás, Cartagena
Located, in one of the central pedestrian streets downtown, surrounded by modernist houses, Bodega Nicolás is a charming place in whose kitchen you would not be surprised to see a smiley grandma with a flowery apron. Although many years have passed since they first opened, the restaurant hasn’t lost its traditional vibe. The specialities of Bodega Nicolás consists of
– Pulpo a la pimienta (octopus with black pepper, Cartagena style)
– Caracoles (escargots in tomato sauce). Do try them at least once. I promise they are not gross at all once cooked.
– Michirones (the jewel of Cartagena’s gastronomy: a very satiating local bean stew with a variety of pork meat)
I am not sure if you will have any space for dessert after that, but maybe a coffee wouldn’t hurt, to avoid dozing off after such a wonderful meal! I urge you to ask for a café asiático, a coffee with condensed milk, brandy, Licor 43 (typical sweet egg liqueur from Cartagena), cinnamon and lemon. It’s absolutely delicious!
El Chalé, Cartagena
Now, how come we are by the sea and we’ve just eaten one anchovy so far? You’re right, that doesn’t make any sense. So, let’s fix that in this local staple.
At El Chalé, you have to, I insist, have to try the caldero – a fish-based rice dish. You could compare it to paella, maybe, but both people from Murcia and Valencia would stare at you as if you just murdered a cute little puppy.
After trying caldero, choose from whichever seafood or fish dish you fancy the most because they are all fresh and fantastic. Also, enjoy being by the sea, really close to one of Cartagena’s lighthouses, and with the view of the castles and fortresses that surround this natural Mediterranean harbour. You won’t regret a single minute of your time here.
José María Los Churrascos, el Algar
We are upping our game here. I mean, even the king of Spain has eaten several times in this place! But don’t feel intimidated, because José María Los Churrascos has several affordable options -just under ten euros- if you eat lunch at their bar.
The restaurant has been serving traditional plus upscale meals for over forty years now, and continue to crash it. You will find dozens of creative dishes inspired by the salted lagoon near-by: Mar Menor -typical regional ingredients with a twist of gastronomic genius.
Here I tried oysters for the first time, and many seafood lovers will agree with me that it is an experience that one doesn’t easily forget. But we must remember the name Churrascos, which in Spanish means more or less barbecue, for the meat at José María Los Churrascos is to live and die for. The restaurant also serves a tasting menu for under forty euros.
La Cabaña de la finca Buenavista, el Palmar
The last recommendation on our list is the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Murcia. More than a meal, it is a culinary experience. I cannot say much here, because the wow-factor plays an important role when eating at La Cabaña de la finca Buenavista. But I will mention that we ate for four hours, and each dish was a whole new experience as compared to the previous one. The service, undoubtedly, was impeccable.
You can read more about my impressions in a post dedicated to my Michelin Star experience that I recently wrote on A Fork on the Road.
I hope I have convinced you to take a detour and visit Murcia the next time you are in this region. If not, you’ll only be missing out on a chance to swim by the waterfalls of the Mula river, or by a strange sand formation in Bolnuevo.
Then there is the little fishermen village of la Algameca Chica, utterly charming, and a church carved in the mountains of Calasparra. Most importantly, you’ll quite simply miss out on the most succulent gastronomies of southern Europe. So, take my word for it, and just go to Murcia.
About the Author: Iris is a 32-year-old foodie who travels full-time in search of delicious dishes to talk about in her blog, A Fork on the Road. Apart from being a Culinary Journalist, she is also a Tourism and Gastronomy Translator, so she has every excuse there is, to give free rein to her wanderlust and gormandize. Isn’t it the dream? You can further follow Iris’ adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.