Do you know Spain’s best kept secret food tradition?
Actually, it’s not a secret – to locals.
Most visitors think it’s all about the tapas but that’s just half the story
What’s the not-so-secret secret?
The Menú del Día, of course.
We’re back with a major update and the first thing you should know is that Madrid’s vegan scene is still positively exploding. We originally wrote this post a year ago, and already we’ve seen several places open up with several more to come. Consider there was almost nothing here just five years ago!
Fun fact: There are over 30 all vegan eateries (including bakeries) in Madrid (it’s in the top 10 most vegan-friendly cities in Europe!) and this doubles if you include vegetarian restaurants. For our comprehensive guide to all of Madrid’s 26 vegan restaurants, head to our ultimate vegan guide to Madrid. If you’re planning on going out for tapas, head to our guide to vegan tapas in Madrid.
However, if you want everything in one spot grouped by neighborhood….
…or the most authentic Spanish food made vegan, with a ton of more local insider insight, we have something five times bigger than our ultimate guide:
If you’re not sure if you need a guidebook yet, just continue reading our article on the very Spanish tradition most visitors miss out on!
What is a Menú del día?
First to distinguish: in Spain, the regular menu is called la carta.
What we are talking about is a price fixed midday meal consisting of 3-4 courses, including a drink and dessert, that is served during the week (Monday-Friday). You will see them listed as el menú del día.
“Price fixed meals!” you exclaim, “What’s a budget alternative traveler have to do with this bougie business?” You may be surprised to learn that what’s usually a luxury elsewhere (like the USA and UK) is an affordable Spanish tradition. Often a menú is cheaper and more filling than tapas. The Spanish eat a larger midday meal, which is why they can just share small plates of food at night with friends over drinks.
How it Works
Almost all places offer some sort of daily special, but there are variations.
Most restaurants will offer a primero (first course) usually consists of a soup or salad. The segundo (second course) tends to be a larger, heavier and more filling. Sometimes there are one, two, or three choices for each.
Another variation is called principales, which means a choice of main courses, preceded by an aperitivo, (think cup, not bowl, of soup). There are at least two principales, with sometimes three. When labeled as such, expect a bigger difference in portion size than the primero-segundo combo. The number of choices can vary. Sometimes there may be one primero and three segundo options, or maybe two choices for each.
Traditionally all menús come with a choice of alcoholic beverage, a basket of bread, and a dessert OR coffee. Coffee is usually 1.50 to 2 euros so you can always just order one additionally if it doesn’t come with the fixed menú price or if you want one with your dessert. Sometimes dessert isn’t included but can be added for a couple more euros.
Then there’s the plato del día, the less common but not rare lunch special, which is just a main plate called el entrante, sometimes preceded by an aperitivo. This is like a much smaller, or in some cases a half menú, and you can expect it to be a few euros cheaper, as it doesn’t include a drink, bread, and dessert. In this case, you should expect there to be only one choice. This is literally a price for just the plate, whereas the price for the menú is an all-inclusive set.
In general, though, these plates will add up, stomach space wise. At first, we expected to be hungry afterward because each of the plates is smaller visually than American sized gut buster platters. Virtually every time we get to our last sip of coffee or bite of dessert, we find ourselves pleasantly satisfied and full. While it’s perfectly normal to eat a menú alone, we suggest coming with friends so you can try everything.
Traditions have rules – that’s why they’re called traditions. Don’t let this deter you – like any new culture, there are things to learn, and that’s what makes travel rewarding for us. To optimize your menú experience, here are a few additional constants to keep in mind:
- Menú del día refers to the daily lunch special on weekdays (some restaurants offer weekend menús, but few if any vegan places do). For the regular menu, ask for la carta.
- If you order from la carta, expect it to take much longer, as the restaurant is primed and ready to expedite the menú del día. Often la carta isn’t available during lunch.
- Lunch goes down from 1:30 – 3:30 pm. This is in bold because pretty much every time we warn visitors, they’ve fallen victim to finding themselves hangry with no open places to eat! While some places may open at 1 pm, many may open later despite the posted time (if it’s even posted), and only for a couple of hours to serve. Meaning if a place opens at 2:30 pm, they may keep taking orders until 4:30 pm, but stop letting people in at 5 pm.
- The price will always be cheaper than if you ordered the equivalent amount of food outside of the menú.
- The dishes aren’t usually available outside of the special, so don’t expect to find them (or what we had) on other days unless otherwise noted.
- You may need to reserve earlier that day or the day before. Most of these places are very small and fill up quickly.
- You will always have to request the bill when you want to pay and leave. It’s seen as extremely rude to bring the bill to someone who hasn’t asked for it – a far cry from dining out in the U.S. where they bring you the bill before you’re even finished sometimes!
- Which leads to our last point – don’t be in a hurry! Eating out in Spain is synonymous with socializing, and an unhurried affair. Typically people will stay for 1.5 hours – so don’t bank on waiting for a table if a place is packed – find another menú!
There’s virtually no exception to these rules – go anytime earlier and expect a closed door, extra closed in your face. Go late, and while you may see patrons with plates, the kitchen is done serving food. If you order outside the menú from the carta (the regular menu), expect a longer wait for your food. Don’t act surprised when these things actually happen to you – learn the easy way and follow this guide.
Now onto the best vegan menú del días in Madrid!
Organic Vegan Menús in Madrid with the Best Bang For Your Buck
Both of these spots offer an aperitivo, a very small first course, and principal, a significantly larger main course. You can have more than one main course, and two main courses become cheaper (per course) than just one.
Vega is in our top 5 frequented restaurants. While people rave about their tapas (and they’re quite good), you get a much more affordable, but just as quality experience if you come here for lunch. A beautiful intersection of budget and gourmet.
The aperitivo is a given and you can choose either one main dish for 7.90, or two at 11.90 (remember, either still comes with bread, beverage, and dessert/coffee!) We always split 3 main plates because why not? It’s also the perfect amount, as some of our smaller friends find two plates too filling, but one plate definitely not enough.
We’ve had quite the variety of dishes here. Most recently we had barbecue seitan sandwiches with coleslaw, spiral pasta with rich tomato sauce and grated parmesan. Often they have lasagnas. In the winter they’ve had cocido madrileño (traditional Madrid stew). There’s also been faro, couscous, and potato salads. The food is always chock full of fresh veggies. Of the three main plates, there’s always the lightest – usually a salad, something hearty with faux meat, and something in between. Often they try out internationally influenced dishes, like gumbo from New Orleans. Once an omnivore friend remarked that the vegan andouille sausage tasted like the real thing.
The portions here are creatively presented, generous and delicious – we never feel stuck with anything. While they do offer wine, we love their homemade limonada – a chilled, lightly sweetened lemonade – great for those who prefer a beverage that feels special, but not alcoholic.
Desserts are great here, and they usually offer two choices, one “healthy” like a smoothie, and one more typical, like a piece of bizcocho – Spanish style sponge cake often flavored with bananas, berries, or citrus fruit.
Consensus: cost effective for maximum quantity, thoughtful food pairings, homemade drinks, – even the artisanal bread is not typical. You cannot reserve for lunch, so come early if you want to get a table. Often the menú del día is entirely gluten free as we’ve been here with the gluten intolerant and they loved it (just ask the server which items are gluten-free) and there’s gluten-free bread by request. They still serve from their regular carta – half the items are gluten-free as well.
La Encomienda is located on a street of the same name, on the edge of La Latina and Lavapiés. It’s a pretty big place but it does fill up!
Truth is, we come here much less often than Vega, but it’s a solid option nonetheless. We recommend coming here if you can’t make it to Vega by 1:45 pm.
They also serve the aperitivo – principal style menú like Vega from above. Expect lots of international dishes with Spanish culinary sensibilities. So if there’s a tofu stir-fry or a curry – don’t expect fermented Asian seasonings, or spiciness. Some of their best dishes are soups and stews, and any veggie that’s roasted and stuffed.
One of our favorite dishes was a roasted eggplant stuffed with crumbly bready filling and melted goat style cheese on top, and a Moroccan style tagine.
Like Vega, desserts are usually a light option and a heavy option – smoothie or a cake.
Consensus: Great food, aperitivo – principal styled menú. Comes with dessert and a beverage. Reservations not needed as it’s a pretty big space.
High-End Organic and Whole Foods Plant-Based Menús in Madrid
For those looking to experience a meal made with lighter (not fried), all organic, and lots of raw ingredients.
This was the first place we went upon our arrival in Madrid. We were blown away by the presentation, prices (compared to the U.S.), and quality of the food. Located in the super cute neighborhood of Las Letras, this place is a popular spot – and for good reason.
Everything is super fresh and homemade with a focus on healthy, local, fresh, and organic food. Nothing will ever be fried here, and they proudly proclaim not having a microwave.
Usually, there are two primeros and two segundos. The first is either salad or soup, with the second being much denser – however, this menú uniquely leaves you feeling light and spritely. We strongly recommend this for the whole foods plant-based crowd, as it’s light on oils and virtually no item is processed other than by hand. They even bake their own delicious bread.
Consensus: Really small – reserve or come early. Menú is 13.50 euros and comes with 1st, 2nd, a homemade kombucha-like drink, and dessert, tea, or coffee. Very accommodating for gluten-free options. On the higher end of menú prices.
Vegan Menús Slightly Off Center
If you find yourself wandering off towards the edge of the main tourist center, consider these delicious options. They’re not far at all (Madrid is quite compact), but far enough that these attract a mostly local crowd.
This tucked away spot resides near the Bilbao metro. Llantén is one of our favorite indulgent restaurants in Madrid. Everything is always super homemade, savory, and decadent. Nowadays they exclusively serve menús for lunch AND dinner, including weekends, with a choice of four primeros and four segundos, with a couple of desserts.
The owner/chef hails from Argentina, so if empanadas (savory stuffed pastry) are on the menú – don’t miss out. Pulpo (octopus) is a typical Spanish dish they offer here that’s very popular – made with mushrooms and seaweed – and almost always an option.
Don’t expect light food like Buddha bowls – adamant “whole foodies” take note. Here veggie based meat, cheese, and cream reign supreme. This spot reminds us of Italian and French bistros that serve up rich, savory, and indulgent dishes doused in sauces. For desserts, they usually have cakes and custards that rely on dairy substitutes. We come here whenever we want to feel like we never went vegan.
Consensus: Indulgent and rich, expect a savory knockout. Offers a menú for all meals- meaning it’s always a fixed priced meal that’s 11 on weekdays, 15 on weeknights, and 16 on weekends (all day).
This place is off center, but totally worth it, because after a few visits it’s shot up the ranks of our favorite places. Offers great tapas and a wonderful menú for 11.50.
Their menú del día is really a menú semanal (weekly) – so check their social media to see if it’s something you’re interested in and you can expect to get it any weekday that week. They offer three options for every category. Of those offerings, one is the heaviest, one is the lightest, with one in between. So someone wanting to come for a light meal, while their friend wants to leave stuffed, will be very pleased with the options.
The proprietors here offer a mix of familiar Spanish dishes with some international ones too. We also had the best burrito in Madrid here – and that’s saying a lot, as the Latin American food scene here is not strong (if you’re surprised, you’re confusing Spain with Mexico – don’t expect tacos, nachos, or any Latin American food on offer to be spicy nor authentic).
The three desserts will likely be a cake, a brownie, or a smoothie.
Consensus: Best burrito, best faux meats (up there with Llantén), and international dishes. Like Llantén, expect to leave quite satiated. Three options for primero, segundo, and postre, including alcoholic beverage. Great variety bread basket, like Vega and Encomienda.
The Most Economic Vegan Menús del Dia
Hands down the cheapest menús that includes two plates, dessert, and a drink (Vega and La Encomienda have menús for 7,90, but these are only one plate).
At this very feminist punk bar in the heart of Lavapiés, you get one option and you better like it. La Oveja Negra is known for its attitude, complete with decals of hand-drawn vaginas on the walls.
Expect soup or salad for the first choice, and something more dense for the second, like lasagna. For dessert, you have your choice of coffee, tea or yogurt.
Consensus: Cheapest menú at 8 euros (1st, 2nd, drink + coffee), but not the most filling. Still delicious and a good option! Reservations not needed.
This little spot is run by a shy but sweet couple a few blocks away from Atocha station. With a great corner location, expect lots of locals who come in looking for a lunch but not necessarily a vegan one.
Often their menú features variations of their tapas. If they offer their generously topped burger (three kinds but we love the lentil best) or homemade albóndigas (meatballs), get them!
Also don’t miss out on dessert, as they bake their own cakes too and will give you a mighty slice. Expect a very homely feel and nothing fancy or pretentious. This place is outside the center, but if you’re trying to catch a train from Atocha, this will be quite convenient for you.
Consensus: offers a primero, segundo, postre, with a drink for 8.50! And quite filling.
Vegan Asian Inspired Menús
If you’re looking for a break from Spanish cuisine but not the Spanish meal style of eating.
We love this place and highly recommend la carta (regular menu). Often their menú del día features yakisoba, tempura, ramen noodles – the list goes on. You’ll see Chilling Café prominently featured in our many vegan Madrid posts as we love them very much. The friendly, sweet, and stylish proprietors perfectly set the relaxing vibes with chill ambiance and laidback music.
Not only is this a great café with a menú, it also serves from la carta all day, so it’s a great back up if you find your first destination filled up.
Consensus: Serves a primero segundo style menú. Reservations not necessary. Amazing coffee.
Vegan Plates of the Day
These places serve a truncated version of the menú del día called a plato del día – usually around 7-9 euros. Of course, you can add wine and dessert to make it a menú for a similar price.
We love this place and come here often. It’s a family run spot located in the artsy Lavapiés neighborhood. There are a variety of homemade dishes, and they’re always experimenting with offering new things. Every month or so they have rotating art on walls from a local artist. Each day of the week they offer a different plate although now it’s more menú in style in terms of presentation.
Our favorite plato del día so far is Wednesday’s cocido Madrileño (only served in winter – check their Instagram or Facebook to confirm). Ask anyone what a typical dish from Madrid is and they will likely answer, “cocido madrileño.” We’ve taken many friends here to try it and they always leave impressed. You really can’t go wrong with anything here. Often they make lasagnas, stir-fry, and sandwiches.
Their desserts are also out of this world, so leave room to try whatever they have. Their cakes are so moist that we could eat them over a dehumidifier.
Consensus: Delicious, homemade food with a great daily plate. It’s small, so reserve in advance for lunch.
This spot has very different vibes for lunch and dinner (in a good way). For lunch, they usually offer a sizeable but simple aperitivo, like a bowl of lentils, that you can add to the plato del día for just a couple more euros.
We suggest trying their handmade ravioli (available Thursdays and Sundays). Made with super soft fresh dough and stuffed with a spinach filling, they had the richness of a cheese ravioli without mock cheese filling. They come topped with a tomato sauce and a generous helping of Spanish olive oil, of course.
Served with housemade “Parmigiano cheese” on the side that turns magical once sprinkled on top.
Desserts are reasonably priced here, and adding one to your plate of the day will hardly make you go over the usual menu price in total. Definitely try their cookies that you won’t believe are not made with butter.
Consensus: Great ravioli in a lovely setting. They’re only open Thursdays – Sundays, so keep that in mind! 8 euros for the plato del día.
A Vegan Menú with a Terrace
Walk around Madrid’s streets and you’ll inevitably see people dining outside on terrazas (terraces). Eating outside is a pleasure you’ll pay a 10% upcharge for – standard everywhere you go.
Viva Burger is the only vegan place that has a terrace, so take advantage of it!
They have two menú del día options: a menú burguer and a menú internacional focusing on a different country each day. Their website has the current month’s offerings. We go here frequently and bring virtually every visitor we have. Not only does it feel luxurious to sit outside, but their terrace is located in a plaza as opposed to the side of a road. So it’s peaceful and relaxing without the buzz of traffic usually featured on sidewalk terraces.
At least one of us always gets the Viva Burger menú. They have the best veggie burger made from scratch, with upwards of a dozen ingredients with pieces of apple and other visibly identifiable fruits and veggies. This sum is truly greater than its parts. While it’s not trying to imitate meat, the texture, savory quality, and thickness provide a dense patty to sink your teeth into. For toppings, it comes with a generous amount of homemade mayo, sprouts, and tomato. While la carta features the same burger with deluxe toppings, we honestly don’t miss them (but they’re delicious too).
The burger menu always comes with soup or salad, with a side of perfectly seasoned roasted potatoes and aioli.
The menú internacional is always delicious – just expect Spanish culinary sense – ie if it’s curry it’s not spicy. If it interests us, we try it, and while we have the burger more often, we’ve had the international menú and it’s always very good – the chef gets to have a bit of fun trying different dishes. Comes with its own first dish (different than the burger menu), and main plate.
Both menús come with beverage, dessert or coffee.
They experiment with desserts, like American style pancakes, or papaya mousse. If you’re not interested, always a safe bet is their café con leche in which they use a delicious coconut milk blend – really like a dessert itself.
Consensus: everything is super homemade, best veggie burger in Madrid, great coffee, all with terrace seating. The menú is 11.50 and includes 1st, 2nd, drink, dessert or coffee. 10% mark up for the terrace – the norm everywhere.
A Vegan Menú in a Class of its Own
A big shout out to one of our new favorite restaurants, where the experience sets itself apart from the rest. You’ll have to read our restaurant profile to get the in-depth scoop.
Best Omnivore Places that also offer a Vegan Menú
These places offer an entirely vegan menú del día alongside their usual nonvegan offerings – a rarity in Madrid.
We need to say outright – the other vegan menús in the aforementioned 100% vegan restaurants are much better than this place. We applaud their effort, we really do, but we can’t honestly recommend them for an all vegan group. We can, however, suggest them for those who are traveling with omnivores who refuse to eat vegan food.
That being said, their vegan menú is of good quality, but mostly well-assembled store-bought goods in very Spanish style. Like a primero of previously jarred white asparagus and chopped veggies to eat with bread. And a segundo of several small lentil patties. With a vegan dessert of Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona ice cream. All delicious, but we eat out for an experience we can’t make at home.
That being said, you’ll likely enjoy your meal while hanging in a very local spot with regulars. We love the vibe here and often come for their homemade vegan aperitivos that come with your drink for free.
Where’s the rest? Didn’t this say “places” meaning plural?
Of course, there are more omnivore places with vegan options.
We gotta be honest, there’s just too much vegan Madrid information to fit in one (or several posts).
so you should check out:
To experience food in Spain, you need to experience a menú.
You’ve likely heard of tapas – though tapas that exist in the U.S. and most other countries are a bastardized form of Spanish tapas (overpriced, under-portioned, not Spanish at all).
Spaniards have an intensely strong food culture – meals out are almost always casera (made in-house). Eating a menú del día is not only economical but something that Spaniards easily do a few times a week. To get the most out of the experience, a little planning goes a long way, especially because a lot of the vegan restaurants in Madrid are small and quite popular.
Whenever we’re forced to leave Spain, the menú del día is the first thing we’re going to miss.
Guide to Visiting Madrid’s Main Sights (for free and cheap of course)!
*Editor’s note: This post was originally posted in April 2017 and has since been updated tremendously.