Mercado San Ildefonso, undoubtedly our favorite of the upscale gastro-markets running rampant in Madrid, serves to-go-friendly food with an emphasis on traditional Spanish flavors. Touted as a street food space, anyone who has experienced roadside dining in places like London, Portland, San Francisco, Austin and South East Asia would not instinctually describe what Mercado San Ildefonso sells as street food. That being said, the fact that this market doesn’t actually sell street food isn’t a problem, unless, of course, you go there expecting to find street food.
If you are envisioning Mercado San Ildefonso based on reports of its similarity to New York’s Chelsea Market or the street markets of Bangkok, you are sure to be disappointed, not because it’s any less worth visiting, but because to compare these things is illogical. What you will find at Mercado San Ildefonso is 15+ stands offering small servings of foods typical of classic Spanish gastronomy, and then some. Sure, you could take a plate of meatballs or a tortilla española out on the street, but why would you want to when you have better options at your disposal?
Once you’ve stepped into Mercado San Ildefonso, it will be clear what those options are. With 3 floors of industrial-hip, open space, featuring a combination of communal and high-top tables, two open-air patios and three bars, you’ve got plenty of choices. While the interior of San Ildefonso is certainly a big part of its appeal, the thing that makes it our favorite of the local Mercados offering ready-to-eat food is its Spanishness.
The crowd at Mercado San Ildefonso is usually a mix of locals and visitors. Positioned at the top of Calle Fuencarral, one of Madrid’s most well know retail-lined pedestrian streets, Mercado San Ildefonso draws in shoppers ready for a break and serves as a local meeting point for people from the surrounding neighborhoods: Sol, Chueca and Malasaña. San Ildefonso is a fantastic social space; diners can eat in much the way they would if they were going out for tapas or pinchos, but without the need to hop from location to location.
When thought of as an extension of the local streets, a meal at San Ildefonso makes for a great way to ease into the somewhat chaotic traditions of Spanish bar snacking. For those ready to jump right in, visit San Ildefonso in the late evening on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, when the city center is beginning to buzz with local life. For a calmer intro to the neighborhood food culture, stop by in the afternoon on a weekday and enjoy a slower-paced experience at this Spanish food shrine.
What to Order
- Jamón ibérico de bellota from Arturo Sánchez
- Croquetas from La Croquetería, especially their cabrales cheese croquetas
- Albóndigas and gazpacho from DP Tapas by Chef David Delgado
- Octopus from Bayontín