Toledo, Spain: How to Get There and Where to Eat

Toledo View
Toledo view from the rooftop patio at the Oasis Hostel 

First of all, Toledo, SPAIN. All searches for “Toledo” seem to default to Ohio, which I’m sure is nice(ish) but not the topic for today.

This Semana Santa (i.e. Holy Week, i.e. the week before Easter), we took a trip to Madrid, a city that we both love, and Toledo, a city I visited briefly as a college student, and a new city for Gillian. We’ll talk about Madrid separately, but here are some food and logistics we figured out so hopefully you won’t have to.

Getting there:

Getting there is super easy; you’ve got two main options: bus or train. We opted for the train (AVE or AVANT), which left from Atocha and arrived at the Toledo train station in less than 30 minutes. Round-trip cost per person was 20.60€. The bus will cost you about half the price but will take you three times as long.

Side note: you can purchase train tickets online from, but we’ve run into problems when using a non-Spanish credit/debit card. Not having a chip in our card also causes some issues when trying to buy from the machine in the train station. Bottom line: you can pay via PayPal when buying online from and sidestep this whole mess.

There are two types of bus that can take you up to the city (I don’t recommend the walk with bags) from the Toledo train station: a red one and a blue one. The red one is a tourist bus that will take you to Plaza Zocodover for 2.50€ and picks up directly outside the exit of the train station (inside the perimeter wall). The blue one is the city bus, and lines 5, 61 and 62 will also take you to Plaza Zocodover, for 1.40€. The bus stop is outside of the perimeter wall to the right as you exit the station.

Where to eat:

As a general rule, we avoid any place that has huge picture-board menus hanging outside, and this made finding a restaurant in Toledo a challenge. We did find a few really great places that are worth mentioning:

The name "Kumera" is not very prominent on the sinage, so keep an eye out as you walk by.
The name “Kumera” is not very prominent on the signage, so keep an eye out as you walk by.

Restaurante Kumera
C/Alfonso X El Sabio 2
Phone: +34 925 25 75 53
Weekdays: 0800-0230
Closed December 25, 31 and January 1.

This place has a beautiful outdoor seating area on a street that seems to be off the tourist traffic heavy streets.  They have an amazing mix of tapas (3.00-4.50€), tostas (7.00€), larger plates to share (8.00-13,50€), fish (12.50-15.50€) and meats (12.90-15.50€). A tosta is a large piece of bread with, for example, black olive tapenade spread, roasted red peppers and anchovies (delicious, by the way). Some of the items like cochinillo (roast suckling pig) appear a couple of times on the menu and can be ordered in smaller portions (tapas) or larger entrée portions.

Before taking the train back to Madrid we came by again for lunch and had the Menú del Día. Three courses, included wine and was 12.90€ each.

The menu was:
Primeros: (pick one)

  • Salad with manchego cheese cubes, seasonal fruit and dried fruits vinaigrette
  • Salted gulas (a tiny eels that look like pasta) with shrimp and ajillo (a spicy garlicky olive oil sauce)
  • Fried asparagus with Iberian ham (thinly sliced, cured ham)

Segundos: (pick one)

  • Grilled salmon with vegetables and teriyaki sauce
  • Steak and veggie skewer with blue cheese sauce
  • Lamb chops with garlic and parsley potato sticks

Dessert or Café
(The desserts were admittedly unimpressive, we opted for the coffee)

This place is the perfect combo of quality and price.

Alfileritos 24Alfileritos 24
C/ Alfileritos, 24
Phone: 925 23 96 25
1300-1600 Lunch
2000-2330 Dinner

Though they didn’t break the bank on coming up with a name, this place was another great spot to stop. It’s divided into two floors: upstairs is more formal restaurant (reservations seemed to be a thing), and downstairs there are plenty of smaller tables and a separate tapas and wine menu. The latter is what we were looking for.

The menu includes tapas, or “raciones” (5.50- 12.50€), tostas (5€) and wine by the glass or bottle (2.50-3.50€ / 11.20-20.90€). We thought we’d get started with three “raciones,” believing we would ask for more afterwards. This did not happen. We ordered a chicken salad with cheese and a mustard dressing, mushroom croquettes and small pieces of grilled deer meat. It was nearly too much food for two people and incredibly tasty.

Total cost, including two glasses of wine, was 22.30€. Amazing. Also has a lunch Menú del Día for 10.50€ but didn’t get to check this out.

A look at the vertical garden inside.
A look at the vertical garden inside.

Mercado San Agustín
C/ Cuesta del Águila, 1 y 3
Phone: 925 21 58 98 (info)

About two minutes from Plaza Zocodover is an amazing new gastronomic market that opened in September 2014. Spread over its four floors (plus a rooftop terrace) there are 19 different food and beverage establishments that include tapas, Asian fusion, fancy burgers, grilled meats, cakes, wine and cheese shops, you name it. The place is beautiful inside and has really impressive architecture, including a three-story vertical garden. We stopped at the Marisquería y pulpería (shell fish and octopus shop) and got a huge mixed plate of fried calamari, tiny squid, fish in adobo sauce and anchovies that the woman fried up right in front of us (for 10€). Wish we were there on a Wednesday because apparently the burger place does a 4€ special every week.

Next time you’re in Madrid, consider taking a side trip down to Toledo. I haven’t gone into any of the city’s incredible art, history or architecture in this post, mainly because I’d be writing for a very, very long time. We just want to make sure you don’t go hungry when you get there.

Got a place that you found on your trip? Tell us about it! Cause we might find ourselves there again real soon…

Our Go-To Pizza Place in Barcelona: Napoletani DOC

Before moving to Barcelona, we lived in Naples, Italy for three years and during that time, we ate pizza as if it were our job. We did not chronicle our pizza hobby as this guy did (who ate 365 pizzas over two years), but between the two of us, we did pretty well as connoisseurs in the birthplace of pizza. We ordered pizza from our neighborhood joint so many times that they knew us by name over the phone (this is still one of our proudest achievements to date).

We got spoiled by having amazing Neapolitan pizza at our beck and call all the time. We never had to travel more than a block or two to find a pizza restaurant, and within minutes we could have hot, crispy, oozy, delicious pizza that rarely cost more than 6-8€. It cannot be overstated that Neapolitans are SERIOUS about their pizza, and there are very specific rules for a pizza to be called “Vera Pizza Napoletana.” These rules dictate the diameter of the pizza (no more than 35 cm), the thickness in the center (1/3 cm), where the tomatoes must come from (San Marzano) and so and so forth. There is even an organization that governs the pizza regulations called the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.

As we were getting ready to leave Naples, we knew that pizza would never be the same. It’s like growing up in Philadelphia and then trying to find a suitable Philly cheese steak anywhere else. We were worried, until we went to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants called Osteria DOC. The family that runs the restaurant is very sweet, and after telling them our plans to move to Barcelona they said “Oh you need to go to our son’s restaurant there. He has a pizza place.”


We arrived in Barcelona, and like any normal person, I put on my Napoli jersey and we went to check it out. Let me tell you, it is FANTASTIC.


Walking into this place is like walking into a pizza place back in Napoli; huge wood-fire pizza oven, pictures of Mount Vesuvius, as well as jerseys and scarfs from the SSC Napoli soccer team on every wall (they also have a whole page of pizzas named after the soccer players on the menu).

The pizza is spot on, too. The price is slightly higher than what you would find in Naples, but there is absolutely no difference in quality.

Hello beautiful.
Hello beautiful.

Pizzas come in the standard personal size (no more than 35 cm, if you recall) and are best eaten with a knife and fork. They have what seems like an endless list of pizzas (more than 30) which includes the classics (diavola, capricciosa, margarita, etc.) but some unique ones too (Spacca Napoli, for instance: mozzarela, butifarra, mushrooms, parmesan and basil). If you’re going with a group, consider getting the 1/2 meter, or if you’re really hungry, the 1-meter pizza. In both cases, you can choose more than one topping to accompany the metric measurement.

1-meter of pizza.
1-meter of pizza.

They have a considerable list of antipasti, primi and secondi, but our experience with these is limited.

It is, without question, our favorite pizza place in Barcelona. It is also the only one we go to, but I have a hard time believing a better one exists. Maybe someday we’ll branch out, but until then, I’ll have another capricciosa.

Napoletani D.O.C.

Metro: L1 Urgell
Calle Diputación, 101

Phone:+34 93 451 6902

Bertso Taberna: A Fantastic Barcelona Pintxos Bar

We took a week-long trip to Spain’s Basque country last spring, staying in San Sebastian and Bilbao. It is a beautiful and fascinating region with some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Our friends Dustin and Amaia hooked us up with a detailed list of places to get the best pintxos – Basque tapas – in both cities. Amaia is from a city near Bilbao, and these two have great taste in all things, so we followed their list like a treasure map. We ate so, so well.


I love that each pintxo is a tiny, flavorful work of art. Salmon, anchovies, tuna, jamón, bacalao, beef cheeks, foie, red peppers, olives, cheese… The combinations were inventive and endless. The pintxos crawl is the way I want to eat all the time:

  1. Go into a bar, where the counters are covered with platter after platter of tempting small bites.
  2. Order a glass of txakoli, the Basque white wine that is a tiny bit sparkling and very refreshing. (Also, the bartender pours it from about a foot in the air, and it’s fun to watch.)
  3. Grab a plate. You’ll probably serve yourself, and the bartender will add up your total later. (You can also order larger portions of hot dishes at a lot of places – some of which are definitely worth the effort.)
  4. Try to pace yourself. Fail.
  5. Pay up, walk next door and repeat… and repeat… and repeat.

We have found a couple of Basque tapas bars here in Barcelona, but the best one by far is another Amaia and Dustin discovery. They were in town in October, visiting us and other friends and family, and the apartment they rented just happened to be next door to a brand new pintxos bar. Coincidence? I think not.


Bertso Taberna is in a quiet part of Gràcia, conveniently a short walk from our apartment, but it’s always bustling with people. The owner is very warm and welcoming, and the food is outstanding and affordable. We’ve tried a variety of the pintxos out on the bar, as well as the larger portions ordered from the kitchen, and everything is good. Give me all of the seafoody pintxos and extra heaping helpings of the octopus, the morcilla (blood sausage – don’t let the name deter you; it is so good – served with a sweet apple compote) and the meatballs, and I am a happy girl. We’re looking forward to becoming regulars. You should join us.


Bertso Taberna
Metro: L4 Joanic, L3 Fontana
Carrer Torrent de les Flors, 113

Monday & Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Wednesday – Saturday: 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
7:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.

Photo credit

Las Empas and the making of the Porterhouse Blue

Dag Flachet is a good friend of ours, and along with some partners, he runs an empanada joint called Las Empas, here in Gràcia, Barcelona.

Mind you, this is not your standard restaurant; these empanadas are made by the customers. I don’t mean you show up and make your own bespoke empanada, I mean customers compete using a Facebook application to design and promote an empanada of their own creation. The one with the most votes gets the opportunity to make a test batch, and if all goes well, get an empanada on the menu.

“What’s the incentive?” you may ask. Once your creation is on the menu, for every 20 that are sold, you get a free empanada when you go by the restaurant. It’s a clever business model that links social media with food in an engaging (and competitive) way, and rewards creativity with deliciousness.

Needless to say, it was enough to motivate me, so I’ll walk you through how the process went.

A couple of years ago, Gillian and I had an amazing meal at some restaurant in Hawaii that used a red-wine reduction sauce. We thought, “Why are there no beer reduction sauces?” and set to work making one. What we ended up with was a seared beef tenderloin with blue cheese and porter beer reduction, which turned out surprisingly well (consequently, it was later featured on I thought this might make a good empanada, so I gave it a shot.

Using the Las Empas Empanada Creator on Facebook is super easy and intuitive. Pick the type of dough (out of five options), pick the filling (too many to count), add the spices (also too many to count). Simple. If something essential is missing (for instance, porter beer reduction sauce), let them know, and they’ll add it to the application.

Select filling and specify amounts.
Select filling and specify amounts.


Once you’ve created and named (a good name is essential) your empanada, it’s time for shameless self-promotion. Share it on Facebook and encourage your friends to vote for your empanada. Likes on Facebook contribute to your overall score, and votes are tallied so you can see your progress on the leaderboard.

Leaderboard shows total votes and time remaining in the competition.


After a month of, as mentioned before, shameless self-promotion to friends and family who may never get to try my empanada based on geographic distance, I ended up at the top! Seriously, thank you all of you who voted.

I'm not just making this up, here's the screen shot!
I’m not just making this up, here’s the screen shot!


The next step was to met with Dag in the test kitchen and do a test run. This day started by writing all the ingredients of the empanada on his giant chalkboard wall. Being a designer who loves typography, I maybe went a little overboard.

Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova.
Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova.
Probably spent too long on this.
Me + Food + Typography = Way too much time making this.


I’ve never made empanadas before, but the prep of the filling was similar to what I’d done when making the original recipe. Dag had handy little patties of empanada dough and we made about 15-20, using a fork to close them up.

Putting the pieces together (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova)
Putting the pieces together (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova)
Ingredients and pre-oven empanada.
Ingredients and pre-oven empanada.


A few minutes in the oven and the empanadas were ready for a formal presentation in front of the Las Empas sign. You should note that Dag is seated and is still taller than I am when standing.

I present you Empa Porterhouse Blue.
I present you Empa Porterhouse Blue (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova).


The empanadas came out with gooey, cheesy, beer reductiony steak filling and were really good. With zero prior knowledge and this being my first attempt at empanadas ever, I’m extremely pleased with the results. Of course, now I see there are a few things I would optimize the next time around. Mainly, cooking the meat less time before it goes into the dough (it gets cooked again in the oven) a using LOT more beer sauce. Obviously.

These things are to be expected, and overall I had a ton of fun making empanadas and drinking beer all afternoon (we had to make sure we had the right beer for the sauce, of course). Many thanks to Dag and the rest of the Las Empas team for humoring me, as well as Blaga Popova for documenting the event. Looking forward to the next round of testing and seeing Empa Porterhouse Blue on the menu soon!

The Empa Porterhouse Blue
The Empa Porterhouse Blue

Cavatast 2014: A Weekend in Penedès Wine Country

The capital of the cava region, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, is just a stone’s throw away from Barcelona, a fact that makes me very, very happy.

You can hop on the regional train – Rodalies R4 line – at Plaça de Catalunya and be there in about 45 minutes. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the massive Freixenet cavaplex right next to the Sant Sadurní d’Anoia train station.

We have made it out to visit different wineries several times with friends, and for about the last eight months, we’ve been looking forward to Cavatast, the town’s annual cava festival held at the end of harvest season, this year from October 3 to 5:

Cavatast is a space for pairing the best cavas with the best food trends of the season. The exhibitors offer visitors an extraordinary range of products for tasting, savouring, enjoying and taking home.

That sounds good. I’ll have that.


Our awesome friends Kyle and Arianna were visiting from California, so it was only fitting that we head to the cava fest to take the place by storm. Kyle and I should have started some sort of Sonoma County cheer to represent for our own wine country (next time).

We got to Cavatast in the early afternoon on Saturday, walking the 10 minutes from the train station up to the street hosting the festival, and I was surprised by how uncrowded and laidback it was. A few weeks ago, Brian and I went with friends to a wine and cava festival in Barcelona during La Mercè (the festivities for the patron saint of the city), and it was a lot of fun but packed with people. The scene in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia was much more serene during the day, with no lines and plenty of standing table space, though it did get more crowded as the night went on. Yes, we were there all day.

The prices were super reasonable, and this is what we bought for each person:

Cava and glass (4 tickets + 1 glass) 6.50 €
Additional cava (4 tickets) 5.00 €
Food (4 tickets) 6.00 €
Total: 17.50 €


Each of the 30-some wineries with a stand at Cavatast offered several different types of cava, for a price of one to four tickets. We stuck within the one to two-ticket range and got to try a great selection of cavas. Two of the favorites were the brut nature from Mont Marçal and Fonpinet (we bought three bottles of each at the end of the night) – subtly dry and flavorful. We also sampled some excellent food from Restaurant Cal Blay – bacallà (cod), fideuà (noodle dish similar to paella), cannelloni with mushroom bechamel sauce and a stew with botifarra negra (Catalan sausage).




It was a long and trying day, making so many difficult decisions about what type of cava to try next. We took a late train back to Vilafranca del Penedès, 10 minutes away, where we stayed the night and regained our strength.

On Sunday, we took the train to Lavern-Subirats – next to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia – to have lunch with friends at the spectacular Cal Pere del Maset, which is a quick cab ride from the station in the town of Sant Pau d’Ordal. Our friend Joan’s family owns the restaurant, and the food is nothing short of amazing. Course after course of seasonal, perfectly prepared dishes.

A few favorites that I now dream about: crepes filled with chicken and covered in foie gras sauce and mushrooms, hake cooked to perfection served with romesco sauce, perfectly rare solomillo (best steak ever) with foie gras and truffle sauce, chocolette croquetas with bitter orange sauce. It was gourmet gastronomic experience with an insane wine selection (seriously, the wine list is bigger than dictionaries I’ve owned), fantastic service and a beautiful setting for very reasonable prices for the quality you receive. A meal like this in California would have cost far more, and Cal Pere del Maset is well worth the day trip from Barcelona. We will find an excuse to go back very soon.

cal pere del maset

All in all, Cavatast 2014 was a great experience, and heading to the festival is going to be an annual tradition. Who’s in for Cavatast 2015?