My husband and I just got back from 2 weeks in Spain (cities in southern Spain and a week in Galicia in the northwest). Seeing the posts from a couple of days ago about food in Spain, I've got to report on our experience. Sorry--this might be a long one!
First, I completely agree with those who say you need to do a little research before you go, and that it's important to know what foods are best in which regional areas. One book that we found extremely helpful is Penelope Casas's "Discovering Spain"--not so much for individual restaurant tips, because the book was last updated in 1996--but it's really terrific for reading about what to eat in each region.
Second, never ask the hotel staff where to eat, even in top hotels. They will assume you want to go where the tourists go. We had some of the best food in the places where we were the only tourists--small tapas bars filled with locals. That being said, we also had some terrific meals at Michelin-starred restaurants and other touted places where we were certainly not the only tourists, but in general....And last, I agree with the person who said the only mayonnaise seems to be on the Russian salad.
Some specific notes from our trip:
We were only in Madrid a couple of days, but had a very good dinner at Asador Fronton (chorizo; grilled beef). In Seville, we had a wonderful dinner at Poncio (best gazpacho ever) and an okay meal at Michelin-starred Taberna del Albaradero--nothing special, with suprisingly clueless service. Go to the Triana district in Seville for tapas--we had a great experience at Mariscos Emilio (all seafood). In Cordoba, try Casa Rubio--we had an excellent tapas lunch there (Cordoban gazpacho--YUM!).
If you're lucky enough to be in Galicia, you'll find the freshest seafood of your life. And if you don't like octopus ("pulpo"), try it there anyway. We stayed in Santiago de Compostela, which is loaded with tapas bars because it's a university town. Try "El Franco" for pulpo and Caldo Gallego (vegetable soup). Try "A Charca" for those wonderful "pimientos de Padron" (little green frying peppers with olive oil and salt). And try langostines everywhere.
The town of Padron has (besides peppers) a spectacular market every Sunday morning--the biggest in Galicia, and it's filled with locals. We were the only tourists there. There they have little eating places called "pulperias", where they boil whole octupi (is that the plural?) in huge cauldrons of boiling water; pull them out with tongs; cut them into bite-sized pieces with shears; sprinkle olive oil, paprika and salt on them; put them on wooden plates; and serve them to everyone at communal picnic-type tables. Teen-agers eat them there like our kids eat hamburgers and hot dogs. Delicious!! And they also grill pork ribs on open-fire grills there that were unbelievably good.
Believe it or not, Santiago de C. also has a 1-star Michelin--"Toni Vicente", where we had a very good meal (spectacular scallops). Another terrifc 1-star Michelin is "Casa Solla" outside Pontevedra--wonderful food and very pretty place. I had a "confit of pork" entree there that I still dream about. My husband had excellent merluzza (hake).
Still in Galicia, we had spectacular tapas in a small town called Ribadavia at a little restaurant called "Restaurante Plaza"--very fresh and delicious shrimp and langostines. On the coast in La Coruna, try "Casa Pardo"--terrific octopus; monkfish; calamari (not fried); zamburinas--tiny scallops.
Hope this is helpful, and apologies for the length.