When I visited Málaga in 2021, I was lucky enough to have a lifelong friend who had been living there for years provide me with a full on local’s tour of this amazing city. The sight seeing was incredible, but the restaurant and food experiences I had there were unforgettable.
I am very excited to share our top restaurant picks in Málaga, a coastal gem in Spain that has seen it all – Phoenician traders, Roman conquerors, and Moorish rulers. It has over 2,800 years of history, and you can taste it in every bite. Think fresh seafood paellas, aromatic stews, meats seasoned with age-old spice blends, tapas, and much more.
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El Pimpi – A Culinary Icon
Bodega El Pimpi is rightfully considered a Málaga icon. Opened in 1971, it is housed in an 18th-century mansion and has rooms filled with wine barrels signed by celebrities in the arts and sports world. If you are into celebrity spotting, you might catch Antonio Banderas here, a Málaga native who also owns part of the place.
The restaurant sits in the heart of the city, right next to a Roman Theatre and a Moorish Palace. There is no better place to feast upon traditional Málaga specialties, like Málaga mullet, Salmorejo (a thick, cold tomato soup topped with ham and boiled eggs), Flamenquín Ibérico (breaded Iberian ham, rolled and deep-fried), rice with octopus and king prawns, avocado rolls covered in tune caramelized foie, and much more.
They also have a ton of vegan and gluten-free options. And do NOT skip the wine. They have got barrels full of local favorites including dry tajinero, sweet jabot, dunkel, and muskat Iberia. The place turned 50 in 2021, and it is still packed with both tourists and locals. That is how you know it is good. On that note, if you time it right, you can grab a seat on their outdoor terrace with killer views.
José Carlos García – Fine Dining by the Sea
José Carlos García is a Michelin-starred, must-visit restaurant in Málaga. It is located at Muelle Uno, the city’s modern harbor area, and is quite close to the colorful Pompidou Centre. The restaurant opened its doors in 2011 and has been wowing guests ever since. The man behind the scenes is Chef José Carlos García, born in Málaga in 1976. He trained in the top cooking schools and even ran the kitchen at Cafe de Paris for ten years before starting his own place.
The restaurant has an open space design with a glass cube in the middle where the chefs work, so you can watch them in action. As for the food, it’s a mix of local and contemporary. You would not find an à la carte menu here; instead, they offer two extensive tasting menus. Some of our personal favorites include Aloreña ‘olive’ with seaweed and caviar, Andalusian mackerel, and a unique take on gazpachuelo, a local fish soup. They also have a fantastic wine list, featuring a dry young white wine called El Lagar de Cabrera, perfect for seafood.
The restaurant has earned not just a Michelin Star but also two Suns in the Repsol Guide, Spain’s main food guide. So, if you are in Málaga and love good food, José Carlos García is where it is at.
La Tranca – A Local Gem
For the best tapas in Malaga, La Tranca is the place to be. It is situated on Calle Carretería; you will know you are at the right spot when you see people waiting outside. Inside, it is like stepping back in time. The walls are covered with 70s and 80s album covers from famous Spanish singers the likes of Julio Iglesias and Rocío Jurado. The lively music from an era gone by fills the air as the waiters sing along.
La Tranca keeps the food simple: Some of the best tapas in Malaga Spain and not much else. You can start your day with a simple tostada and strong coffee, and end with beers and avocado salad served in its own shell, or stuffed peppers and meatballs, or any number of other tapas bar options.
The prices are extremely reasonable, with tapas costing around 2.5€ and other dishes going up to 9€. When it is time to pay, they tally up your bill the old-school way, writing it in chalk on your table or counter.
If you are looking for a spot to grab a quick drink or enjoy a late-night snack, this is it. But keep in mind that it gets packed after 9 pm. The bar is small, so you might find yourself perched on a barrel-turned-table – there’s worse places to be! It’s cozy but can get crowded, so try to visit earlier in the day if you can.
El Tintero – A Seafood Extravaganza
Want to taste freshly-caught-and-cooked seafood while mingling with the locals? Head over to El Tintero in the fisherman’s neighborhood of El Palo, right on Playa del Dedo in the city. At first glance, this place looks like one of the simplest beach huts complete with paper napkins and tablecloths. But do not let that fool you; the food is to die for.
Here is how it works: Waiters come out of the kitchen holding plates of just-cooked fried fish, clams, salt cod, shellfish, marinated shark, and paella. They shout out what they have, and you just have to wave and say “oiga!” or “aqui!” to get your plate. No menus, no fuss. Each dish costs €7.50 or €8.50 (as of 2023), and the waiter will count your plates at the end to give you the bill.
The restaurant is known for its very fresh fried, grilled, and sautéed seafood. Waiters walk around with plates of the day’s catch, usually clams, shellfish, and there are plenty of other local fish (anchovies, sea bream, cuttlefish, squid, hake, and monkfish) as well. The dishes are cooked on the spot and quickly sold among the customers, so you know you are getting a very good deal. Expect lots of parsley and garlic flavors, olive oil, cold beer, and good wine.
La Deriva – Contemporary Spanish Cuisine
If you find yourself in the busy Soho district near the CAC Malaga museum and train stations, we highly recommend paying a visit to La Deriva. It is on Alameda de Colón 7, at the corner of three streets. The building has been tastefully renovated to offer both indoor and outdoor seating. Inside, you will find a modern, airy space with stylish ceilings and elegant lighting.
The outdoor terrace is perfect for dining, especially in the summer when palm trees provide much-needed shade.
This is one of the best restaurants in Malaga for high-quality Mediterranean dishes and the menu changes regularly to make the most of seasonal ingredients. They have quite an extensive menu, from the ensaladilla rusa, rated by some as the best Russian salad in town, to steak tartare and risotto. The seafood lover can enjoy salmon tartare, while someone looking for local flavors might go for Salmorejo or Ajo blanco with mango. They also have a special focus on cheeses, with over 50 types, and the wine list is impressive with over 200 options.
If you are ever wondering where to eat in Malaga in the mornings, try to go for their best breakfast Málaga service. They open early, and the coffee is said to be fantástico. Tapas start at €6, and larger portions are priced from €9. If you are dining with a group and going heavy on the wine, expect to spend around 100€ – 120€ in total.
Booking a Food Tour in Malaga
If you have experienced your share of the restaurants listed in this Madrid Food Guide and are looking to explore further, Viator is a great option for Food Tours in Malaga. They provide great knowledge of the local food and wine scene. Here are a few:
Tips for Making Reservations and Experiencing Málaga’s Food Culture to the Fullest
The culinary culture of the Capital of the Costa del Sol, aka Málaga, is deeply rooted in its coastal location and Andalusian heritage. To truly enjoy what this incredible city has to offer, you need a bit of insider knowledge – which we are here to share!
- Málaga is known for its fresh seafood so do not miss out on “espetos,” i.e., sardines grilled on a stick, easily available at beachside chiringuitos.
- Most tapas bars here offer a free tapa with a drink. Take advantage of this local custom to sample as many dishes as you can.
- Málagueños eat late, so if you want to dine like a local, do not plan on eating dinner before 9 pm.
- Check out Atarazanas Market for fresh produce and local specialties. It is a great way to understand the ingredients that go into the farm-to-table cuisine.
- Try the local sweet wine, generally served as an aperitif. It is a regional specialty.
- If you love paella, make a trip to Malaga eastern beaches (El Palo, Pedregalejo, and Playa de la Caleta); the paella here is cooked fresh by the sea and seasoned with a blend of mouthwatering spices. It is so popular that all of it usually sells out by early afternoon.
- Málaga is popular for its festivals such as the Semana Santa (Holy Week); many top restaurants in Malaga offer special menus during these times so you may want to plan your visit accordingly.
- If you have a limited budget or do not want to pay for overpriced meals at popular spots like the Plaza de la Merced, look for “menu del día” offers for a three-course lunch; it is a tradition that many best places to eat Málaga follow.
We hope this guide helps you enjoy a flavor-packed experience that stays with you long after you leave Málaga, Spain. Come hungry, leave happy, and take a piece of Málaga with you.
For more tips for your upcoming trip or for an authentic Spanish tapas recipe, do check out our Malaga travel blog. We have also created a Spain packing list for our readers so you don’t have to stress about forgetting the essentials.