I don’t know about you, but to me, the word “cafeteria” conjures up images of self-serve steam pans, hard, brown plastic trays, and globs of unappealing food doled out in an institutional setting. In Spain, “cafeteria” is synonymous with “cafe.” Cafeteria Europa is a restaurant that happens to be attached to a hotel, Hotel Europa. Thankfully, it’s nothing like the cafeterias of my youth. But it’s also not like most hotel restaurants I’ve dined at. You know the kind I’m talking about–charmless places with overpriced, mediocre food. Thankfully, that is not the case at all here.
Without a doubt, Cafeteria Europa became my favorite place to eat in Madrid. It was conveniently close, allowed me to charge my meals to my room at the hotel, and had a variety of seating options that all felt solo-friendly (and believe me, I experienced them all). The interior of the restaurant has a light, shiny, contemporary diner atmosphere, while the outside has the more traditional al fresco European dining vibe.
Moreover, the location can’t be beat. Cafeteria Europa is on the corner of Calle Carmen and Puerta del Sol, the huge plaza in the center of Madrid. This affords it a great spot for people-watching if you dine outside. Service was always efficient, though some servers seemed a bit more polished than others. It seemed that the best waiters worked the outside tables (probably because customers dining outside pay more than those dining inside). But I loved the staff working the counter, because they were so down to earth.
I found the food to be very good and the prices reasonable if not downright cheap. For breakfast, I had cafe con leche and churros (without the chocolate) one morning, which was not spectacular, but only because I’m not a big fan of fried bread. My second breakfast was cafe con leche with a delightful chocolate pastry. Both breakfasts were just a couple of Euros. My first lunch here was a very large ensalada mixta (for 6 Euros) that was terrific and more than I could eat.
I ate outside for my second lunch–and made the mistake of choosing a table without an umbrella, as the sun was beating down and it grew very caliente (hot). But the food was worth it. I ordered the Europa Combinacion Plata–a veal schnitzel with a fried egg and fried vegetables. (I normally don’t eat veal for the same reason I don’t eat lamb; I don’t like the idea of killing cute little baby animals before they’ve really had a chance to live. But when in Spain….) When my waiter first set my plate in front of me, my eyes bugged. It was a large platter and the largest piece of veal I’ve ever seen. But it was fileted very thin, so it wasn’t overwhelming. The vegetables were diced fine and sloppy, and at first tasted like baked beans–a result of the sauce, I believe. It was all quite good.
I liked this restaurant so much, I would eat there even if I weren’t staying at the hotel. You’ll probably want to see Puerta del Sol while you’re in Madrid anyway, since it’s one of the most famous plazas in the city, so why not try Cafeteria Europa while you’re at it? If you want the cheapest meal possible, sit inside. If you want to people-watch and enjoy a sunny day, sit outside, just know you’ll pay more for the privilege.
Disclaimer: While I got a discounted media rate for my room at Hotel Europa, I got no discounts for the restaurant at all, nor was anyone expecting me to write a review about it. I just really dug the place.