From the deep-fried deliciousness of pescaíto frito and the uber-fresh saltiness of red tuna to the famously dry finos of sherry-glugging, flamenco-loving Jerez – Spain’s soulful southernmost province, Cádiz, is a joy for food-loving travellers. Here, the wind-swept, white-sand Atlantic coast serves up seafood delicacies you’re unlikely to savour in Mediterranean Spain, while the subtle spices of neighbouring Morocco infuse many a local dish.
And, amid all the traditional cooking, a raft of renowned creative chefs continues to throw together innovative techniques, original flavours, international influences and fabulously fresh local produce, setting the tone for one of the most exciting regional-food scenes in Spain.
All gastronomic explorations of the province should start with cheery capital Cádiz. Meeting this historic city is as much about hunting down gaditano culinary triumphs as lazing on the dusty blonde beaches and drinking in the bubbly urban atmosphere.
Cádiz’s sunny seaside perch plays a key role in its ever-advancing food scene, which is all about fresh-as-it-gets seafood. The quintessential local dish is pescaíto frito (fried fish), best served simple-style with a squeeze of lemon at, say, always-packed Freiduría Las Flores. The lively Barrio de la Viña is the centre of all things fruits-of-the-sea. For many, the top tapas in town await at elegant El Faro, whose tortillitas de camarones (crispy shrimp fritters) are legendary. Nearby, much-loved Casa Manteca is a serious institution for bite-sized wax-paper servings of chicharrones (pressed pork).
But all those wonderful fresh ingredients are also being crafted into highly creative incarnations with a firmly contemporary twist. Innovative arrivals include Andalucian-international La Marmita, sophisticated Sopranis, former grocer’s shop Ultramar&nos, queue-out-the-door Tapería de Columela and the globe-trotting neoclassical Mercado Central de Abastos. In the super-central Barrio del Pópulo, old-school Taberna La Sorpresa has sprung back to life with its tuna-powered tapas and sherries straight from the barrel. Former intellectual hub Café Royalty – once a favourite of composer Manuel de Falla – has been exquisitely revamped and now turns out fine modern Andalucian cuisine amid frescoed ceilings and mirrored walls.
Where to stay: The sea-fronting Parador de Cádiz is a bold-design beauty with four pools, a plush spa and chicly contemporary rooms.
The Sherry Triangle
Jerez de la Frontera
North from Cádiz, sherry scents the air and classic seaside cuisine collides with inventive international touches and strong Moorish heritage in Jerez de la Frontera, ‘capital’ of Spain’s famed Sherry Triangle, whose traditional dishes spin from rich rabo de toro (oxtail) to riñones al jerez (sherry-braised kidneys).
Cádiz’ world-famous sherry industry was born in the late 18th century when Anglo-Irish entrepreneurs befriended local winegrowers and set up firms like Osborne, Sandeman and González-Byass. Get into the swing of things at forward-thinking Bodegas Lustau (founded in 1896), or head for handsome Bodegas Tradición, where you’ll be sampling extra-aged sherries against a backdrop of Goya, Zurbarán and Velázquez canvases. Also unmissable are Jerez’ revitalised tabancos, where orders of chicharrones and tortilla are chalked up on the bar, sherry is poured from the barrel and the scene is fuelled by raw live flamenco; try El Pasaje or Plateros.
Much like Cádiz, Jerez’s culinary scene is also taking a cutting-edge turn. Gorgeous old bodega La Carboná serves elegantly inventive plates like almadraba tuna tartare and oloroso-roasted (sherry-roasted) pigeon alongside delectable sherry pairing menus. Meanwhile, superstar chef Juan Luis Fernández welcomed the city’s first Michelin star in 2018 with his astonishing French-Andalucian cookery at Lú, Cocina y Alma.
Sanlúcar de Barrameda & El Puerto de Santa María
Over on the Guadalquivir estuary, Sanlúcar de Barrameda is the earthy home of salt-tanged manzanilla – a young, dry, one-of-a-kind sherry produced nowhere else in the world. The town’s riverside Bajo de Guía strip is famed for its seafood restaurants, while Casa Balbino is the go-to for a glass of the local tipple accompanied by perfectly crispy tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritters). But the Sherry Triangle’s gastronomic queen remains Ángel León’s superbly imaginative seafood sensation Aponiente in El Puerto de Santa María – one of just two three-Michelin-star restaurants in Andalucía. Creeping up behind is León’s Alevante, in Sancti Pectri south of Cádiz, also awarded a Michelin star in 2018.
Where to stay: Newcomer Casa Palacio María Luisa, Jerez’ first five-star hotel, occupies a 19th-century mansion graced by smartly updated rooms.
Vejer de la Frontera
Easily one of the most evocative towns in southern Spain, whitewashed Vejer de la Frontera (under an hour’s drive southeast of Cádiz) has subtly grown into a world-wandering foodie gem of Andalucía. Amid the tangled old-town alleys and on the palm-sprinkled Plaza de España, you can just as cheerfully dig into typical age-old recipes as Andalucian fusion cooking or Moroccan–Middle Eastern delights.
For terrific Moroccan–Andalucian cuisine in a historical setting, uberromantic garden restaurant El Jardín del Califa is just the ticket. Contemporary Andalucian Corredera 55 and 1930s-inspired Califa Tapas are other Vejer favourites, while traditional staples like red tuna, grilled prawns and platos combinados (meat- or egg-with-three-veg dishes) are on show at classics Casa Varo, La Oficina and Pepe Julián. And if you fancy trying your hand at those local specialities, there are excellent cooking classes, as well as food tours, with Annie B’s Spanish Kitchen (fino included!)
Where to stay: Fresh-faced 2019 arrival Plaza 18 is a luxe conversion of a 19th-century merchant’s house. Another option is the Morocco-inspired sister hotel La Casa del Califa, with its roots in the 10th century.
Barbate and Zahara de los Atunes
Southeast from Cádiz along the silky sands of the wind-sculpted Costa de la Luz, superbly fresh Atlantic bluefin tuna is the king, typically caught using the ancient almadraba method (believed to date back to Phoenician times). The fishing town of Barbate claims the region’s finest almadraba catch, as well as its leading seafooder, El Campero, ‘the temple of tuna’. Tradition and innovation fuse to perfection in such dishes as tuna-back ceviche, jamón marino (salted tuna belly) and atún encebollado (tuna cooked with onions).
The El Campero team also runs tuna-tastic La Taberna de El Campero in aptly named Zahara de los Atunes, a mellow neighbouring fishing village turned low-key golden-beach hangout. Your seafood adventures continue at favoured beachfront eateries like award-winning Restaurante Antonio.
If you happen to be roaming around the Costa de la Luz in May or June, keep an eye out for Ruta del Atún festivals.
Where to stay: Hotel Antonio has unfussy classic-design rooms and an outstanding restaurant by the beach in Zahara.
Zipping southeast along the Costa de la Luz from Zahara, you’ll hit kitesurfing capital Tarifa, with its blissful white-gold beaches and evocative old town. The buzzy wave-riding community and flourishing wellness scene mean Tarifa’s increasingly seductive food world has an enticingly global (and vegetarian- and vegan-friendly) slant, blending Cádiz staples and international trends (hello smoothie bowls!) with tantalising Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean flavours.
Organic local ingredients fuel the health-focused kitchen at co-working space/yoga spot Tarifa Eco Center; low-key meat-free Chilimosa delights with its zesty falafel wraps; and long-running, no-bookings-taken El Francés and its sister Silos 19 rustle up superb gaditano tapas with a creative flourish. Don’t miss the work-of art breakfasts at forever-popular Café Azul and Café 10.
The White Towns
Venture inland and sharply uphill, along the twisting roads of Cádiz’s rugged Sierra de Grazalema and you’ll feel the gastronomy shift. Along with the precipitous gorges, ancient firs, sky-reaching peaks and bucolic pueblos blancos (white villages) come rich mountain meats, artisanal payoyo goat’s cheese, delicate tagarninas (thistles) and a wealth of other goodies sourced straight from the local hills. Once you’re done kayaking, canyoning, caving, paragliding, or hiking up 1648m-high El Torreón, dig into mountain-cheese platters and Cádiz wines at creative Al Lago amid the whitewashed streets of Zahara de la Sierra, or perhaps a tagarnina scramble (made with golden thistles) or sirloin in green-pepper sauce at Restaurante El Torreón in white-walled, red-roofed Grazalema.
Where to stay: Wake up to twinkling reservoir views at boutique-design Al Lago in Zahara de la Sierra or go for colourful rustic style and a leafy pool garden at charming Grazalema guesthouse La Mejorana.