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Barcelona

born barcelona restaurant dining tablesAs in the rest of Spain, tapas -- or small plates -- are very popular in Barcelona. But Catalan cuisine is unique from the food you'll find elsewhere, featuring fresh seafood and distinctive sauces. One simple Catalan favorite to try is pa amb tomaquet -- sliced bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil. For casual meals, stop by a tapas bar along La Rambla or grab a chorizo sandwich from one of many local stands. If you're going out for a big restaurant meal, keep in mind that locals eat dinner late (think 9 p.m. and beyond).

Sample Mediterranean and international flavors on the fixed-price tasting menus at intimate Con Gracia, where one option is the "Experience menu," in which the chefs delight diners with one surprise course after another. Reservations are recommended.

Locals and visitors alike stand in line at Cal Pep to sample what many consider the best seafood in the city. Menu options might include dishes like baby squid with checkpeas or cod with spinach and aioli. The tortillas are to die for.

Since its founding in 1903, Can Sole has been serving up traditional seafood dishes in its location near the marina. Try the paella, a deliciously seasoned dish with rice, fish and shellfish.

For great food and beer at affordable prices, check out Cerveceria Catalana. The ambience is crowded and noisy, but the tapas can't be beat.

Tucked away on a narrow street in the Gothic Quarter is Els 4 Gats, where a young Pablo Picasso once held his first art exhibition. He and other artists made this cafe/restaurant a bohemian hangout of the early 20th century, and you can still feel the vibe today as you dine on tapas and inventive dishes such as codfish au gratin with quince jelly.

In the hip El Born district, Santagustina is a perfect spot to people watch while sipping cava and enjoying a selection of tapas such as eggplant roasted red peppers with sizzling mozzarella. Or linger with a friend over cafe con leche and pastries.

Can Paixano, located in the Barceloneta area near the port, is said to offer the city's best cava selection, along with a menu of sandwiches and tapas.

Had enough tapas? Switch it up with a visit to Bun Bo, a colorful Vietnamese restaurant in the up-and-coming Raval district. Meals are fresh and affordable.

Oval, a few blocks from Placa Catalunya, is a modern burger bar where you can create your own custom burger (then name it -- the finished product will carry a tiny flag). It's particularly popular with locals.

Restaurant La Campana, located in the Hostafrancs neighborhood, is an authentic Catalonian spot with a friendly host and inventive twists on traditional cuisine like beef carpaccio with parmesan ice cream. Prices are reasonable for the polished yet cheery sit-down ambience, but portions are not the common small plates; instead, they're meant for sharing.

Oporto, near the Sagrada Familia, serves up cuisine from Spain's friendly next-door neighbor. You can sample Portuguese cheeses and sausages as well as various preparations of codfish and veal, among other mouth-watering options.

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