This time last year, I was writing about the food of Madeira – a cuisine that’s as unique to itself as it is similar to Portuguese food. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the same can be said of the food of the Canary Islands – a Spanish archipelago off the coast of Morocco that combines the flavours of Spain with its own very local traditions. I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last seven weeks on Gran Canaria, making the most of the winter sun and (of course) the culinary bounty around me. This article covers the capital city – Las Palmas – specifically, but I’m working on another article for the rest of the island next week…
What to eat in Gran Canaria
Whether you choose one of the restaurants featured in this guide or not, there are several Canarian dishes that you’ll come across all over the island. So when you’re perusing the menu, look out for the ubiquitous papas arrugadas – the tastiest, tiniest potatoes grown in volcanic soil, boiled until their skin wrinkles, and served with mojo – a garlicky, peppery sauce that every restaurant has its own recipe for. In fact, garlic seems to be a theme in general: most bread comes with some variation on aioli, most grilled fish comes slathered with shavings of fried garlic, and pretty much every sauce is laden with garlic! Speaking of fish, look out for the classic Canarian varieties – sama and cherne – both meaty white fish that generally come simply grilled with bread, potatoes and veggies. Moray eel, squid and octopus are also found in abundance, fried or grilled and dipped in yet more garlic sauce.
If you’re more of a meat eater, you won’t be disappointed either. The local chorizo de Teror is generally eaten spread on bread at lunchtime (a bit like filet americain, if you’re Dutch) and is – once again – heavy on garlic. In terms of red meat, the quality of the beef is high – but don’t miss out on local specialities like goat stew, which tastes a little like oxtail. You also can’t go wrong with ropa vieja or garbanzada – a chickpea stew laced with various kinds of meat, tomatoes and peppers.
Vegetarians might have a slightly harder time than they do in northern Europe, but you’ll find various bean- and cheese-based dishes to tide you over. Beans and chickpeas are stewed down in all manner of delicious ways, while several of the local grains are used to make a curious substance known as gofio (more on that in my next post). Cheese lovers must try the queso asado – grilled cheese, generally served with a sweet, fruity sauce (there’s also queso frito, which means the cheese has been breaded and fried). And true cheese afficionados should be sure to track down the local Cortijo de Caideros cheese – I tried lots of Canarian cheeses and this was hands-down my favourite. Creamy but punchy, you can buy it at the central market in Las Palmas.
And let’s not forget the wines! The Canary Islands grow primarily Listán Blanco and Malvasía grapes for their white wines, which give rise to some interesting dry and semi-dry whites with a slightly salty edge. Fresh and fruity reds are dominated by Listán Negro, Negramoll, Vijariego Negro and Baboso Negro grapes, but there are unique local varieties on each island. More to come on some of my favourite bottles when we get into the restaurants!
Canarian and Spanish restaurants in Las Canteras
If you’re on holiday, you’re likely to want to focus on the Canarian and Spanish restaurants first and foremost – especially when the local cuisine is this good. But you should definitely explore further than the touristy tapas bars along the beach. Set back behind Playa de las Canteras are plenty more culinary goodies to be found…
Restaurante La Marinera
One of the most famous fish restaurants in Las Palmas (and with good reason), La Marinera serves the freshest catch overlooking the ocean. Despite its footprint over a few different rooms, you’ll need a reservation as it packs up quickly. We took a recommendation from our enthusiastic waiter, and ordered the fried squid followed by an entire grilled sama fish with garlic and lemon. It was one of the priciest things we ate (€112 for the fish alone!) but it tasted fantastic and could’ve easily fed four people. Best consumed with a bottle of Albariño.
This hidden gem of a tapas bar doesn’t take reservations, so arrive early to bag one of the half dozen or so tables at Tasca Galileo. I particularly enjoyed their tortilla filled with salty, flaky bacalao, but everything we tried was well executed, from the salmon tartare to the braised pork cheeks. Tasca Galileo is all dark wood and cosy romance, so order a bottle of Rioja and enjoy the ambience.
Rincón de Triana
For a slightly more upmarket meal, Rincón de Triana is an elegant choice for a Sunday lunch or an evening out after a day at the beach. We tried the tuna timbale with tomatoes, black olives and red onions, bound together with a mayo-based sauce. Next, we ordered the “broken eggs” with sweet shrimp, lashings of garlic butter and elvers (baby eels that look like noodles). Lunch was complete with roast suckling pig that tasted like it had been cooked slowly in fat, confit-style. The food was pretty rich, and benefitted from the acidity of a good Spanish white wine like the Godello we drank. Afternoon nap guaranteed.
Going a little less local, Nákar specialises in Basque cuisine and altogether feels a more modern in both its food and its décor. There’s a chef’s tasting menu, which I’d probably have ordered if I wasn’t with family members with slightly smaller appetites, that lets you try a bit of everything. That said, we still managed to eat our way through quite a bit of the a la carte menu! I loved the brioche with pig’s cheek, apple compote and foie gras – savoury and sweet at the same time. The pocha beans from Navarra topped with scallops, cod’s tripe and pickled green chillies were also a huge hit with our table. As were the Cava and Ribera del Duero Crianza. Good value for this level of cooking.
Hermanos García (J.M.D. location)
At the opposite end of the spectrum is budget-friendly Hermanos García. Apparently they have a couple of different branches, but we only tried the J.M.D. location near Plaza de España. If you’re feeling hungry, order from the menú del día – it’ll bag you a starter, hefty main, dessert, bread, drink and coffee for less than €12. But you can also order individual dishes if that all sounds like too much. Expect simple but tasty Canarian classics like ropa vieja and churros de pescado.
International restaurants in Las Canteras
When you’ve had enough of the local food, you might be looking for something a little more international to eat. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants abound in Las Palmas, which meant I ate a LOT of tacos while I was there. We had a few bad experiences, but plenty of good ones (and a lot of margaritas) to make up for it. We also discovered a couple of great Venezuelan eateries – a cuisine I wasn’t too familiar with but am now keen to seek out again. Plus, if you’re craving burgers or sushi, I’ve included two strong contenders. This section is a bit of a hotch-potch of international restaurants in Las Palmas, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious.
For tasty Tex-Mex tacos and drinks on a budget, head to Tiki Taco for €1 tacos and €5 margaritas. The tacos are smaller and with fewer toppings, of course, but with some careful planning you can eat well for €10. Our favourites were the tinga de pollo, which are ideal if you like your tacos juicy and spicy.
Chiwawa Cantina (Mesa Y López location)
We stumbled across Chiwawa Cantina on our first night in Las Palmas, and were grateful that they’d let our dog in (the clue was in the title, I guess!). As it happened, the food was fantastic too. The “Nachos Yucatan” were several cuts above your average nachos: homemade tortilla chips topped with shredded chicken, peanuts, avocado crema and jalapeno jam – spicy, creamy, tangy and with a touch of sweetness. Tacos were €4 but came absolutely loaded: order the “Scorpion” taco with cochinita pibil and smoky mango. The only thing I didn’t like was the margarita: it came frozen (no option for chilled or on the rocks) and with fruity additions like mango and passionfruit, which were too sweet for me.
Ay Carmela’s location on the main beach walk made me very hesitant – I figured it must have tourist trap written all over it. But as we walked past one day, we saw these hot-stone steak fajita-type things and pitchers of margaritas that were the colour of real lime and we decided to give it a try. I’m so glad we did! Everything from the crispy, spicy, stuffed jalapenos to the tender Uruguay steak and pillowy tortillas was perfect. As was the sunset over Playa de Las Canteras.
We discovered Mazu Street at a digital nomad meetup, but I’d definitely go back for the food. The ceviche was ultra fresh and full of flavour, while the tacos involved tasty combinations like fried fish and red cabbage, or sweet potato and black beans. The bar was a little loud, however, so if you’re sensitive to noise choose a table outside.
With its distressed walls and hipster street art, you might think Bululú is all style over substance. But you’d be wrong. Everything we ate there was a top-notch fusion of Venezuelan and international flavours. Think: umami-rich tuna tartare with wakame and sesame; citrusy ceviche with hominy; towers of fried aubergine and plantain with queso fresco and basil; and (perhaps our favourites) the patacones – sliced and fried plantain topped with refried beans, pulled pork, guacamole and more. I was only gutted that we didn’t visit Bululú until the week before we were due to leave!
Corazón de Venezuela
For traditional, hearty Venezuelan food, look no further than Corazón de Venezuela – literally translating as “heart of Venezuela”. Don’t leave without trying the local cocktail – a tropical fruit and rum concoction known as Guarapita – as well as the empanadas and corn pancakes with cheese. If you can’t decide what to eat and are with friends, order the Felicidad de Todos to share. As the name suggests, you’ll get to taste a bit of everything for less than €20 per person.
I don’t say this lightly, but MooMoo served us two of the best burgers I’ve eaten in months, if not years. Not only were the patties cooked and seasoned to perfection, and the burger to bun ratio on point, but the toppings were also a thing of beauty. The “Bang Bang” burger came with bacon, chipotle and caramelised onion (you can just imagine how good that combination is) while the “Crooked” burger came with jalapenos, red onion and crema fresca – a seductive balance between spicy and creamy.
For perfectly charred meat and vegetables, D’Brasas comes highly recommended. The chicken is particularly good value, but the pricier large cuts of steak are worth if it you feel like splashing out. Pair with a tasty glass of red for best results. Bonus points: D’Brasas is dog friendly (at least, to a tiny Yorkie)!
Japanese Restaurant Fuji
The quality of the fish and seafood on the Canary Islands makes sushi an obvious import when it comes to international cuisines. Which is perhaps why Fuji has been going strong since 1967, as the first Japanese restaurant in Gran Canaria. I was concerned it might be riding on former glories, but I needn’t have been – our meal was pricy but worth every euro cent. That said, ignore the confusingly long QR-code menu and just ask your server for recommendations. We had a stunning tuna, papaya and avocado carpaccio to start, followed by round after round of jaw-droppingly good sushi – from flambé salmon and black garlic to tuna belly with truffle. A special occasion restaurant, if ever there was one.
Starting as a tiny popup in a different location, Korean restaurant Kim’s Pojangmacha found its permanent home (a bigger spot right next door to Tasca Galileo – see above) during our stay in Las Palmas. So I’ll forgive the few teething problems we experienced on the service front. On the food front, however, everything was in good working order: we tried the chicken mandu (fried dumplings), pork belly lettuce wraps with fermented chilli sauce, and sweet-meets-spicy fried chicken. While nothing was outstanding, all dishes were all well executed and hit the spot. And since Kim’s is the only Korean restaurant in Las Palmas, it’s incredibly popular – so you’ll need to reserve in advance.
Cafes and bars in Las Canteras
If you’re not looking for a full meal, but instead just coffee, breakfast, a light lunch or drinks and bites between trips to the beach, here are a few options to keep you going until dinner time… Note that almost all of these are pet friendly – I know because we walked (or mostly carried) our Yorkie around all day every day!
LUWAK – popular brunch spot with excellent fresh juices, a hipster vibe and tasty vegetarian and vegan sandwiches, bowls and burgers.
Un Lugar – good coffee, free co-working space and dog friendly. What’s not to like?
Granier – small chain of bakeries in Las Palmas that serves reliable coffee and pastries – my favourite being the almond pretzel! (No website)
Maripili – in the morning, set yourself up for the day with a tasty, good-value Cuban sandwich plus good coffee and OJ. In the evening, Maripili serves a lot more, but I only tried their cocktails.
Vianda Gourmet – relaxed wine bar and gourmet store serving excellent Spanish and Canarian wines by the glass with fancy snacks to match. Think local cheeses and charcuterie, fabada (Asturian bean stew), stuffed piquillo peppers and more.
La BikinaCantina – beach bar serving hands-down my favourite margarita in Las Palmas! Order two plus some nachos, watch the sunset, roll home.
Las Buenas Pulgas – one for the beer lovers, this cervecería isn’t cheap but it serves some excellent craft beers complete with beach views.
La Casa RojaO Sole Mio – the only spot on this list that isn’t dog friendly, but I’ve included it because of the incredible rooftop bar. Try the “Diavola” – a spicy margarita that hit every note.
Bonus tip: Heladería Peña la Vieja – this isn’t a bar at all but an ice cream shop (and I wasn’t sure where else to put it!). There was a line outside the door every time I walked past, and for good reason. Creamy fig, rich chocolate orange or nutty almond – whatever you choose, expect to be transported to gelato heaven.
Restaurants in old town Las Palmas: Triana and Vegueta
All my recommendations so far have centred around Playa de Las Canteras – the beach that runs along the northwest coastline of Las Palmas – and the neighbourhood to the east of it. But if you head south along the main highway GC-1, you’ll reach old town Las Palmas: first Triana and then Vegueta. My restaurant recommendations here are far thinner on the ground – not because there aren’t plenty of eateries, but because my apartment was up near Plaza de España and my work commitments meant I wasn’t able to spend as much time in the older parts of Las Palmas as I’d have liked. Some restaurants didn’t make the cut, but those below are tried, tested and foodie approved!
Recently opened in Triana, Mestizo has bright turquoise walls and a modern interior that somehow vibes well with its old town location. The restaurant specialises in rice and grilled dishes, so we opted for the paella and the grilled picanha. The paella may not quite have been up to Valencian standards, but it was certainly good, as was the ceviche of cherne that we tried to start with. The picanha was a little tough, but to be honest I’ve rarely eaten a picanha that wasn’t. The Rioja Crianza was also great value.
Tasca Siete Viejas
A tapas bar in an atmospheric old building in Vegueta, Siete Viejas offers all the classics you’d expect but at top quality: papas arrugadas (baby boiled potatoes with spicy mojo sauce), tortilla, pig’s cheeks, Canarian cheeses and jamón, and plenty more. Lovely service and wine to match.
Speaking of jamón, for all things porky head to Espacio Ibérico in Triana. We tried half a dozen different varieties of Spanish charcuterie plus a couple of red wines – and all before dinner. Don’t say I never do anything for you!