A view from the inside.
One of the oldest establishments in Cartagena is the Mesón el Galgo which is situated on the calle Trafalgar amongst a small group of shops. Galgo, which means greyhound, is not cheap but is good value for money and very popular but well worth the wait for a seat, or alternatively you can stand at the bar area.
But as you are in calle Trafalgar don’t pass up the opportunity to walk another 10 metres where you’ll find la Esquinica bar which in English is ‘the little corner bar’, which is also very popular but with less waiting time and slightly keener prices and a really large selection of excellent tapas.
You could just ask for beer and tortilla which is pretty much the standard but why not be a little more adventurous and ask for un matrimonio (two varieties of anchovy) or una bicicleta (little bread stick with potato salad) boquerones (those lovely white anchovies again in a smooth vinegar, great with wine or beer), magra con tomate (pork in tomato sauce), ensaladilla rusa (the potato salad but we call it Russian in Spain), ensaladilla de mariscos (seafood salad… no horrible pink sauce), morcillas (best I don’t explain what it’s made out of but it tastes great), longaniza roja y blanca ( a kind of spicy sausage), caracoles (escargots or snails), una selección de ibéricos (a selection of fine cured meats… check your cash first!), mojete murciano (the typical salad from Murcia made with tinned tomatoes and meant for dipping bread in; a great alternative to gazpacho in the summer, zarangollo, (vegetables especially courgettes in egg).
If you want to sit down at a really outstanding restaurant you might like to choose the Pincho de Castilla which is in calle Angel Bruna. Cross Alfonso XIII and turn right at the blue building called ONCE (Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles) and if you are walking past the bank CAM then you are going on the right direction, and any minute now you’ll see Pincho on the same side.
Pincho is owned and run daily by an old family, familia Morales, also known as Carmen la carnicera or Pepe el carnicero from Cartagena, who first had a butcher’s on the same premises and before that they also owned the butcher’s shop in the village of Valle de Escombreras. The Morales know meat and know how to cook it and have proven themselves over three generations to the people of Cartagena and surroundings. Ask for anything. It is all exceptional and although it will come at a price that price will be some way lower than in many other major cities throughout the world and as such will be exceptionally good value for money.
If you want to get take away food there are a couple of really good options.
A few steps from Pincho de Castilla you will see a little take away called La Despensa which means the larder. You might not see everything they offer on display but they do have menus just like any other take away food establishment. What however is nothing like any other take away place, is that this is a family run business which produces really good family food to such an extent that they have gained true respect within the local community and are a favourite not only when you don’t want to cook but even if you have guests coming round and would like to put on something rather nice.
It is worth asking if you cannot find you way on your map for the Plaza Juan XXIII and thereafter for the calle Canales because what you will find is el Pollo Dorado, which is a take away specialising in roast chicken. They keep it simple with just a bag of crisps and a little tub of sauce. But they deserve their name Dorado or golden not just because the meat is golden roasted but because it is quite delicious, but on the down side be prepared to wait in line with the other half of the population of Cartagena.
If you can find your way to the barrio pesquero which is close to but not the same as the modernised port, then I would recommend that you go to the most humble looking eating place you have ever seen. The tables have paper for table cloths and the cutlery is tin like. This in fact was never meant to be a restaurant; this is the place where the fishermen cook their own fish the minute they get it on dry land. But word got around and people started to turn up and beg to be allowed to join the feast of fresh fish… It’s ok, it’s not moving on the plate!
Ask for any fish you like or the typical fritura which is a mixed plate of small fried fish, balance the meal with salad or chips if you prefer and accept whichever house wine they have but don’t order a lot of it. It’s the kind of stuff powerful fishermen drink after a long day’s work.
It is probably best not to go there at night. As I remember they close at night and in common with other ports in other towns all over the world, this one can be a little charismatic late at night and not the kind of place for tourists to hang out.
Instead make your way to the delightful Puerto with its lovely bars on the water front. The puerto is entirely the right kind of place to hang out at night.
But what if you don’t like Spanish food? OK, we are being hypothetical here, very few people don’t like Spanish food but let’s say if you fancy a change then you could visit either la Mia Mamma in calle Ramón y Cajal or the Piemonte in Alfonso XIII. Both are pizza and pasta places but are family run and offer good quality at reasonable prices. I especially like the variety of refreshing salads.
And here is the strangest recommendation. If you happen to find yourself outside the piscina municipal i.e. swimming pool, go inside and upstairs and very politely ask the bar man for a catalán or catalana and he won’t introduce you to a man or woman from Cataluña but will serve you one of the nicest toasted open sandwiches you could try. The male is served with Serrano ham and the female without and both make you think it’s worth a trip to Barcelona once you have seen Cartagena.