Over the past decade, Marbella has reinvented itself as a gastronomic paradise. The town is now home to several Michelin stared restaurants, a celebrated outpost of the acclaimed international Nobu chain and, before Covid-19, was in serious contention to be Spain’s City of Gastronomy for 2020.
But if you are looking for something a little less pretentious, the sort of place that hasn’t got a bad case of the “El Bulli’s”, all “molecular gastronomy” and where “smoke foam” and “mandarin air” aren’t on the menu, then here are some of BRIGHT’s favourite eateries. From tapas bars to ventas to seafood restaurants a fisherman’s net’s throw from the shore, these are our tried, tasted and tested venues, no reservation or jacket required!
BRIGHT’s galloping gourmand, Giles Brown, rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck in!
Fiesta, El Bar de Mercao, Marbella
Tucked away in a corner of Marbella’s municipal market is Fiesta, El Bar de Mercao. One of the best-kept secrets in Marbella, Fiesta serves up brilliant breakfasts and market-fresh specials of the day, all under the eclectic eye of owner Ruben. Fiesta is a great place to grab a coffee and a bite during a hectic morning food shopping, but there is so much more to La Fiesta than just a quick eat. The food here is superb and there is even an outside terrace to catch the sun while you eat – no mean feat when you consider the market is on the third floor… Recently featured on Canal Sur’s Andalucía Directo television programme, where he was able to show off one of the finest moustaches in Marbella, Ruben is also a huge rock and roll fan, and the terrace has been the venue for live music sessions on Saturday afternoons. Friendly, funky and highly recommended!
Fiesta, Jacinto Benavente 1, Mercado Central, Puesto 38, Marbella
Venta Los Pacos, Marbella
A genuine Marbella institution, Venta Los Pacos has been serving traditional Spanish food to the great, the good and the gluttonous since 1951. Now celebrating its 70th year, Los Pacos is still a family run business, and though Marbella may have changed since the 50s, the popularity of Los Pacos has remained a constant. Pop into the restaurant at lunchtime for a great value menu del dia during the summer months and more than likely you will have to wait to get a table. The shaded terrace is particularly popular and, although not exactly the place to sit and watch the world go by, you will more than likely observe some of the most chaotic parking on the coast.
Los Pacos is also a great place if you want to savour the atmosphere of watching a Spanish football match on the TV, especially if it’s Barcelona against Real Madrid. Forget the yobbos with pints hurling insults at the screen that you might be used to watching the Premiership – you can savour the skills of Messi et al while enjoying a pil-pil. It’s a much more civilized experience!
Venta Los Pacos, Ctra N-340 Km 179, Marbella
Los Farolillos, La Campana
One of the best-kept secrets of Marbella, this family run restaurant in La Campana has been serving excellent pizzas and pastas as well as meat and fish, to locals and visitors in the know for decades – almost 36 years. I first ate at Los Farolillos in the mid-80s and have been going back ever since. Not only that but, after my escapades there during the 80s and ‘noughties’, they’ve been patient enough to let me back in and even smile when I arrive! It can be a challenge to park nearby in La Campana’s narrow streets in summer but it is more than worth it for the genuinely friendly service, and the side dishes such as cheesy garlic bread and huge baked potatoes which are truly outstanding. So outstanding in fact, that as I am writing this I am making a mental note to pop down for a visit in the very near future!
Los Farolillos, Tirso de Molina 23, La Campana, Nueva Andalucía
Taberna del Pintxo, Puerto Banús
Value for money and the Port of Abuse may sound like the greatest oxymoron since the Saudi Arabian Campaign for Real Ale, but the Taberna del Pintxo manages to pull off the trick. Located behind the now defunct Hard Rock Marbella and derelict La Moraga that was part of the ubiquitous Marbella mega chef Dani Garcia’s empire. It says something that though its neighbours are long gone, this Basque style tapas bar is still busy. For the uninitiated, pintxos are Basque-style tapas and you order from the bar, or take your pick from the plates that the waiters bring out from the kitchen. Each pintxo is served with a coloured cocktail stick and the waiters add up your bill by counting them. Taberna del Pintxo has an authentic Basque vibe to its interior with beamed ceilings and a cool stone interior, perfect for sheltering away from the heat of an Andalusian summer’s day!
Marina Banus, Local 14, Puerto Banus
Another pintxo restaurant, located on a busy corner just off Marbella’s main street, the Avda. Ricardo Soriano, Lekune is the perfect pit stop for the peckish. Be warned though, it does get very busy with a mixture of local business people, funcionarios taking a well-earned break from their busy morning at the office (yeah, right) and Marbellí enjoying the weather on one of the pavement tables. Although the food may be traditionally Basque, with pintxos aplenty and the same way of totting up the bill, the interior of Lekune is much more contemporary. Be prepared to queue for a space in summer when it is packed to the rafters with a noisy crowd enjoying their food!
Avda. La Fontenilla 1, Marbella
La Escollera, Estepona
If fresh fish and seafood is your thing, it is high time that you made a pescatarian pilgrimage to La Escollera. Located in Estepona’s fishing port, just across from the bustling fish market, the only way that you could get fresher fish is if you were to wade into the Mediterranean with a net yourself. Since it opened in 1940, La Escollera has been a cornerstone of the Estepona restaurant scene. There is more variety of fish and seafood on offer than a casting call for ‘Finding Nemo’ and La Escollera has an outside terrace close to the sea, perfect for a cool glass of crisp white wine as you ponder the vast range of food on offer. Mention this restaurant to anyone who knows their food in Estepona and you will see a smile cross their face and a faraway look come over their eyes. It really is that superb!
Puerto Pesquero, Estepona