When traveling to another city or country, your search is usually filled with “Top Attractions” and “A Guide to…”. But what about a search for hidden things only locals would know about? As a vegetarian living in Madrid for two weeks, I decided to try and find a few hidden gems around the city and check off two of my favorite things in the process: eating and exploring.
Tourists wouldn’t know about the cute store with a restaurant underneath unless they were tipped off or had been living in their host city for some time. So I took it upon myself to find such places and taste-test them from a vegetarian perspective.
When finding El Invernadero SB I had to rely on the Spanish I knew and my friend who was with me that evening. After walking down a few blocks and realizing we really didn’t know where we were, I decided to ask some locals who proceeded to walk with us down the street until we arrived. I had been told I would be walking into a greenhouse and might feel like I had stepped into The Jungle Book, but all I saw were bags and things to hang on walls or place on desks. Totes sagged on shelves and home decorations like teacups hung out on a family table. At first glance I had no idea that upon proceeding further into the store I would come across a staircase that would fit well in a Harry Potter film and would lead me straight to a restaurant covered in green, rather than Dumbledore’s office.
I was able to speak to a waitress, Karen Luzuriage, right away about this leafy underground greenhouse. She said, “The goal was to make it about travel. Many people just come to look at the decoration. There are three different restaurants and they are all in secret locations. Most people come to shop first and then eat and some don’t realize the restaurant is there and happen upon it while shopping.”
I was amazed at how many potted plants were placed comfortably together on the walls, ceiling, and floor. After taking our seats a waiter approached us and offered two leaves to place glasses of water on.
Being a vegetarian I ordered a veggie burger for the affordable price of 9,50€. I was not surprised when my burger arrived on a giant green leaf. The food was amazing: a vegetarian burger with goat cheese, beets, and zucchini, washed down with a mojito. Staying in character, the drink was presented to the table with a lot of green leaves on top, green straw topped with green and red gummies, and an ice cub filled with a light. It was literally lit.
If you’re looking for a more romantic setting, with a basement covered in sand straight out of Lilo and Stitch, I recommend Ojalá. Those not acquainted with the neighborhood might regard this restaurant as any other. Plants dropping from the ceiling toward wooden tables and lots of natural light welcome guests. Upon walking down the steps you then find yourself standing on sand. Low booths with footstools for tables spread around the room, leading up to what looks like a tiki bar.
I ordered the Detox: quinoa, red cabbage, green leaf mix, red onion, coriander, pomegranate, red pepper, lime, and a peanut vinaigrette with ginger for the crazy price of 5,50€.
Ojalá is a comfortable place, but make sure to grab a seat where you can stretch your legs.
Tommy Mel’s American 50’s Restaurant
If you happen to find yourself in a place surrounded by porcelain, blue and white striped seats, a checkered floor, and some neon lights, you may just be in Madrid’s Tommy Mel’s American 50’s Restaurant. When my group and I stumbled upon this place we did a double take, and of course went in. To match the 50’s theme the menu does not disappoint. With everything from salad to a rack of ribs and side of fries or a vegan burger and a milkshake this place was buzzing. Literally, because Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was playing overhead. As the waiter approached us with food, I ordered the vegan burger; I had to ask what it was like working here.
“It’s like stepping back in time. I wake up in 2017 and come into work and it’s the 50’s. It’s very fun and the burgers and shakes are very popular,” Goyo said.
So, finding vegetarian food wasn’t as much of a struggle in a meat-loving city as one might think. If you plan on visiting, I highly recommend you try a veggie burger at least once.