Deciphering the special set of vocabulary that comes along with dining out in Spain can baffle even those of us who aced their Spanish classes in school.
From ordering steak to asking for the check in Spanish, this guide has got you covered with the essential words and phrases that will help you tackle any restaurant in Spain like a pro.
You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to eat amazingly in Spain, but there are a handful of words that will make the experience a bit easier. From deciphering different parts of the menu to ordering exactly what you want, these 16 foodie words and phrases will help you eat (and order!) like a local.
When dining out in Spain, you’ll find that many meals are served family style. The large plates that are ordered for the entire table are called raciónes.
The only difference between raciónes and more commonly known tapas is usually just their size! The general rule of thumb is to order as many raciones as there are people eating, place them all in the center of the table and serve the food onto individual plates.
A ración generally provides enough food for three or four people. There’s also a second, medium-sized option on the spectrum between tapas and raciones: the media ración, which is a good size for two people.
How to use it: ¿Nos pones una ración de croquetas? (We would like a shared plate of croquettes.)
2. Tapa: Small Plate
Contrary to common belief outside of Spain, the word “tapa” refers only to the size of a plate, not what is on it! When dining out in Spain, a tapa can be everything from two triangles of cheese or a dish of olives to a mini hamburger or even a small portion of paella.
Tapas are simply small amounts of food. In cities like Madrid or Granada, they often come free when ordering a drink. In other cities, they cost money—but it’s often well worth it for the quality and innovation.
How to use it: Me encanta este sitio. Las tapas aquí son riquísimas! (I love this place. The small plates here are delicious!)
3. Pintxo: Small Plate with a Skewer
Head up to the north of Spain and you’ll find bars lined with colorful, eye-catching small bites skewered atop pieces of bread. Welcome to the land of pintxos!
“Pintxo” is simply the Basque word for “tapa.” Following Basque tradition, pintxos are often a bit more elaborate than tapas and are almost always served atop a medallion of bread with a skewer through the entire thing.
How to use it: Me gustaría un pintxo de queso de cabra y cebolla caramelizada. (I would like a small plate of goat cheese and caramelized onion.)
4. Menú del Día: Daily Lunch Special
Daily fixed-price menus, or menús del día, are a thing of beauty when dining out in Spain. They usually consist of three or four choices each for both a first and second course, bread, a drink, and either dessert or coffee. All of that will set you back just €10–15!
Menús del día are only served at lunchtime, and usually only during the week. Some restaurants also offer a lunchtime menú de fin de semana on weekends, but it tends to be more expensive than its mid-week counterpart.
How to use it: ¿Qué tenéis de menú del día? (What are the options for the menu of the day?)
5. Caña: Small Draft Beer
A caña is a short glass of draft beer. Cañas are usually about 200 ml (roughly ¾ cup).
Beer in Spain is most commonly ordered by size, as many bars only serve the local brew on tap. So instead of ordering a Mahou or an Estrella Damm, you would ask for a caña. However, the craft beer boom in Spain is slowly changing this, adding more beer options seemingly every week!
How to use it: ¿Me pones una caña, por favor? (I’ll have a small draft beer, please.)
6. Cuenta: Check or Bill
Asking for the check when dining out in Spain is as easy as catching the server or bartender’s eye and making a gesture like you are writing in the air. If you do want to use words, though, go with “la cuenta.”
In Spain, it is considered rude for waiters to bring the check before diners ask for it. Speak up when you’re ready to pay; otherwise you’ll be waiting for quite a while!
How to use it: La cuenta, por favor. (The check, please.)
7. Postre: Dessert
The best part of any Spanish meal, whether dining out or eating at home!
Desserts in Spain can be anything from a slice of chocolate cake to a piece of fruit. The former usually comes after dinner while the later is more common after lunch. If you order a menú del día, your dessert will often be included in the price of your meal.
How to use it: Para el postre, yo quiero la tarta de queso. (For dessert, I’d like the cheesecake.)
8. Vino Tinto: Red Wine
If you’re not picky, asking for a vino tinto will get you a glass of the house red. But if you want to get more specific, keep in mind that wine in Spain is almost always ordered by the region, not by the grape.
When it comes to red wines in Spain, two regions all but dominate drink menus and wine lists: Rioja and Ribera. The former is Spain’s best-known wine region even abroad, but the latter is starting to give it a run for its money.
Wines from Rioja tend to be lighter and fruitier than their more tannic and juicier Ribera counterparts. Both regions produce primarily tempranillo grapes.
How to use it: Ponme una copa de vino tinto (de Rioja), por favor. [I’ll have a glass of red wine (from Rioja), please.]
9. Vino Blanco: White Wine
Spain’s most prized white wine grape is albariño, which comes from the northwestern province of Galicia. Albariño is an exception to Spain’s order-by-the-region rule, as it is the name of the grape, not the region.
Wines from the Rueda region, which tend to be lighter and fruitier than albariños, are gaining momentum in the small but mighty world of Spanish whites. Even Rioja produces some excellent white wines that, while not as well-known as their red counterparts, are well worth a try!
How to use it: ¿Qué vinos blancos tenéis? (What types of white wine do you have?)
10. Vaso de Agua (de Grifo): Glass of Tap Water
To get a glass of water at a restaurant in Spain, you have to specifically ask for it. But if you just ask for agua, the server will almost always bring a large bottle.
For just a plain old, free glass of tap water, it’s necessary to specify that you want a glass (rather than bottle) of water. De grifo means from the tap (to make it extra clear).
Tap water in Spain is safe to drink; however, in many coastal cities like Barcelona and Malaga, the taste can be a bit off. While it won’t make you sick if you do consume it, you’re better off asking for bottled water (una botella de agua) which tastes much better!
How to use it: ¿Nos pones dos vasos de agua de grifo? (Could you bring us two glasses of tap water?)
11. En Su Punto: Medium Rare
Literally translated, en su punto means “at its point”—as in meat cooked to its point of perfection. This is the phrase to use if you want a medium rare steak when dining out in Spain.
Waiters will typically only ask how you would like your meat cooked if you have ordered a beef steak. To order a rare steak, ask for it “poco hecho.” A well done steak would be “muy hecho.”
How to use it: El chuletón para mi en su punto, por favor. (I’d like my steak cooked medium rare please.)
12. Cortado: Coffee with a Splash of Milk
Literally translated, cortado means “cut.” In the food world, the thing being cut is coffee.
A cortado is a shot of espresso “cut” with a splash of steamed milk and topped with a spoonful of milk foam. You can use it as a noun: I’d like a cortado. Or you can use it as an adjective: I’d like a café cortado.
Outside of the food realm, cortado means cut, as in “¿Te has cortado el pelo?” (Have you cut your hair?).
How to use it: Me das un cortado, por favor? (I’ll have an espresso with a splash of foamed milk, please.)
13. Café con Leche: Half Coffee, Half Milk
The most popular Spanish coffee drink, however, is the ubiquitous café con leche, or Spain’s answer to a latte. This drink consists of equal parts coffee and milk. You can also specify which temperature you’d like the milk to be: go for caliente if you want hot milk, or templada for lukewarm milk that will prevent you from burning your tongue!
How to use it: Quiero un café con leche, con la leche templada. (I’d like a coffee with lukewarm milk.)
14. Casero: Homemade
One of the most important questions you can ask at a Spanish restaurants is if the desserts are casero.
Many restaurants in Spain serve packaged products like yogurts, ice cream bars or chocolates on their dessert menu. While some of these can be decent, nothing beats homemade sweets. Whenever you’re handed a dessert menu, be sure to ask which of the items are actually made at the restaurant!
How to use it: ¿Qué postres caseros tenéis? (Do you have any homemade desserts?)
15. A La Brasa: Charcoal Grilled
If you’re craving something grilled, a la brasa is the way to go. This term is only used when items are grilled over a flame and charcoal. Typically, only meats or octopus are commonly found “a la brasa.”
How to use it: Pulpo a la brasa es mucho más rico que pulpo a la gallega. (Charcoal grilled octopus is much tastier than Galician-style boiled octopus.)
16. A La Parrilla: Grilled
A parrilla literally refers to the metal grill top that is usually placed over a fire to cook with. In practice, many of the items served a la parrilla are actually cooked on a grill pan on the stove, not over a fire. You will get those nice grill marks, though!
How to use it: Prefiero verduras a la parrilla que verduras al horno. (I prefer grilled vegetables to baked vegetables.)
16. A La Plancha: Cooked on a Griddle
A plancha is a large, flat, metal cooking surface that is common in most restaurants. In Spain, everything from fish filets to garlicky mushrooms is seared on this type of hot griddle. If the menu does not specify how an item is cooked, it’s safe to assume it will be a la plancha.
How to use it: A mí me encanta el salmón a la plancha, pero no me gusta el salmón ahumado. (I love salmon that has been cooked on a griddle, but I don’t like smoked salmon.)
Dining Out in Spain Vocabulary FAQs
Cañas are the small draft beers that are popular accompaniments to tapas. Their small size allows them to stay cold in the time it takes you to finish your dish. That’s why you’ll often see locals drinking them while nibbling on tapas in Spanish bars!
The Spanish word for “grill” is parrilla. However, at restaurants in Spain, this term is usually used to refer to food cooked in a grill-style pan on a stovetop. If you want something charcoal-grilled over a flame, look for the term a la brasa.
In Spain, you can simply say “la cuenta, por favor” (the check, please) when you catch your server’s attention. Another common phrase many locals use is “¿nos cobras cuando puedas?” (literally: “can you charge us when you can?”). Either one is a perfectly fine way to ask your server to bring the bill.
Though you can technically seat yourself at Spanish restaurants (there’s no host or hostess), it’s generally considered polite to catch a server’s attention and ask if a table is available—especially during peak times when the restaurant is busy.
To do so, just ask for “una mesa para dos” (a table for two), or however many people are in your party. If tables are available, the server will usually just invite you to grab whichever one you like.
Update Notice: This post was originally published on December 3, 2015 and was updated with new text and photos on June 1, 2021.
Hungry for more? Sign up for my free weekly newsletter and receive a new Spanish recipe once a week! Join today and get my FREE Spanish ingredient essentials guide!