When we first starting dating, Alejandro told me he was from a place called El Puerto de Santa María in the Andalusian province of Cadiz. I remember looking up the area in my Fodor’s guide, and being surprised that it had its own entry. As it turns out, El Puerto (as we call it for short) is home to 88,000 people, and while it still often feels like a small town, it is actually a small port city known for great seafood and fino del Puerto, a very dry sherry wine.
Despite being from El Puerto, Alejandro didn’t exactly know much about his hometown. My first visit started by meeting his parents at the local shopping mall, and was followed by a weekend of home cooked food at his parents’ home in Valdelagrana, a newer part of the city that is right on the beach.
I couldn’t complain— who wouldn’t be happy with in-laws that lived steps from the beach? But it wasn’t until later visits that I discovered all the charm of El Puerto (its old town center, a small castle, the traditional covered market, and (of course) its restaurants, bars, and pastry shops).
Each visit I make to El Puerto de Santa María I try to eat somewhere new. This can be difficult since my mother-in-law likes to cook for us, but I convince them to join us for at least one meal out!
Here are my recommendations for eating in El Puerto de Santa Maria.
What to Eat in El Puerto
The best churros I’ve had in all of Spain come from the province of Cadiz, and in El Puerto there are plenty of places to get your fill. What makes this version of Spain’s beloved fried dough extra delicious is their very thin shape when compared to other regions’ versions. They also contain the perfect amount of salt, making them delicious whether eaten on their own or coated in sugar (which is great if you like a combination of sweet and salty). In El Puerto churros are always made fresh to order and you’ll notice that at churros booths in the summer they’ll simply throw away any that have been there for more than a few minutes. The best way to enjoy these crispy churros is to buy a big cone full (they’re sold by weight) and sprinkle sugar on top.
Sherry wine (fino)
El Puerto de Santa María is part of the sherry triangle, meaning that it is one of three towns that produces sherry wines (although the grapes can come from all over the region). Some of the most famous bodegas in El Puerto are Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia, Bodegas Osborne, and Bodegas Terry, and each one allows for guided visits (usually by appointment). Visiting a sherry bodega is an incredible experience, as sherry wines are some of the oldest and most fascinating in the world, and the process for making them is anything but straightforward!
Bluefin tuna comes from the Cadiz region and, in spite of the controversy over consuming it, is an incredibly delicious taste of the south. One of the best ways to enjoy it all year round is by buying some of the superior quality conservas, where the tuna has been semi cured. You can also try fully cured tuna and tuna belly. If you love salty cured meats go for thinly sliced mojama, which is dried salt-cured tuna typically eaten with Marcona almonds and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
The south of Spain is the home of Spanish tapas, so do take advantage! In Cadiz you generally pay for the tapas you order (although your drink will likely come with olives or perhaps even potato salad) and a tapa is essentially a 1-person serving size (meaning anywhere from 3-5 make for a meal).
Las Tejas del Puerto
Las Tejas del Puerto are a typical cookie made in a family run shop called 100 Palacios Ibánez Herrera e Hijos. Tejas literally means roof shingles, and in other Spanish cities these cookies look like the red roof tiles that Spain is known for. In El Puerto, however, there is nothing roof tile about them! They are made primarily with almonds and sugar, and are crispy, crunchy and delicious. They also make coconut and chocolate ones from time to time and you’ll even find creamy and delicious tejas ice cream (helado de tejas) at my favorite ice cream shop in El Puerto (see recommendations below).
Where to Eat in El Puerto de Santa María
El Rincón del Jamón y la Paletilla: This is where my in-laws have breakfast every morning of the week (if you call it breakfast at 12:30 pm!). They have good taste as for only €2.20 you can chow down on a delicious tostada topped with crushed tomato and Serrano ham. There’s a bottle of local olive oil on every table to pour on as you see fit!
Calle Micaela Aramburu, 19
Café Bar la Ponderosa: This is THE place for churros in El Puerto (apart from some of the excellent beach stalls in the summer months). They come out hot, fresh, and crispy and are well worth the indulgence!
Avenida de la Constitución, 6
Bodeguilla del Bar Jamón: Definitely one of El Puerto’s best tapas bars, this small establishment serves fun and inexpensive tapas along with some Garum red wine from the region.
Calle Misericordia, 5
Charcutería y Jamonería Mario: This small grocery store becomes a lively bar in the evening where people order the best of Spanish cheese, wine, and charcuterie from (who other than) Mario himself! Try the chicarrones de Cadiz con mojo picón and check if he has any tuna conserves available (the one with a hazelnut and Roquefort cheese is to die for!).
Avenida del Ejercito, 12
La Cata Ciega: This small wine bar is one of my favorite places to head for a pre-dinner vino. They have an excellent selection of carefully selected wines and also serve a variety of cold tapas that can make for a light meal or for the perfect aperitif.
Calle Ribera del Río, 32
Pizzería Maria Regina: My favorite pizzas in El Puerto come from Pizzería María Regina, a small restaurant in Valdelagrana. It is a very casual place (with paper plates), but the pizza is homemade, Italian thin-crust, just how I like it!
Avenida de la Paz, 11 (Valdelagrana)
La Taberna del Sapo: Cadiz is located in the very south of Spain and Galicia is in the very north. But despite the distance the locals in both places appreciate good seafood, wine, and company! La Taberna del Sapo is a small Galician restaurant in Valdelagrana, one of El Puerto de Santa María’s beach communities. The Galician ladies running the place cook some of the most delicious Galician specialties at great prices.
Avenida de la Paz, 38 (Valdelagrana)
Calle Ganado, 46
Heladería da Massimo: Another Italian owned business that has been successful in El Puerto is Heladería da Massimo, a fantastic ice cream shop in the city center. If you go, make sure to try the helado de tejas, a true treat that you’ll only find in El Puerto.
Calle Luna, 22
Bodegas Guiterrez Colosia: If you are looking to learn about sherry wine and sample some of the best from the region, try making an appointment to visit Bodegas Guiterrez Colosia. They hold tours in English, Spanish and German and their guides are dynamic and captivating when explaining the complicated process!
Avenida de la Bajamar, 40
Aponiente: Certainly the city’s most famous restaurant, Aponiente is the brainchild and passion project of El Puerto born chef, Ángel León. Here you’ll find cutting edge techniques and recipes for local seafood as León specializes in using unwanted fish species and marine plankton. Star dishes include “fake” oxtail (made with fish instead) and “Iberian sausage” made completely with local fish from El Puerto. The restaurant received its first Michelin star in 2010.
Calle Puerto Escondido, 6
Know before you go
- Sherry is the English word for Jerez, another city in the sherry triangle located about 20 minutes from El Puerto. Sherry wines range from some of the driest in the world to some of the sweetest in the world, and El Puerto is best known for their dry finos.
- Breakfast is eaten quite late by many locals, with some breakfast places serving desayunos until 12:00 or 1:00! This pushes lunch up to 3:00 or 3:30 and dinner around 10:00 to 10:30.
- Unfortunately (and for reasons I’ll never be able to understand) many restrooms do not have toilet paper or soap. Come prepared with tissues and hand sanitizer for peace of mind.
- Instead of having dessert right after lunch, do as the locals do and wait a few hours until the afternoon merienda. From around 5:30 to 7:30 you’ll see locals having a drink and a bite to eat in local cafés and pastry shops.
El Puerto de Santa María is one of those places that can seem a bit rough around the edges at first glance (many of the city’s most beautiful buildings have not been kept up) but is a truly beautiful and timeless place to visit that isn’t very touristy at all. Even so, there are some awesome local hotels, some with impressive views of the marina, that make it definitely worth staying a night or two! I recommend discovering El Puerto slowly, by leisurely walking around and stopping for a fino and a tapa whenever you have the urge.
If you have more tips for eating in El Puerto de Santa María, please leave them in the comments!