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LA COVA FUMADA — Barceloneta
It doesn't get any cozier than La Cova Fumada, a family-run, no-frills spot right off Plaça Poeta Boscà in the city's old fishermen's quarter. La Cova's worn, unmarked façade makes it easy to miss, but inside the arched doorway families and old friends swap stories around eight marble tables with just-caught fish sizzling in cast-iron pans. On most days, brothers Josep and Magi Solé take orders, fill carafes of house wine, and chat with regulars while their 74-year-old mother, Palmira, oversees the preparation of the deeply flavorful Catalan comfort food that emerges from the exposed kitchen in the corner. Because the always-packed restaurant, whose name means "the smoky cave," closes at 3:20 p.m. on the dot on weekdays (and not a minute later), it's best to arrive by noon. You'll want to order a bomba, a hefty potato croquette that comes dabbed with aioli and a house-made cayenne-pepper hot sauce. Josep will probably take your order with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and he'll insist that the toasty, crusted bomba was invented by his grandmother, Maria Pla, the original owner, about 65 years ago. Regardless of its provenance, you'll crave another one, but be selective in your excess—everything on offer (griddled seafood tossed with olive oil and parsley, garbanzo beans sautéed with blood sausage and pine nuts) is worthy of seconds. Carrer del Baluard, 56, 011-34/93-221-4061, open Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., Thurs. and Fri. 6 p.m. to 8:20 p.m., and Sat. 9 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. Closed Sundays.
BEST DISH Bacalao. A large, perfectly cooked fillet of cod blanketed by a warm, onion-studded tomato sauce that's both sweet and smoky. Order a plate of toasted country bread to soak up any remaining sauce. $7.25.
NEIGHBORHOOD 101 Since the 18th century, Barceloneta, a casual, beachside spot right on the Mediterranean, has been home to the city's fishermen and dockworkers; today, Barcelonans come here to sprawl on the beach and eat paella along the boardwalk. Happily, this sweet little neighborhood, with its colorful laundry flapping in the breeze and old folks trudging toward the sea, still feels like a throwback to another time. Get there Take Metro Line 4 (yellow line) from Plaça Catalunya to Barceloneta, about 15 minutes.
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