6 Essential Dining Destinations in Costa de la Luz

By Annie B's Spanish Kitchen on August 12th, 2015

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Courtesy of cdni.condenast.co.uk

6 Must Visit Restaurants in Costa de la Luz, Spain

When people think of Spain as a foodie destination, it’s very likely that Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian and Rioja come to mind. But hidden away in the southwest corner, on the pristine and under-developed coastline of the vibrant Atlantic Ocean, is the brimming larder of Costa de la Luz, in particular the province of Cadiz. Here was home to the Moors for more than 600 years and a trading base for the Phoenicians long before that. Today, it is the holiday destination for discerning Spaniards because they love their food and the exotic beaches the coastline offers. But to the rest of the world, this area remains relatively unknown. 

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Almadraba harvest of migrating Bluefin Tuna. / Courtesy of degustapergaz.com  

It is home to the Almadraba harvest of the migrating bluefin tuna as they swim into the Med to spawn each spring, providing the area with the best tuna in the world, both fresh and later, preserved. Following the expulsion of the Moors and Jews in 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand filled the area with pigs, in particular the exquisite acorn-fed cerdo iberico – the black Iberian pig. The Retinto cattle that wander along the beach produce the most flavorsome meat – some say because it is already seasoned with the ocean spray. 

The province of Cadiz is also home to Jerez, the capital of the wonderful Sherry production – an extreme wine that ranges from extremely dry to extremely sweet. Sherry is a perfect example of how the wine of an area is made to match the food of the area. Fish and seafood are plentiful. To sip on an ice cold Manzanilla while eating the freshest possible seafood, overlooking the ocean from which it came, has to be one of the ultimate foodie experiences of the world. 

From grated sun-kissed tomatoes and olive oil on your toast for breakfast to carpaccio of bluefin tuna for lunch and the finest cuts of Iberian pork on the grill (the acorn-infused fat caramelizes and produces an unforgettable succulence) for dinner, Costa de la Luz should be on every foodie’s wish list. From Michelin-starred restaurants to simple beach chiringuitos (beach bars), scattered all over the province of Cadiz, you will see, drink and taste history. 

1. Restaurant Antonio’s 

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Courtesy of antoniohoteles.com

Situated at the Atlantera/southern end of Zahara los Atunes, Hotel Antonio’s has been family run for decades. The traditional, ocean-view dining room serves one of the best paellas on the coast. Everything you find on the menu here will be top quality – from the jamon to the café cortado and the feast of fish in between. It is incredibly popular with traveling Spaniards, a sure sign of quality as they settle for nothing but the best. Here I love to eat the octopus carpaccio and squid a la plancha – so expertly cooked the tentacles become sweet and crispy. Wash it down with ice cold manzanilla as your eyes feast on the ocean from which these cephalopods came.


2. El Campero

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Courtesy of restauranteelcampero.es

Credited as the best fish and seafood restaurant in Spain at Madrid Fusion 2015, the edgy fishing town of Barbate might seem an unlikely place for a restaurant of such stature. However, Barbate is the home of the annual spring Almadraba (harvest of the migrating bluefin tuna) and it’s here the mighty fish are frozen at 60-below so the Almadraba-caught bluefin tuna is available “fresh” all year. These tuna are butchered into many parts, like any other animal, with a different value attached to each. Even the head is subdivided. In a region where fat is king, the belly (ventresca or ijada) are the most sought-after parts. You will find tuna sperm also on offer (huevas de leche). Here you can feast on an educational menu of nose-to-tail eating of what will hopefully be the very best tuna you have ever tasted.


3. Castilleria

Courtesy of elviajero.elpais.com

Juan Valdes is the master of his art -- selecting the best quality meat and cooking it to perfection over glowing coals. High on the menu will be Retinto, the local breed of cattle – which grazes along the coastline of Costa de la Luz, giving the meat a unique saline flavor best paired with one of the local reds from Taberner in Arcos or Luis Perez from Jerez. The restaurant is invitingly set as a treehouse and only accepts reservations for the smaller, covered area, whereas the open garden is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. So, if you can’t get a reservation, get there as close to 8.30 p.m. as possible to make sure of a table. Santa Lucia is a sleepy hamlet at the base of the beautiful pueblo blanco Vejer de la Frontera and is accessible only by car or taxi.


4. El Jardin del Califa

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Courtesy of jardin.lacasadelcalifa.com

Vejer has recently gained popularity as a gastro destination. A small town with an incredible number of top-class eateries, it is difficult to eat badly anywhere. The Moors lived here for 600 years and, from the highest points in town, you can see the coast of north Africa from where the invaders set sail. It’s here that the Moroccan-themed El Jardin del Califa restaurant will whisk your senses and palate into the kitchens of sultans with luscious baba ganoush and cinnamon-scented tagines laced with dried fruits. Their barbecue, featuring the Secreto Iberico (a unique cut from the acorn-fed Iberian pig) served with a Pedro Ximénez Sherry sauce is an excellent example of Iberian pork served at its best. Expect to be asked how you like it cooked, as pink is the norm. A complimentary glass of orange flavored sweet wine will end your meal here.


5. Restaurante Francisco - La Fontanilla

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Courtesy of franciscofontanilla.com

Fontanilla Beach, at the northern end of the coast of Conil, boasts huge expanses of sand which, even at the height of summer, are rarely crowded. The vibrant Atlantic Ocean confronting you is home to some of the best fish in the world and expect to eat the freshest at either of these restaurants set side by side. Rumor has it that it was once a large family restaurant, but the brothers fell out and cut the restaurant in two. Both are great with tempting displays of fresh fish set on ice. Worth noting is the huge plate of tomato and anchoa salad, fried fish such as boquerones, ortiguillas ( sea anemones) and puntillitas (the smallest of the cephalopod family), calamari (squid) a la plancha, razor clams, gambas ajillo ( prawns in garlic and olive oil), arroz a la marinera (fisherman’s rice) and atun del Almadraba dishes. Accompanied with a bottle of ice-cold Manzanilla, this could be your dream day.


6. Aponiente

Courtesy of minube.com

The town of El Puerto de Santa Maria was once known as the town of 100 palaces due to the wealth of its seafaring merchants. It was from here Christopher Columbus set sail to the New World. It is one of the three towns of the sherry triangle and home to some of the world’s finest sherry. It also is home to Aponiente, the only two-star Michelin restaurant in Andalucia. Commanded by Angel Leon, regarded as one of the best chefs in Spain, his creative use of fish which normally would be discarded has brought the attention of the world to his doorstep. He even makes chorizo from fish and has customized a machine that extracts all the goodness out of local seaweed. Some of the sauces appear black, but when you reach the bottom of the plate, you discover they actually are dark green. Select the menu degustation to sample the best of his genius. Better still, if you don’t have to get behind the wheel, enjoy it with the sherry pairing menu. It was here many years ago that I discovered a sherry that changed my life.

Meet the author
Annie B's Spanish Kitchen


You might not know about Annie B’s adopted hometown yet, but you should. She lives in a Spanish town where fat is king, where humongous, delicious tuna fish have been swimming past the coast for thousands of years and are cooked head to tail by inventive Andalucíans, and where there are more tapas joints than you can shake a stick at. Annie B is a certified Travel Agent, Sherry Educator (she became officially obsessed with Sherry when she q…... More