I have to admit, it felt strange — surreal, even — the first time I ate breakfast in the same bar I’d been drinking in the night before. But this isn’t uncommon in Seville, where the line between coffee house and tavern is a blurry one. Then there was the morning I found myself sipping café con leche next to a man downing a glass of anís seco (aniseed liqueur with a paint-thinner aftertaste), and I began to wonder if some folks never went home at all, but simply settled onto their barstool from sundown to sunup and beyond. Not so, said the Spanish friend I consulted. She explained that here in Seville, when a man must rise very early (that is, before 10:00 am) to get a job done, he may feel the need for an eye-opener such as anis seco to reanimarse (reanimate himself) for the task.
For many Sevillanos, the morning reanimation process is a ritual whose elements are so unvarying that their local barista begins assembling their preferred breakfast the moment a regular steps through the door. Nobody ever glances at a breakfast menu — indeed, in the more old-fashioned eateries, there isn’t one. Why would you need such a thing? Everybody knows what breakfast consists of — except of course for visitors, who often find themselves struggling to get up to speed. If there’s a chance you’ll be ordering breakfast in Seville any time soon, keep this post handy so you‘ll be ready to belly up to the bar and order like a local.
Start by choosing a beverage. Here in Seville, the popular favorite is café con leche (half espresso, half steamed milk). Other options include café solo (a straight shot of espresso), leche manchada (literally “stained milk,” a half inch of espresso topped with steamed milk), café Americano (weak black coffee), descafeinado (instant powdered decaf), and descafinado de máquina (decaf espresso). A few trendsetters stock bebida de soja (soy milk) for vegan hipsters and out-of-towners. Most places have té (tea), which is rarely ordered, infusions (herbal teas) such as poleo menta (mint), and fresh zumo de naranja (orange juice).
Toast is such a cornerstone of the Sevillano breakfast that you don’t even ask for a tostada (toasted baguette), you simply tell them whether you want a media (half) or an entera (whole). Some places serve integral (whole wheat) as well as normal (standard white). Next you tell them what you want on it. Until quite recently, your choices were aceite (olive oil), jamón (ham), tomate (tomato), mantequilla (butter), and mermelada (jam), with seriously old-school places offering manteca (ham lard), which I can tell you from personal experience tastes about as ghastly as you’d expect and will never cross my lips again.
That’s been the lineup around here for decades (possibly centuries) but over the past year, as the city has settled into its serious foodie phase, shockwaves rocked the breakfast-eating community as a new player burst on the toast-accessory scene: aguacate (avocado). Many old-school cafés refuse to put it on the menu, viewing this unseemly upstart with deep suspicion. Improve on breakfast? Impossible! But avant-garde cooks not only offer aguacate on your tostada but may throw in such garnishes as oregano and bean sprouts. Shocking, I know; that’s why I thought you’d better hear it from me first.
Upscale international restaurants may serve a full British breakfast and American-style eggs and pancakes; you’ll find these in and around the big hotels. But if you want to eat like a local, at a place within an easy stroll of the city center, here are a few of my favorites to consider.
Bar Alfalfa, Calle Candilejo, 1
Popular with locals and hospitable to visitors and dogs, this is my go-to breakfast spot. The food is traditional (no aguacate so far), the staff is efficient (they always remember our preferences), and the music is eclectic mellow.
Café Hércules, Calle Peris Mencheta, 15
This slightly funky, super friendly eatery offers an excellent selection of breads and toppings; they toast it, you fix it the way you like it. I go for avocado on whole wheat saturated with garlic olive oil and dusted with coarse salt and oregano. Yum!
Otto Café, Plaza Monte Sion, 8
Here everything is prepared with artistry, and the menu includes such non-Spanish fare as bagels and eggs, as well as gorgeously presented avocado toast. Outdoor tables in the quiet plaza are a great place for a leisurely mid-morning coffee.
Torch Coffee Sevilla, Paseo de las Delicias, 3
Started by two American sisters, Torch roasts its own beans and makes international favorites such as flat whites and cappuccinos. How trendy is it? The avocado toast is topped with bacon and bean sprouts. Enough said.
Un Gato en Bicicleta, Calle Pérez Galdós 22
Artsy types love this mix of bookstore, ceramics studio, gallery, and café. They serve good coffee and sweet cakes if you’re ready for a change from the ubiquitous tostada. But the real attraction is the quirky, entertaining atmosphere.
XIX, Calle Tomás de Ibarra, 9
Before you go nuts trying to pronounce it, the name is the Roman numeral 19, or diecinueve (dee-yes-ee-NWAY-veh) in Spanish. At night this offbeat, chic bar is guaranteed to impress a date, but I like it best for a great breakfast in a hip yet soothing environment.
“Wait, you aren’t including Milk Away or Jester?” a friend said incredulously when I mentioned the lineup in this post. “What about Caótica?” asked another. The fact is, there are far too many fabulous breakfast spots in Seville to mention more than a few top picks. If you’ve tried one that deserves a mention — or should be avoided at all costs — let me know in the comments below.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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