Arguably Spain's most international city, Barcelona has accepted many culinary imports as its own and in turn provides quite a range of foods for the gastronomic traveler. There are plenty of restaurants that represent the Catalan heritage well, but you'll find that tapas (originally from Andalucia) are everywhere, as well as myriad burger joints and quality Asian/Middle Eastern food. The seafood is consistently good, particularly in Barceloneta, and Catalan paella (a rice and vegetable cuisine) may be the best vehicle for it. Also of note if you're looking to try a Catalan specialty is the Pa amb tomàquet, a tomato and bread-based dish that benefits from the addition of Iberic ham or other regional meats.
But where to eat? Using your well-traveled brain, you may already guess that the usual tourist boulevards aren't going to cut it if you want authentic or cheap food. If you take a run through Las Ramblas in the Ciutat Vella or Passeig De Gracia in Eixample, you'll find some delicious tapas joints and even a few truly Catalan locations or local bakeries, but it will be painfully overpriced.
Probably the best area in which to try the seafood paella would be Barceloneta, which packs a lot of restaurants into its many one-way streets and seaside addresses, particularly around Carrer de Sant Carles and Passeig de Joan de Borbó. Can Majó on Carrer De L'Almirall Aixada has earned quite a reputation for its paella, while Jai-ca and El Vaso de Oro are incredibly busy tapas stops in the area. Immediately northwest in the El Born neighborhood, there are a smattering of great burger joints (Bacoa, Pim Pam, Kiosko) and the Santa Caterina Market, which sells fresh local produce and even has a multi-cultural restaurant on the grounds called Cuines de Santa Caterina. There are also a few nice cafes and some outdoor seating at the nearby Plaça de Sant Cugat.
The quasi-medieval side streets of the Barri Gotic, located to the east of La Rambla, are a great place to get lost for a while and also grab a bite to eat. There's a decent concentration of restaurants just north of the Santa Eulalia Cathedral, as well as a handful of excellent Japanese/sushi places starting a few blocks south. Try taking a walk along Carrer d'en Gignà and other approximate pedestrian streets for a good variety of food. Just north of here is the ultra-trendy Eixample, although you'll find comparatively inexpensive options from the university north to Carrer de Mallorca.
Other areas where the cost of food won't detract from your enjoyment of it include the many small restaurants and bars along the Avinguda del Parallel, where you can choose a good meal from the menu del dia for moderately cheap (stroll along pedestrian off-shoot Carrer de Blai for more options); and the circular Rambla de Raval, which has a collection of exceptional Spanish restaurants nearby (Bar Cañete and Guixot both have reputations that precede them).
Despite being one of the more expensive cities in which to eat out in Europe, Barcelona will have plenty of cheaper choices and an abundance of flavorful, quality dining for the discriminating traveler. For further information on particular eateries, take a look through our activity pages and travel videos or pose a question to our well-traveled community.