Marbella is where you’ll find the highest density of good eats on the Costa del Sol. Located in the Old Town, one of the city’s buzziest chic-casual spots is this chill, boho café known for its vibey outdoor garden as well as the bright, colourful and health-conscious soul food, made from local organic produce. Imagine anything from fresh hummus with raw veggies to the yummy quinoa bowl.
Plaza Altamirano, 3, Marbella
Not far from Mijas, this sophisticated but relaxed restaurant up in the hills overlooking Fuengirola is popular with in-the-know malagueños who take the short drive out of Malaga for sweeping views of the Med – and, on a clear day, North Africa – as well as some of the finest Northern Spanish cooking around. Stews like the fabes con almejas (beans with clams) are popular or there are tapas staples like huevos rotos con jamón (broken eggs with jamón Iberico).
Salida 217, Autovia de la, Fuengirola
From politicos to pop stars, marbelleros of all sorts adore this utterly beautiful, bougainvillaea-covered, French Belgian bistro in the city’s Old Town and for good reason. The service is friendly, the vibe is delightful and the kitchen rarely disappoints with its reliably satisfying, Paris-via-Brussels bistro standards, as well as one of the most evolved wine lists on the Costa del Sol. Book ahead for a highly coveted al fresco table in summer and plan to linger – good times guaranteed.
Calle Ancha, 8, Marbella
Your go-to for a steadfast Andalusian meal in Fuengirola is part-tapas bar, part-restaurant and does both very well. For the latter, the menu excels in hearty meat dishes such as confit duck breast in Pedro Ximenez sauce or rabo del toro (oxtail stew), that work well with a sizeable list of Spanish reds. Or check in next door for a more come-and-go vibe and the pleasingly broad list of tapas.
Calle Larga, 14, Fuengirola
Los Marinos José
A Costa del Sol institution, owner José Sánchez’s decades-old “El Templo de los Mariscos” (“Temple of Seafood”) on the beach at Fuengirola is known up and down the coast for its fresh fish dishes (self-caught, apparently) that could be anything from boquerones en vinagre (anchovies in vinegar) to gambitas de cristal (fried white shrimps) to the absurdly sinful bogavante con huevo y patatas (lobster with fried eggs and chips). Book ahead in summer.
Paseo Marítimo Rey de España 161, Fuengirola
Elegant but informal, this colourful newcomer to Marbella’s Old Town maintains its allure with clued-up locals for its upbeat friendly vibe, as well as chef David Oliva’s cleverly presented riffs on Andalusian cooking. Dishes like smoked-eel ajo blanco (chilled white soup) with pickled garlic or the refreshing cucumber gazpacho with sardine and Manzanilla olive guarantee a memorable meal.
Calle Pablo Casals 8, Marbella
The hilltop town of Mijas isn’t lacking eating options but this is probably the best of the bunch for a satisfying, uncomplicated (and non-touristy) lunchtime bite. All the tapas here are well done; from classics like the patatas bravas, gambas pil-pil and fried calamares, to more creative serves such as the chapatas de carrillada con alioli (pork-cheek buns with alioli).
Venida Virgen de la Peña 11, Mijas
El Figón de Montemar
This gloriously uncomplicated, traditional restaurant in Torremolinos specialises in a mix of cooking from the north and south of Spain. Expect the odd Asturian-style fababa bean stew or Spanish omelette with callos a la madrileña (stewed tripe) thrown together with a largely fish-based menu, that might include catch-fresh boquerones a la plancha (fresh, grilled anchovies) or a rich garbanzos con bacalao (chickpea cod stew). Either way, it’s maximum eating pleasure and minimum fuss.
Avenida Carlota Alessandri, 101, 103, Torremolinos
El Tapeo de Cervantes
Malaga might just be the gateway to the Costa del Sol for many but if you get the chance to hang around, take it: eating out here is fabulous and this is one of La Merced’s most raved-about tapas restaurants. It's small and busy, and the prices are low. What's more, dishes like chipirones a la plancha (grilled squid) and flamenquin de queso manchego y jamón ibérico (Cordoba-style cheese-ham roll) could easily make for the best meal of your trip.
Calle Cárcer 8, Málaga
One of the best-known vegetarian restaurants on the Costa del Sol is based in Fuengirola’s Los Boliches district. It's known for its pleasing value lunchtime buffets that offer a surprising but doubly satisfying range of help-yourself, plant-powered plates from avegetable paella to berenjenas y pimientos rellenos (stuffed aubergines and peppers) for €9.50 a head (€4.50 kids). Open 12.30-4pm Monday-Saturday, no dinner service.
Calle Santa Isabel, 8, Fuengirola