Alhambra and I go way back. It was the first restaurant I ate at when I arrived in Madrid, and my apartment ended up being just down the street from it. This is without a doubt the restaurant I've frequented most since I've been here—between me and my roommates, we come here at least a few times per week. The best option at Alhambra is the menu del día (menu of the day, in English). For just 12 euros, you get a drink, two plates, and a dessert/coffee. It's a ton of food. The waiting staff is also great, and we've received free shots or a bottle of wine when we only ordered a glass, thanks to singlehandedly keeping the lights on.
I have no shame in confessing that one of my favorite places to eat in Madrid is a burger joint. Bacoa started in Barcelona, and has since extended to Madrid, but I have a feeling they'll take over Spain (if not the world) soon enough. As good as the food is the environment and company culture. Bacoa is very progressive, using only recyclable materials, 100% natural beef, and promoting sustainability and environmental awareness.
Rosi La Loca
Another great restaurant and tapas place that was a staple during my time here.
La Ciudad Invisible
My favorite cafe in Madrid is this travel-themed cafe located just outside of Sol, very close to where I live. It's got great coffee, phenomenal tea, and the environment is perfect. There's a large table in the center (see photo) where you can do work with plenty of space, and smaller tables located throughout both floors where you can meet with someone and have a few drinks. The music here is always on point, too.
One of my favorite cafes, but also one of the best breakfast destinations I've found in Madrid. It's harder than you would think to find a good, hardy breakfast here as the typical Spanish breakfast consists of a piece of bread or a croissant and coffee. But here they serve the closest thing I've found to an American/English breakfast. It's also a great place to work, and has the best café con leche (coffee with milk) that I've tried.
A smaller cafe located in the Madrid neighborhood of La Latina, Café Infinito is a cool, hipster-ish cafe that's more quite and therefore a great place to get work done. They also have a really cool take-one-leave-one bookshelf.
While technically a cafe, this place is as much a bar as anything, and I've used it more as a bar than a study-spot. La Bicicleta is probably the best-known cafe in Madrid, and it's quite well-deserved. It's situated in the hip neighborhood of Malasaña, is really spacious, and has a very chill atmosphere, perfect for chatting with friends, or working on your term paper.
This trippy, 60's-styled bar, also located in Malasaña, is a really fun and unique spot. They have a great fruit-cider beer that goes perfectly with the bowl of popcorn that comes with each drink.
La Via Láctea
One of the few bars I've been to in Madrid that has a pool table, automatic bonus points in my book. This is a pretty standard bar, but great music is played and there's quite a bit of space to sit if you're looking to get comfortable with a group of friends.
Retiro is far and away my favorite place to go to escape the big city, move around a bit, and enjoy nature. It's a true gem that's incredibly located in the center of the city and has something for everyone. There are large open grassy areas with plenty of shade where people go to lay out, nap, read, play music, have a picnic, you name it. The park is filled with paths that are a dream for runners, and there are two workout parks where you can do calisthenics training. Near the back of the near, there is also a pond with the beautiful backdrop of el Monumento Alfonso XII, where you can find street performers, hang out on the steps, or even take a rowboat out for a relaxing cruise on the water (I highly recommend bringing a bottle of wine—specifically Rioja wine—if you do this). For people like me who grew up in a more rural environment and need a break from the city life, even just for a few hours, every once in a while, Retiro is the perfect getaway.