“El menú” in Spain often isn’t something you hold in your hands. And when it is, it’s a small sheet of paper. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t choices. There are usually three dishes to pick from for your first course (el primero), then different options for your second course (el segundo), plus a drink (wine, beer, sparkling water, etc) and a dessert (either fruit, a type of pudding, perhaps cake). All of this food comes at one price, for “el menú” is short for: el menú del día (the menu of the day).
Three course meals such as these aren’t just reserved for dinner time or high-end restaurants. “El menú de dia” is often written on a chalkboard outside even the grimiest bar for the lunchtime crowd. The choices offered depend on the place, if there’s a house speciality, the food in season. Paella is a common sighting on Thursdays. A basket of bread comes with the meal and sometimes a bottle, rather than a glass, of the house wine.
“La carta” is the menu in the English sense. As with the choices on the chalkboard, much depends on the type of restaurant and the time of the day you are eating. The Spanish4foodies dictionary is laid out in the different types of categories found on a typical Spanish menu. The dishes will sometimes be listed as los primeros (the first courses) and los segundos (the second courses). A waiter will always put the preposition “for” (either “para” or “de”) before the courses. For example:
“De primero” / “Para primero”
“De segundo” / “Para segundo”
Both are equally correct. And it’s not the only case in Spanish as the themed lessons and grammar points show [link].
Sometimes a restaurant won’t offer “el menú de día” or “una carta” broken down into categories of food type. Instead numbers be next to un plato combinado (literal [read incorrect] translation: combined plate). These are usually a cooked meat (carne) or poultry (ave) with a side: patatas fritas (fries), verduras (vegetables) or eggs (huevos). The drink isn’t included, nor is the dessert. Bread too often comes with the meal at a small cost.
“Bocadillos” are Spanish sandwiches. They are usually a cold cut (embutido) or slice of cheese in the middle of a sliced baguette. Olive oil is the only condiment. There are exceptions, such as Catalonia, Valencia and some areas of Aragon, where tomato is also rubbed on the bread.
Then there are “las tapas” and “los pintxos”. [link]