Did you know that the most epic Spanish dish paella is originally from the city of Valencia? And that you might get free tapas with a glass of wine or beer?

Tapas Freebies

In terms of flavor and spiciness, my palate is a bit disappointed with the Valencian food, since most restaurants serve quite a bland fare. The best bet is always to choose tapas: they are usually tasty and offer an easy way to sample different ingredients and flavors. This is also where wine and beer lovers like us get lucky, as some restaurants serve a free tapas with a drink, even with a caña, which is the smallest glass of beer, usually around 2 deciliters. The tapas freebie can be anything from salted peanuts (if you aren’t so lucky) to bocadillo (small sandwich), fried little fishes, or a tiny portion of paella. What a good reason to enjoy a few beers during the scorching afternoon hours and sample what different restaurants have on offer!

Sumptuous Paella

Most restaurants in Valencia serve paella all day, although real Spaniards eat it only as lunch. This time, we ate the most mouth-watering paella at home, made by my stepmother. According to a classic Valencian recipe, our paella included rabbit meat. Other valid options are chicken and duck. In the city of Valencia paella is not supposed to have any seafood whatsoever, but as we ate ours in Torrevieja, we followed their tradition and added shrimps. Saffron, garlic, sweet pepper and lemon are the key elements. But you’ll need a special pan called paellera to get it right!

Valencian paella with rabbit and seafood

Our Restaurant Picks in Valencia – One Success, One Fail

We did find one recommendable restaurant in the middle of Barrio El Carmen: Carosel. The setting was lovely, and ingredients were first class. Only one complaint, once again: I would have loved to have more seasoning, not just salt. Terrace looked pleasant with views to Placa del Mercat – a good spot for people watching, yet not overly touristic.

Carosel lies almost next to La Lonja de la Seda (an old silk market, one of the main sights) and opposite Mercado Central. It’s easy to find and a good point to start exploring Barrio Del Carmen. I love the small, winding streets between Carosel and Calle Caballeros – lots of graffitis, cozy pubs and fewer tourists. Venture more deeply into the vibe of Barrio Del Carmen area in our previous post about Valencia.

I would have loved to visit also another El Carmen venue called El Tap, which is said to offer delicious tapas accompanied by boutique beers and wines. Alas, they were having renovations back then, but they are open now, so you can try it for us.

We made also one wrong choice based on by then glowing TripAdvisor reviews: R38. The whole eight-course menu was a disaster; only the dessert was edible but in no way perfect. The place is located a bit outside the old town, in an area called L’Eixample, so we walked there half an hour with high hopes but ended up laughing desperately, when each of those miserable dishes arrived.

Yeah, the price was low: 26 euros for seven courses and 1,5 euros for an extra appetizer, but don’t be cheated. Locals seemed happy with this utterly tasteless and weird food, which left me wondering if we just don’t get the real Valencian cuisine. My palate just doesn’t understand why a scoop of totally tasteless potato mash of a weird consistency should be swimming in beef stock together with an egg.

In general, the places near Cathedral seemed touristic and overpriced, but there are some jewels as well. Just choose wisely, ask locals or check TripAdvisor. Most restaurants in old town are so small that reservation is needed, sometimes days ahead. We tried to book a table in Delicat that sounded to be a great Asian fusion tapas joint located just a few hundred meters from Cathedral, but they were sold out.

Have you visited Valencia? Did you find great restaurants? Please share your tips with us!