Valencia gave birth to the paella and to Valencianos, the paella is one of their identifying symbols and very much part of their culture and traditions. As a staple of every Valencian’s diet, it’s no mystery why this rice dish is taken so seriously by locals and found on almost every street corner in the city.
In search for the best paella in Valencia, here is a list of Hunger Munger’s top picks and corresponding reviews in this paella smackdown.
Food info: Contrary to popular belief, the original paella in Valencian never mixes seafood with meat. In fact, a traditional Valencian paella consists of rice, chicken, rabbit, land snails, green beans, and beans, with slight variations on the vegetables from chef to chef. Most restaurants around the city also serve the better known seafood version as well.
Another popular offering in Valencia is paella with squid cooked in squid ink, called arroz negro or black rice (photo below). Arroz negro, a traditional Valencian and Catalan dish, is prepared in the same manner as a paella but traditionally does not take the paella name. There is also the fideuà (photo below), a paella made with noodles instead of rice, a typical dish of the Valencian coast and most often cooked with seafood.
How to spot a good paella?
A paella takes a looong time to cook and is not cooked in individual portions. Many restaurants will precook the paella in advance and reheat it once an order comes in (or just use frozen versions). Hence, due to the cooking time, many (reputable) restaurants will ask you to pre-order your paella at least a day in advance, a sign of freshly prepared paella (or just be prepared to wait a while). Single portions are also likely to be frozen or reheated, so make sure to look for the 2 people minimum per paella rule, another sign that a paella has been cooked to order. Another sign of a good paella is the socarrat, the crispy, burnt rice on the bottom of the pan. Many Valencians say that it’s not a real paella unless you have this bottom crispiness, but perhaps it’s also up to personal preference. You can request to have this in advance at many restaurants. Paella is also only eaten at lunchtime, never in the evening by locals.
Something to note: Valencian cuisine is usually heavy on salt and you’ll certainly notice this when tasting paella in the region. Also, per Spanish custom, lunch normally starts around 2pm with most restaurant reaching their capacity around 3pm.
1. Restaurant Levante
Could this place have the best paella in Valencia? We certainly thought so. Levante’s Valencia location is the new outpost of the well-known multi-generation, original restaurant in Benisanó. Every mouthful of Levante’s piping hot Paella Valenciana is incredibly flavorful and filled with chicken, rabbit, fava beans, and green beans which were perfectly cooked yet had a crispy bite to it. On top of it all, its paella is priced at a reasonable €12 per person, which surprisingly does not match its new modern decor.
Levante also seems to take its “gin tonics” seriously, with elaborate pouring techniques supported by an extensive gin list, to make what they told me is the standard digestif in Valencia, with several tables ordering the drink post paella. One thing to note is that the restaurant is not situated in a very central location, but nothing that a short metro/taxi/bus/bike ride can’t handle. Reservations are recommended to pre-order your paella or the wait can be for up to one hour.
Address: Calle Gongora n1, 46015 Valencia, Spain
Phone: +34 960 65 11 52
2. La Pepica
When you say seafood paella in Valencia, foodies and non-foodies alike will probably point to La Pepica. Opened in 1898, this beachside restaurant has long been Valencia’s paella institution, serving celebrities from matadors, artists, to film stars, all seated throughout the vast, open dining room alongside locals. The most notable regular here was Ernest Hemingway who even wrote about the restaurant in his bullfighting memoir, The Dangerous Summer, citing “Dinner at Pepica’s was wonderful.”
The paellas here are still just as excellent as Hemingway’s days. The only downside is that the paella is sometimes not as hot as expected. As evidenced by the kitchen photo below, some paellas seem to sit on the kitchen counter waiting to be picked up so perhaps it depends on the speed and availability of your server. This restaurant overlooking the beach also features an open kitchen where everything is cooked in plain sight. Reservations are recommended, especially on the weekends for the coveted outdoor tables during the warm months.
Address: Paseo de Neptuno 6, Playa de la Malvarosa, 46011 Valencia, Spain
Phone: +34 963 71 03 66
3. Casa Roberto
A local joint famous for its authentic paellas and where advanced orders are always expected (call several days in advance to order your paella). Casa Roberto’s Paella Valenciana is full of snails and veggies, including artichokes which was a nice addition. However, while the overall quality and taste is certainly among the best, the portions are fairly thin compared to others and the chicken was a bit dry during our visit. Other than that, the flavours here are top notch, leading the restaurant to be always filled with Valencianos lunching on paella. But be aware, once seated, you will often be presented with a platter of jamón ibérico – these plates are not complementary and will cost you €20+ extra.
Address: Calle del Maestro Gozalbo 19, 46005 Valencia, Spain
Phone: +34 963 95 13 61
4. La Riuà
While I can’t attest to their paella, La Riuà serves a solid arroz negro. The rice is full of flavour and loaded with squid – the entire dish is moist to the last bite. Two of their starters, on the other hand, were sadly mediocre at best. Centrally located next to Plaza de la Reina, the restaurant is filled with locals and tourists alike, perhaps attracted by the awards the restaurant has won over the years, and proudly hung on its walls.
Address: Carrer del Mar, 27, 46003 Valencia, Spain
Phone: +34 963 91 45 71
5. El Rall
While it’s certainly not the best paella to be had in Valencia (which also suspiciously came out within a short ±20 mins – or perhaps fideuà cooks faster?), I thought it was important to include the fideuà experience. At El Rall, you’ll be asked whether you would like thick or thin noodles (photo below). El Rall’s fideuà comes loaded with seafood and you’ll get to bask in the sun over lunch with its prime location in a small plaza in central Valencia.
Address: Calle de Tundidores, 2, 46001 Valencia, Spain
Phone: +34 963 92 20 90