Valencia is the birthplace of paella and is home to hundreds of restaurants serving this iconic rice dish. Yet, the million-dollar question is, where can you eat the best paella in Valencia?
Finding the best paella restaurants in Valencia is no easy feat. Unfortunately, even in its own hometown, for every great paella restaurant, there are a dozen others that don’t live up to the hype.
Below, I’ll show you some of my favorite paella places in Valencia, from traditional family-run establishments to trendy eateries and even a couple that made it all the way to the Michelin guide.
In This Article
What is paella?
Paella is a dry rice dish from the region of Valencia in Spain. Several types of paella exist, such as paella Valenciana, seafood paella, and paella mixta (with meat and seafood), but only the first one has a Denomination of Origin designation. Paella Valenciana is made with chicken, rabbit, beans, and sometimes snails. The distinct golden color of the paella comes from the use of saffron.
Related: The Origins And History of Paella
Where to eat the best paella in Spain?
Valencia and the nearby villages! If you want to eat the best paella in Spain, Valencia is the place to go. This should come as no surprise since this is where paella was born and perfected.
The quality and source of the ingredients are crucial to the paella’s flavor. Even the water used for cooking can affect the final taste. This is why Valencian chefs take water from Valencia with them when competing in paella cooking contests outside of the region. You don’t mess up with perfection!
Another reason why you won’t find a better paella anywhere else is that chefs in other parts of Spain, not to mention other countries, tend to stray away from the original recipe by taking too many creative freedoms. Therefore their culinary creations are often frowned upon by Valencianos, and oftentimes are not even considered to be paella.
How to find great paella in Valencia
Sadly, even in Valencia, paella restaurants can be a bit of a hit or miss. Having a basic knowledge of what a good paella is or isn’t, can help you avoid tourist-trap restaurants.
The first rule of thumb, if you want to taste a great paella in Valencia, is to make sure you choose a restaurant that cooks it to order. This means you’ll have to either call in advance so they start preparing it before you arrive, or you’ll have to wait 30 to 40 minutes until it’s ready.
If you want to have the best paella experience while in Valencia, don’t make a beeline for the takeaway shops (comida para llevar) or restaurants that offer paella as part of their lunch meal deal (menú del día). While many of these establishments offer a decent paella on the cheap, the paella typically has a thick layer of rice, which alters its flavor.
I’m not saying that you should avoid these places altogether, as they do offer great value for your money. However, I highly recommend that you try an authentic paella with a thin layer of rice, at least once.
The only exception from the above is when a restaurant includes paella in their “menú del día” but only serves it for a minimum of two people per table. In this case, the restaurant will prepare a full paella, with a thin layer of rice, exclusively for your party.
The reason why paella for one is not a thing in Valencia is because of the size of the paella pans, which are made for an even number of diners.
If you’re a foodie, read on to discover where to find the best paella in Valencia.
Best paella restaurants in Valencia
There are plenty of restaurants serving good paella in Valencia, but only a few serve truly exceptional paella. If you want to taste paella in one of the best paella restaurants in Valencia, make sure you book a table at one of the following.
Just a stone’s throw away from Malvarrosa Beach, Casa Carmela is, hands down, one of the best paella restaurants in Valencia. This family-run restaurant started out as a simple beach shack more than a century ago and it has been passed down through four generations before being featured in the Michelin culinary guide.
Casa Carmela offers a wide variety of rice dishes and their paellas are still cooked the old-fashioned way, over a wood fire fuelled with orange branches. The place oozes a traditional atmosphere from the moment you step inside – the walls are covered in tiles and their paellas are still served with a wooden spoon.
El Racó de la Paella
A bit off the beaten path, El Racó de la Paella is another traditional paella restaurant, this time in the Campanar neighborhood. Situated on a quaint street that still preserves that old village charm, eating here is like a trip back in time.
Although the restaurant has only been open since 2013, the building itself is a century-old Valencian mansion with stunning wooden beams, ornate tiles, and murals from the 1800s. They cook their paellas over a wood fire in a traditional paellero (kind of like a barbecue) and in less than a decade have gained a reputation as one of the best places to eat paella in Valencia.
Fum de Llum
Centrally located, in the elegant Gran Vía neighborhood, Fum de Llum is a modern restaurant with a cozy vibe. It has a pretty extensive menu that includes several types of creative rice dishes and stands out for only using locally sourced, organic ingredients they grow themselves on a plot outside the city.
While you won’t find the traditional paella Valenciana on their menu, I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed! They actually don’t use the word paella at all, but use “dry rice” instead, true to the school of thought that believes that paella is either Valenciana or not paella at all.
Masusa Paella Bar
If you find yourself craving paella while in the hipster Ruzafa neighborhood, you have to check out Masusa Paella Bar. This small, no-frills restaurant, serves all kinds of traditional rice dishes, from paella Valenciana to vegetable paella and black rice, but they also have some pretty innovative options.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, I recommend you try their green paella with spirulina, or even better, their famous red spicy paella. This place sets itself apart for preparing the paella for just one person. You can enjoy your meal inside or on the shaded terrace outside.
Traditional restaurants rarely get rated by the prestigious Michelin guide, but this restaurant in El Palmar managed to be elevated to Bib Gourmand status. El Palmar is a small village in the Albufera Natural Park. It is regarded as the birthplace of paella and one of the best day trips from Valencia.
While there are many great paella restaurants in El Palmar, Arroceria Maribel is a cut above the rest. They offer an impressive selection of 20 different rice dishes, including the famous paella Valenciana, and several variations of seafood and vegetarian paella. The restaurant itself is modern looking and has both indoor and outdoor seating by the canal.
La Barraca de Toni Montoliu
Some of the most delicious paellas in Valencia are prepared in the countryside. One example is La Barraca de Toni Montoliu in Meliana, a short metro or bike ride from the city. This restaurant is housed in a picturesque old warehouse surrounded by orange trees and vegetable gardens and is incredibly charming.
What makes this restaurant so special is that it offers more than just a meal, it’s a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions. Here, you can watch Toni as he cooks the paella in a paellero; explore an old farm tools shed that could easily pass for an ethnological museum; see all sorts of cute farm animals, and even take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
What is the difference between Valencian paella and seafood paella?
Valencian paella or paella Valenciana uses a set list of ten ingredients – short grain rice, chicken, rabbit, garrofón beans, green beans, tomatoes, olive oil, saffron, salt, and water. Snails and rosemary are sometimes accepted as well. Using any other ingredient besides these would stray too much from the authentic recipe and the resulting dish cannot be referred to as paella Valenciana.
Seafood paella or paella de marisco has a more flexible recipe since it doesn’t have a Denomination of Origin designation. This type of paella also uses short-grain bomba rice, but the meat and vegetables are replaced with a variety of seafood, such as mussels, calamari, and prawns. Given this, the two types of paella taste completely different.
Which paella is the best?
Which paella is the best is a matter of personal taste. Seafood lovers will swear seafood paella is the best. While purists will never accept anything less than an authentic paella Valenciana.
If you are a meat eater, I recommend you start with paella Valenciana, since this is the original recipe. Then you can try other paellas and decide for yourself.
Of course, if you don’t eat meat, then paella Valenciana is not the best paella for you. The same goes if you don’t like seafood.
Luckily, vegetable paella is a thing as well, so even vegans can enjoy this delicious rice dish. If done right, vegetable paella can be just as tasty. Remember that paella is a rice dish first and foremost, so the main ingredient and preparation method are still the same.
What is the secret to a good paella?
A good paella has a thin layer of rice and is not overloaded with ingredients, whether it’s meat, seafood, or vegetables.
Also, the best paella has a slightly caramelized bottom layer. This is called socarrat and is the most flavorful part of the dish.
If you are making paella at home, the key to preparing a good paella is avoiding stirring in it while cooking. Another secret is using short-grain rice, as this type of rice absorbs the flavors better.
If you’d like to learn more about Spain’s most international dish, check out these fun facts about paella.