I’m not going to lie. I did not love the food in Valencia. After devouring everything in sight in Seville, I was surprised at how difficult it was to get a decent meal at a decent price in Valencia. My dislike of seafood no doubt played a large role in my dislike of the food in Valencia….
So, what would we recommend?
First, because it is Valencia, you simply have to try the paella. I’m pretty sure you can’t visit Valencia without trying the paella and a true Valencian will tell you not to bother with paella outside a 50 km radius of Valencia. A true Valencian will also tell you that CHORIZO DOES NOT BELONG IN PAELLA. Why they care so much about the no chorizo rule, I don’t know, but boy do they ever hate the idea of chorizo in paella. There are a million and one things that could be added to paella (personally, I like pancetta in mine), but all you will hear about is no chorizo, no chorizo, no chorizo. And, you must, must, must have your paella at lunch. Real Valencians never ever eat paella at dinner. I have no idea why, but I do know that you will stand out as a tourist if you order it at dinner. Finally, real paella should be served in the pan and in multiples of two — if a restaurant offers paella for one, and it isn’t part of the menu of the day special, the paella was probably frozen and heated up. One of the best places in town for paella is said to be Navarro. Be aware that you absolutely have to book a table and, if you want traditional Valencian paella with chicken, rabbit, and snails, you have to order it 24 hours in advance. Robert thought this paella was very good. I was annoyed that it was full of onions (which, as I understand it, do not belong in paella, just like chorizo doesn’t belong in paella).
I have to say we were both pretty disappointed in the paella overall. We thought it would be better than any paella we had ever had. It just wasn’t. It was fine, but we both found the flavor to be very one dimensional. And, in all honesty, the “paella” that Robert makes (more accurately called arroz con cosas) is way, way better (mainly because it has garlic and pork in it).
Second, because it is Valencia, you have to try the horchata and fartons. Valencian horchata is similar to, but not the same as, Mexican horchata. Valencian horchata is made with tiger nuts (instead of rice like in Mexico), which are not actually nuts but are a form of tubers. The result is a sweet, milky drink that tastes a bit chalky. I didn’t care for it, but Robert did. Fartons — English speakers need to stop giggling now — are a sweet pastry. Neither of us cared for them — not sweet enough for me and too light and airy for both of us. If you want to give horchata and fartons a try, Horchateria Santa Catalina is supposed to be one of the best places (although it seemed outrageously expensive to us — over $10 for one horchata, one farton, one order of churros, and one chocolate).
Third, because it is Valencia, you have to try the aqua de Valencia. This is a drink made of orange juice, cava, vodka, and gin. I thought it pretty much just tasted like yummy orange juice, and we only ordered it once. It comes in 1/2 liter or 1 liter pitchers and you can find it all over town.
Fourth, I know this is going to sound weird, but you have to go to the Central Market and get nuts. If you walk in the entrance opposite from the Silk Exchange, there is a nut vendor right when you walk in that has the most amazing fried almonds. We started with 100 grams and devoured them in a day. The next time, we bought 200 grams. And, the next time, we bought 300 grams. I’m going to crave those nuts for a long time….
Fifth, you have to try the gelato at Llinares. They have all kinds of normal flavors, but they also have some more interesting flavors like donut and gin and tonic.
So, once you’ve checked off the “must do’s,” what is left?
Well, if you want Spanish food, Robert would say you need to give Fum de Llum a try. The restaurant gets fantastic reviews and Robert loved his meal. I, on the other hand, was heartbroken when my 18 Euro presa de Iberico came out absolutely covered in some sort of icky sauce (I think pretty much all sauces other than peanut sauce are icky). Don’t worry, Robert finished most of it for me.
I, on the other hand, would say stick with Italian food. If you want pasta, go to Lambrusceria. We ate there twice and the food was fantastic both times. Their lunchtime menu of the day is quite a bargain — a salad, a main, and a coffee for under 10 Euro. And, there is actually some amazing pizza in Valencia. After the disappointment of the pizza in Seville, I was beginning to think there was no good pizza in Spain. But, there is. In fact, the pizza at Spacca Napoli was excellent. San Tommaso also had good pizza, but the restaurant was VERY touristy.
That is pretty much all we’ve got. Very little stood out to us as excellent. We’re willing to give the food in Valencia another try, but have no desire to rush back for anything.