I’ve been lucky enough to go to Spain’s sunniest city, Valencia, four times in five years. My brother lives in Valencia part-time, and I’ve visited him every year since he moved there (except of course in the dark days of 2020). So this foodie guide is very much a work in progress: during every trip, I eat in some new restaurants and re-visit some old favourites, tweaking my recommendations as the years go by. My brother is almost as much of a foodie as I am, so unsurprisingly our lunchtimes and evenings turn into a culinary tour of Valencia – tapas, paella, horchata and more…
20 Must-Try Food and Drinks in Valencia Restaurants, Bars and Markets
Paella in Valencia
While many versions of paella are made with various seafood, Valencia’s very own version is made with meat: chicken and rabbit, to be precise. This seems a little unintuitive given that Valencia is right by the sea, but since the city is reputed to be the birthplace of paella I’m not going to argue. That being said, we did cycle to the beach on more than one occasion to eat ours…
In El Cabanyal neighbourhood, La Pepica is one of these large, seaside-y places whose décor doesn’t look like it’s changed much since the ’80s and whose clientele have clearly been coming here for decades as well. Their paella Valenciana is a specialty, and comes according to the traditional recipe with garrofó (a large variety of butter bean), their green bean counterparts (like runner beans but larger), and plenty of aromatic rosemary and saffron.
If you prefer your paella with seafood, you’ve got plenty of options along the beach too. We cycled in the opposite direction, down south to Playa de Pinedo, which felt like the quieter half of the Valencian coastline. Stopping at Restaurante Maremar for a restorative cola, we decided it looked so nice that we’d pop back for lunch a couple of hours later. Their paella was everything you’d expect: ocean flavoured and umami-sticky on the bottom of the pan. But their charcoal-grilled vegetables were possibly the stars of the show. Not to mention the uninterrupted views over the ocean…
If you don’t have quite the time or the energy to head to the beach and are staying more centrally, Casa Roberto’s “house of rice” is a good choice in the Gran Vía neighbourhood. Inside, it’s quite traditional but we sat outside on the sunny pavement terrace to watch the world go by. Roberto’s paella Valenciana came stuffed with all the things you’d expect (chicken, rabbit, beans) but also artichoke and snails, which made it feel a little different. Their grilled vegetables were also excellent, if a little pricey, and they served a nice white wine (Rueda) by the glass.
Tapas in Valencia
The Valencians typically don’t go out for dinner until after 9 pm, and if you’re anything like me, you can’t possibly wait that long to eat. Luckily, the tapas bars are generally open earlier, so you can stop by for a snack and a drink before dinner, or turn it into a full meal.
Located in El Cabanyal, you’ll find queues out the door to get a table at Casa Montana so be sure to reserve in advance. This place is ultra-traditional, but in the best possible way: think mouth-watering jamón Iberico, silky Rioja and steaming piles of mussels. They also specialise in artisan canned fish, so we tried the razor clams – I was sceptical but they were briny and good. Also delicious were the young broad beans fried with lomo, the tuna cured in seven spices, and the red piquillo peppers stuffed with cheese, coated in flour and deep-fried. Go hungry because you’ll want to order everything on the menu!
In Valencia’s central El Carmen neighbourhood, picture-perfect Roman and Gothic buildings nuzzle up against colourful street art and sunny terraces. But one of the more traditional bars in the area is La Pilareta, where the mussel shells are still thrown into crates in front of the bar as the staff have done for decades. Better than the mussels, however, were the montaditos: halved, toasted bread rolls topped with grated tomato plus other variations. We tried the morcilla (blood sausage) and the chorizo, which tasted a lot better than they looked!
Rincón de Roberto
On my first evening in Valencia, we went to Rincón de Roberto in the Gran Vía neighbourhood for tapas. Despite the fact that it was 9.30 at night because I was on the last flight of the evening and I’d come straight from the airport, we were still almost the first people there. Late-night indigestion aside, the tapas at Rincón de Roberto is fantastic. I particularly liked their version of Valencia’s famous esgarraet – roasted red pepper and aubergine salad with cured tuna and hard-boiled eggs – as well as their artichokes a la plancha (when in season) and their grilled squid with potatoes. Simple but perfect.
Modern Spanish cuisine in Valencia
Of course, food in Valencia is not all about paella and tapas. There’s some seriously creative cooking going on as well. As evidenced by the growing number of recommendations in this section…
A few days before I arrived in Valencia for the first time back in 2018, chef Ricard Camarena won a second Michelin star at his eponymous restaurant. But for those of us who don’t have the funds to splash on Michelin-starred dining, Camarena also has a couple of more affordable restaurants in the city – including Canalla Bistro in the hipster Russafa neighbourhood. Think international fusion tapas that isn’t afraid of bold, spicy flavours. I particularly loved the Peruvian-style seabass ceviche and the Asian-style tuna tartar, but literally everything we ordered was delicious – including the veggie dishes like spicy aubergine and vegetable tempura. Despite Camarena’s culinary caché, dinner at his bistro was extremely affordable (especially by Amsterdam standards).
La Tasqueta del Mercat
In the same neighbourhood and a good alternative if you can’t get into Canalla Bistro is La Tasqueta del Mercat – close to Russafa market, as the name suggests. Each lunch and dinner time, they have a few set menus that are extremely good value for money. We paid €22 for a nine-course menu (this little Amsterdammer’s jaw dropped!) plus only a few extra euros for fabulous Ribera del Duero wine. I especially liked the bacalao croquettes that were crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, as well as the tuna tartare with chilli and peanut sauces served with crisp corn tortilla. Plus, the chicken-liver pâté with focaccia and pickled onions was simple but perfectly prepared.
On the opposite side of Av. Del Regne de Valencia from Canalla Bistro, on a wide open square, you’ll come across the joy that is La Chipirona. I had the pleasure of eating there for my birthday, which meant that my brother was paying – yay! Dishes are designed to be shared, and share we did. Peking duck sushi, smoked aubergine with tahini, spicy seafood balls that were like Spanish bitterballen… And that’s before the incredible chuleton (ribeye) we tucked into for our beefy main course with grilled Padrón peppers and potatoes. The house wines by the glass were exquisite, too – ideal for sipping outside on the terrace.
A family favourite of the Hamptons, I’d not been to Mercatbar until my most recent visit to the city in 2022. But it did not disappoint! We sat at the bar so we could watch the staff at work and chat with our super-friendly barman. We both ordered the fixed “Gargoyle menu”, which comprised two rounds of three shareable dishes, followed by a main (which you get to choose) and a dessert to share. We particularly liked the marinated blue fin tuna, octopus croquettes and Korean pork burger, but all the dishes were spectacular. A fun and delicious night out, made even better by the excellent wine recommendation and banter with the restaurant staff.
Bang in the centre of the old city, modern fine-dining restaurant Karak is the brainchild of the extremely talented Rakel Cernicharo. We tried her ten-course tasting menu, which was a creative fusion of European and Asian flavours – playful but still recognisable. One of my favourite dishes was the shrimp ravioli with red curry sauce, seaweed and a garnish of fascinatingly sour green leaves – a veritable flavour bomb. Beef tataki with beurre noisette, hazelnut sauce and leeks (pictured below) was delicate and subtle by contrast, but no less delicious for that. While Karak’s signature dish of salmon cured for four days in soy sauce with sushi rice and kimchi cream was an umami hit. What’s more, the sommelier was very knowledgeable about suitable wines to pair with the dishes, and you get a great view of the kitchen if you sit at the long communal tables upstairs.
International food in Valencia
You probably didn’t come to Valencia looking for Indian street food, or Italian pizza, or Argentinian steak. But once you’ve gorged yourself on tapas and paella for a few days, you might be ready for something different…
Since I first came to Valencia back in 2018, there seems to have been an explosion of Indian restaurants – and some of them are really surprisingly good. One relative newcomer is Kathmandu, in the Gran Vía neighbourhood, which specialises in Nepalese dishes as well as traditional North Indian fare. I especially enjoyed the chana masala (chickpea curry) and the special Nepali curry with tamarind and peppers. But everything was great, right down to the naan bread and the service.
On the way to the up-and-coming Benimaclet neighbourhood, you’ll find a little hole in the wall called Karma Food & Drink. It’s very hard to Google because there’s a much larger Indian restaurant called Karma in Valencia, California. This Karma may be unassuming but it has the benefit of being in Spain – and being a hidden gem. We tried their dosa (right up there with ones I’ve had in London), chana puri (crunchy, sweet, spicy – little flavour bombs) and chicken tikka straight from the tandoori grill (smoky and well spiced). If you’re still looking for tapas or sushi, they serve that too – but I highly recommend you skip it and go straight to the Indian section of their menu.
I generally don’t eat much Italian food outside of Italy, but we’d had a recommendation for pizza in Russafa and off we went in search of it. Unfortunately, the pizza joint in question (which shall remain nameless) was abysmal. But by that point we needed a dough fix – fast. We stumbled upon Interno Mediterraneo quite by accident, but it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. Pillowy Neapolitan-style crusts with fabulous-quality toppings, and some lovely cocktails to wash it all down with. I particularly enjoyed the jamón y trufa pizza with melt-in-the-mouth ham and a burrata-truffle cream sauce as well as fresh tomatoes. Plus, the smoky negroni made a great aperitivo.
Asador Argentino Gordon 10
Essentially an Argentinian steakhouse, Asador Argentino Gordon 10 is filled with British and Dutch tourists – but don’t let that put you off! One for the meat eaters, the kitchen serves up a truly excellent ribeye steak, done simply with baked potatoes and grilled vegetables. The wine is affordable and the service some of the best we had. A carnivore’s paradise.
Valencia’s Mercado Central
Valencia’s central market is just as impressive as those in many cities five times its size. The building itself is architecturally beautiful, even before you’ve got to the food. Grab yourself a bocadillo de jamón (such a sexier way to say a ham sandwich!) while you wander round the stalls selling the very best jamón Iberico, Spanish cheeses, fresh fish, olives, nuts, dried fruit and of course garrofó – the mysterious beans you find in paella…
Horchata y fartons at L’Orxateria
Just outside the main entrance to Mercado Central you’ll find a typical Valencian stand selling a drink called horchata (or orxata, in Valencian dialect). It tastes a little like sweetened almond milk, and it’s made by burning and grinding chufa beans (more mysterious beans – the Valencians seem to love ‘em). The drink is traditionally served chilled with fartons – much like iced buns – and you can get them from L’Orxateria as a pick-me-up between sightseeing in the historic centre.
Bars and cafés in Valencia
In need of a restorative coffee fix or a refreshing beer? The coffee in Valencia seems generally to be of a high quality – I tend to order a cortado for a shot of espresso with a shot of warm milk to take the edge off. There’s also been a rise in Valencian craft beer since I started visiting: no longer are you limited to the local Turia lager – now you can find hoppy IPAs, sweet stouts and fruity white beers.
If you find yourself in Russafa during the afternoon, looking for either a caffeine fix or somewhere to work on your laptop for an hour, pop into Café Artysana. Good coffee, tasty cakes, and chilled atmosphere to read, chat, or catch up on your emails. I’ve heard they also do brunch…
La Fábrica de Hielo
If you’re in El Cabanyal by the coast (for paella, perhaps), it’s definitely worth popping into cultural centre and hipster hangout La Fábrica de Hielo – literally translating as the ice factory. When I was there, the beer taps were flowing (with local beer Turia, among others), there was various street food on offer, and all this was accompanied by live music from a talented local duo singing and strumming.
We headed to Ubik Café primarily because we’d read that it was dog-friendly, and once we arrived we discovered it was everyone-friendly. Kids, couples, friends, families and their furry companions are all welcome at this artsy Russafa café that’s filled with bustle and books.
Heading to Spain? If you liked this Foodie Guide to Valencia Restaurants you might like my Barcelona Food Guide too…
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