In just a couple of days in Valencia we were able to enjoy several types of cuisine. Most of the food that we had in the city was top notch. These were my four favorite stops while we were there, a light lunch, a big paella lunch, afternoon tapas and drinks, and a fantastic dinner.
- La Peluda for a light lunch and café
We stopped in this place during our bike ride around the park. It is a small building right on the side of the road with a nice patio, like most cafes in Valencia. When we grabbed a table I wasn’t even sure that they served food, so we ordered café con leche and waited to see if we would get menus. Our waiter brought out the coffee along with the food menus. There were surprisingly many different options to choose from. Lots of different types of pastries, salads, and hot or cold sandwiches were on the menu. It was more than expected.
When we ordered I knew that we would be getting a salad and a sandwich, but it was tough for me to know exactly what would be in them. I had ordered a few things earlier in the week and not gotten exactly what I expected. I know a little bit of Spanish, but not enough to decode a whole menu. The nice thing about my food experiences in Spain is that all of the food is delicious. Anything I’ve ordered has been very good, so I wasn’t worried about what would be coming out of the small kitchen.
The food arrived, and once again I was impressed. The salad was made with very fresh ingredients, and had a couple kinds of meat with very nice vinaigrette dressing and dry cheese. I was even more impressed with the sandwich. Layers of cheese, ham, sautéed onions, and thinly sliced steak were piled on a whole baguette and toasted. It was fantastic, much different than some of the pre made sandwiches that I had tried in some other cafes in the country. This sandwich was hot, fresh, and delicious. This was a great place to stop in for some lunch, and a great location just off of Turia Gardens and near Gulliver playground if you are spending a day in the park.
- Café Infanta for Tapas and Sangria on the Patio
This was our first meal when we arrived in Valencia. This place has a great patio for enjoying the nice weather. It was mid afternoon when we stopped in, and they were not serving the full menu, just drinks and tapas, which sounded great to us. We ordered a pitcher of sangria and a few tapas to hold us over until dinner.
The sweet sangria was perfect for the warm sunny day, and the tapas we ordered were delicious. We ordered patatas bravas, fried king prawns, and some great goat cheese stuffed pastries. You will see patatas bravas on almost every menu in Spain. They are the most popular tapa, and for good reason. Basically fries with red and white sauce. Simple and great tasting. All of the items were delicious and beautifully presented. There are many cafes all over Valencia that are very similar to this one. A great place to stop and enjoy some tapas and some drinks while enjoying the afternoon, especially on the patio when the weather is nice. (It was nice every day we were there)
- La Pepica for paella
Valencia is known as the birthplace of paella, so you can find a lot of restaurants that make it there. If you want the best, then La Pepica is the spot. Some pre trip research had pointed me to this restaurant, and the concierge at our hotel also recommended it when we checked in. La Pepica has been around for over a hundred years, and was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. The restaurant has great reputation for its food, and is located in a pristine location right on the beach in Valencia.
We decided to head to La Pepica for lunch. This is typically the big meal of the day for Spaniards, and we knew that the place would be busy. As we walked towards the restaurant we passed several other empty restaurants that were trying to draw in business. They had little luck as most of the traffic was headed to La Pepica.
Luckily we arrived just before the rush and were able to get a table on the patio without waiting. It was around 1pm when we arrived, by 130 the entire patio was filled with diners, and there was a waitlist. The restaurant has many tables in the inside section of the restaurant, but most patrons were turning down inside tables and waiting to get one on the patio. The weather was nice, and there is a great view of the Mediterranean from the patio. I would have waited for those seats too if I had to.
The restaurant has gained worldwide popularity over the years, and the staff at La Pepica does a good job of working with tourists from all over the globe. The menu is divided into several languages, which makes it easy for almost anyone from anywhere to place orders.
To start we ordered some pan con tomate (bread with pureed tomatoes), which is a staple in Spain, and some fried cuttlefish along with a bottle of Spanish white wine. I am a big fan of cuttlefish, and I was excited to see it on several menus in Spain. The appetizers were a good start, but were nothing compared to the main course to come.
It was a foregone conclusion that we would be ordering paella, which is served for a minimum of two people at La Pepica. This is a common policy at many restaurants that serve the dish due to the extensive time it takes to make it. There are several different types of paella to choose from on the menu, we opted for a mixed paella, which included pork, chicken, clams, fish and crawfish. You can get pretty much anything you want in it. I was surprised to see that the Valencian paella does not have any seafood in it. This is a little ironic since they are right on the coast. Of course the meat and seafood is served within a huge platter of saffron spiced rice and some vegetables.
The iconic paella plate was delivered to us about a half hour after ordering. It was a lovely day, and we had our appetizers and wine, I would have gladly waited another hour without complaining. If you want good paella you will have to wait for it. Beware of any restaurant that can deliver paella in 15 minutes. It’s probably not fresh.
We dug into the large platter of rice, shellfish, and meat and enjoyed every bite of it. It was fresh from the kitchen, and the flavor was amazing. The big crawfish in the platter were served whole, heads and all, so I had to do some work to get the meat out, but it was worth it! When we were done there was nothing left, and we were full and completely satisfied. I had eaten paella a few times before, and this dish was head and shoulders above any others I had tasted. The paella at La Pepica is truly a memorable culinary experience and I will certainly go back the next time I am in Valencia. There is nothing else quite like the food, throw in the gorgeous patio setting and you have a memorable meal.
- Taberna Jamon Jamon
When we first arrived in Valencia we passed by Jamon Jamon early in the afternoon. They were closed at the time like many Spanish restaurants, but their menu was posted on the outside of the restaurant so we stopped to take a look. As we were reading through the menu, one of the employees of the restaurant was just showing up to prep for opening. We asked what time they opened, and he let us know that they would be open at 8, and offered to make us a reservation for that evening. We declined, but kept the restaurant in mind, as the menu looked pretty good.
The next evening we were out in the city and happened to pass by Jamon Jamon while they were open, so we decided to stop in for dinner. It is a pretty small restaurant with just a few tables in a narrow space. When we approached, all of the tables were occupied and I was not sure that we would get a table. After requesting a table for two we waited just a couple of minutes before being taken to the upstairs section of the restaurant, which I didn’t know existed. There were about six more tables in the upstairs side.
After being seated we were met by our waiter who warned us that he did not speak much English. This was not a problem, we were able to communicate without issue throughout the meal.
We ordered off of the prix fixe menu that was offered. It was a pretty good deal for a four course meal, about €20 per person. The first course came out soon after ordering, a meat board full of 4 different dry sausages and thin cuts of Iberian ham with Spanish cheese. It’s tough to go wrong with any of these items, and everything was delicious, especially the ham and blood sausage. Some of the best sausages and ham comes from this part of the world. The flavors were fantastic.
Soon after the meat board the tapas course arrived. Goat cheese and homemade croquets. The croquets were crispy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. One of them was made with a chicken filling and the other, my favorite, was made with chopped squid and squid ink, leaving the whole pastry black in color. It was rich and salty with an amazingly unique flavor. The goat cheese was served warm with a very nice raspberry sauce and was very mild. I typically don’t like goat cheese, but this was very good. We also received patatas bravas, a prerequisite when having tapas in Spain!
As we were getting close to finishing our tapas our waiter came over to let us know that the entrecote was ready. This was the main course and the highlight of our meal! The very large steak was delivered piping hot on top of thinly sliced roasted potatoes with grilled peppers on the side. The meat was thinly sliced and expertly grilled to perfection. The seasonings were just right, not overpowering the meat. The whole steak was tender and juicy, and the sweet grilled peppers on the side were a nice counter to the saltiness of the meat. The entire meal was delicious, and we were getting full, but dessert was yet to come.
We opted for crème brulee, which is very common in Spain, and tiramisu, which was made a little differently than the Italian version. It was made with a soft cake instead of ladyfingers, and was not dunked in espresso. We would get espresso on the side, café solo as the Spaniards call it. The desserts were an excellent finish to an exceptional meal. The crème brulee was fantastic, and the tiramisu was the best that I have had, it was so creamy and sweet, without the overpowering taste of espresso. The entire meal was a delight and I am so happy we stopped in.
Along with the great meal our waiter was phenomenal. He was busy working many tables, but never left us wanting anything. Anytime we needed something he was there to take care of us. It shows that a language barrier will not stop a great waiter. The entire experience at Jamon Jamon was amazing and I look forward to returning the next time that I am in Valencia!
A few notes on dining in Spain:
- The big meal is closer to lunchtime than dinner. People will go out and eat in the early afternoon and not eat aging until late in the evening
- Take your time in restaurants. Enjoy the food and drink, don’t rush through the meal. If the food takes awhile to come out then it’s probably being freshly prepared which is a great thing. Enjoy the experience and relax.
- Many restaurants are closed until late in the evening. Most of them do not open until 8pm for dinner. I saw a few that were closed until 10pm.
- You will see “tortilla” on many menus. The Spanish tortilla is an omelet, not a flower wrap like the Mexican version
- Expect to clean your own shellfish. Much of it is served with the heads tails and legs still attached. It’s all part of the Spanish culinary experience.
- Coffee in Spain is espresso. You can order café solo-single shot, or café con leche-single shot with steamed milk (my favorite) don’t expect to get a typical cup of American coffee unless you hit Starbucks. You can order café con agua-espresso with water, but the barista will probably think you’re nuts.
My short trip to Valencia was full of culinary delights, my dining experiences in this city will be remembered for a long time, and I hope to relive some of them, and enjoy some new ones when I return in the near future.
What are some of your favorite Valencian culinary experiences? I would love to hear about them in the comments section!