When British Airways’ (then called British European Airways) opened it’s first ever route from the UK to Spain back in 1957, the original destination for those pioneering English holidaymakers was none other than the city of Valencia.
Fast forward almost 60 years and many Brits have been to Barcelona, mooched around Madrid and conquered the Costas – but a surprisingly large number have so far missed out on a trip to Spain’s third largest city.
Now Valencia’s exciting culinary scene, from traditional horchata bars to Michelin stars, has become one of the true highlights of any visit – and checking out where to eat in Valencia is valid reason in its own right to jump on that plane to Spain…
Best known for the celebrated Spring festival Las Fallas (meaning ‘The Fires’) when it comes alive with history and tradition, Valencia goes into overdrive in March attracting up to a million tourists, here to enjoy the processions, parties and parades and soak up the celebratory atmosphere.
But visit at any other time and this port city on the Mediterranean Sea will give you an atmospheric old town and a beach break all rolled into one; there’s a palpable creative edge involving plenty of street art and cool culture, as well as a dedicated coastal area, making it the perfect city sojourn for those looking for a Barcelona in miniature, or even a Spanish-style Berlin.
As Autumn hits, the clocks go back, and the UK welcomes back rainy and blustery days, many Brits like to explore Barcelona or make their way to Madrid, but there are even more reasons to visit Valencia and escape south to taste the city’s exciting culinary scene.
Here’s my guide to where to eat in Valencia for various palates, with seven food highlights for visitors:
1. Where to eat in Valencia for Coffee & Cake: Dulce de Leche
If you want to enjoy Valencia’s laid back cafe culture and avoid the smattering of tourists with whom you’re sharing the city, then heading to the burgeoning hub for the thriving artistic community is highly recommended – and that’s Ruzafa.
While there are two branches of cool cafe Dulce de Leche it’s the Ruzafa branch (that’s a neighbourhood just south of Estación del Norte) which is the place to see and be seen for the creative crowd.
There’s an eye-popping and mouth-watering array of desserts and cakes on display – and if you can take your eyes off the sweets, the people watching isn’t bad either.
Thankfully actual Dulce de Leche is in short supply, if I’d been served any of this ultra sweet condensed milk style Spanish substance in my cake I’d have been forced to walk out in protest.
Insider idea: My almond latte was, disappointingly, a bit on the muddy side so I’d plump for soy next time if you’re dairy intolerant, but I had no complaints about the cakes whatsoever.
2.Where to eat in Valencia to Sample The Menu Del Dia: La Lola
The Menu del Dia is a popular idea across Spain, offering a set lunch at a reasonable price and giving holidaymakers an excuse to stop the sightseeing and indulge in a leisurely midday meal, Continental style.
Here at La Lola the bohemian owner has cultivated a modern and relaxed place to try it – with the ambience of a colourful Miro painting come to life. The contemporary space and the lively lunchtime ambience makes the place popular with visitors of every nationality.
It’s well worth seeking out despite being quietly tucked away – it’s hidden down a flower-filled alleyway, which is teaming with the street art that seems to be Valencia’s signature.
They offer a great value €15 Menu del Día which consists of hearty-yet-healthy local dishes presented artfully and with an innovative twist.
But if you’re seeking classic Spanish cuisine look no further than the three types of traditional paella, made with Albufera rice and saffron which are especially good value here.
Insider tip: I was shown La Lola by the discerning folks at high end Valencia tourism company Finest Turevents – basically if you’re looking for somewhere special to eat or want to hold an event or celebrate a special occasion in the city these are the people to talk to, they know ALL the best spots in Valencia.
3.Where to eat in Valencia to Try Traditional Spanish Paella: El Canyar
Mountains of fluffy bright yellow rice is a show for tourists; the prerequisite for authentic paella is a thinly covered pan of caramel-coloured rice punctuated by duck, rabbit and other meaty chunks, and if you must have it in your paella seafood.
Similarly paella is a weekend lunchtime dish, like a Spanish Sunday roast so having it for dinner or in a hurry isn’t on either.
But until you’ve had paella in its birthplace of Valencia you could be forgiven for being in the dark about those rules.
The question of where to eat in Valencia for the most authentic paella has been answered for 28 years with the words El Canyar. Under the watchful eye of the same chef there’s also been a full menu of tinglingly fresh seafood on offer, including standout Spanish dishes such as fresh prawn gazpacho and a delicate hake from the country’s north.
Competing for attention with the food are the restaurant walls: world famous actors, musicians and other sportsmen have been asked to doodle on their napkins here – so everyone from Michael Schumacher, to Yoko Ono and Daniel Craig have their scribbles on display.
Insider tip: If you want to be traditional and NOT have seafood in your paella but still fancy some fruit de mer try the restaurant’s superior Denia prawns which are deep-ocean fished and usually cost a princely sum per kilo.
4.Where to eat in Valencia to Savour Seaside Tapas: Casa Montaña
After 180 years selling tapas at this very spot to trading fishermen word has gotten around of just how good it is.
On my visit there were a surprising number of English voices reverberating around the casual olde worlde dining room – but somehow neither the authenticity of the surroundings nor the standard of the food has been compromised by sharing it with people who’ve arrived here by plane rather than boat.
Wine is still sold, as it was to the fishermen, by the litre to take away and all the original rusty wine taps serve as wall decorations to retain a tangible link with the past.
Every vestige of the history at Casa Montaña seems to not only survive – but to continue to be celebrated, and the family atmosphere is palpable.
You’ll find a menu of simple and unfussy tapas with flavours elevated by the quality of the handful of ingredients on the plate – tuna served with cardamom and mace was a standout dish.
One of the best aspects of holidays in Spain are of course the fresh vegetables which have the bright taste of sunshine that is all too often absent from what we’re used to outside the Mediterranean and they’re much in evidence here.
Insider tip: I adored the habas michirones – a bean dish which reminded me of Egypt’s national dish and savoury breakfast staple foul madammas, in a good way.
5.Where to eat in Valencia for snacks: Mercado Central
Valencia’s Mercado Central is right in the Centro Historico making it virtually unavoidable whether you’re a foodie or not, but anyone would do well to devote some time for a tour and tastings in the 8,000 square metre culinary palace – especially architecture buffs, as the building itself is something to behold.
Unless you’re staying in self-catering accommodation the temptation to buy everything in sight will need to be resisted, but there are packaged options available – jamón ibérico being the obvious choice, especially as many vendors offer samples meaning you can try before you buy.
The market also makes the ideal place to sample a quick horchata, the signature Valencian drink made by pressing tiger nuts with copious amounts of sugar and served, as if not yet sweet enough, with long thin sugary donuts called fartons.
Insider tip: Supergourmet was my personal favourite jamon vendor in the market as they handed out samples like sweeties and that always gets my vote.
6.Where to eat in Valencia For Gourmets: ORIGINAL CV
If you’re looking for a tasty souvenir for a friend back home with impeccable taste, the beautifully decorated cloth bags of Arroz Albufera are a uniquely Valencian option.
As well as being famous for rice, the region is renowned for oranges and everything from scented soaps to artisan jams come in a delightful orange variety – as well as Agua de Valencia – the city’s famed and fortified alcoholic tipple which is mixed with orange juice, what else?
There are also numerous edible temptations from the surrounding area; hand-crafted beers made with blossom and honey, wines aged in clay pots and even hand-painted kitchen tiles, meaning no foodie could hope to leave empty handed.
The main store is a feast for the eyes – it’s said to be the city’s oldest building with a ceiling that would have Michelangelo in awe.
Insider tip: If you’ve enjoyed the ceiling here pop over to the nearby Silk Exchange which has another incredible historic roof to gaze up at.
7.Where to eat in Valencia for Michelin Starred Indulgence: Riff
There’s food in Valencia, and then there’s the food I was served at Riff.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t waste my word count on adjectives and explanations: the dining room is modern, stark and designed, I suspect, not to distract one iota from the food.
Now, the food.
Dishes I enjoyed in one sitting on my visit included but were not limited to: Valencian bread with ricotta and sardines, rice crackers with prawns, peanuts caramelised with mushrooms, crunchy fennel and chick pea crackers, marinated prawns in orange blossom, and home made rosemary bread.
Sounds fascinating doesn’t it? Oh but I have barely started.
A tomato soda was also foamed at my table, then more foam came in the shape of the tapa of the day; a smoked bonito tuna tartare with egg foam which was sliced and plated in front of my nose.
I also had a razor clam, some sweet bread (which I must confess as a reformed vegetarian I hated) but then despite knowing I had tons of yummy courses left to go I ate every morsel of my basil risotto which was delicate and fresh and light and yummy and simply tasted like a summer field.
The final course is a Brazilian itakuja chocolate desert with kumquat and mandarin pomelo which I finished with no trouble. Each course is of course presented with a fine wine including a cava reserva which was remarkable. This is, without a doubt, where to eat in Valencia if you like your food and wine paired expertly and perfectly. And on my visit the chef-owner Bernd Knöller was out of town, so everything was prepared by his fastidious team.
I was just ready to leave congratulating myself at having eaten so much, when someone put a bonus beer meringue with cream and home made toffees down in front of me.
It’s also telling how good it was that I ate all that too. Though a few of the Michelin-starred toffees tasted even better when they emerged, all squidy, from my warm pockets in the airport security queue.
Where To Stay in Valencia
I walked back to my hotel in Valencia each evening after dinner, sometimes quite late, but always feeling safe on its streets.
There are plenty of gorgeous boutique bolt holes in Valencia to pick from – and depending on your needs you could choose a city centre hotel within walking distance of the Old Town such as SH Ingles, or for the ultimate seaside indulgence try the luxurious beachside spa hotel Balneario Las Arenas in El Cabanyal which is the perfect retreat after a day of shopping, sightseeing – and of course food sampling – in the city.
I stayed at the former, (popping to the latter for spa treatments only), and I was genuinely delighted with my views of the wedding cake worthy Valencia Ceramic Museum opposite – as well as being so close to everything that I was able to pop back to drop off shopping or come back for snoozes in between researching where to eat in Valencia.
Savoirthere visited Valencia as part of The Travel Mob project in association with Valencia Tourism – you can follow the project on social media and learn more about Valencia via the hashtag #VivaValencia
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