THE VALENCIA REGION in Spain is known for two main things — its blindingly white sand beaches (Costa Blanca) and its cuisine, mainly the rich and flavorful paella. But, aside from the thick and creamy rice dishes, the area is dotted with some of the best eats in the entire country.
This swanky, Michelin-starred restaurant is housed in Hotel Palacio Marqués de Caro. Step down the stairs from the entrance into a warm, cave-like atmosphere offset with twinkling, white lights. Some of the best food in the region is served on the spot’s pristine, white tablecloths.
Every dish is a picture of perfection: flower petals draped over veggies and shellfish (menestra fria de verduras y moluscos con jugo iodado de guisantes, or cold vegetable and mollusk stew with a pea reduction), tomato peels and sundried tomatoes over fried egg (huevos fritos con emulsión de tocino a la brasa or fried egg with a grilled bacon emulsion).
Even the desserts, such as the café con leche quemada, mantequilla y nueces de macadamia, (coffee with burnt milk, butter and macadamia nuts) are works of art and bursting with flavor. English translation doesn’t do these dishes justice.
Chef Ricard Camarena clearly knows his food, and every plate gives dedicated food lovers a reason to fall deeper in love with his traditional Mediterranean cuisine. Dishes vary according to season and the chef’s whim.
Calle Almirante, 14, Valencia 46003 (18€ – 25€)
Casa Montaña has got it all — a tasting room, an aging room, a tavern and a cellar stocked with thousands of bottles of wine, many from the region. This century-old tavern serves up tapas of every kind, nearly all of them straight from the farms and sea of Valencia.
Start with a plate of Iberian Ham, a silky smooth dish that is popular throughout Spain, then sample the cod croquettes or the fava beans spiced with ham (michirones). If there’s still room after tapas and vino, indulge in desserts like flan mousse and truffles.
Calle Jose Benlliure, 69, 46011 Valencia.
The restaurant is closed the second half of August.
Slick on the outside, inviting on the inside, La Ferradura is an architectural treat. Its oversized outdoor terrace can accommodate hundreds of diners who want to enjoy undiluted views of the picture-perfect Mediterranean.
While the house specialties are the traditional rice dishes, the menu offers a variety of regional treats like the the carpaccio de bacalao marinado al eneldo fresco con coulis de tomato (cod carpaccio marinated in fresh dill with a tomato coulis), and gambas al ajillo meridional (breath-kicking garlic shrimp).
Pulpo afeira con cachelos (octopus with potatoes), esgarraet de pimiento con mojama en aceite de oliva virgen (a local preparation of peppers and tuna in olive oil), suquet de pescado y mariscos (fish and seafood in a sauce of garlic, almonds and tomatoes), and chuletón de buey a la parilla (grilled T-Bone ox steak) are just a few choices that may have you rethinking your ideas about Spanish cuisine.
After the meal, if there’s still room, you can sip on a cafe con leche and indulge in the mousse — there is a kiwi banana version that is divine.
Avenida Mare Nostrum, 42, 46120 Alboraya. (6€ – 24€)
Located on the water in Alicante, Darsena offers hundreds of rice concoctions, meat and seafood meals. Try the sea bass with Alicante veggies or the salmon brought to the table wrapped in paper. After the main course, check out the vast array of postres and people watch thanks to the large panoramic windows. Sinful.
Marina Deportiva, Muelle Levante 6, 03001 Alicante. (10€ – 25€)
Restaurante Monastrell, at the five-star Hospes Amérigo, is the crown jewel of culinary action in Valencia. Helmed by Chef María José San Román, who recently trained the White House chef how to prepare the perfect paella and is dubbed the “Saffron Queen,” this establishment cooks up some of the most savory dishes in the world.
One of the chef’s most delectable treats is her unique oyster appetizer. From-the-sea oysters are prepared with slices of juicy green apples, fennel, refreshing cucumber juice and vermouth. Not sure what to dine on for the main course? The lobster with vermicelli “paella” is something you can’t miss with.
For dessert, the extensive list might have you at a loss. My suggestion? Try the Tanzanian chocolate soil with french toast brioche and orange ice cream.
This restaurant may bit a bit out of budget (prices aren’t listed on the menu), but if you’ve got money to spend, it won’t be wasted here. The renowned chef also owns other more budget-friendly properties in Alicante, including the gorgeous La Taberna del Gourmet.
Calle de San Fernando, 10, 03002 Alicante.
There are plenty of restaurants in the Valencia region that deliver some damn good paella, but a favorite is Restaurante Barranco Playa in Benidorm.
This little gem treats diners to beachside dining (200 meters from the sand) and a very fine paella.
Eat it by the spork-full while sipping some Tinto de Verano. But know that while Benidorm is lovely, it is oft referred to as a small version of New York City, courtesy of the towering hotels and condos lining the streets and hills of this British resort hot spot.
Calle Vicente Llorca Alós, 14, 03502 Benidorm
On your way to Spain or already there? MatadorNetwork’s Spain focus page brings you things to keep an eye out for, including some of our community experts who can answer your questions if you’re in a bind.
Head north for a Mix of Surf and Culture.
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Diana Edelman is a travel writer currently experiencing her 30-Life-Crisis. She recently gave up her job and put her life in storage to explore the world solo, documenting her travels on her blog, The Adventures of D. In her previous life, she was a publicist in Las Vegas and Atlanta. On Twitter: @DTravelsRound