November 5, 2017: It’s been nearly a year since we first published this post in December 2016. We’ve eaten a lot of tapas since then. Some of our favorites tapas bars have closed and we’ve discovered new ones to take their place. It’s time to update, reorganize, and expand.
A seemingly endless number of tapas bars are scattered among the shops, restaurants and historic sites in Old Town Valencia. You could spend days (okay, years) exploring these narrow streets, always finding something new. Personally, we like to do our sightseeing with a snack and beverage close at hand. The Old Town in particular contains its share of tourist traps, but there are some gems hidden in there. It would be impossible to declare one tapas bar as the best, since it is highly doubtful that anyone could experience all of them. These are our picks for tapas bars in Valencia’s Old Town, along with the interesting historical sites located nearby.
(As always, keep in mind that the posted hours of operation are merely suggestions in Spain)
El Mercat and Mercado Central
El Mercat (The Market) neighborhood lies in the heart of the Old Town. At it’s center is the Mercado Central, one of the largest indoor food markets in Europe. From the outside of the market you can admire the Modernist architecture of 1920’s Valencia, while inside the atmosphere is very lively with nearly 400 small vendors selling produce, meat, seafood, wine and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
The group of three large Gothic buildings across from the Mercado Central is La Lonja de la Seda (The Silk Exchange.) This UNESCO World Heritage site was built between 1482 and 1533 as a center of commerce originally used for silk trading. You can take a guided tour of the building for just €2.
The area surrounding the Mercado Central is brimming with tapas bars. These are just a few:
Next to the Silk Exchange and directly across from the Mercado Central is an unassuming little place called Boatella Tapas. The specialty at this classic tapas bar is fried seafood. They get their seafood and produce from the Mercado next door, so it’s very fresh and seasonal. We’ve learned that the best way to order here is to look at the platters of food on display and point to what our hearts desire. There are tables outside on the terrace and a tapas bar inside. We prefer to pull up to the side window to partake of their fried goodies.
The gambas fritas (fried shrimp) are ever-so-lightly battered and fried crisp so that you can pop the whole shrimp in your mouth, shells, legs and tail included. Despite the crispy shell, the meat inside is still moist with the sweet concentrated flavor of shrimp. These gambas with a squeeze of lemon and a cold caña of beer are perfection.
The pescado frita (fried fish) come as a plate of mixed fish of different sizes and colors. So this is what they do with all of those little fish we see in the market!
This is also the place to try alcachofas (artichokes) when they are in season. They are lightly fried without batter so that the thin outer leaves are caramelized and crispy, while the heart remains buttery with an al dente bite. If you see them available on the bar, try some!
Plaza del Mercado 34
Every day 8:00 AM – 1:00 AM
Taberna La Sènia
Taberna La Sènia may be small, but we are amazed at the quality and quantity of food that comes out of a kitchen the size of a closet. Owners Julia and David opened Taberna La Sénia in 2009. They offer about a dozen wines by the glass that change regularly to keep things interesting. It is cozy inside with just five tables, but you can also sit at one of the tables outside to relax in the charm of Valencia’s old town while enjoying a glass of wine and a tapa.
They get their fresh local products from the nearby Mercado Central. Their homemade pâté casero is based on an old Tuscan recipe from Julia’s home city of Florence Italy. They also have some of the most creative and delicious uses of sepia that we’ve seen. The “Tallarines” de Sepia con Pesto Casero is like a pesto pasta dish, but the noodles are created from thinly sliced sepia. The texture is similar to fat al dente pasta with the subtle flavor of the cuttlefish.
There are no patatas bravas on the menu – instead there are Papas “Arrugas” con Mojo Picon and they are delicious. Baby potatoes are covered in a slightly spicy red mojo sauce of red pepper that just tingles the tongue with spice.
Taberna La Sènia
Carrer de la Sénia, 2
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 7:30pm – midnight Friday, Saturday, Sunday 12:30pm – midnight Closed Tuesdays
Like many of the best tapas bars, Tasca Sorolla is also very small. There are a few chairs inside, but most customers stand at one of the windows. It has a very local, classic tapas bar feel where everyone seems to know each other. We first ate here when we caught sight of the wine list on a chalk board through the window where there are about a dozen wines by the glass listed.
We saw a blanco Tempranillo. We had never tried a white wine made from Tempranillo grapes and stopped to ask about it. The owner said it was his favorite vino blanco, so we ordered a glass. It was really good, so we ordered another glass and some mussels. They were really good – simply prepared with garlic, bay leaves, and lemon.
The tapas available are written on a board, made with products from the nearby Mercado Central. The food is prepared fresh, right in front of you in the tiny kitchen behind the bar. When we ordered the pescadito frito, he cleaned the fish immediately before battering and frying them. They were served hot and fresh, just perfect.
Calle Derechos, 27
Tuesday – Saturday 12:00 – 4:00, 7:30 – 11:30
Sunday 12:00 – 4:00
The Plaza Redonda
The Plaza Redonda is a circular plaza originally constructed in 1840 as a market in what was the geometric center of Valencia at the time. It was restored in 2012 and is now surrounded by shops that sell clothing, lace, and traditional Valencian souvenirs. There are also a number of restaurants and tapas bars around the plaza.
Pintxo i Trago
Pintxo i Trago is one of our favorite spots for croquetas, a common Spanish tapa found in most restaurants and bars. A thick béchamel filling made with butter, flour, and milk is shaped into balls, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. The crust should be crisp and the interior smooth and creamy. Classic additions to the filling include bacalao or jamón.
The croquetas at Pintxo i Trago are the best that we’ve had in Valencia (so far!) Avoid those that have been sitting on the pintxo bar and order them fresh from the menu so that they arrive sizzling hot. You can choose from five different fillings. The Croquetas de Rabo de Toro al Vino (oxtail) were especially divine, with a crunchy outside giving way to a creamy interior studded with shredded beef. For the more adventurous palate, the Croquetas de Chipiron y Ajos Tiernos (little squid and tender garlic) were permeated with the intense flavor of squid and its ink. We like pulling up to the window by the bar looking out into Placa de Lope de Vega.
Pintxo i Trago
Plaza Redonda, 9
Every day 9:30 AM – 12:30 AM
The Placa de Lope de Vega provides refuge from the nearby crowds, except for the occasional tour group that passes through and stops briefly to look up. They are there to see La Estrecha, the narrowest house in Europe. This novelty of a building was actually a home originally with a jewelry store on the bottom level. Only the 107 cm wide facade remains today. The first floor is part of the bar next door, Tasquita La Estrecha.
Tasquita La Estrecha is a fun spot for a drink. To be honest, we don’t usually eat there, but the little side window ledge is one of our favorite places for a glass of vermouth. They also make a very popular Aqua de Valencia, a local drink which is generally a blend of cava, gin, vodka and freshly squeezed orange juice. It tastes innocent but packs a punch.
Also in the plaza, the Santa Catalina Church (Iglesia de Santa Catalina) provides a beautiful back drop. Santa Catalina is one of the oldest churches in Valencia. It was built on the site of a mosque in the 13th century. Much of the building was rebuilt in the 16th century after a fire in 1548 and the Baroque bell tower was added in the 17th century. On a Saturday afternoon, you might be treated to a wedding in the chapel across from the bar. If it is open, it’s worth peeking inside.
Plaza de la Reina
The Plaza de la Reina is one of the busiest plazas in Valencia. Located smack in the middle of the Old Town you will most likely walk through here at some point. The plaza is a large open park surrounded by cafes and leading to the entrance of the Valencia Cathedral. You can’t miss the Cathedral bell tower, named El Micalet. The Cathedral was constructed in Gothic style mostly between the 13th and 15th centuries with some Baroque features, like the main door known as the Iron Gate, added in the 18th century. The true Holy Grail is displayed inside in the Chapel of the Holy Chalice. For a mere €5 guided tour fee, who wouldn’t want to see that?
Located next to the Micalet bell tower of the Cathedral, Colmado LaLola stands out from the mostly touristy restaurants in this hugely crowded area. The food is high quality and reasonably priced. Owned by Jesus Ortega, who also owns Restaurant LaLola around the corner, Colmado LaLola is a combination grocery and tapas bar.
They sell wine and food for take away and have a large selection of tapas to eat in the bar or at one of the tables outside. There are about 8 wines by the glass for under €3.50 and a larger list of wines by the bottle, with a €5 corkage fee to open and drink there. This is also a good place to find a selection of vermouths and sherries by the glass. The terrace is a great spot to hang out with a plate of jamon and a vermouth while watching the tourists buzz by.
When it comes to patatas bravas, most bars pile some fried potatoes on a plate and cover them with sauce. Not here. The Patatas Bravas LaLola style are just downright fancy. Potato squares have a little dimple scooped out which is filled with garlic alioli and sprinkled with paprika.
Calle Bordadores 10
Monday – Friday 12:00 pm – midnight
Saturday, Sunday 10:00 am – midnight
For a sweet treat, Chocolatería Valor has the thickest and richest hot chocolate that we’ve found in Valencia. Valor has been making chocolate in the Valencian Community since 1881 in a factory in Alicante. Valor’s chocolate shop on the eastern side of the Plaza de la Reina is a lovely spot to sit on the terrace and dip fat crispy churros into thick melted dark chocolate.
Plaça de la Reina, 20
Monday-Thursday 8:30am – 9:30pm
Friday 9:00am – 1am
Saturday 9:00am – 1:30am
Sunday 9:00am – 10:00pm
Horchatería Santa Catalina
The Horchateria Santa Catalina has been serving sweetness for two centuries, according to the sign above the doorway. This cafe is prepared to serve large crowds. The interior is covered in traditional ceramic tiles made in the Valencian town of Manises which is famous for its ceramics.
The specialty is horchata, a traditional Valencian drink made from chufas (tiger nuts) and served cold. You can select from the variety of handmade fartons – sweet bread sprinkled with sugar and made to be dipped into horchata. Valencians love their horchata. Personally, it reminds me of chalky almond milk and isn’t my favorite, so I usually go for the hot chocolate instead. You can also get classic, thick hot chocolate and churros for dipping.
Horchatería Santa Catalina
Plaza Santa Catalina, 6
Daily 8:15 am – 9:30 pm
Torres de Serranos
The Torres de Serranos are 14th century towers that were the main gates to the walled city of Valencia. They are an impressive sight, both outside and inside. For a €2 entrance fee, you can climb the stairs to the top of the towers and look out over the rooftops of Valencia.
Two hundred meters south of the Torres de Serrano is a quiet little plaza called Plaza Cisneros. A little known historical site within this plaza is the Palau de Cervelló, a Baroque palace built in the 18th century and one of the most important historical buildings in the city.
Here you’ll also find a traditional Spanish restaurant called Las Cuevas. The interior of the restaurant is lovely, designed to look like a wine cave. There is a small tapas bar at the front, but the real appeal for us is to sit on the terrace under the orange trees. We like to grab the little bar space at the walk up window.
Las Cuevas has a wide selection of tapas including lots of rellenas (stuffed things) lined up on the tapas bar: red peppers stuffed with tuna, tomatoes filled with bacalao, a seafood-stuffed shell, and a few pastries with ham or cheese. The downside to these pre-made tapas is that reheating in a microwave effects the texture and flavor. The key to finding something really good is to seize the moment when something fresh hits the tapas bar. We were lucky to be standing at the window when they brought out these beauties: Torra de embutido con habas (mixed sausage with beans) and Albondigas (meatballs). Both dishes were freshly made and steaming hot.
The pork meatballs were moist and tender in a mild tomato-based sauce with carrots. The mixed sausages were a very satisfying selection of chorizo and other pork sausages with fava beans, leeks and a rich morcilla sausage that permeated the dish with flavor.
The vino blanco we selected was a white Rioja that was new to us, 100% Viera grapes with golden yellow color and flavors of apricot and petrol and surprising big for only €1.50 per glass. Oh, and watch out for cars and motorcycles. I’m always amazed that a street runs through this plaza.
Plaza Cisneros, 2
Monday – Friday 1PM – 1AM
Saturday 7PM – 1 AM
The Plaza de Ayuntamiento
The Plaza de Ayuntamiento (Plaça de l’Ajuntament in Valenciano) is the center of life in Valencia. The plaza of the Town Hall is where everything happens – celebrations, concerts, protests, and fireworks called mascletàs. Lots of loud mascletàs. The Ayuntamiento building was originally built in the 17th century as a girls’ school. This House of Teachers building was converted into the town hall in 1904. Across the plaza from the Ayuntamiento, you can’t miss the eclectic styled Edificio de Correos (Post Office) which was built between 1915 and 1922.
Spanish ham, especially jamón ibérico, is some of the best in the world and very important to Spanish gastronomy and culture. Some of the best jamón ibérico can be found along the edge of the Plaça de l’Ajuntament at BEHER.
The family of Bernardo Hernández Blázquez (i.e. BEHER) has been raising acorn-fed Iberian pigs in the village of Guijuelo in Salamanca, Spain since the 1930’s. At their restaurant/retail store you can get plates of their jamóns and other meats at reasonable prices. We usually find the half racione size plates, which range from €8 to €12, to be sufficient for the two of us. There really is nothing else like the buttery fat of a quality Jamón Ibérico Bellota, with its characteristic nutty flavor melting on your tongue.
The wine list has several jamón friendly red wines by the glass. The servers are knowledgeable and happy to provide recommendations. Our current go-to wine here is the local Nodus Reserva from the D.O. Utiel-Requena wine region within the Valencian Community.
For a more complete review of Jamón Ibérico and BEHER, read my article “Tasting Jamón Ibérico in Valencia”
Plaça de l’Ajuntament, 16
Every day 8:30 AM – 11:30 PM
If you are willing to get outside of Valencia’s Old Town, here are some other great tapas bars to try:
Old School Tapas in Valencia at Casa Montaña for traditional tapas in the Cabanyal barrio near the beach.