Tapas bars are scattered throughout Valencia’s old town among the shops, restaurants and historic buildings. You could spend days (okay, months) exploring these narrow streets, always finding someplace new. Personally, we prefer to do our sightseeing with a snack and beverage close at hand. There are so many tapas bars and restaurants in this area that it would be impossible to declare one as the best, since it is highly doubtful that you could experience all of them. Here are our picks for tapas bars located near some of the most interesting sites. Each one offers the opportunity to try one or two of Spain’s traditional tapas. Anyone for a Tapas Crawl?
(As always, keep in mind that the posted hours of operation are merely suggestions in Spain)
Beher and The Plaza de Ayuntamiento
Tapa: Jamón Ibérico
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. Not your average post office, it’s worth a stop to see inside.
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
Boatella Tapas and El Mercat
Tapa: Fried Seafood
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. 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) were an unexpected delight. The 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 cana of beer are perfection.
The pescado frita (fried fish) came 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? Little ones were eaten whole while we left behind the bones of the bigger fish.
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
Pintxo i Trago and 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 is our current favorite for croquetas.
Croquetas are another 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.
Like most places with little windows, at Pintxo i Trago you have to be lucky enough to get the one barrel table at the window by the bar. Somehow, we always seem to be lucky. The bar inside is stacked with trays of pre-made pintxos that look appealing, but we come here for the croquetas.
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.
Pintxo i Trago
Plaza Redonda, 9
Every day 9:30 AM – 12:30 AM
Tasquita La Estreche and Santa Catalina Church
Tapa: Champiñones plancha
Pintxo i Trago is just one of several bars on this curious little plaza called Placa de Lope de Vega. The plaza 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.
The tapa of choice here is the champiñones plancha (grilled mushrooms). Sliced baby portabella mushrooms are grilled and served with a sauce of olive oil, parsley, and garlic. To be honest, we don’t usually eat here. What we love about Tasquita La Estrecha is the lively yet comfortable atmosphere and friendly staff. 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.
Despite the tour group interruptions, it is an intimate setting with the Santa Catalina Church (Iglesia de Santa Catalina) providing 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. The chapel is one of the most enchanting that I’ve seen and the perfect romantic setting for a wedding.
Tasquita La Estrecha
Plaza Lope de Vega 12
Llepol and the Plaza de la Virgen
Tapa: Patatas Bravas
Carrer de Navellos is a busy street lined with touristy cafes, but there is a good reason to spend time here. From the sidewalk tables you have a great view in both directions. To the south, you look straight down into the Plaza de la Virgen and the impressive Turia Fountain with Neptune at the center surrounded by eight women depicting the tributaries that feed the Turia river. El Micalet, the bell tower of the Cathedral hangs in the background. To the north, you see the 18th century bell tower of the Iglesia De San Lorenzo.
Llepol is our best pick of the restaurants on this street. They have standing tables inside and outside on the sidewalk where you can enjoy the view with a plate of Patatas Bravas.
Patatas Bravas are one of the most prevalent tapas you’ll find in Spain. Almost every bar will serve them, and while they are all basically fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and aioli, they are not all the same. They can be very good or very bad.
The patatas bravas at Llepol were freshly made and piping hot. Baby potatoes were sliced in half and fried crispy, then drizzled with a mildly spiced tomato sauce and a generous sprinkling of paprika. They were served with a super garlicky aioli. The generous bowl was a good deal for €4.50. Have them with cañas of Alhambra cerveza on tap and you’ve got a great snack with a beer for two for less than €8.
If you have a sweet tooth, check out the beautiful dessert case. They specialize in cakes – it’s in their tagline. We’re easily tempted and picked up a piece of carrot cake to take home.
Carrer de Navellos, 10
Open all day from 8 AM – 10:15 PM (Midnight on weekends)
Las Cuevas and The Plaza Cisneros
Tucked between the Plaza de la Virgen and 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. It was the residence of the Spanish monarchy throughout the 19th century. There is an exhibition of artifacts from Valencian history. The building is open for touring for €2. The palace also currently houses the Institute of History of Medicine and Science, part of the University of Valencia.
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 that are different from your typical tapas bar. There are lots of rellenas (stuffed things) lined up on the tapas bar. We’ve been here a few times, just pointing to things that looked interesting: red peppers stuffed with tuna, tomatoes filled with bacalao, a seafood-stuffed shell, and a few pastries with ham or cheese. Everything was okay but, sadly, reheating in the microwave destroyed the texture and flavor.
We had almost given up hope of finding satisfaction, and then 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 takeaway: seize the moment and look for something fresh on the tapas bar.
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.
While you’re in this part of town, check out the Torres de Serranos. These 14th century towers were the main gates to the walled city of Valencia.
Plaza Cisneros, 2
Monday – Friday 12:30PM – 1AM
Saturday 7PM – 1 AM
There are endless restaurants and tapas bars in Valencia. The Old Town in particular contains its share of tourist traps, but there are some gems hidden in there. We hope that those listed above will give you a nice selection to work with when visiting the historic sites in old town Valencia. As we continue to explore, we will provide additional insight into this amazing food wonderland.