How to Choose the Right Restaurant for Paella in Spain

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Paella, Spain's national dish
Paella, Spain’s national dish

Paella is Spain’s national dish. The recipe differs regionally, but the basic ingredients include white rice, olive oil, saffron, and some type of meat or veggies. Standard paella in Barcelona includes meat from the sea: mussels, lobster, deep water shrimp, white fish, and cuttlefish.

Because it’s one of the most popular dishes in Spain, a proper paella eating experience is a must for every foodie bucket list! But watch yourself before stepping into any old restaurant on the street. Eating paella out in Barcelona requires a few bits of know-how.


1: No Photos

If there are photos of the paella outside of the restaurant, it is most likely a tourist trap. Don’t fall for the wonderful paella photos. A true chef wouldn’t advertise his goods in this way. An exception to the paella photo rule is in Barceloneta, where there are authentic places competing with inauthentic ones. To weed out the latter, read on.

Sidenote: The no photo rule also applies for all food in Barcelona, and food in general. If there are photos of the menu hanging outside the door way, be skeptical of the establishment.

2: Over 20 Euros Or Bust

A lot of places in the city offer an appealing price of 7-15 euros for a plate of paella. If you were to make paella at home, it would cost you a reasonable amount of 20-30 euros to acquire the ingredients. A restaurant offering an inexpensive paella means they are using inexpensive, probably frozen ingredients. Pick a paella that is over 20 euros to avoid this.

3: Not In A Big Pan

Some market stalls will have paella in a big pan over a stove, steamy and ready to be put in a plastic bowl for you to indulge. It will smell good and it will look good, but paella is best when its eaten fresh and takes forever to make and cook. The straight-out-of-the-pan paella from the market is another tourist trap. Like with gelato in Italy, the good stuff will not be out in the open looking pretty for everyone to see. It will be hidden.

4: Long Time To Make

If it’s the real, oh my god this is so good, authentic paella, it will take 20-30 minutes to get the meal. Some restaurants will mention this in their menu, or the server will tell you when you order it. Paella is at its peak when it is fresh and hot, and a good one gets cooked after you order it, not before. Proceed with caution if you get your paella 5 minutes after you order it.

If there are no photos, it costs over 20 euros, isn’t hanging out in a big pan, and takes a long time to serve, you know that you’ve found the right spot for paella! Now go ahead and enjoy tapas while you wait for the seafood rice goodness to appear. Comer con gusta!



Information Sources: Pau and Cristina, who know the Barcelona tourist traps and how to avoid them.

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