I decided to do it up for my birthday in September and fly to Spain and Amsterdam to escape reality for a little while. I had an absolutely amazing time in Barcelona, which is a must visit for any foodie, gluten-free or not. We did a couple of days in Valencia, primarily to visit L'Oceanogràfic, a massive aquarium, and secondarily to gorge on paella, which is what Valencia is supposedly known for. I have to say I was really disappointed in the Valencian culinary scene and found myself scraping the bottom of the barrel to find places I wanted to eat. Yes, they have some very high end, notable restaurants, but they are not the kind of place you go to get paella. After over-indulging in amazing cuisine in Barcelona, I really wanted to eat some good, simple food. I'm assuming the 2nd week in September is the off-season for Valencia since it seemed eerily quiet in most places we went, with only a few locals here and there.
Overall Valencia is a beautiful city to visit, the weather is lovely, and there's a lot of history and old streets to explore. We did all of the big ticket stops, like seeing the Holy Grail at the Valencia Cathedral, doing the climb to the top of Miguelete's tower which is adjoined to the church, and the aquarium, which I had been wanting to visit ever since seeing it on tv many years ago. But for all of the beauty of the city, the food was just OK.
I scoured the web to find the "best" paella in Valencia and there isn't one definitive place that everyone agrees on. The majority of people do say that Levante in Benisano is the place to go for paella, but the original outpost is outside of town (there is one in Valencia too), and we only had 18 hours to spend in Valencia so instead we went to paella row, which I would equate to the strip in South Beach. You basically have a long row of boutique hotels, all of which have outdoor seating in the back that look out toward the ocean. Every single restaurant on the strip has some form of paella. The first night, we stumbled into Hotel Triton to try their paella at Restaurante Tridente, and it was here I learned that traditional Valencian paella comes with snails, and rabbit. I'm not a fan of either, but they only listed the rabbit on the menu which I asked them to omit from my dish, but the snails snuck in. Overall the paella was good, but not great. It lacked the soccarat, which I love and while the flavor was good in an earthy way, it just didn't live up to the expectation I had in my head. We took a walk along paella row and noted that there was a huge crowd at La Pepica. Nearly every seat was taken and the paella looked good, so when we were in a pinch the next day trying to find a place to eat, we went to La Pepica. For as insanely crowded as it was, with people being turned away left and right, the food was just ok. Plus, it took a LONG time for us to get our dinner. This time we opted for the vegetable paella, which I liked because it was simple and highlighted the paella flavor without all of the meat/seafood and it actually did have a bit of soccarat, but overall it didn't make my knees weak and have me wanting more.
I felt pretty disappointed overall with my stop in Valencia. We did grab tapas at Casa Montana, but I wasn't overly impressed by anything there. The wine was fantastic, of course, but the tapas did not hold a candle to anything I had in Barcelona. The Iberico ham was amazing, but you can't go wrong with getting Iberico ham anywhere in Spain.
The best thing about Valencia were the gluten-free Lays chips I picked up at a rest stop on the way to Valencia from Barcelona, dubbed "peasant" flavor. They were quite possibly some of the best Lays chips I've had, although they contained phenylalanine, something which I normally avoid in any food. Still, if you need a snack and you're in a bind, at least they're gluten-free!
A gluten-free traveler would have very little difficulty in Valencia, you can eat lots of paella and get by just fine. Whether it's good or not is another story. My favorite discovery from Valencia? Ferraura beans. You can't get them in the U.S., but they are like green beans crossed with snow pea pods and they pop up in every paella dish. Delish! My takeaway from Valencia? When all else fails, just drink wine and eat ham, it's what the Spanish do.