Paella is pronounced PAH-AY-YAH and never PIE-ELLA (shame!). This world-famous Spanish rice dish comes in many variations and fortunately Barcelona’s superb culinary scene excels in all. But is it possible to find a good paella in Barcelona? While this traditional meal originated in the Spanish region of Valencia, you can certainly enjoy an authentic and high quality paella during your visit to the Catalan capital.
But what is the difference between all the different paellas listed on the menu? And where should you go to enjoy a truly delicious dish? The Barcelona Taste Tapas Tour crew are here to help you distinguish between arròs negre, arròs del senyoret or fideuà, and to weed through Barcelona’s more than 10,000 restaurants for a gastronomic experience to remember.
An introduction to the best paella in Barcelona
First let’s chew through some of the main types of paella you may encounter on your travels. This is by no means a definitive list. There is no definitive recipe and different chefs will interpret the dish in different ways. That said, one might argue that the most “classic” version is the Valencian paella (paella valenciana). It is made with round white rice, vegetables, chicken, duck or rabbit and beans. It also includes seasonings like saffron, paprika, garlic, salt and usually rosemary. The Valencian version sometimes also features snails (caracoles / caragols). Purists would say that this is the real and best paella, as originally conceived by farmers in the countryside around Valencia nearly 200 years ago.
But, as well as the traditional one, there are as many types of paellas as there are households in Spain. Here are the ones that you are most likely to come across in Barcelona restaurants:
1. Paella marinera
These days you are more likely to see seafood paella (paella de marisco, or paella marinera) offered in restaurants. This variation combines the rice and seasonings with seafood, most typically shrimp/prawns, squid, mussels, clams or cuttlefish, and occasionally lobster as well.
2. Paella del Senyoret
You may sometimes see paella del señorito / del senyoret which is a seafood paella with all the shells taken out for you. In the past this was the way the dish would be prepared for small children, though nowadays many diners simply enjoy the convenience of not having to shell the shrimp, mussels or other seafood.
3. Paella Mixta
Another popular version, which originated outside of Valencia, is the mixed paella (paella mixta). It combines seafood, meat and vegetables in the same dish. In some restaurants a mixed paella may also be served in the señorito / senyoret style, with bones and shells removed before the dish is served.
4. Paella Vegetariana
For vegetarian and vegan diners, the paella vegetariana is an excellent choice and every bit as flavorful and complex as the other varieties. It will often contain a mix of vegetables including artichokes, peppers and beans. Vegan diners should always ask if any non-vegetarian stock was used, or indeed, if any other ingredients contained animal products. However, almost always this will not be the case.
5. Arròs Negre
Black paella (paella negra or arròs negre) is a seafood paella cooked with squid ink. This which transforms the dish from a warm golden-yellow to a silky black. The taste profile is also slightly richer, with the squid ink slightly covering some of the more delicate flavours such as saffron and rosemary.
If you like paella, don’t miss Fideuà
These are the five most popular paellas you will encounter during your travels in Spain. However, it would be remiss of us to leave out fideuà – another pan-based traditional “one pot” served in many of country’s coastal areas. Strictly speaking this is NOT a paella, as it does not contain rice. Instead, rice is swapped for short, thin noodles and combined with monkfish, cuttlefish, squid and/or shrimp/prawns.
Catalans usually serve Fideuà with a dollop or two of alioli, a garlic and olive oil sauce, sometimes also mixed with egg to make it more of a garlicky mayonnaise. The diner can use to mix themselves a creamier dish, or simply use as a small garnish. Dipping the fork into the alioli to give a small kick to the occasional bite is one of the pleasures here.
The mark of distinction when eating a well executed paella is whether it comes with a thin layer of slightly burnt rice at the bottom and on the edges of the pan. In Catalan this is called the socarrat and signifies a good rather than just average preparation. With fideuà it’s the other way around – the tops of the noodles are a little crunchy as they weren’t cooking in the stock for as long as the rest of the dish and therefore absorbed less liquid.
These are hearty, healthy meals, and any version will certainly fill you and thrill you. If you don’t fall in love with the first paella you try, try and try again. It’s almost impossible not to end up head over heels. Fortunately, we have the lowdown on Barcelona’s best eateries. Pull up a chair at any of these fine establishments and you’re far more likely to experience love at first bite.
Best Paella Restaurants In Barcelona: Our Favourites
Paella with a view!
This popular restaurant located on the edge of Montjuic has excellent views over the port and sea. The menu features a variety of paellas as well as fideuàs. We recommend the rice dishes here. The arroz Martínez con conejo, pollo y verduras (rabbit, chicken and vegetables) or the arroz picante de pato y aceitunas Kalamata (a spicier dish with duck and olives) are to die for. Expect a long leisurely meal and be aware that most dishes tend to be a little on the salty side. The ambience, views and range of menu choices makes it a great option for those site-seeing in or around the Montjuïc area.
Always make a reservation as this place is well known to locals and international visitors alike. This can easily be done online via their website or Google. When booking, ask for a good table outside, unless the forecast is for rain (though if it’s not too heavy a downpour you might be OK under the large awnings). After tasting one of the best paellas in Barcelona, if you have room, the cheesecake is also divine!
The classic option!
Founded in 1836, this well-known restaurant has been popular with international visitors (including the occasional celebrity!) for many years, but remains a charming option for your paella experience. Still donning its elegant 19th century decor, 7 Portes is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and is well-located between many of the top attractions many visitors may wish to visit, making it a great option after site-seeing all morning or all afternoon. The setting and service will take you back to another time.
If you can’t decide what to eat, we suggest the paella parellada (like a mixed paella del senyoret) which is a special Barcelona-version of paella that this restaurant is known for pioneering.
We recommend sitting inside rather than outside to avoid traffic noise, plus on many evenings after 9pm there is live music (most often piano). A limited number of tables are available for bookings but otherwise it is first come first served, so get there early and be prepared to wait.
The best option for special dietary requirements!
With three branches in Sant Antoni, Les Corts and Gràcia, L’arrossería Xàtiva is well worth a visit for their exceptional range of paellas – no fewer than 25 varieties in fact! We prefer the Gràcia location as it tends to be a bit more casual and relaxed and is open seven days a week. The staff are attentive and accommodating.
We recommend any of their fideuàs, the paella de mar y montaña (a mixed paella of both seafood and meat), or one of their seasonal paellas. Their children’s menu also has a lot of choice making this a great option for a family paella trip.
Gluten-free travellers will be pleased to know that they cook most dishes with chickpea flour. They also cater well for travelers with lactose intolerance, and offer a range of vegetarian options as well – each without compromising the quality.
Quietly confident paella in the city’s theatre-district!
Despite serving up some of the best paellas in Barcelona out of their Poble Sec restaurant since the 1950s, many visitors will never hear about Elche. Well, in our view their excellent paellas and desserts (try the fig torte!) certainly keep us coming back for more.
We particularly recommend the seafood paella here (chock full of shrimp, squid, mussels, clams and langoustine) or their mixed seafood and chicken paella. A light lemon sorbet for dessert rounds out the meal nicely.
Further afield – for seafood paella fresh from the sea!
This is for those paella-seekers willing to go the extra mile in order to get only the best paella. Hop on the R1 train from the centre of town and approximately 20 minutes later arrive at either El Masnou or Ocata station. Between the two stations is a large marina and dozens of excellent restaurants. Find La Santa, which excels at paellas and a range of other seafood dishes – a great lunch option (1-4pm every day) for a little jaunt away from the hubbub of the city.
Here we recommend the arròs negre or arròs del senyoret. If you have space for dessert, the lemon pie and crema catalana are fantastic. A range of high-quality local wines produced in the neighbouring area D.O. Alella are also available and highly recommended.
Reservations are recommended for lunches at the weekends but otherwise there tends to be some space despite it being a locals’ favourite. Sit in the covered outside area to be as close as possible to the marina, which is suitable year-round.
Don’t forget that the food exploration in Barcelona doesn’t end with paella. For small, personalised food tours in Barcelona you can get in touch with the local experts who wrote this post at The Barcelona Taste. If Rick Steves thought they were the best, we are pretty sure you will too!