This blog post was originally posted on November 28, 2013 and was updated on February 12, 2017.
When asked what they consider to be the most typical Spanish dish, many people’s response is paella! But with so many places offering the rice dish in Madrid, how do you know a good place to get it?
You’ve arrived in Madrid and you’re hungry. What to eat? Surrounded by signs advertising a variety of different paellas, you settle on what you assume is the national dish. Bad move! What you’ll likely be served is a precooked, microwave meal that has nothing to do with the delicious rice dishes of Murcia and Valencia, the regions where paella evolved.
So what do you do if you want to try a truly delicious paella in Madrid? Trust us to help you find one! These are our recommendations for paella restaurants in Madrid, and a little background about the dish itself.
What exactly is paella?
If you ask some Spaniards what a paella is, they’ll hold up the pan. That’s right, the true meaning of the word paella is actually the name of the pan used to make this type of dish. The pan is now more commonly called the paellera to avoid confusion. So how do you order a paella? Well, depending on where you are, it might be as simple as choosing an arroz con (rice with)… whatever ingredients you prefer. But other areas have defined paella dishes that should contain certain ingredients.
It is widely accepted that paella originated in Valencia, a region of Spain on the Eastern coast. Bordering Valencia we also find Murcia, another area famous for its rice dishes. The reason rice dishes evolved in this part of Spain is largely due to the Moors. The Moors were a Muslim people of northwest African decent who were of mixed Berber and Arab origin. They controlled various parts of Spain from the year 711 to 1492, and had an enormous influence on Spanish cuisine.
The Moors planted rice in the area that we know as modern day Valencia and Murcia. The rice flourished in the region which led to rice dishes becoming an important part of the local cuisine. The types of rice we find in the area (specifically the Bomba and Calasparra varieties) are very unique because of their ability to absorb a lot of liquid while still holding their shape. This makes them perfect for paella.
The first paellas were not glamorous and did not have anything to do with the coast. They were more or less a barbecue-type food typical in the countryside. People used local rice, beans, and snails to make the first paellas. As their paellas evolved, they added in rabbit and chicken hearts and livers. Nowadays you can find just about anything in a paella, but if you want to try the really authentic version, go for the snails!
So, this brief history leaves one thing clear: paella is not a typical dish in Madrid! However, if you’re in the city craving your dose of this symbolic Spanish dish, don’t worry—the following places serve some of the best paella in Madrid!
Casa de Valencia
This restaurant, true to its name, serves up an authentic Valencian paella in Madrid. Founded in 1975 and inaugurated by the King and Queen of Spain, Casa de Valencia hasn’t changed much since! Don’t go expecting a trendy place to eat—you come here for the food!
Insider’s Tip: We recommend the Arroz Senyoret, “The Gentleman’s Rice,” a delicious rice dish where you don’t have to do any work—all of the seafood comes pre-peeled! Their Paella Valenciana, perfectly cooked and seasoned, is just as delicious.
Address: Paseo del Pintor Rosales, 58
Sometimes when talking about Spain’s famous rice dishes people forget about Murcia. Bad idea! Murcia is home to some of Spain’s best rice dishes, such as the famous Arroz al Caldero. It’s technically not a paella (it’s made in a pot) but it is just as delicious. Restaurante El Caldero has a central location in Madrid’s literary quarter, as well as a vinoteca (wine bar) near Retiro Park. The wine bar also does paellas to go, perfect for ordering for a lunch with friends.
Insider’s tip: Do not miss El Caldero’s ali oli de ajos tiernos (young garlic alioli), perfect for any of their rice dishes.
Address: Calle de Las Huertas, 15 (Restaurant); Travesía de Téllez, 2 (Wine Bar)
If you don’t mind going a bit north of Madrid’s center, there is a treat in store for you at Restaurante Samm, another contender for the best paella in Madrid. Here you’ll find they make the rice just right, and you get to enjoy it on their lovely interior terrace.
Insider’s Tip: Don’t miss their appetizers. The calamari with alioli is to die for!
Address: Calle de Carlos Caamaño, 3
Que si quieres arroz Catalina
Another great choice for paella in Madrid is Que si quieres arroz Catalina. This restaurant is located near the Casa de Campo park. The name of the restaurant comes from a curious Spanish saying used to indicate that someone hasn’t paid attention to something you have said or requested. They have two set menus which include various courses and a rice dish, one for 29€ and the other for 40€. You order one of the two menus and enjoy the first several courses while they prepare your rice. Whichever rice dish you choose, everyone at the table will need to order the same one.
Insider’s Tip: Of the 10 different rice dishes available, the Paella Valenciana is their specialty, but look out! If interested in ordering it, you need to call and let them know three hours ahead of time so they can get to work on it. If nothing else, that should let you know that you’re in for a real treat.
Address: Calle Principal de Provincias, 9 (inside El Palacio de la Misión)
Have you tried any of our recommendations for paella in Madrid? We love the famous rice dish as much as the next person, but why not join us on one of our food tours to try some of the top dishes that are traditional in Madrid! On our Tapas, Taverns & History of Madrid tour you will try the most famous Madrid tapas, while our Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour will take you from breakfast to lunch with the essential Spanish eats. Eat what the Madrileños really eat, and learn about the city’s history in the company of one of our expert local guides!