March 19th is Father's Day across Spain. Families celebrate with a meal out on the town, so any restaurant that takes reservations is going to be booked up. In Valencia, the 19th is the last day of Las Fallas. Not a coincidence -- both holidays are connected to St. Joseph's Day, since he is both God's step-dad and patron of carpenters. This means that when the mascleta ends about 14:15h a tsunami of tourists washes away any lunch seating that wasn't already reserved by families.
So I counted myself lucky to get a table at Bar El Patio, 4 Carrer del Baró d'Herbers, which is a block or so east and paralleling the Carrer del Salvador, which connects the Placa de l'Almoina to the Pont de la Trinitat. That placa is home to the highly recommended history/archaeology museum and the bridge leads to the just as highly recommended fine arts museum. Carrer del Salvador, you will realize if you paid attention to your guide or the museum displays, is what was the Via Augusta in Roman times, the road from Rome to Cadiz. That's why the cathedral and the museum are where they are -- on the spot where the ancient cardo and decumanus crossed. (Note that the sign above the door of El Patio still reads Casa Ricardo, and street is not one anyone would seek out - a perfect back door just beside the middle of the action.)
The owners are a young couple from Ecuador who know little English. There is no printed menu, and for Father's Day there was a set service. As a single, I was understandably seated at the table in front of the door, and a pair of German ladies were put at the table beside the door. We were the only non-natives. The rest of the place was divided between parties who seemed to know the owners personally and families celebrating on a budget. Strollers, prams, and mylar balloons in the form of Star Wars and Disney characters added to the obstacle course the owners negotiated as they weaved through the place. The Germans wanted to order sandwiches, and I helped the husband explain to them that there was a set menu and helped them order. Choice of starters -- I went with the paella and the ladies took the bacalao salad. Mains: the ladies picked the grilled fish and I took the stewed beef. There's a modest traditional desert of custard with a cookie floated on top of it sprinkled with crumbles, but I've already forgotten what it's called. We drank house wine. Water in plastic bottles, bread (that I requested butter for), and a dish of olives was on each table.
The paella was fully legit -- generous portion with rabbit and chicken and beans. The bacalao looked like itself. The beef was hearty. The dessert cool and tasty. A shot of coffee finishes things off. Total per person: 12 euros.
Not a typo. 12 euros!
If you could have wedged into a seat closer to the cathedral or in the Plaza Reial, that would get you a hamburger and a glass of wine while rubbing shoulders with the loudest visitors the world has on offer, from South Asia to North America.
Bar El Patio is truly a Ricknik's kind of dining. And I think that on days that aren't holidays, prices are even lower.
I must also say that I enjoyed being addressed by the owners as "caballero". It was an ego boost, and reminded me of Mexico City. The drizzle that rolled through town that afternoon couldn't dampen the camaraderie in Bar El Patio.
It did however, wash the chalk off the blackboard out front, so they had to repeat the menu aloud a lot as the place filled. More language practice for me. :-)