During our last three visits to Alicante, Spain, we walked by La Taverna del Racó del Pla a dozen times. Hidden in a narrow side street a couple of blocks from the Mercado, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but when we peered through the windows, we were drawn to the classic Spanish wood bar and dining room. It was usually packed, so we kept walking, always telling ourselves we should try it someday.
Almost by accident, turned off by blaring music at our first choice for lunch, we decided to see if we could get a spot at the Taverna, this time just around the corner from our Airbnb. Fate gave us a break – probably making amends for broken elevators and no-show taxis – and rewarded us with a prime table and an exceptional traditional Spanish meal.
The restaurant is rich with Spanish charm and character. Posters of matadors and countless photos of family, friends, and celebrities dress the walls. Busy servers looked serious one second and flashed welcoming smiles the next when we arrived just after 1pm, way early for locals. We’re glad we did, as we were shown to the one table in the entire room without a reserved sign. A half-hour later customers streamed through the door. By two, the place was full.
We ordered canas while we deciphered the menu. I immediately noticed steamed cockles, a delicacy I first experienced from a can in Barcelona. Here I could try fresh ones. For her starter, Mary took a chance on croquettes, a classic tapas favorite rarely done right. For our main dish, we opted for the house rice dish with chickpeas, Iberian pork, and grilled red bell pepper garnish.
It’s rare to get one stunning dish in a restaurant, but here every one of the three dishes was superb.
The ham and mushroom croquettes were crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth inside with savory creamy bechamel. The super fresh simply steamed cockles were ocean-fresh, tender, and sweet, with a slight lobster flavor. And the rice dish, studded with nuggets of tender pork and plenty of crispy caramelized edges, made our tastebuds do the happy dance. It ranked right up there with the best paellas we’ve had, even bested the one we made at the Valencia cooking school, and that’s saying something.
The entire feast totaled $59. If I hadn’t ordered the large plate of cockles, it would have been $40. And we have enough rice leftovers for another feast at home.