The paella at Rioja restaurant on Kirkwood is one of the best I've ever eaten. You can get it at lunch with two tapas appetizers for $13. Paella is one of those dishes that can leave you completely indifferent or knock your socks off, depending on the skill of the cook and the quality of the ingredients. I remember taking a detour while driving in Spain to eat a definitive version of paella at a little inn. It turned out to be old-fashioned Valencian paella made of cheap white rice, vegetables, beef and snails. It was very disappointing.
Photo by Robb Walsh
Rioja's paella is made with lots of seafood, including mussels, calamari and fish, with big chunks of sausage. But it's the rice that really makes the difference. They use a Valencian short grain rice. It's cooked al dente and smothered in savory sauce, like a big vat of seafood risotto.
Rioja used to do suckling pigs in the outdoor oven on the patio for customers who reserved in advance, but thanks to the combination of the recession and irrational fears sparked by the swine flu scare, the suckling pig feasts are on hold for awhile. If you'd like to be notified about the next suckling pig and paella chowdown -- or schedule one for your group, go to Rioja's website and sign up.