Earlier this summer, Rioja Spanish Tapas Restaurant (11920 Westheimer, 281-531-5569) ran away with the first prize at the Houston International Paella Cookoff. Not bad for an upstart that hadn't even opened its doors yet. Rioja's paella ($16.95) is made from quality ingredients: authentic rice from Valencia heavily infused with saffron, giant prawns, shrimp, mussels, calamari, chicken and homemade chorizo. The result is a magnificent, multicolored masterpiece. If you're in luck, you may even be served some of the socarrat -- or crunchy rice from the bottom of the pan -- so esteemed by connoisseurs. Two giant paella pans are going constantly at Rioja, but the staffers warn that it can take as long as 45 minutes. Not to worry: The wait's made easier by the delicious red wine sangria ($5.50), served in a serious 16-ounce tumbler.
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