Prize-Winning Paella

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.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul Galvani