Although my husband and I had done several drive-bys, we dismissed Valencia Luncheria as a divey lunch spot, not worthy of the much-anticipated weekly date night… oh how I regret not getting there sooner.
Stepping into Valencia is like wandering off the beach to grab a bite in a small Latin American, seaside town. In fact, Chef Michael Young (of Habana and Ocean Drive fame in SONO), has dubbed his cuisine “Venezuelan beach food”, and this 16-seat restaurant with its mango-colored walls, heaping plantains, and chalkboard menu listing today’s arepas and empanadas, is a slice of Latin heaven.
In case you are not familiar with an arepa, this delectable handmade Venezuelan corn cake can be fried or skillet-roasted, then stuffed with tantalizing combinations like spinach and bacon, Venezuelan pork roast, queso blanco and avocado, or the sweet option… dulche de leche and banana. We ate several. They all boasted simple, fresh ingredients and an addictive, mouth-watering crust I couldn’t stop nibbling.
We sampled several of the dinner options, including: plaintain-crusted tilapia, which was light and tasty; camarones al ajillo— a big bowl of sizzling shrimp with garlic; and seafood paella (served Mon.-Sat.) which is one of their specialties, and worthy of distinction. The shrimp tacos with “slapped guacamole” are a must if you are there when they are on the “specials.” Also worth the trip is the adobo-rubbed steak al parilla and the chopped salad with olives, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella, which made me want to go back the next day.
No matter what you order, be sure to try the green sauce in the squeeze- bottle, which tastes great on pretty much everything— I would have drunken it straight from the bottle if no one was watching! Other items of note are the Mango Batidos—a sumptuous blended concoction of fruit, milk, and ice— and the Chocolate banana bread pudding.
Casual and breezy during the day, Valencia’s ambiance is transformed with candles and dimmed lighting at dinnertime, making it perfectly lovely for date night or dinner with friends. Since it was featured in “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” on the Food Network, it isn’t easy to get one of their highly-coveted eight tables at night, so come early, and stick to parties of four or less. But if you do have to wait, ask the chefs to whip up one of their famously fresh margaritas— you bring the tequila or beer/wine if you prefer… it’s BYOB. And keep in mind, they only seat until 9pm—even on Saturday nights.
Valencia Luncheria is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. They also offer full-service catering, including traditional menus, pig roasts, or in-home chef demos. With some of the best food I’ve had in Fairfield County, Valencia is not to be missed!
If you won't take our word for it, check out the feature Guy did on Triple-D (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives)
B, L and D Mon.-Sun. Brunch on weekends.