Finding ourselves with no afternoon commitments last Sunday, my husband and I decided to stray from the tried and true local eateries for something different. From a starting point in Millburn, we whipped out our smartphones and began searching for the best-reviewed restaurants in the area. Relying on several excellent reviews on google and tripadvisor, we ended up at Restaurant Valenca in Elizabeth for what promised to be an authentic taste of Portugal – and it did not disappoint!
We took advantage of the 30 minute wait for a table to sit at the small bar, order a pitcher of sangria (the best I've had, including travels to Spain), and peruse the menu. With a four-page menu, plus a full page of Specials, we found it very difficult to narrow the selection, but eventually decided to split three entrees so that we could get a broader experience. When we go back, however, I will definitely try the stuffed scallops appetizer which looked wonderful.
The meal started with a large, complimentary bowl of green salad with a vinaigrette dressing and each entrée was served with a side of Spanish rice and homemade potato crisps. Our first course was the Barbecued Chicken and Ribs and it was delicious. The ribs were meaty and seasoned to perfection and the chicken was equally wonderful, with a crisp and flavorful skin.
We were still fighting over who got the last rib when our second course was delivered to the table. The Filet on a Stone is like your own private hibachi. A metal plate with a sizzling hot stone is brought to your table, along with two pieces of quality raw filet and a side of garlic butter. You slice the filet, spread some butter on it and grill it to your desired "done-ness." You could order this with sirloin instead of filet, but having tasted the filet, I wouldn't risk another cut of meat – it was too perfect. A number of tables ordered some version of the "stone" meal, so there was a very smoky haze throughout the restaurant.
For our third course, we chose the Paella For One, which was beautifully presented in a clay bowl. Based on the single serving size, I can't imagine how large the "for two" would be. Since I am not a huge lover of shellfish, we ordered it with chicken and chorizo added, which was the best of both worlds – there were ample mussels, shrimp, lobster and clams for my husband while I ate the chicken and sausage. We ended up taking most of the paella home and it made a nice dinner the following evening.
A mariachi trio heightened the atmosphere. When they started playing, I was concerned that it would add to the overall noise and confusion of the restaurant, but they only played a few songs.
Entrees ranged from about $17 - $30. Our bill for three entrees, a shared dessert and a large pitcher of sangria, came to about $100.00.
If you eat at Valenca, I suggest calling ahead for a reservation. We arrived around 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon and the place was packed. Parking also looked like it could be challenging, so we took advantage of the small valet lot behind the restaurant. The restaurant has a catering hall upstairs, so I expect that any parking on a weekend will be difficult. Also, make sure you drink a lot of water – the food was very salty.
665 Monroe Ave, Elizabeth, NJ 07201