There are plenty of paella purists who insist there's only one way to make the Spanish staple (born in Valencia, to be specific), but we beg to differ. True, the rice is key, and making a killer paella takes time, but when it comes to ingredients, the options are limitless. Here are five of our favorite paellas in Denver that run the gamut from traditional to tricked-out.
The fantastic paella (pictured above) from Bixo Bites, one of seven eateries at Avanti Food & Beverage, is a two-day process that starts with a bouillabaisse-style broth scented with fennel seed, star anise and brandy. Chef and culinary artist Marco Gonzales, who hails from Mexico, uses saffron-infused bomba rice and crowns his paella with fresh wild-caught shrimp (head-on when he can get them), clams, mussels, octopus, peas and peppers. 3200 Pecos St.; 720-269-4778
The signature paella (pictured above) at Solera, chef-owner Goose Sorensen's neighborhood hot spot in Park Hill, has a dedicated calvary of fans, and it's easy to see why: it's stocked with a generous amount of fresh shellfish and coins of Spanish chorizo, mounded with an herb-specked, saffron-hued rice, and the deep, dark red broth is beautifully seasoned. And on Sunday nights, a huge vat of it is only $50 for two. 5410 E. Colfax Ave.; 303-388-8429
At Stoic & Genuine, the kitchen produces a paella (pictured above) that's a modern marvel of grilled Hawaiian game fish, shrimp, plump mussels, calamari, housemade sausage and soccorat (crisp-edged rice cakes, from the Spanish word "to singe"). The seafood and fish float in a smoked-tomato broth, and the bowl arrives paired with a plate of cornbread, an unorthodox but perfectly suited sidekick. 1701 Wynkoop St.; 303-640-3474
At Boulder's Cafe Aion, chef Dakota Soifer serves farmer's market paellas (pictured above) every Wednesday night. The paellas change weekly, depending on what he can score at the Boulder Farmers’ Market and from local farms — and it's those fresh-from-the-earth vegetables that take center stage. “Paella is perfect for seasonal eating,” says Soifer. “I can’t think of a vegetable that doesn't pair well with paella, and as different vegetables and herbs become available at the farmer's market throughout the growing season, their flavors dictate what kind of paella we make in the restaurant. It’s a blast.” 1235 Pennsylvania Ave.; 303- 993-8131
The paella at Lola, a family-style Sunday-night-only feast, is a festive Mexican take on the Spanish classic. Served with a spicy tomato and red chile salsa base and red rice, it's filled with Manila clams, mussels, grilled prawns, chorizo, fried calamari, Serrano ham and chunks of king salmon, corvina and ahi tuna. Chef Kevin Grossi matches it with toasted bolillo bread and Serrano chile aïoli. 1575 Boulder St.; 720-570-8686