Where to Eat in Girona When You Can’t Get into the World’s Second Best Restaurant

Maybe it was the fact that there were no residents of Girona actually eating there, just a smattering of English and German couples patiently awaiting their first courses. And probably it was the Andean flute version of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” piping through the speakers as I walked in the door. But the real moment I realized I made a huge mistake was when it was too late: the instant my food hit the table. Dry-as-a-bone rabbit, overly goopy cannelloni stuffed with a mysterious ground meat.

Its not supposed to be this way. Well, at least in my mind. I hate eating badly on the road, especially when in Spain, the place Anthony Bourdain proclaimed was the best country in which to eat in the Western world right now. He didn’t go to Pao del Call on Girona’s narrow Carrer Forca, I imagine.

Then again, maybe he didn’t make the mistake of using Chowhound, an online message board/resource that has, up until this very second, been quite valuable to me in finding great eating spots around the globe.

What I really wanted to do was eat at El Celler de Can Roca, recently rated the second best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The description on San Pellegrino’s site calls the restaurant “possibly the least well known restaurant to have ever held the much-vaunted number two spot on the list.” All that is about to change though. With elBulli shutting down soon many traveling food lovers are starting to wonder who will take the spatula from Ferran Adria. Many people believe it’s Can Roca, a temple of avant-garde (some would say molecular) cuisine run by the three brothers Roca

But eating there during my recent stay in Girona was out of the question; it was booked up for months. I went on Chowhound and found someone had already posed the same question that had led me to the site in the first place: where can I eat in Girona if I can’t get into Can Roca? The answer guided me here, to this sub-mediocre restaurant in Girona’s historical center. So I decided to do my own research, asking locals and restaurant insiders in Girona where to eat in Girona when you can’t get into the world’s second best restaurant (and preferably one that laid off the Andean flute music).

Here’s what I found:
Nu Restaurant
Pere Massana, whose eponymous restaurant has earned a Michelin star, recently opened Nu, a great restaurant with a bad name. The menu is deceptively simple. Order “tomato, basil, vinegar, olive oil delight,” which sounds a description of Caprese salad, but at Nu it’s a golf-ball-sized sphere that, when bit into, oozes all the flavors of the ingredients described above. It’s revelatory. Almost as good are the blood sausage raviolis with pumpkin cream.

Can Roca
A friend of mine named Jack Sagel who lives in Girona and who runs this site, emailed on my second day there to ask if I wanted to eat at Can Roca. Yes! I responded. I thought he might have an in and was excited about the unexpected offer. But I soon realized there’s more than one Can Roca. There’s the famous El Celler de Can Roca and then there’s just Can Roca. Located down the street from the acclaimed restaurant, Can Roca is run by the parents of the three famous chef brothers. This is where they got their start, in this simple restaurant. Jack and I pulled up a seat for the three-course menu del dia, which consisted of pasta with beans, grilled boitifarra, a typical Catalan sausage. If you want avant-garde cuisine, this isn’t the place (despite the name). But for simple, hearty Catalan classics, Can Roca is it.
Located in the shadow of the cathedral, Mimolet serves up nicely executed Catalan-inspired fare. Service is attentive and the clean, design-y space is easy on the eyes. But the main reason to splurge here are for the inventive dishes and unusual pairings: steak tartar with curry ice cream, pork trotters with grilled scallops, and duck breast with glazed apple and a red garancha sauce.