Instead of planning how we’ll spend each travel day, Dan and I prefer to head out with a general idea of where we want to go and stop when something catches our eye. It might be a world-class museum one day, other times it could be a fabulous view along the side of the road or an inviting coffee house.
It certainly paid off when we passed a tiny restaurant in Andorra called l’Hort de Casa.
Somewhere between the Vall de Pal and Arinsal in northwest Andorra, our stomachs begged us to take a break for lunch. With no clue of where to eat in Andorra beyond the capital, we resorted to our usual routine: drive around until you find a local place that looks good.
How to find a good restaurant in Andorra
If you have no clue where to eat while on the road, try what we do:
- Look for something that resembles a restaurant. (duh!)
- Avoid all chain restaurants, because they cater to tourist tastes.
- Check side streets, where non-locals rarely go.
- Look for a busy restaurant, either full tables outdoors or a full parking lot. (Only applies if it’s the normal mealtime.)
- Look for local plates on cars in the parking lot.
- Bonus: a hand-written menu (because the menu changes according to what’s in season)
The goal is to find a place that cooks food for the people who live in the area. The flavors will be authentic, and locals return to places that prepare the best dishes.
Besides, local restaurants mean local prices. You can’t go wrong with that.
We somehow ended up in a town called Erts where a small stone-and-wood building sat on a small side street. Our only clue to what was inside was a simple wooden sign over the door humbly proclaiming “RESTAURANT.” With all the vines and greenery and a small terrace in the front overlooking the mountains, it looked so inviting that we couldn’t resist. We went in.
Inside L’Hort de Casa: mountain ambiance
It was a pleasant October day, but the air was a bit chilly so we decided to eat indoors. The aroma of fire-grilled food greeted us as we entered, and were warmly welcomed and seated by a very friendly woman.
We could tell that we were in for a treat.
When we got the menu, we finally learned that our lunch stop was named L’Hort de Casa (The Orchard House). We also discovered that it specializes in Aragonese cuisine.
Aragon? I didn’t know that it had its own cuisine, or even what part of Spain it’s in. All I knew of it was that it was once a kingdom (Catherine of Aragon was the first wife of Henry the 8th).
Whatever. Everything on the menu looked delicious.
The menu offered a lot of dining options, all fairly priced. The waitress brought a basket of crusty bread and a dish of Spanish olives while we made our selections.
Then while we were waiting for our meal, I made a 17-second video clip of the restaurant’s interior. We soon learned that the woman who we thought was the waitress is actually the owner. Turns out, she does everything in the restaurant.
What’s Aragonese cuisine?
Following her recommendation, Dan ordered a flavorful homemade beef noodle soup to start. I couldn’t resist selecting a wild mushroom salad with a balsamic reduction dressing. When it arrived, I was thrilled to see palm hearts in it as well. I was even more delighted to find that the mushrooms were tender, not woody.
Aragonese cuisine must include snails, because our waitress told us it’s the specialty. No slime for us though. When we saw the duck breast on the menu, we went no further. We both ordered it.
The duck breast was simply prepared, graced with kosher salt before meeting the grill. It arrived to the table accompanied by a slice of grilled pepper and potato, both drizzled with a fragrant Spanish olive oil.
Then the bill came.
Our final bill for 2 starters, 2 entrees and two beers came to €36.50 plus service charge. Pretty standard pricing for Europe.
Considering the flavor and atmosphere, it was worth every euro.