I Found Papa’s!

(For the backstory, see this post…)

After a great deal of sleuthing (thank you Nancy Drew novels and Internet information overload), followed by furtive messages and secret handshakes, I finally found Papa’s.

Well, almost.

We’re booked for dinner at 9 pm tomorrow night (that’s normal here; many restaurants don’t even open until 8:30 pm) for a semi-private meal with a Michelin chef who is completely chill about all our food restrictions!


We don’t yet have the actual address.

We’ll find out tomorrow, when we need it.

I can’t wait!

Eventually, I’ll get all caught up on all the bazillion things already I want to tell you about…and this will, I already know, be one of them.







Where is Papa’s?

So we find our friends in the Barcelona airport (we had arrived about an hour before them and soaked up a great cup of coffee each and a bottle of water while waiting…and people-and-dog-watched), and we all make our way to our AirBnB flat in the heart of the city. (Awesome place, just like in the pictures! Maybe even better…)

After getting settled in, finding a convenience store for wine and snacks (it’s a holiday here today, and all the grocery stores are shut), downing said wine and snacks, and doing a little research (thank you, TripAdvisor), we settle on going to a place called Papa’s for dinner.

Lost in an alley

Lost in an alley

Armed with only one connected cellphone, we, intrepid wanderers that we are, set off to find Papa’s, located a mere 700m from our flat. We get to the area, and discover that Google is telling us to go down this narrow, deserted alleyway (the rest of the area is absolutely bustling with people going in every which direction).

Okaayyy…this feels a little odd for a top-ranked restaurant…

Hanging on tight to our steel-reinforced bags (seriously, check out PacSafe if you go travelling), we venture into this dark and troublesome passageway, hoping to find culinary delight therein.


All the way to the end and back, everything is either open but not Papa’s or else is shuttered tight behind graffiti-decorated steel doors.

We check the website again.

Definitely says it’s open tonight; other restaurants we had looked at were closed for the holiday, and Google seemed to be completely on top of that, so we had no reason to think Papa’s would be closed. Standing at the end of the alley we discuss it: Most of the businesses along the passageway did have some kind of sign indicating what kind of business they were when their vault door was open and they were serving customers; for Papa’s, there was no sign, no clue, no hint that it even existed.

We ask a man walking through the alley. Papa’s? No, no Papa’s.

Biker survives passing us

Biker survives passing us

We almost knock another man off his bike as he tries to skirt around us from behind, but really, we had no idea he was there! oops…

We ask another man on a side alley, who asked his friend who lived right there. Papa’s? No, no Papa’s. What is Papa’s? No, no such thing.

We wander out of the alley, wondering if we had somehow gotten to the back way instead of the front, and walked all around the block in search of Papa’s.


We ask a guy in a convenience store on the busy side of the block, and he wonders if it might be on (fill in the blank for a street name because I didn’t catch what he said). Try left and then second right and down a little ways. That might be the place you want.

We wander further afield, and find some sanitation crew members in a square near the place that was left and then second right and down a bit. They look like nice people, so I give it a try with one of them. He speaks a little English, and we show him the iPhone with the information. He directs us back to the alley we’d happily left only a few minutes ago, but no, he’d never heard of Papa’s. He asks a colleague. Papa’s? Huh, no, no Papa’s Restaurante around here. Curious, two more colleagues come around. Still no one had ever heard of Papa’s. They thought they knew about pretty much every establishment in the area, but this one had them stumped.

We’re rapidly losing the little hope we have left of ever getting to eat at Papa’s.

We check the website again, and the Google Map, and the paper map, and suddenly realize that the cell phone’s battery juice is now slipping into the sub-20%-left red zone. No phone number to be found anywhere on the website, but spectacular reviews abound on TripAdvisor, so this place must be real.

We go back and try again. Maybe we just missed a subtle marking on a nondescript door.

Back in what is now beginning to feel like a familiar-but-still-sketchy-looking alley, a little family approaches, and the lady senses our bewilderment. When we realize they live right here, here in this narrow, dark alley in this old part of Barcelona, but look like an ordinary young family, we begin to feel more at ease in our surroundings. Surely they don’t look like the kind of people who would raise their child in a dangerous place? And that kid…oh my gosh, what a cutie!

While her child smiles playfully around the edge of his stroller at us, his mother talks to us in beautiful, maybe-New Zealand-influenced English, and his father supervises us, watchfully protective of his loved ones in case these strangers turn out to be trouble. (It was interesting to feel the flip side of what we’d been worried about only a few minutes earlier — that we might actually be considered the threat and not the target, I have to admit.)

Papa’s? No, never heard of it. Here? On this alley? Let me see the website.

Yes, this is the right street. No, no Papa’s here. Never heard of it.

OK, now we are truly defeated. And yet, the latest reviews are only from a couple of days ago.

The young mother studies the address listed in TripAdvisor more closely. Something is wrong with the address…the postal code is incorrect. Yes, this is the right area, the district named in the address, but this area has a postal code that is somewhat different than that one. This is 08003, not 08018. Something is wrong with with address. That’s a different area, not here.

We squeeze a little more effort out of Jeff’s waning iPhone, and try to force Google to give us a pinpoint on a street with that name but in a different postal code. Could it be another section of this street, bearing the same name, only located a couple of blocks away? (Surrey does that…must be so frustrating for visitors…)

No joy; it just points back to where we were standing.

So much for that.

We give up.

Finally. And completely.

Now what will we do for dinner? The area abounds with pubs, tapas bars, and amazing-looking bakeries, delis, and all manner of yummy-smelling food places. Alas, none look like they can handle a weirdo who can’t eat eggs, wheat, dairy, or corn without getting rather sick.

I realize I’m not really desperately hungry, although others in our foursome are starting to feel the pangs with some sharpness, and suggest that we just go somewhere that works for them and I’ll eat something I’ve got saved up back at the flat for just such an occasion. I’m totally cool with that. Seriously. No anxiety about urgent nutritional intake to avoid passing out, or anything like that — I can just order a coffee or something.

No, no, no, we’ll find a place that works for you, too, they say. (They are awesome companions! I’m feeling like a PITA…but only because I feel that way, not because they make me feel that way at all…) So we head back to the area of our flat, knowing that there is another restaurant district nearby that is worth a shot. Hmm, they look really good, but again, not scratch cooking, and totally dependent on bread, cheeses, dairy, etc.

Ha ha! There’s Starbucks. Nice to know in a pinch. Oh, and look! The Apple Store! Sweet. And Orange! I can get my European SIM card tomorrow…finally…and stop being entirely dependent on whatever wifi I can scrounge up.

Jeff quietly gets back on his now-nearly-dead iPhone, and pulls up a place that claims to be nearby that looks like it might be a full-on restaurant. We walk that way, our Fitbits celebrating on our wrists at how much walking we’d done up until then, and — success! — find our Plan B dinner location.

Ambience is not something they are in to, apparently, with lights as bright as a department store, but they are kind service staff, and patient with our nearly-non-existent Spanish. Jeff’s phone is now down to 7% left and fading fast, but we use it to help us translate a few words. We’ll have to rely on the paper map to get us back to our flat. No batteries required.

Jose serves paella

Jose serves paella

I’d already, thankfully, had the idea to set up a translation for my allergies in Google Translate, and had taken a screenshot of the results, which turned out to be a godsend. Our waiter reads it all in Spanish, takes it all down, informs the kitchen, and produces a delicious seafood paella in the true Spanish style! Jeff and I share that, while our friends have rave-worthy tapas.

There is so much food that I have to leave a lunch-sized portion on my plate. I ask the waiter if I could take it away with me, and he looks truly surprised. Then it was like something clicked (probably “oh yes, Americans like take away,” ha ha!), and he switches into what is clearly a “let me figure this out for you” mode. He returns with my food carefully folded inside foil paper and tucked into a shopping bag, smiling triumphantly. I guess they don’t get asked that very often here? Very kind of him to accommodate me. 🙂 Seafood paella

(And now I can’t wait for lunch tomorrow!)

Tummies full, we stroll back to the flat, happy with our good meal and pleased with Jeff for finding something that turned out so well. I’m beginning to think that I might have to start writing reviews on TripAdvisor now, too. I find them so helpful, and maybe I should do my part to help other wanderers, at least for restaurants I really enjoy…

Now Joanna and I are on a mission: Where Is Papa’s?

First, we have to figure out the Wi-Fi system. Getting logged in is a team effort that requires one person to curl up on the floor in a dark corner, holding the router upside down, shining an iPhone flashlight on the underside where the 20-character password is printed in minuscule lettering, reading it aloud to another who tries to capture it all correctly into his or her device. Finally we get online with the laptop, as it seems we need to bring out the Big Gun for this project (phones were simply not getting it done), and we go back to TripAdvisor, where Papa’s has been ranked #8 in all of Barcelona. 41 rave reviews can’t all be fake.

Or, can they?

Ach (you have to hear that the Irish way that my mum used to say that…very expressive), never mind that silly notion.

Where is Papa’s?

We try Google Maps. Same spot we’d been in earlier this evening. We try changing the postal code, and Google keeps changing it back. Guess there’s not another appendage to this alleyway hiding just across some obstruction or around a corner or tucked just a block or two away after all.

Back to TripAdvisor yet again. Any hint that the reviewers might have left about where Papa’s is? Any mention of anyone else having difficult finding it? Any clue that this place might be pure fiction and all the reviews just a test of how much people will trust what they read online?

Rave review; no clues. Next. Another rave review; again, no clues. What do they all know that we don’t? Next. More raving, this time with a name: Joel. Joel is Papa. Joel is a spectacular chef.

Where is Joel?

And then, Eureka, a number of reviews down, and so offhand and enough reviews down the line we easily missed it earlier, we finally hit pay dirt.

One reviewer very casually mentioned that Papa’s is (rather unusually, if you ask me) hosted in Joel’s private apartment. He hosts international guests at a common table in his own home. Apparently the whole thing is an amazing experience, but to get to enjoy it, we have to write to Joel to book it 24 to 48 hours in advance. No phone number, only online contact through his web form. And clearly his neighbours don’t have a clue what he’s up to in the privacy of his own pad.

Explains the delicious wafts of fragrant food that tickled my nose on a couple of passes up and down the alley. (The rest of it didn’t quite smell so pretty.)

We totally missed all this while trying to navigate the streets of Barcelona (wow, the buildings! wow, the shoes the women wear! wow, watch out for traffic!) to find Papa’s with the help of an (useless, given the secret handshake we didn’t learn about in time) iPhone and two (also rendered useless by our ignorance) paper maps.Streetscape

But we did score a great meal, had some good laughs with our waiter who valiantly practiced his incomplete English on us (and did much better, speaking for myself, than I ever could in Spanish…my pronunciation of honey, “miel,” had him quite baffled for a bit when I asked him for some for our coffees), and had a lot of fun sleuthing to find the answer to our mysterious defeat once we got back.

And this is what “exploring Europe” can be all about, as long as we keep our wits about us and stay out of trouble…and try not to look like trouble ourselves to the locals, while we’re at it…

Oh, and I sent Joel a note, wondering if he was interested in hosting a quartet of cheerful Canadians in a day or two…we’ll let you know how that turns out!

All’s well that ends well.