Eating in Porto

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A long drawn out dinner filled with good cheap wine and hearty food was our experience while eating in Porto, a city that is about so much more than port wine. The dining scene in Porto has evolved over the years to become the next food destination of Europe.  The unpretentious authentic northern Portuguese cuisine revolves around fresh local produce with delicacies such as francesinhas, sardinhas, and bacalhau taking center stage.  We had many memorable dishes from a cheesy, oozy sandwich to freshly grilled fish. Here are a few of the restaurants we’ve visited during our stay in Porto:

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Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau –  Pasteis de bacalhau bring together Portugal’s two most beloved ingredients: salted cod and potato – mixed together with cheese into a ball and fried to golden brown oozy goodness. If you are looking for a quick snack break, head over to Casa Portuguesa near the Torres dos Clerigos for a taste of the local favorite. 

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Casa Grande –  In Porto there are lots of cute little cafes and chocolatiers; Casa Grande is a good combination of the two.  Located in the Ribeira area near the Palacio da Bolsa, it’s a great place to sip a cappuccino while waiting for the tour at the palace to start. Aside from the usual coffee offerings, there are also a selection of pastries and chocolates made on-site. We shared a coffee and chocolate-drizzled waffles that cost less than 4€ and tasted really good.

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Café Majestic –  Another great place for an afternoon coffee break is Café Majestic, also known as the most beautiful café in the country.  Established in 1921, Café Majestic is famed for its ornate Art Deco interior. From the red velvet chairs, to marble walls to the gilt-edged mirrors, this place has a distinctive old world feel.  If the opulent interior is too stuffy for your taste, ask to be seated outside.  It’s located on the busy Rua Santa Catarina, making it a great place to people watch.

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Cafe Santiago –You might have heard of the francesinha, one of the most famous things to eat in Portugal.  Originally from the city of Porto, the multi-layered sandwich is made with bread, wet-cured ham, fresh sausage, steak, topped with a fried egg, and covered in melted cheese.  The whole thing sits in a thick tomato and beer sauce, and is served with a generous portion of french fries. If this sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen – it probably is, but it tastes ohh-so-good.  As you can see from the photo, the portion is huge, and the food is heavy, so we opted to share a dish instead of getting one each.

There are conflicting opinions about the best place for a francesinha, but most people will agree that Café Santiago is definitely one of the best in the city.  At this diner-style restaurant, you’ll find locals sitting next to visitors from all over the world, each digging into their own massive francesinha.

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Casa Santo António – Centrally located near the Torres dos Clerigos, this small hole-in-the-wall family restaurant serves tapas style dishes. The menu is written on the chalkboard wall, but there is no need to order. The owner/waiter comes over and asks about your food preferences before bringing out a few plates for you to try.  If you see something you don’t like, you can always send it back.  Most dishes cost about 3.5€ and a glass of wine only costs one Euro! One of my favorite dishes was the bacalhau with cream and potatoes.

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O Valentim If you’re in search of fresh seafood, head out to harbor district of Matosinhos, located a short metro/bus ride from the Porto city center.  There you’ll find a multitude of small family-owned seafood restaurants, each serving a bounty of the freshest tasting seafood – brought in by the local fishermen that morning.  Outside each restaurant, is a charcoal grill giving off an intoxicating smoke. The smell of grilled fish gets stronger as you turn onto Rua Heróis de França, beckoning hungry diners.

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Our favorite restaurant was O Valentim, with its mouthwatering food and modern dinning room that is perpetually busy.  We came here for lunch with my sister and her fiance, Jenn and Darrin, who had a short layover in Porto, but had to make the trip out from the airport to eat at this restaurant again. 

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Opting to skip the couverts to save room for the main courses, the four of us ordered steamed clams, grilled calamari, grilled octopus, whole grilled seabass and fried sardines.  The dishes were served with boiled potatoes, a side of salad, and veggies.  The clams and coriander dish, famous all over Portugal, was actually invented in Porto. Every dish was better than the last. The small morsels of lightly fried sardines fall apart in your mouth and the calamari was sweet with a smoky after taste lingering from the grill. Even the tomatoes, onions, and potatoes taste better here.  

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Taberninha do Manel – For our last night, we headed over to  Vila Nova de Gaia for dinner. Situated right across the river bank, with a great view of Porto, this place has a great location and great food.  The small eatery looks like it’s been around for centuries, serving simple Portuguese food in a wide ranging menu.   We had the flaming chorizo that was roasted to a nice smoky consistency before it was cut up and served table-side.  The grilled octopus, covered in a nice green sauce was so tender, it is the best I’ve ever had.  The service was attentive and accommodating.  When the upper floor of the tavern opened up for dinner service, we were promptly moved upstairs and seated at a table with an  uninterrupted view of the river and the city.  Our waiter was actually from NY and spoke perfect English, we had a nice chat about what it’s like living in Porto compared to New York.

Bonus – Cafeina – We’ve heard great things about this restaurant but due to a travel snafu, we were not able to make it back to Porto on our last day.  We’ll keep it in mind for the next time, because we are definitely coming back to this beautiful city.

Pro tips: 

  • People eat late in Portugal and dinner doesn’t generally start until 7 – 8 PM. Make sure to grab a bite in the afternoon to hold you over until dinner time. 
  • When you eat in Portugal, or anywhere in Europe for that matter, watch out for the extra charges. When you sit down at a table, the waiter will automatically bring out bread, olives, and other side-dishes to the table. These are called couvert, which means cover charge and they are not free. If you’re from America, you will be used to these complimentary items that usually come with the meal, but in Europe they are often charged by the piece and can add up quickly. So if you don’t want them, tell the waiter to take them away and check your bill to make sure they didn’t charge you anyway. 
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