Firstly, the good news. There are more excellent cafés, mouth-watering cake shops and splendid restaurants in Porto (or Oporto if you prefer) than you could reasonably eat in, even if you moved to the city and set yourself up as a food blogger…hmm ponders. Secondly, the even better news. It’s considerably cheaper to eat out in Portugal than it is in much of the rest of Europe and even though Porto is the country’s second city, paying the bill is a painless experience in all but the most exclusive establishments.
Very much a café society, one of the things we loved about Porto was its sensible approach to spending time in a big city where traversing from river to city and around museums, parks and shops can mount up to the equivalent of a major hike. It’s difficult to walk anywhere in this city without passing a café, a cake shop or a bar every few metres, and with window displays that induce salivation, very few of them are without constant customers.
What to eat in Porto
Tripe. Known as Tripeiros (the tripe eaters), Porto’s city dwellers enjoy this acquired taste of offal served in a rich, cumin flavoured broth with haricot or white butter beans and chunks of ham. Wonderfully warming on a winter’s day, if you choose to have it as a starter you can kiss the main course goodbye.
Franceshina. Jack considered this to be possible the best sandwich in the world. A thick sliced, double depth, croque monsieur of assorted meats, smothered in melted cheese, floating in a bowl of spicy tomato sauce and, if you go for the special, topped with a fried egg. And just in case you thought there weren’t quite enough calories and cholesterol in there, it’s usually served surrounded by chips.
Lanche. The perfect ‘lunch on the run’, a lanche is a finger roll of soft, milk bread layered with ham and/or cheese. It can be eaten cold or pressed in a toasty machine for a warm, slightly guey treat and it costs less than a euro. Naturally, the lanche is very popular with Porto’s students.
Caldo Verde. The iconic soup of a region where money didn’t come easily to the majority of its population. Caldo Verde is basically cabbage soup but the cabbage in question is very finely shredded kale and is boiled with the addition of potatoes for thickening and a single slice of chorizo sausage for flavouring. The end result is a smoky flavoured, iron-rich bowl of goodness.
Bacalhau. Salt cod is one of the most featured fish on the menu with one of the most popular dishes being Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá – flaked codfish with sliced potatoes, garlic and onions topped with hard boiled egg and olives and baked in milk.
Where to eat in Porto
By day time the river is a great place to grab a table, order lunch and watch the world go by on the river but you’ll pay higher prices here than anywhere else in the city and the quality is not always great. Atmospheric and romantic it may be to watch the night lights reflected on the water, but our advice after dark is to opt for restaurants in the city where you’ll find better prices and quality.
SaborXpresso (Praça de Liberdade 66-68) A trendy, cake and pastry café downstairs and restaurant upstairs where traditional dishes like tripe and cod get a bit of a Master Chef make-over. Good choices for veggies and great people-watching spot.
Adega do Conde (Rua da Fonte Taurina, behind the waterfront) Cosy, rustic old house with half a dozen tables along its narrow length. Lots of character but the food is only so-so in our opinion. Watch for the arrival of unsolicited hors d’oeuvre on your table, eat them and they’ll be added to the bill.
Contra Corrente Bar (Ribeira de Gaia waterfront alongside the wine cellars) A friendly, trendy café with river views, great snacks, chocolate fudge cake to swim the Douro for and the fastest free WiFi I’ve ever had the joy of using. Their coffee packs a punch too. After dark it’s a popular spot for a beer or two. Highly recommended.
Café Aviz (Rua do Aviz, 27) Part café, part bar and part meeting place, Café Aviz has been the place to go for a drink, a snack, a meal or to watch the football for over 50 years. Brilliant staff, excellent francesinhas, light and tasty vinho verde (local ‘green’ wine) and a good craic.
Porto Escondido (Cais da Ribeira) Small, cosy café in a hidden away courtyard at the Dom Luis 1 bridge end of the Ribeira. No frills, great tosta mista (cheese and ham toastie on thick bread) and carracho (hot dog and cheese in panini) and not mobbed by day trippers.
Book (Rua do Aviz, 10) Upmarket restaurant in the former book shop where many of the shop’s fixtures and fittings have been kept as features and the menu reads like a novel, chapters being courses. Good food and a great atmosphere with most clientele heading to Rua de Galería afterwards for a tour of the bars and clubs.
Majestic Café (Rua do Santa Catarina 112) Much, much more than simply a café restaurant, the Majestic Café is a Porto icon and should be on every visitor’s agenda. Magnificent Belle Epoque décor with crystal mirrors, chandeliers and plaster cherubs, the Majestic has been a meeting place for intellectuals and the monied since it opened its doors in 1921. It doesn’t matter what you have, it’s all excellent and it’s the experience that counts.
Restaurant O Almada (Hotel Internacional, Rua do Almada, 131) Excellent quality and a nice combination of traditional Portuguese and South American dishes on a small menu in the unassuming Restaurant O Almada belonging to the Hotel Internacional.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+