The city of Porto may be most famous for its port wine, but it should not be overlooked when it comes to gastronomy either. The same region – the Douro Valley – that produces the grapes for many a fine vintage also offers up a wide selection of world-class ingredients. So, whether you’re interested in sampling the stunning cuisine at one of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants or tasting cheese and meats at the Mercado do Bolhao, your taste buds and your stomach will thank you for booking flights to Porto.
With the Atlantic Ocean to the west and rivers to the north, providing an abundance of fresh fish and the distinctive salted cod known as bacalhau, Porto’s location instantly affords it fantastic ingredients. Add to this the flavoursome meats and cheeses from the Tras-os-Montes mountains and plateaus nearby and a distinct character starts to creep into the cuisine. All of this is built on a foundation of rice, potatoes and bread, which has been favoured by the manual workers that have toiled in rural areas surrounding the city. It is therefore unsurprising that Porto’s foodie scene is an exciting one that continues to evolve.
Porto’s must-try ingredient is: bacalhau
Tradition meets innovation
Destinations with strong culinary traditions, such as Porto, make for fascinating places to travel, but it doesn’t mean the city is stuck in the past. While trying a local speciality that has had its recipe passed down through the generations is certainly something not to be missed, it’s also worth checking out the establishments that are developing Porto’s food culture and moving it on into the 21st century.
Traditional food with a contemporary twist is what’s making the culinary world turn round and notice Porto.
Porto’s must-try dishes
Take a history class in Porto’s food by trying these delicious dishes:
Francesinha – the ultimate comfort food, this cheesy, bready, meaty concoction is complemented by a rich tomato and beer sauce. Order it at Bufete Fase on Rua de Santa Catarina.
Terylene – a toasted sandwich featuring roasted pork meat, ham and cheese. The best version is arguably served at Flor dos Congregados, on a tiny street near Sao Bento train station.
Tripas a moda da Porto – one of the best ways to discover the bounty of Porto’s surrounding countryside in one dish. Tripe with pigs’ trotters, offal, beans and vegetables is certainly hearty and showcases the quality of the ingredients. Try it at Restaurante Lider on Alameda Eca de Queiros.
Bacalhau – there are a seemingly infinite number of dishes featuring salt cod in Porto and it’s worth sampling one or two during your stay. Hop over the river to Vila Nova de Gaia and visit Bacalhoeiro, where salt cod is the speciality.
Queijo com marmelada – choose one of the tangy local cheeses and pair it with marmelada – a sweet quince paste that really brings out the flavour. Taberna do Largo near the Palacio das Artes has an impressive selection of cheeses.
If you try one dish in Porto it should be: francesinha.
Prior to the announcement of this year’s Michelin stars, Porto could already boast several establishments that held the accolade, but their ranks have swelled yet further. Casa de Cha da Boa Nova and Antiqvvm both earned themselves a star, while The Yeatman, which has been highly celebrated since achieving a star just a year after opening, has added a second to this collection. This means that Porto can count itself among some of the best cities in the world for food and is the perfect place to splash out on a truly special meal.
The Yeatman – chef Ricardo Costa heads up the team at this impressive restaurant, where pride is taken on giving traditional Portuguese dishes a contemporary twist. This approach is so successful that the average vovo (Portuguese granny) would not recognise specialities she has cooked up for years. Served up with incredible views of Porto from the Gaia side of the river and a wine collection consisting of 25,000 bottles, The Yeatman is sure not to disappoint. Order a dish containing leitao – suckling pig – which comes from the Bairrada region, where Costa himself grew up.
Casa de Cha da Boa Nova – with a view out to sea, it’s not surprising that this restaurant in Matosinhos does exceptional seafood. It is the brainchild of Rui Paula – presenter of Portugal’s MasterChef – who is among the best-known chefs in the country. Select one of the three choices for a tasting menu – each of which has its own theme – to get a good idea of what this eatery is about. If selecting on a dish-by-dish basis, then coastline fish and lobster stewed rice come highly recommended.
Antiqvvm – the first thing to do upon arrival at the 19th-century Quinta da Macieirinha, which houses this restaurant, is to drink in the views that sweep down over the city. Then dine on a menu of dishes that make use of an inspired blend of techniques, which borrow from both traditional and contemporary schools. Be sure to leave room for dessert, as chef Vitor Matos learned his trade at a top pastry college in Switzerland. Never has a sweet been more evocative than the Garden of my Childhood dish served here.
For a once-in-a-lifetime meal head to: The Yeatman
The best of the rest
You don’t have to dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant to be well-fed in Porto. There are plenty of restaurants producing traditional and innovative dishes that really showcase local ingredients without having to push the boat out.
· Camafeu – this small restaurant offers a fantastic way to get a taste of Portuguese home cooking turned up a level. Housed in what feels like an upmarket apartment, the collection of tables could be in a friend’s dining room, but the standard of food never fails. Catch a glimpse out of the French doors into Carlos Alberto Square and you’ll enjoy a real sense of place.
· Bacalhau – salt cod being Porto’s most ubiquitous ingredient, you’ll have no problem finding it on the menu at a number of places, but this place on Muro dos Bacalhoeiros specialises in it. You’ll have a choice of many bacalhau and seafood dishes, but the cod with spinach and chestnuts is a real winner.
· O Paparico – don’t be fooled by the stone walls and rustic décor, this establishment’s food is elegant in every way. The ultimate in a romantic dinner date, each dish is designed for two to share and is beautifully plated. It prides itself on putting Portuguese flavours at the centre of its offerings and the fresh octopus is a true taste of Porto.
For some of the best bacalhau in the city, try: Bacalhau, of course!
For a meat-free feast, it’s worth stopping by Casa da Horta on Rua de Sao Francisco. It’s an environmental and cultural association, which is also home to a restaurant with a difference. Utilising produce from local farms and encouraging diners to join in with the cooking process, dinner or lunch at Casa da Horta is more of an experience than a meal. Fridays are dedicated to francesinha vegetarian, giving you the opportunity to try this quitessentially Porto dish without the meat.
Vegetarians should dine at: Casa da Horta.
Petiscos: Porto’s answer to tapas
Just as Spain has tapas, Porto has petiscos, small versions of dishes that allow you to enjoy mixing and matching. While there are petisco bars that sell more than one type of delicacy, most have their house specialities and stick to the idea that you can do just one or two things, but do them well. Among the petiscos to try in Porto are: bifana, a pork sandwich; polvo, octopus; pipis, chicken livers; and caracoes, snails.
To get the best petisco experience in Porto, make your way from one bar to the next, leisurely having a drink and sampling each place’s signature dish.
· Alfredo Portista on Rua Cativo is known for its deep-fried sardines.
· Adega Leandro on Rua Igreja de Paranhos has been serving its legendary codfish rolls for more than 70 years.
· Taxca Badalhoca on Rua da Picaria is worth stopping by for its namesake salad or selection of cold sandwiches.
Don’t fancy a traditional sit down meal? Petiscos are the answer.
The café scene is alive and well in Porto and there are places to grab a coffee all over the city, especially in the Ribeira and downtown neighbourhoods. Whether you’re looking for somewhere grand and historic or small and local to watch the world go by, there are cafes to suit all moods in Porto.
· Majestic Café – one of the oldest and most beautiful cafes in Porto, Café Majestic dates back to the 1920s and is exquisitely decorated in belle epoque style. More than just a coffee stop, an experience not to be missed.
· Café Guarany – originally founded in 1933, but renovated in 1994, Café Guarany still offers a daily caffeine fix from its light and airy premises on Avenida dos Aliados.
· Casinha Boutique – this lovely coffee shop, complete with a garden, is a great place to escape the bustle of the city and it’s not far from the Casa da Musica.
· Café Progresso – a coffee shop that started as a place where market vendors went for their morning brew in the 19th century, Café Progresso in Vitoria has undeniable heritage.
Sit back and enjoy the history with a coffee at one of Porto’s oldest cafes.
What you can expect to pay
Where you decide to dine will make a difference to how much you pay for food and drinks in Porto. A set meal in a local restaurant will cost less than the fare on offer at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but sometimes it’s worth splashing out. The coffee at the likes of the Majestic Café is pricier than in some other locations, but it’s also the surroundings that you are paying for. Here are a few ideas about the prices of food and drink in Porto.
· A petisco will set you back between €1.50 and €2.50 depending on what you order.
· Meal for two at a mid-range restaurant will average at €30.
· Half a litre of draft beer – €1.60, although imported beer in a bottle is likely to be more like €2.
· A cappuccino is priced at around €1.10 in most places.
· Expect to pay in the region of €100 for a meal in a Michelin restaurant.
Book flights to Porto and enjoy the entire city on a plate.