A Foodie’s Guide to Porto: 12 Must-Try Dishes and Drinks
It’s always struck me as strange that Porto – with its name so clearly related to that of the country – should not be the capital of Porto. It’s struck me as equally strange that, almost a decade since first falling in love with the Algarve and later Lisbon, it’s taken me until now to visit Porto. But with my newly minted double-vaxxed corona pass status, autumn 2021 was finally the time to set off to warmer climes and see Portugal’s second city. In fact, October turned out to be the perfect time to visit: without the oppressive heat of summer, the temperature still rose to a comfortable 25 degrees Celsius during the day and cooled off considerably at night. All of which was perfect weather for eating! (Who am I kidding? All weather is perfect weather for eating….) So let’s get right to it: where to eat and drink in Porto?
12 of the Best Restaurants and Bars in Porto (and what to order)
1. Manteigaria: pastéis de nata
Pastéis de nata – delicious flaky, wobblingly voluptuous, custard tarts – are synonymous with Portugal. And the place to eat them is Manteigaria: a small bakery and coffee shop chain with two branches in Porto and several more in Lisbon. You can eat in with a coffee or take your tart away to sigh with delight in privacy…
While pastéis de nata may be ubiquitous throughout Portugal, port wine is the beverage associated with Porto itself. Cross the Luís I Bridge to the south side of the river, and you’ll find dozens of port houses staggered up the face of the hill. Along the waterfront, there are plenty of bars to stop into for a glass of port (or a white port and tonic cocktail – delicious) but it’s worth the climb up to the huge, impressive port houses and gardens to do a proper tasting. We picked Taylor’s Port and were not disappointed: the “Introduction to Taylor’s” flight of port consisted of five glasses, from dry white port to late bottled vintage (my favourite) to 20-year tawny. It’s not cheap at €35, but you get to taste a bit of everything, and you can opt for an additional chocolate pairing if that’s your thing.
Note: if you sit in the garden (which is beautiful), there are peacocks! In fact, peacocks seemed to be a thing in a few places in Porto… If you’re travelling with a dog, beware as some places we visited wouldn’t allow our Yorkie because of the peacocks. (Not an issue I ever thought I’d have!)
3. Terreiro: seafood
It’s unlike me to start an article with a bunch of sweet stuff, so let’s move swiftly on to possibly my favourite foodie element of Port: the seafood. We’d been recommended two restaurants in the Ribeira area just north of the Douro River, but in the end both were closed. Instead, however, we found what I think is a sister restaurant: Terreiro, overlooking the crowds of tourists promenading along the riverfront, but set slightly back from all the action. We ordered the arroz de mariscos (seafood rice) and polvo a Lagareiro (a local octopus dish with peppers, onions and potatoes). Both were insanely good, especially with a glass of dry white Douro wine, and we polished them all off at lunchtime despite what looked like unmanageably large portions. We ate this on our first day in the city, and Mr Foodie still declared it was his favourite meal by the time we left ten days later.
In the same neighbourhood as Terreiro, but this time up a flight of stone steps on a picturesque terrace overlooking the river, you’ll find Casario. With its stunning sunset views, the location is ultra-touristy; the food is anything but. Dishes are designed to be shared, so we started with two cold items: seabass tartar and veal carpaccio. But the hot dishes we ordered next were the stand-outs for me. Bacalhau (salt cold) came Gomes de Sá style with potatoes, olives and a creamy sauce. While pork belly was served with black beans and a cornbread crumble. Add red wine and savour.
One of Porto’s wilder local dishes is the francesinha. It’s loosely defined as a sandwich (because two pieces of bread are involved) but you’ll need a knife and fork to eat it. Packed inside the bread are usually two kinds of sausage, steak, mortadella and ham – a veritable meat feast. It’s then draped in melted cheese and liberally doused in a thickened tomato-beer sauce. It’s frankly bizarre, but goes surprisingly well with a hangover and a hair-of-the-dog beer. (You’ll want the light, fizzy variety to cut through the richness of the francesinha.) We tried it at Café Santiago, as recommended by our Airbnb host, which has won several awards over the years for being the best in town. But you’ll see it on menus all over the city. While you’re at it, try the cachorro, too – Porto’s answer to the hotdog. It’s a little more manageable than the francesinha and a lot tastier than your average hotdog.
Tasquinha Zé Povinho is the quintessential hidden gem, away from the tourist crowds and ludicrously affordable. It’s nothing much to look at inside, and just has a couple of tables on the pavement outside, but the food we ate there hit the spot perfectly. Pork schnitzel with red beans and rice, and grilled tuna with potatoes and onions formed two options on the lunch menu that came with soup, bread and a drink. I ordered a white wine and got an entire jug of vinho verde. The whole lot came to €6.50 per person. Incredible value.
Speaking of lunch deals, there are a lot of them to be had. Many restaurants offer limited-choice menus at lunchtime for under €10 – and we generally had good experiences with all of them. At the higher end of the spectrum (for €10 per person on the dot) is Mito, serving creative, modern takes on Portuguese food. We weren’t huge fans of the sardine tacos to start with (the taco shells themselves were too thick and too dry), but the main of Atlantic croaker wrapped in a fragrant Thai-style paste and cabbage leaves, served with baba ghanoush, was a big hit at our table.
Of course, Spain is the country known for tapas. But Portugal’s proximity to its eastern neighbours has presumably rubbed off on it, since we had some great tapas in Porto too. Down an alleyway is the tiny Coupage 51, serving excellent wine for €12-15 a bottle as well as generous tapas to soak up the Douro red. I particularly liked the patatas bravas and the tortilla made with bacalhau. Again, extremely good value.
When you’re looking for something comforting, pizza is always a good idea. But it can be hard to find good pizza outside of Italy unless you know where to look. We happened to be staying right next door to Okra, so stumbled upon their delicious Naples-style pizza on our first night. It’s a popular spot, so if you can’t get a table order your pizza to go and find a sunny bench outside on which to enjoy it.
I loved trying the wines from the Douro region while I was in Porto, but sometimes you just can’t beat a cold beer. And the place to try a local craft beer (or, preferably, several) is Catraio. We made our way through the entire menu of pilsners, IPAs, porters, sour ales and god knows what else (half glasses!) before discovering that Catraio also hosts foodie pop-ups. The night we were there, a couple of Indonesian cooks were selling plates featuring a mix of dishes for €10 each. Which was lucky, because I needed something to soak up the excellent Czech-style pilsner that I’d decided was my favourite…
Note: don’t be fooled by the limited outdoor space on the pavement out the front. Walk through to the back of the bar/shop and up a flight or two of stairs to the beer garden, where you can sip your ale of choice in amongst the rooftops.
All over Porto you’ll see something that looks like a blast from the past: old-fashioned grocery stores, packed to the rafters with cheeses, cold meats, olives, condiments, tins of sardines and more. Perfect to pick up for a picnic. We stopped into Comer e Chorar por Mais on our way back to our apartment, but there are plenty of others that look similarly delicious.
And finally… The weather in Porto is generally a whole lot better than in Amsterdam, so you’re likely to want to make the most of those warm evenings. There are dozens of sunset views along the river, but those bars are likely to be packed. Instead, head west and up the hill to Miradouro Ignez – a rooftop bar with views to last a lifetime. Drinks here were a little more expensive than other bars, but you’re paying for the location. We visited on our last night in Porto to survey the sweeping vistas of the city and river below one last time before (sadly) making our way home…