Portuguese cuisine isn’t short on influences. Its fortuitous position on the coast means that the country has always enjoyed easy access to seafood, and has also been one of the major trading hubs of Europe for centuries, meaning that exotic foods and spices have endlessly passed through its ports.
Sweet, salty, fresh and rich, the food of Porto is the perfect distillation of Portuguese cuisine, putting the unique tastes of the country on display. But many visitors will be unfamiliar with what the best food to eat in Porto, Portugal is. With local menus filled with Portuguese – particularly those local places that always seem to do the best food – it can be tricky to know where to start your journey into the local cuisine.
There’ll be a lot of questions to answer. What is the best food in Porto? Where are the best places to eat in Porto, Portugal? Which are the good cheap places to eat in Porto? Where do locals eat in Porto?
Thankfully, help is at hand. To answer all these questions and more, let’s take a look at the 10 finest examples of authentic Porto cuisine, and the top places to eat in Porto for each.
Undoubtedly Porto’s most famous dish, francesinha is a tall sandwich that took the city by storm in the 1960s. Inspired by classic French café fare, this is a meal that vegetarians and strict dieters would be wise to avoid. Two slices of bread are first filled with four or five different cuts of meat, the outside of the sandwich is then covered in a thick layer of cheese, an egg is placed on top, and finally the whole thing is drowned in a healthy serving of mystery sauce. Every restaurant has its own take on the sauce, but most have a beer base. The best place to eat francesinha in Porto will change with every local you speak to, and in truth it’s hard to find a bad one here!
Where to try it: Brasão Cervejaria Coliseu Baixa
2. Tripas à Moda do Porto
The fact that tripas à moda is made of a pig’s stomach lining can be enough to put off many a visitor from trying this Portuguese stew. But for those that are able to move past the use of offal in the dish, a hearty taste sensation awaits. The story goes that when Portuguese explorer Henry the Navigator was about to leave on an expedition, the locals were so generous that they gave he and his crew all of their finest cuts of meat, before realizing that they were left with nothing but offal after he departed. Necessity breeds creativity, and by the time Henry came back he saw everyone enjoying Porto tripe! This is what to eat in Porto, Portugal if you own adventurous taste buds.
Where to try it: Adega Do Carregal
White and horseshoe shaped, alheira are unique looking sausages that can be found in almost all traditional Porto restaurants. Stuffed with a variety of poultry and game depending on the butcher – chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, rabbit and/or venison, to name a few types of meat – these bangers were invented by Portuguese Jews when the practice of Judaism was outlawed. Jews were identified by their refusal to eat pork, so in an attempt to disguise themselves as New Christians, Jewish butchers created a sneaky sausage that didn’t use pig products, and hung them up in their smokehouse windows. Alheira is usually served with fries, rice and an egg.
Where to try it: A Favorita do Bolhão
4. Bolinhos de Bacalhau
The seriousness with which the Portuguese treat bacalhau – salted cod – borders on the cultish. There are reportedly 365 ways to prepare the dish and over a thousand ways to serve it. Baked, grilled, fried, steamed, canned; it’s the Bubba Gump Shrimp of Portugal. Bolinhos de bacalhau are salted cod fish cakes which are wildly popular as a greasy weekend treat. Fillets are shredded, formed into patties and fried in oil, before being served with rice and/or potatoes. While Porto calls the meal bolinhos, the rest of the country uses pasteis, so be sure to look for this name if you’re in the south of the country.
Where to try it: Escondidinho do Barredo
5. Broa de Avintes
The most famous bread in Portugal is a native of Avintes, a town on the other side of the Douro River from Porto. With the look and density of banana bread, the coarseness of sourdough and the slight sweetness of a white loaf, the unique combination of attributes makes broa de Avintes a very distinctive addition to a meal. This dark brown bread is often served in the Portuguese equivalent to tapas, used as the delivery method for salted cod and dips. The baking process is slow, taking as long as six hours, but this gives the bread its famously rich flavors and wonderful texture.
Where to try it: Mercearia de Flores
6. Caldo Verde
Caldo verde is a simple green soup that uses that most super of superfoods, kale. While the healthy greenery is joined by pureed potato to form the base, this soup’s delicious flavor is provided by lashings of chouriço (Portuguese chorizo) and garlic. If you’re eating out in Porto, Portugal during the dead of winter, there’s no better choice that a big warm bowl of caldo verde. And if you’re wondering where to eat in Porto for the best Caldo Verde, the rule of thumb is the older the cooks, the better the dish!
Where to try it: Restaurante Abadia do Porto
7. Cozido a Portuguesa
From hearty soups we move to hearty stews, this time in the form of cozido a Portuguesa. A flexible dish, cozido can be made with anything and everything – the veggie base of the dish often uses one or all of cabbage, carrots, onions and potatoes, while a wealth of meat cuts are added for saltiness and flavor. A recipe that is often handed down from generation to generation, you’ll see the taste of this dish change as you travel between what were once villages that have been since enveloped by greater Porto.
Where to try it: Ernesto
8. Bacalhau com Natas
To have a list of ten Porto foods with only one codfish entry would be seen as a crime in Portugal, so from the fishcakes of bolinhos de bacalhau we move onto a baked type of cod. Bacalhau com natas translates to codfish with cream, which gives you a fair idea of what this dish is about. Slow cooked for hours in the oven, the cod becomes incredibly tender and the flavors intensify, leaving the fish to almost drip off your fork when you eat it. As this isn’t the quickest or easiest dish to prepare, many of the best places to eat in Porto will use it as a weekly special, so keep your eyes on the sidewalk chalkboards!
Where to try it: Grelhador da Boavista
9. Pastéis de Chaves
From savory we move to sweet. In 1862, so the story goes, a woman wandered through the town of Chaves selling perfectly sweet puff pastries that were shaped like the moon. The locals adored the treats, and the woman quickly sold out. To meet the newfound demand, a local baker purchased the recipe from the woman, and quickly made his money back as the pastry’s popularity exploded. Now a product with Protected Geographical Indication – they can only be called ‘pastéis de Chaves’ if they are made in Chaves – Porto nonetheless has plenty of vendors that get their pastries from the nearby town.
Where to try it: Mesa 325
10. Toucinho do Céu
Bacon from heaven. That’s the direct translation of toucinho do céu, so it might come as a surprise that this dish is in fact an almond cake. The name comes from the fact that this cake was created in an 18th century nunnery, and the recipe calls for pork fat as a binding agent. Almonds, eggs, sugar and flour fill out the dough, which is slowly baked into an almost gelatinous treat that is more pie than cake. The pork flavors fade during the baking process, leaving sweet, almondy deliciousness behind. This is the perfect treat for lanche, the Portuguese equivalent of afternoon tea!
Where to try it: O Paparico