As one of the hottest destinations in Europe presently, Portugal has gained popularity amongst passionate travellers who want to indulge in experiences that highlight local culture and traditions.
From the stunning Portuguese capital Lisbon to the beaches of the Algarve, visitors to the country can expect a medley of attractions that suit all ages and fascinate a variety of preferences. No wonder then that many people are choosing to spend not just the weekend but over a week exploring this magnificent country that is full of surprises that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
For us, though, it was in Porto that we discovered something unique and utterly remarkable. A recent three-day long weekend in this beautiful city left us in awe of its rustic beauty, but more impressed with its culinary delights. From the delectable mains and desserts to its infamous pastries, Porto is quite simply a food lover’s dream come true.
Food is always an essential aspect of our travels, and we spend a considerable amount of time in search of a good and delicious meal whenever we visit any city around the world. In Porto, we were not disappointed, for we found some truly wonderful options that make for must-eats when in the city.
The Hunt for Breakfast
Pancakes are my weakness, and I am always on the lookout for the best pancakes when travelling. At home, in Zurich, I never seem to get a good fix of pancakes, and so, the first thing we did in Porto was to head out looking for some good old-fashioned pancakes.
After a bit of research, the first place we came across was the well-rated O Diplomato. Wanting to make a reservation for the following morning, we dropped by the restaurant to make a booking on our first afternoon in the city.
That was when disappointment set in. They say first impressions are everything, and O Diplomato came across as too casual, not well run, decorated or clean, and so we decided to give it a miss.
However, it seems luck was on our side, and on the way back to our Airbnb, we discovered the best coffee and vegetarian breakfasts in town! Epoca is a cute little cafe with a rustic ambience, shared tables and chairs, and the best coffee I had in Porto – I am incredibly fussy when it comes to coffee, so that says a lot.
You can have coffee with your breakfast, or pop in and grab one to go if you are in the area. Unfortunately, Epoca is on the street outside the centre of town, so you will have to make a special effort to enjoy its goodness, which is worth the detour.
If you need a little bit of a motivation to visit the place, Epoca also makes a range of unique healthy breakfasts including buckwheat pancakes, green eggs, the fluffiest omelettes I have ever had, and a whole lot more. But remember, the seats fill up fast, and if you want to have breakfast here, get down to the café as early as possible.
Custard Tarts – Pasteis de Nata
Food enthusiasts line up for hours in Belem, Lisbon for this little delight that is also famous in Porto – the good old Portuguese custard tart. Also called Pasteis or Pastels de Nata in Portuguese, if you haven’t had one till date, you are in for a beautiful treat. It’s such a classic everywhere in Portugal that you can pop into the first store that you come across where they serve the tart and have it without giving it a second thought.
However, after having a few, you do become a bit more discerning and only want the best. We spent much time looking for them in Lisbon, and luckily for us, we found a store around the corner from the Torre dos Clérigos in Porto that sells an excellent custard tart.
It’s not on Google, but if my memory serves me correctly, the shop is called Manteigaria, and it is at 37 Rua dos Clerigos. They also have another shop in Porto with more seating on Rua Formosa.
The Best Ice Cream in Porto
Depending on what we were doing on a particular day, we often skipped lunch when in Porto. With a big, and usually late breakfast in our bellies, a small snack was often enough to get us through until dinner. However, one thing you can’t skip while in Porto is ice cream.
Right next door to the famous Livraria Lello bookstore, the one with the winding staircase, now famously known as the place where Harry Potter first came into existence during JK Rowling’s time here, is an ice cream shop worth lining up for.
As luck would have it, we couldn’t spare any extra time waiting, and while we did pop in to see what Amorino had on offer, we never managed actually to have anything. However, the massive lines and the crazy concoctions they have on display seem to suggest it is definitely worth the wait. It’s something for next time then.
Another one we heard epic stories about is the Cone and Cherry. They seem to create “next level” deserts. For us, in the end, it was the plain old ice cream in a cone from a store on Rua dos Clerigos, called Icelovers. And considering it was over 30 (85F) degrees during our time in Porto, any ice cream was great ice cream!
Epic Lunch and Dinner
So, that leaves us with dinner, or lunch, if that is your thing, and that is where Porto truly shines in terms of its gastronomic preparations. Anna and I are a little bit fussy when it comes to food, so impressing us can be a challenge. But Porto managed to do it on two separate occasions.
The first place we went to was not at all recommended on many websites. However, Anna loves to dig into local blogs and use her language skills to find out about the hidden gems. Mistu is a little upmarket, and certainly not cheap by Portuguese standards, but the exceptional food and service are worth it. We had some stunning crispy-skinned bass, tartar of tuna, and two mind-blowing desserts during our exceptionally filling dinner there.
Now, I do have a sweet tooth, so a dessert needs to be a thing of beauty in my mind – the perfect mix of sweet, sour, cold, hot, and crunchy. And the chefs here ticked all boxes, not once, but twice. Once with Dulce de Leche filled fondant cake with homemade raspberry sorbet, and then again with the mango pannacotta accompanied by lime and passionfruit sorbet! OMG, it was heavenly!
With the bar set quite high, on our second night, we moved on to a more down to earth place right by the Bento train station – famous for its tiled interior. Not surprisingly, it’s called Tapabento.
A friendly local lady owns this quaint little eatery and runs it with her outstanding team of chefs and wait-staff. The setting is far less formal, but if you don’t make a booking, you will be standing at the door for a while. They serve simple food but don’t let that fool you; it’s still divine.
We had a mix of dishes including garlic prawns and tuna tataki, both of which were so good that we came back to have more the next day at lunch – Yes! We made an exception or lunch rule.
The dessert we chose was to die for — a melt in your mouth chocolate brownie cake covered in cream and a sliver of chocolate. The accompanying ice cream was of caramelised almond flavour, and one of the best I have had in a long time.
If it’s a hot day, try to eat upstairs where they have air-conditioning. But otherwise, all the action is downstairs where you get to see the kitchen and the comings and goings at the bar.
Most people visit this amazing city for its culture or the famous Port wine, both of which are essential must-dos in Porto. But for us, the most impressive aspect was the food.
The meals in Porto are world-class, and yet there is a simplicity to them that is absolutely charming. Moreover, eating in Porto is ideal for those on a budget, and comprises of both fine-dining options as well as gratifying comfort eats.
Most importantly, the food in Porto is rich in flavours and ingredients, and will have you coming back for more… and more.
About the Author: Roger is an Aussie expat who now calls Switzerland home, but that doesn’t mean he is often there. Having travelled to all continents except Antarctica, and survived to tell the tale, he continues to look for new adventures and food wherever he goes. You can read about his experiences on his blog ExpertWorldTravel, where he focuses mostly on Switzerland, sharing his detailed knowledge of this wonderful country. Roger is also on Twitter and Instagram.
Title, Coffee, and Ice Cream Photo from Unsplash