Where to eat in Porto, Portugal
Porto places highly on my list of favourite cities. Compared to the more obvious destinations of Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris, the coastal city in northwest Portugal is a hidden gem.
The city centre is easy on the eye with marble statues, patterned tiles and brightly coloured buildings. Along the Douro river which runs through the city, you’ll find restaurants, cafés and bars bustling with happy crowds moving from one to the other. It’s a food-lover’s paradise.
Here are my picks of the must-visit restaurants, markets and, of course, port cellars in Porto.
Where to eat
Café do Cais
Café do Cais is next to the water – the view is excellent, the ambience is chic and sophisticated, and the food has pizzazz.
We had the local specialty, a francesinha sandwich: bread layered with several types of meat, topped with a fried egg, covered in melted cheese and left soaking in a secret spicy sauce. It’s huge so best to share.
This secluded tapas bar, hidden down a steep side street, is like dining in a local’s house and only discoverable by the discreet blackboard outside. The quaint restaurant, with a maximum capacity of just 10 people, is not much larger than my bedroom.
The menu is traditional and rustic in style with all dishes served as sharing tapas plates. A potato, kale and chorizo soup starter was warming on a chilly evening. The mains included melt-in-the-mouth pork cheek, soft, pillowy gnocchi and hearty vegetarian meatballs and, for desserts, a velvet, light vegan chocolate mousse and a dense and filling banana cake.
A bottle of Papa Figos red wine from the Douro region was the perfect accompaniment to the evening. The service was outstanding and the food was memorable.
PIMMS Café Restaurant
PIMMS stands alone, a few streets away from the stretch of cafés and restaurants by the river. Modernity meets white in the interior – it’s crisp, yet welcoming.
Our immediate hunger was overcome with olives, bread and olive oil, and our thirst slaked by a carafe of sangria. A cheese and meat board with breads and marmalade was great for sharing.
Next, out came the prawn linguine. Strands of al dente pasta woven around fresh pink prawns and finished with a more than generous sprinkle of parmesan.
Where to drink
Port is the life and soul of Porto and you can find it everywhere. It is a must to experience one of the many port cellars in the city. We took a 30-minute tour of the cellar of Cálem where our guide explained the port-making process and the varieties available. At the end of the tour came the best bit – a tasting.
Along one side of the riverbank are some food stalls that are great for daytime grazing. The first of the stalls is quite possibly the most delicious – a small bakery, managed by a local family. Their pastéis de nata, a traditional tart of thick custard encased in sweet crispy pastry, was outstanding.
The real hero though was the touchino do ceu (literally meaning bacon from heaven) a dense cake made with ground almonds, cinnamon, orange zest and, to live up to it’s name, pork lard. Slightly crispy on the outside yet moist in the centre the cake is incredibly moreish but the real challenge is eating it without showering yourself in icing sugar.