Five top Porto foodie hotspots
With its rich maritime and port wine history, Porto’s appeal is strongly centred around food and drink. Here are 5 top destinations to help you really get under this city’s skin.
1. Eat like a local: Restaurante A Casa Do PescadorEscape those inevitable tourist traps that line the downtown riverbank. It’s time to work up an appetite with a gentle 40 minute evening stroll along the south bank of the Douro. Weave past restful fishermen and restless joggers until you reach the fishing village of Afurada and its popular locals’ restaurant, A Casa Do Pescador.
Find a table on the pavement – if you’re worried about smelling of those sardines being grilled on the street then this probably isn’t the place to come – and go with the flow. Order a beer or bottle of Alvarinho and tuck into a steady stream of seafood platters: mixed grill, fish stew with rice, deep fried bites of salt cod. Yes, it’s rustic; no, there’s no website. Embrace the adventure that comes with authenticity.
2. Worth the detour: Casa de CháIf you’re spending a few days in Porto and fancy a treat then take a taxi out to Casa de Chá in the Leça de Palmeira district. Yes, it has two Michelin stars; yes, the building is registered as a National Monument; but the first thing that will take your breath away is the location. Perched on the rocks above the surging Atlantic, you’ll struggle to focus properly on the food until that mesmerizing sunset has finally faded.
It's well worth dragging your attention back to the plate though. Seafood is understandably the star here – the fishing port of Matosinhos is just over a kilometre away – but that freshness comes with a delightful level of creativity and refinement. Order from the concise à la carte offer or, better still, choose a set menu: options range from a modest six courses right up to the full 21-course blow out. The wine list’s proudly Portuguese bias is well worth exploring.
3. The Port tour: Taylor’sIf you hadn’t realised how central port was to the city of Porto before you arrived, it won’t take long to catch up. Famous names illuminate the river bank at night, every bar takes pride in its local drink and no visit here is complete without going to at least one port lodge. Don’t want to join a guided group? Prefer to explore at your own pace? Taylor’s completely understands. Just pick up an audio guide, choose a language and set off.
You don’t need to be a wine fanatic to be moved by the atmospheric cellars lined with casks of quietly maturing port. There’s plenty of vinification detail for the geeks, but particularly captivating is the historical and cultural detail here, not just about this top flight house but the wider Douro region and port trade. The tour finishes with a tasting, but you may well be tempted to linger, soaking up that view from the terrace of the Barão Fladgate restaurant – don’t forget to look out for the resident peacocks.
4. The wine lovers’ restaurant: VinumElevated both in terms of topography and ambition above the mass market tourism down by the river, Vinum is housed within the lodge of another highly respected port house, Graham’s. It also commands an unbeatable view of Gustave Eiffel’s majestic Dom Luís I Bridge. From flappingly fresh Matosinhos fish to “Vaca Velha” from Tras Os Montes, the menu here is a real celebration of Portuguese cuisine, an ethos that very much extends to the wine.
Graham’s may be part of the sizeable Symington Family Estates portfolio – and there’s no better place to explore it than here – but Vinum’s list acts as a showcase for many other Portuguese stars too. Try the impeccable Alvarinhos of Anselmo Mendes or discover the rich, fragrant wines of Alentejo producers such as Mouchão. But it would be rude to overlook the “house” port here. Fortunately that caramelised Azores pineapple dessert with Graham’s 20 Year Old tawny is a pretty irresistible proposition.
The food market: Mercado BolhãoThere are few better ways to get under the skin of a place than to wander its food markets. Feast your eyes on the array of local specialities, soak up the people watching and stallholders’ patter, then dip in to sample exotic local treats. In Porto the obvious destination for all this is Mercado Bolhão, a downtown institution since 1837 but recently reopened after a prolonged renovation project.
Amid the usual market array of fresh fruit and vegetables, butchers, fishmongers, cheesemongers and florists there are plenty of enticing Portuguese specialities to seek out. This is a country that takes its sweet pastries very seriously. The same is true of tinned fish, often beautifully packaged and rather more suitcase friendly. Come here to stock up for a blow-out picnic lunch, source foodie gifts, watch the world go by over a coffee or tuck into an inexpensive meal at one of the second-floor restaurants.