Food and drink in Porto are much more than just getting tipsy on port wine and eating too much cheese. But those activities are also important while on holiday in Porto, so we’ll be covering them in our upcoming post about an afternoon in Vila Nova de Gaia.
This is a short introduction to some of the other excellent things that passed our lips over the five days we had in Porto. It’s worth mentioning we also ate well in Guimarães, and Portugal is just excellent at food in general.
Mercearia Das Flores
We had some delicious tapas for a lunch at the little artisan café/shop Mercearia Das Flores, which is on Rua Flores. You’d expect it to be really overpriced tourist muck, given its central location. But it was absolutely beautiful and reasonably priced. All the food seemed to be local and/or organic. We had some local craft beer, too.
We found Cruel on the lovely street Rua da Picaria when trying to find somewhere for a more ‘fancy’ meal.
The beef carpaccio starter comes with an ‘electric flower’, a little herb from the Amazon that sort of numbs your mouth for a minute (really!) before intensifying your taste buds. We don’t know how it worked but it did, and it was one of the best and most memorable food experiences we’ve ever had. As well as the beef carpaccio to start, we also had the salmon doughnuts with wasabi mayonnaise. The doughnuts were incredible.
In case it wasn’t obvious from the flower anecdote, Cruel is quite an exciting and experimental place. It has a ‘concept’ menu split into three pages: cruel, cautious and fearful. ‘Cruel’ is all the interesting stuff, but you can mix from all three.
For our ‘Cruel’ mains, we had the steak tartare (purely because it came with another electric flower!) and the pork cheeks. They were both delicious. We were a tad jealous of someone next to us who had the ‘magic mushrooms’…
For dessert, we shared the ‘lime tiramisu in an alcoholic coma’. One of us (Caroline) generally doesn’t like desserts much, but we both agreed that this was fantastic. It didn’t have any coffee in – that was all replaced with lime. The bottom of it has a good old-fashioned kick of alcohol.
Champs da Baixa
After our meal at Cruel, we headed just over the road to Champs da Baixa, which is a bistro but also has a lively cocktail bar. They specialise in sangria cocktails of all flavours. We only had one, but it was lovely and we would have gone back if we’d had time. The street and buildings were particularly beautiful so it was a nice place to sit outside on a warm evening and watch the world go by.
Pastel de nata
If you’ve been anywhere in Portugal, you’ll recognise these bad boys. Yes, that’s right, some deliciously fattening and indulgent pastel de nata. If you’ve never had one, you’re missing out. They’re a custard tart, basically, but also so much more than that. We’re not recommending getting them from anywhere in particular, because quite frankly, you should be eating several a day while in Porto so you’ll have to sample them from lots of different bakeries and cafés. They’re not unique to Porto – you can get them all over Portugal – but they’re a right treat.
La Piada was one of the prettiest restaurants we’ve ever been to. It has an actual tree inside, with fairylights on. We found it on the excellent O Porto Cool blog before we went, and you can see much better photos of its interior on there – unfortunately, it was going dark when we arrived so we didn’t manage to get as good a photo of it all as it deserved. It really is stunningly beautiful inside, with bicycle-wheel lights and whitewashed stone walls.
To start, we shared a local meat and cheese board. It had bits of walnut and fruit on, and was really tasty.
The main courses are mostly (and unsurprisingly, given the name), piadas. A ‘piada’ is a thin Italian flatbread. So essentially, La Piada serves fancy flatbread sandwiches. If you’re after a big, filling plate of grub, you might be left wanting. But if you go for lunch, or if you want a lighter evening meal, you’ll be happy. There’s a huge range of fillings to suit every taste. We had chorizo and rocket, and a spicy mackerel one. Did we mention we also had local craft beer and Douro wine…?
As we said further up, we tend to share dessert and one of us isn’t always a fan of it. But this was another that we both LOVED. Lime and cookie ice cream. It was just as good, if not better, than the dessert at Cruel. One we’ll remember for a long time.
On our last day, we needed our final meal to be the infamous francesinha. We’d already had one in another café, but we didn’t feel that one ‘heart attack on a plate’ was enough. And it’s always good to go out on a high. The manager for our apartment recommended we go to Café Santiago, so we did.
A francesinha, for those of you who don’t know, is everything you ever dreamed of and more. It’s a sandwich (sort of) local to Porto, proudly made with white supermarket-style bread. It has lots of cured ham, sausage and steak inside. It is all covered with melted cheese. If that wasn’t enough, the whole thing is then smothered with a hot, thick tomato and beer sauce. It’s served with chips, obviously. Oh and a ‘special’ one also has a big fried egg whacked on top. All this is huge and costs 6 or 7 euro.
When we got to Café Santiago, at about 3pm, it was really busy. Locals obviously love it!
We had one special francesinha and one normal. There’s a photo of Caroline with it to show the doorstop nature of them…
We found Maus Habitos (‘bad habits’) on the Guardian Travel guide to Porto. They describe it as ‘a hip space on the roof of an art deco car park’. It is indeed very hip. Jam jars and milk bottles with flowers in. Mismatched furniture. Pendant lamps. It’s possibly a bit too hipster for some. But when we went, it was a quiet Friday afternoon and the garden area was perfect on a hot day. We had some drinks and mourned our impending departure from Porto.
We stumbled across the fantastic Armazém (Portuguese for ‘warehouse’) after our day in the botanical gardens. Unsurprisingly, it’s a warehouse. A warehouse that’s mainly a bar, but also an outdoor garden, eatery, antique shop, art gallery and auction house. We spent ages rootling round all the treasures. So many vintage suitcases! And of course, some good local craft beer.
Went a bit off-topic there with the warehouse photos, but you get the gist.
For a big European city, Porto’s food is deliciously different and surprising, without being expensive. Sometimes, on holiday (looking at you, Germany), it’s hard to eat out and get your daily veg intake. You’ll have no trouble with Portuguese dining because almost every meal comes with a side serving of veg. Apart from a francesinha. Naturally.