Liz and her husband have enjoyed visiting Portugal on many occasions. On their travels, they especially like sampling local food and drink.
Our Approach to Eating and Drinking Around Porto
So, you have decided on a destination. In our case this was Porto. You have decided how best to get there and researched the cheapest fares. You have chosen and booked some reasonably priced accommodation. Job done? Not quite. There is the small problem of what you are going to eat and drink while you are away. For us, this can be a bit of a 'hit or miss' approach. We tend to hit the ground running (or walking at a leisurely pace to be more exact) and figure the food and drink issue out once we are there. This article aims to help others learn a little from our experience.
Note: All of the prices listed below are from the summer of 2017.
Restaurants We Tried Around Porto
- Restaurante O Antonio
- Restaurante Beira Rio
- Restaurante Rabelos
- El Corte Ingles
- Vagas Bar
1. Restaurante O Antonio
An early flight from the UK got us into Porto mid-morning on a Sunday. After a very early breakfast, it was not long before we needed some lunch. Unfamiliar with the local area, we asked the advice of the reception staff at Holiday Inn Express Exponor. Due to its location near the Atlantic coast, seafood is in plentiful supply in Porto and the surrounding area. Staff at the hotel were quick to recommend seafood restaurants in Matosinhos, near the fish market.
The setting on an ordinary street behind the port was nothing special. But on a Sunday lunchtime, the restaurants on Rua Herois de Franca were very popular with locals and tourists alike. Chefs were kept busy cooking fresh fish to order on barbecues set up on the street. We decided on Restaurante O Antonio and ordered sardines and carp at 6.50 euros each. Potatoes were 2.50 euros and a bottle of water cost us 2.25 euros. The language was an issue; our Portuguese is limited, as was the waiter's command of English.
Tip: when dining a little off the tourist track, you need your wits about you. The waiter was very attentive, restocking our potatoes and offering more fish. This was fine until we got the bill itemizing each extra portion. Three portions of potatoes cost us 7.50 euros.
The fish was good, but we prefer to have a little more control over the bill.
2. Restaurante Beira Rio
The next day, having recovered from our early flight and fortified by an all-you-can-eat Holiday Inn Express breakfast, we set off to explore the city of Porto. After visiting some of the tourist sites up the hill, our exploration took us down to Cais da Ribeira, on the north bank of the River. I wondered if we were going to have to push the food budget a little, as the plentiful eating places along the riverside were not cheap.
A walk over the Ponte de Dom Luis 1 restored my belief that Portugal offers some of the best value meals in Europe. Walking west along the River Douro, we came upon Restaurante Beira Rio, Av. Diogo Leite, 64, Vila Nova de Gaia 4400-111. The menu touristico (tourist menu) was reasonable at 15 euros for a starter, main course, sweet, and a bottle of wine. We went there several times during our time in Porto. We were soon being given Mateus Rose, a very nice Portuguese rose wine, instead of the house wine. By the end of our trip, we were being served a glass of port after our meal too, at no extra cost.
Sardines (pictured above) featured on the tourist menu. If you are happy to pay a little more for your food, the a la carte menu gets good reviews, especially for seafood.
3. Restaurante Rabelos
We also tried Restaurante Rabelos nearby at Av Diego Leite, 68, Vila Nova de Gaia 4400-111. The tourist menu here was 25 euros for two people, but drinks had to be added to the bill. We only visited once, as it did not seem as good value as Beira Rio, our favorite.
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Both restaurants offered the option of dining outside with views back across the River Douro to Porto on the opposite bank and towards Ponte Dom Luis 1. There was also entertainment provided by roving musicians.
4. El Corte Ingles
If you are looking for a real bargain meal and are prepared to forego the riverside setting for the top floor of a high-rise department store, El Corte Ingles might fit the bill. Free shuttle minibusses run from Praca da Liberdade, in Porto and also from Jardim do Morro and Avenida Diego Leite in Vila Nova de Gaia. I recommend hopping on one, as El Corte Ingles 1 Avenida da Republica, 1435 4430-999 Porto is over 2km uphill from the southern end of Ponte Dom Luis 1.
Pick up a tourist map and you should find a 2 for the price of 1 voucher for the tourist menu. You are supposed to prove your foreign status with a passport or similar ID card, but we were never asked for ours. The tourist menu cost us 10 euros each and we had a small beer for a euro each. It is more of a nice restaurant than a cafeteria. There is outside dining, which, when it is breezy or wet has a windbreak around it.
An even better option and one which we noticed the first time we went to El Corte Ingles was the midweek lunchtime buffet, at 9.95 euros each, with an additional 1.80 euros for a liter of spring water. It seemed popular with the Portuguese. It is always a good sign when the locals dine somewhere. If you have worked up an appetite, this all-you-can-eat approach to dining might suit you better. We just had to go back another time to give it a try. The buffet menu did not disappoint.
5. Brisamar, Leca da Palmeira
The top bargain eating place we found was on a tip-off from the Tourist Information office in Leca da Palmeira. The man there recommended Brisamar, Rua do Castelo 3, Leca da Palmeira 4450-632.
A 3-course meal here for 2 people plus wine cost us 11.70 euros, a bargain. Admittedly the choices for the main course were simple (meat/fish). On the first occasion, we were not quite sure what meat we were eating, but the fish choice on the second occasion was excellent. There is a very reasonably priced a la carte menu as well. We could not beat this place on price.
There are a limited number of tables outside, but these can get busy or may not be in use if it is windy. Another option is to eat inside with the locals. Its popularity with them is a sure sign that this is a good value eating place.
6. Vagas Bar
Another place we tried out was Vagas Bar, Avenida General Norton de Matos, Praia Sao Salvador 4450-208 Matosinhos. Located overlooking the beach with great views towards Castelo Quiejo, the outside terrace is very popular. Two main course fish dishes cost us 19.80 euros, a bottle of wine was 6 euros and a 1.5-liter bottle of water 2 euros. Not the cheapest of meals, but a great location.
Restaurants We Tried Around Porto
Drinks and Snacks Around Porto
It would not be a holiday without a few breaks for drinks and snacks. Like any other tourist destination, there is no shortage of cafes and bars in Porto and the surrounding area to suit every budget.
- Cafe Majestic, Porto
- The Hard Club, Porto
- Bista Mar, Matosinhos
- Vagas Bar, Matosinho
- Cheap Sangria in Porto
1. Cafe Majestic, Porto
Porto’s best-known tea house is Café Majestic (Rua Santa Catarina, 112 4000-442 Porto). It dates from 1921 and its art nouveau décor is reminiscent of a Parisian café. At busy times you might have to queue, such is the popularity of this tourist watering place.
It is said that JK Rowling came here to write Harry Potter, whilst she was working in Porto and a number of Portuguese celebrities have signed the guest book.
To come here is as much about the experience as the food and drink. This one pushes the budget a little, but there is always room on holiday for the odd treat. A coffee set me back 4.50 euros and an Earl Grey tea cost 5 euros. By Portuguese standards, it is definitely not the cheapest place for a drink, but well worth it for the setting.
We came here on a damp day, by the time we had finished our drinks and taken in the location the weather outside had brightened up and we were ready to set out once more on the tourist trail around Porto.
2. The Hard Club, Porto
A bar/club is maybe not the obvious place for a middle-aged couple to stop for a drink. But the Hard Club (Praca Infante Dom Henrique, Porto 4050-295) located in a renovated former market and overlooking the same square as the Bolsa, suited us well. By day there is a terrace overlooking the square with views down towards the river. It is a convenient waiting place for a timed tour of the Bolsa.
Tea and coffee here at 3.50 euros for both is not the cheapest you can get, but the location makes up for it. It still represents reasonable value, with its central location near a top Porto tourist spot.
3. Bista Mar, Matosinhos
If you tire of city life, the nearby coast offers a wide choice of cafes and bars at a reasonable cost. Set back from the beach, we found two Super Bock (locally brewed) beers at Bista Mar (Avenida da Republica 44 R/C, Matosinhos 4450-237) cost us 2.80 euros.
The Portuguese have a way of serving ice-cold beer in branded, distinctly shaped glasses that can tempt even the least inclined beer drinker (like myself) on a warm day.
Super Bock has been brewed in Porto since 1927 and has a 40% market share in Portugal. For those interested in discovering more, there is a visitor center at the brewery in Porto.
4. Vagas Bar, Matosinhos
Already mentioned for its food, Vagas Bar, with the great views from its terrace over the beach is a very pleasant place to stop for a drink. A coffee here cost us 1.70 euros and a beer was the same amount. On a sunny day, this is a highly recommended location. Beware of the wind though. We were once here when a strong gust caught a large umbrella, pulled it from its base, and dropped it. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it gave the management a fright.
5. Sangria in Porto
You might be forgiven for thinking that Sangria is only available in Spain, but the Portuguese are happy to serve their own version of the red wine and fruit mix. Walking west along Avenida de Diogo Leite, on the south bank of the River Douro beyond the restaurants, we came upon a small bar selling jugs of reasonable quality Sangria for 3-6 euros (depending on the size). After a long walk, I think the weary tourist has earned a seat looking out over the Douro with a cool drink of Sangria.
On another occasion, walking from the Palacio de Cristal into the center of Porto we chanced upon a very quiet shopping center, where we found a cafeteria selling reasonably-priced meals. Two large glasses of Sangria cost us 3.20 euros.
6. Francesinha, a Porto Speciality
As we were staying in a hotel, which provided a good breakfast, we tended to be on the lookout for drinks or main meals. But a visit to Porto would not be complete without sampling Francesinha, a local specialty. Translated as little Frenchie, this is a cheese and egg-topped roasted-meat sandwich in a sauce usually served with French fries and accompanied by a drink of beer. We found ours at a Tropical Burger outlet near the top of Rua das Flores, within a short distance of Sao Bente train station. Two Francesinhas cost us 13.90 euros and two beers an extra 2 euros. It was a very filling and tasty snack and I highly recommend it.
Drinks and Snacks Around Porto
Port Sampling in Porto
No article on food and drink in Porto would be complete without mention of the product for which the city is renowned around the world. Port, or Vinho do Porto, as it has been called since the late 1600s, is a fortified wine produced from grapes grown in the Douro valley. Traditionally the port was transported in large barrels by boat down the river to the port houses in Porto. These flat bottomed boats (barcos rabelos) still line each side of the River Douro near Ponte Dom Luis 1, but are now purely for decoration, as they have been replaced by tanker trucks.
The variety of port known by many is a sweet red dessert wine, but there are also dry, semi-dry, and white versions available. Prices vary depending on how much you are prepared to pay. Typically you can pay as little as a few euros for a supermarket branded variety, which is perfectly drinkable, to substantially more for a vintage variety from one of the famous port houses, such as Taylor's or Sandeman's. Many port houses offer guided tours and opportunities for port tasting.
Budget Tips for Food and Drink Around Porto
- Shop around. We rarely stop at the first bar or restaurant we come across. It pays to check out the competition and get a feel for the price range.
- Be prepared to compromise on location. Cheaper eating and drinking places are sometimes a little further from where the action or the good views are.
- Check out where the locals go. They are usually reluctant to pay prices hiked up for tourists.
- If you want a coffee, try the local supermarket. Many in Portugal have a small cafe. They are not the height of luxury, with limited seating, some of which is high bar stools, but you will not beat their prices or deals. Our favorite is Pingu Doce.
- Buy your own. While you are in the supermarket take the chance to stock up on water (buy a big bottle to refill your smaller ones), cans of beer (much cheaper than from a bar), and bottles of wine and port (to take home or drink back in your hotel room).
- Be prepared to raise the budget a little for a special treat.
- Be open-minded and try local specialties.
- Top 12 Sights to See in Porto
Based on our experiences in this delightful city, we've compiled a list of the top 12 sights worth seeing in Porto.
- Top 8 Travel Options in Porto and the Douro Valley
Wondering how to make the most of the variety of transport types available in Porto to see as much as possible of the city and the Douro Valley? Here's a guide to being a savvy traveler in Porto based on what we learned during a 12-day trip there.
- Exploring the Coast Near Porto
A summer holiday to Porto exceeded our expectations. We had no difficulty filling 12 days with visits around the local area. This is a description of what we discovered as we explored some of the nearby coastline.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Liz Westwood