Local Flavor: where to eat and drink in Porto


I live in Lisbon but as a food and travel writer I frequently find myself in Porto. For me, a visit to the northern Portuguese city typically involves a peek at a new place or two interspersed with return visits to the classics. In particular, I always make a point of going to cafes, bars and restaurants that specialize in the flavors, dishes and drinks of Portugal’s far north – the kind of stuff that’s hard to find in Lisbon.

Although its food and drink scene is tiny, Porto is able to provide the new and the old, the domestic and the foreign, via a small but diverse restaurant and bar scene featuring the work of dedicated locals and newcomers, each with their own culinary panache. And warm northern Portuguese hospitality means that after a visit or two to some of these places, you, like me, may start to feel like a regular.

L: Art Deco interior of a Porto cafe. R: Portuguese-style French toast with butter
The art nouveau interiors and thick buttery toast of Confeitaria do Bolhão © Austin Bush

Breakfast

My favorite place in Porto to start the day is Confeitaria do Bolhão, a Portuguese-style pastry shop/cafe dating back to 1896. It doesn’t necessarily serve the best pastries in town, but I love the art nouveau vibe – the chairs, wall-length mirrors and stucco wall art could have been there since day one. It’s the perfect setting in which to try the uber-Portuguese breakfast of toast – thick slices of bread buttered on both sides, of course – and a galão, coffee supplemented with a generous amount of hot milk.

Coffee

If I’m looking for something more contemporary, my go-to is Combi. Roasting in-house since 2014, a typical order here might take the form of a flat white and a Swedish cardamom bun.

L: A plate of ham and bread. R: A Portuguese roll with eggs.
L: Slices of cured ham and

Lunch

Porto remains home to a handful of old-school bar/restaurants that specialize in northern-style smoked meats and other hearty snacks. Casa dos Presuntos “Xico” is the size of a large closet with hams hanging from the ceiling. Order a sandes de presunto, and you’ll receive a hillock of salty slices of cured ham and sheep’s milk cheese in a Portuguese roll. Hams also feature as interior design at Casa Louro, but are generally served on a plate, paired with broa de Avintes, an almost comically dense, dark bread made with rye and corn flours in the eponymous town outside of Porto.

Indeed, Porto is an excellent place to indulge in various combinations of bread and meat, which range in form from the legendary bifanas, braised slices of pork drizzled with chili oil and served in a Portuguese roll, at Astro, to the francesinha, the infamous Porto sandwich that combines steak, mortadella, two types of sausage and cheese in a spicy sauce, at A Regaleira.

Tinned fish, wine and bread in a Portuguese canning factory
A can of mackerel pate at the cafe at Conservas Pinhais © Austin Bush

Snack

If, like me, you’re willing to travel for a snack, consider a side trip to Matosinhos, accessible via a 30-minute ride on Porto’s Metro. The scruffy port town is home to Conservas Pinhais, a century-old fish canning factory that produces some of the country’s best tins. A tour can be combined with a tasting in a pleasant upstairs café; opt for the sardines in spicy sauce, each tin of which comes equipped with a chili, cloves, peppercorns, a bay leaf and pickles.

L: Up-close shot of glass of wine. R: View of Porto's rooftops from wine bar
L: A port wine tasting in progress, Poças. R: A view over the roofs of port houses of Vila Nova de Gaia © Austin Bush

Aperitivo

A port tasting is a rite of passage in Porto. There’s more than 10 houses to choose from, but Poças in Vila Nova de Gaia feels off the beaten track and is one of the only producers still owned by a Portuguese family. With advance notice, you can arrange a tour of the cellars paired with a tasting or simply jump directly into the latter in their atmospheric tasting room. I liked the 2000 harvest so much I bought a bottle, and they even produce a vermouth, a rarity in Portugal.

L: A plate of grilled lamb and fried potatoes. R: A Portuguese dessert that looks like flan
Grilled lamb from northern Portugal and a dessert made from bitter greens at Stramuntana © Austin Bush

Dinner

It doesn’t get any more northern than Stramuntana. The name is a dialect term for Portugal’s northernmost region, and the chef/owners, who hail from that area, oversee a menu of rustic, hearty regional dishes. Opt for just about anything grilled on the hearth that makes up the heart of this restaurant, or try the cuscos, a dish thought to have been brought to northern Portugal’s remote mountains by Jewish people fleeing the inquisition in larger cities. There’s a great selection of quirky regional wines, and the husband and wife team here have even created their own dessert that revolves around the bitter greens beloved in this part of the country.

L: Close-up of a glass of wine. R: Customers in a wine bar where the walls are stacked with wine bottles
A glass of red from Douro served with popcorn at Prova © Austin Bush

Bar

A glass at Prova has an educational component. The staff at this wine bar are knowledgeable and helpful about Portuguese wine, and have lots of northern bottles open, be it a classic red from the Douro Valley or a subtly fizzy “green” wine from Minho. And their snack pairing is genius: buttery popcorn.

Keep planning your trip to Porto:

Explore the best of Porto in these top 5 neighborhoods
Build your itinerary with the 15 best things to do in Porto
Keep it local and visit these five best independent shops in Porto
Do your research with 13 things you need to know before traveling to Porto
Whether you love summer festivals or low season prices, check out The best times to visit Porto



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