In October, I had the pleasure of traveling through Portugal with my boyfriend, Christian. We saw nearly everything we’d hoped and explored the entire country quite thoroughly. Still, I think my favorite part of the trip was sampling the Portuguese foods in each different region. We started in the Azores, a series of nine islands to the west of mainland Portugal. I’ve already documented our food diaries from that leg of the trip in part one.
This time, we’ll be moving up to Northern Portugal, to the cities of Porto and Luso, where we ventured next. I’ll share 5 Portuguese restaurants with scrumptious dishes, so you know which Portuguese restaurants to try when you visit yourself!
(Planning a trip to Portugal soon? Read my article Navigating Portugal: A Helpful Guide for Female Backpackers.)
Restaurant: Muralha do Rio
Foods to Try: Squid, Grilled Cod, Just About Any Seafood, Francesinha
Our first lunch in Porto was at a restaurant on the water – one of many restaurants in a long strip of promising venues. We sat at a small table outdoors, pushed up against the balcony wall. Luckily, we found an open table right by the restaurant’s large grill. This gave us prime views of the chef our entire meal, whom we watched admiringly as he masterfully grilled beautiful, large slabs of cod and tuna . A coastal city, Porto cuisine includes the freshest of seafoods, at reasonable prices. This lunch, that’s exactly what I opted for. I ordered a grilled squid dish with little potatoes and veggies that has stuck with me for weeks after the trip.
Squid is a challenging dish to cook – too short and it’s tough. Too long and it’s chewy. You have to treat it carefully and find a happy medium for the best results, and happily for me, this place nailed it. The texture of the squid was perfect; hearty and filling, just the right amount of chewy. Muralha do Rio cooked the dish with olive oil that didn’t overpower the tastFrom e and complimented the vegetables well. (If you’ve read Codfish to Cozido part one, you’ll know we struggled getting our veggie intake in Portugal!) While the portion was far more than I needed, I stuffed myself to the brim not wanting to waste a single bite. And knowing that I’d be out of luck in the squid department indefinitely upon returning home to landlocked Indiana.
What is Francesinha?
Basically, francesinha is a sandwich of several types of meet, drenched in tomato/beer sauce and cheese. Typically, the meats include ham, linguine (a smoked pork sausage), sausage, and a steak or roast beef. Christian ordered it with a fried egg, a common add-on in the region. If you can’t tell by the photos, francesinha is a pretty heavy dish – the furthest thing from vegan you could find.
I tried a bite, but found it to be too much and preferred my dish which was a little lighter. I think the smorgasbord of meats was a bit much for me, and I’m not fan of tomato sauce either, so all things considered it wasn’t the dish for me. While Christian finished his francesinha, he never ordered it again and I don’t think it was his favorite either. Nonetheless, it’s worth trying as it’s a dish native to Porto, but I might recommend it on a colder day when you need something this hearty.
Restaurant: The Wine Box
Portuguese Foods to Try: Tapas – Codfish Fritters, Iberian Cured Meats, Olives & Bread
The Wine Box offers a plentiful variety of wines, as the name may suggest. Beyond that, there’s a great tapas menu which you can order from a tablet. I loved this touch because you could see pictures of every dish, and it made it easy to keep track of the items you wanted. I didn’t get photos of everything, but we tried several dishes and enjoyed them all. One of these items was the codfish fritters dish, served with a tasty dipping sauce. The crispy, fried exterior contrasts well with the succulent codfish inside. I loved The Wine Box’s version, but also tried these at many a train station which were equivalently yummy for their cheaper price. If you need a good Portuguese snack, codfish fritters are found all over Portugal and are an inexpensive, filling choice.
Cheese and meats are big in the whole of Portugal too, so we opted for the Iberian Cured Meats board which I did remember to snap a photo of before we devoured it all. Unfortunately, I didn’t take better notes but I loved everything we tried and really liked the atmosphere of the restaurant. The seafood dishes, given Porto’s proximity to the ocean, were high-quality and flavorful. You’ll have to check out the menu for yourself and let me know which tapas are your favorite!
Restaurant: Castas & Pratos
Foods to Try: Deer Medallions, Veal w/Mushroom Risotto
During our time in Porto, we decided to take a day trip to the Duoro Valley region to visit a winery. The train station at which we stopped was a lot smaller than I expected, and we realized quickly that the town probably exists as a tourist spot only for the wineries. Aside from that, there wasn’t much around. After a snafu with the winery tour (we hadn’t made a reservation mistakenly thinking it wouldn’t be busy in October), we received recommendations from the winery receptionist for Castas & Pratos, right by the train tracks. We made our way to the restaurant and found great views of the Duoro Valley (on one side of the restaurant!) It was a fancier place that’s a little pricier accordingly, but the dishes we tried mouth-watering and perfectly cooked.
I went for a veal dish with mushroom risotto and a roquefort sauce. I’m not sure I’d ever had veal before, and Christian was skeptical that it would be done well. We were both pleasantly surprised by the tender and flavorful veal though. The consistency of the risotto was also perfect. The roquefort sauce had much richer flavor than the gravy on my steak in the Azores too, thank goodness.
Christian went for some deer medallions over a pumpkin puree, which was scrumptious. The saltier flavor of the deer complemented the subtle sweetness of the mash. Both dishes were served in appropriate portion sizes which left us full but not uncomfortable. There are limited dining options in this area. If you’re not on a shoestring budget, this is an incredible restaurant, and probably the best you’ll find at this stop. Check the hours carefully and make a reservation if you can – it seems like a place that was pretty busy at night and would fill up quickly.
Restaurant: Casa Serrao
Foods to Try: Seafood Stew
While in Porto, we wanted to check out the beaches so we went to Matosinhos on the recommendation of a prior Uber driver. There were tons of restaurants to choose from near the waterside, though they were a bit too far from the beach to have any good views. We settled on this place without much reason, and while we enjoyed ourselves, found it wasn’t the best seafood we’d had.
Case Serrao gave us complimentary salads which they so over-salted it was hard to eat. Given my lack of vegetables at that point, I ate it all anyway and went for a few of Christian’s iceberg lettuce chunks as well. We also received codfish fritters as a complimentary starter. These looked very different from the ones we got at the Wine Bar, and unfortunately were not as great. They were a bit soggy with more oily batter than codfish, but still enjoyable.
Cod, cod, and more cod.
For our main dishes, I ordered a seafood rice dish with codfish filets. The entree was yummy although way too big for one person. I had similar critiques about the codfish fillets as the fritters, but the stew was just about perfect. This seafood-rice stew had a healthy amount of shrimp and mussels, in a flavorful tomato-based sauce. Since I don’t like tomatoes much, I wasn’t sure how I’d find the rice but I really enjoyed it. My only complaint is that it was so hot outside I couldn’t eat as much as I’d have liked of the steaming, hearty dish. That’s on me though.
Christian went for a squid dish similar to the one I’d ordered previously, but he didn’t find it as well-prepared. The squid was a bit chewier and tasted a bit too much of olive oil. The veggies were also pretty oil-heavy. While Casa Serrao created an appealing presentation, Christian was a bit disappointed with the flavors.
Restaurant: Bussaco Palace
Foods to Try: 5-Course Dinner (try everything…)
The last dining experience I’ll share with you all went down at the Bussaco Palace, where we spent one night. The palace is located in Luso, which is a pretty small and non-touristy town south of Porto. We missed the train station the first time as the sign for the Pampillhosa station was in disrepair. After waiting for a lone taxi driver to finish her meal in a restaurant, we were finally able to get a ride to Bussaco. Immediately upon arriving, we added our name to the dinner list, which started at 8pm. We arrived at 8pm sharp, hungry long ago and anxious to eat. The first guests in the elaborate dining room, we had our choice of seating! We ended up at the best table on the balcony, with perfect views overlooking the palace gardens.
The dinner began with our choice of breads, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and flutes of champagne (the couvert – not free here or in most restaurants as a note). Shortly after, we received the first course – veggies served with a poached egg, cooked at a low temperature. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but was way yummier than I would have thought given the description! To be blunt, every dish we ate here left me 100% satisfied and eager for the next delicious course. Course two came out as a cauliflower soup with a fresh shrimp-paste. It left me wanting more, as the flavor was perfect and the shrimp a subtle but happy addition to the calmer cauliflower base.
But wait! There’s more!
The third course was a codfish filet in a cream sauce, with a few veggies and some crisps on top. Crispy what? I couldn’t tell you but I wanted more of them! The fish was super flavorful which can be hard with cod, and Christian was impressed. Unbelievably, the next dish was even better. Course four was a pork-belly dish with a crispy-broiled crust, over mashed sweet potatoes and a few potato crisps. I’ve never tasted pork so succulent and I wished I could have ordered the dish several times over throughout the course of our trip. Seeing the photos now is still torturous.
Dessert, at last.
Finally, dessert came out just to finish us off. Walnut brownies with caramel, ice cream, and some powdered sugar for an added touch. I realized I probably have a mild walnut allergy as the dish made my tongue itchy immediately, but Christian finished mine off happily. With a bottle of wine thrown in, it wasn’t a cheap dinner but I felt like it was well worth the price. It was a white-linen, five-course, fine dining experience, in a beautiful palace a little off the beaten path in Portugal. I disagreed completely with the numerous online reviews that felt it was overpriced – it wasn’t as cheap as the rest of our meals in Portugal but nothing about it our experience indicated it should be.
We enjoyed our dinner so much that we stuck around the next day past checkout so we could try some of the lunch dishes. Christian ordered a beef medallion dish served over fresh and lightly cooked veggies. I chose a duck confit dish, also over veggies. We sprung for a cheese tray to sample some of the different Portuguese dairies with our bread, too. Just in case we hadn’t tried enough Portuguese foods the past 24 hours. I felt like a literal princess, eating extravagantly prepared dishes while overlooking the palace grounds. The dining area was as beautiful as the dishes were appetizing, and I was in awe all the way through both meals. Bussaco Palace really nailed all the meats and seafoods they served, and I appreciated that they actually gave us some veggies too!
When in Portugal…
Well, folks, if that hasn’t convinced you to book a trip to Portugal then I’m not sure what will. 5 Portuguese restaurants with scrumptious food you absolutely cannot miss. This certainly wasn’t a vegan/vegetarian friendly dining experience. I think it might be difficult to achieve that at the places we visited. (I’d be curious to hear what all you vegans and vegetarians dine on in Portugal, as I had a hard time finding vegetables anywhere.) For those who love meats and seafoods, though, this is a must-visit region. I was in as in love with the food in Northern Portugal as I was with the dishes from the Azores. Someday I hope to return and sample my favorite dishes again. It would be well worth the plane ticket.
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