With the substantial increase in tourism over the years, and most of the well known spots geared toward tourists, I wasnt expecting this level of cooking. One of the best eating trips we’ve ever done. In two weeks we had one bad meal (pizza), a couple of OK meals, and well over a dozen stellar meals and snacks. I’ll post the highlights and the rest by leg starting with Porto…
O Buraquinho da Se - Tiny mom & pop opened by a retired banker. Need to reserve at least a few weeks in advance. I reserved via Facebook a month out. Best Bacalhau I ever had until that point (first day in Portugal). They say there are 365 ways of making them. We tried about two weeks worth. This one topped with cornbread. Supremely flavorful shrimp Acorda (hearty bread soup). Excellent meat and cheese board, and a fine portobello topped with grilled goat cheese. But people come here for the one and only octopus, and I can see why. Its a hefty plate of the angels singing variety. You know they’ll sing once you touch it with the fork. Crazy good stuff.
Taberna dos Mercadores - This one is getting increasingly popular and so a tough table to reserve. But if you can’t, you can still come and stand on line. Tiny place with maybe 6-8 tables. Ridiculously good food. Plump, firm Shrimp in garlic sauce comes flambéed in a frying pan. Same shrimp as part of an outstanding seafood rice. Excellent oniony Octopus salad. We just had to try the Alheira sausage, the supposedly porkless (at the time) sausage the Jews created ages ago. It’s grainy, savory and incredibly aromatic, although fried here. Salt crusted sea bass comes flambéed as well, so delicate and delicious. Fish soup was probably the only thing the group didn’t care much about.
O Maleiro (Peso da Régua, Douro Valley) - Our Douro Valley guide took us here. Super local, good and cheap. Better Alheira here, with boar, chicken (I believe), and plenty of spices. Grilled, not fried, made a difference. Grilled black pig was good, but solidly out-staged by the juicy pork loin, served with a particularly addictive Feijao Frade - black eyed peas and kale salad. Really enjoyed the local atmosphere here.
Quinta da Pacheca (Peso da Régua, Douro Valley) - Another place our guide took us. Spectacular looking winery. We not only tasted a very respectable red reserva, white and tawny (so good) but also got to meet the resident artist, Oscar Rodrigues, in his studio. One of a few artists in the country who paints with wine.
A Grade - The place that made us fall in love with Portuguese octopus 12 years ago. While this was still a perfectly cooked tentacle, it made us appreciate the octopus at O Buraquinho da Sé that much more. Seafood rice, grilled branzino all solid. Quite touristy family business. While not as strong as the first two, recommend.
Cafe Santiago - A return after 12 years for the famous Francesinha. Very good still except for the shockingly stale fries. BTW, thats my avatar, from a horrible picture I took 12 years ago
Gazela - Following Bourdain footstep for the famous hot dog. Smaller then I expected, but tastes pretty much what you’d expect.
Conga - For the Porto Bifana. The Bifana doesn’t look very promising but a flavor explosion once you bite. Probably my favorite snack out of the bunch
Manteigaria - Good pasteis, better than the Manteigaria in Lisbon
Restaurante Virtudes in Guimaraes - Not bad, in the main square. The star here was Julia the waitress
Penis Cookie in Amarante - Worst Penis cookie ever. Got too hard too quickly to fully enjoy!
As for hotels, I recommend the Catalonia. Great location, surrounded by some of the more famous restaurants mentioned above. Seara Doce became our favorite breakfast spot.