After being named Best European Destination in 2017 and earning a few other tourist distinctions, there’s no doubt about it: Porto is trendy. But what’s trendy is also in Porto, and those who live here see new restaurants pop up every week. We try them all – places both bold and familiar – because we have a good appetite, but we put our trust in those spots where we get the warmest reception. And trust is something we take very seriously in Porto.
Homey meals at A Cozinha do Manel
Open now for three decades, A Cozinha do Manel is far from the touristy downtown and serves up good old comfort food, the type of fare that leaves us serenely satisfied. Zé António and his daughters know their customers by name and, with each person’s preferences in mind, make suggestions based on what’s available that day. The plentiful servings, the tender veal, the reliably fresh products, as well as the homemade desserts prepared by the grandmother Piedade remind us of home. And the menu items, all in diminutives (as we speak about food in Porto), feel like a hug from an old friend. Eating, sometimes, is just that.
Japanese emotions at Shiko
Despite the fact that Shiko reads like the diminutive of the Portuguese name Francisco, make no mistake that this is a Japanese restaurant. Yet it has the welcoming feel of a tasca, albeit one that serves sushi. Run by chef Ruy Leon, the tiny Shiko was once Shika, a street food cart.
Each dish here evokes an emotion, whether by its look (the salmon tataki), the irreverence with which it is served (the okonomiaki, a seafood pancake), its strong flavors (tori don, or bittersweet chicken), or its freshness (the marinated mackerel with miso sauce). The servings are small, which is good so we can order several dishes.
Focaccia at Reitoria
I’m a big fan of bread, and in my opinion, the bread is tastier in Portugal than elsewhere. But I don’t discriminate when to comes to trying bread from other countries – I like both sweet and savory bread, and with fillings of all types. This past year, focaccia always saved the day whenever I was short on time or didn’t have any ideas about what to eat. The best focaccias in Porto can be found at Reitoria, made with homemade bread and sold in generous portions. Best known as a steakhouse, this spot makes focaccia stuffed with large slices of meat: roast beef or pork belly, both with cheese, dried tomatoes and arugula. But there are more modest options, like spicy salami with ricotta, shallots and chives, or the focaccia caprese with pesto, fresh tomato and mozzarella. Whatever you order, it’s best washed down with the homemade lemonade.
Pampering from O Paparico
Anyone who speaks Portuguese knows that apaparicar is to pamper. Which is more or less the same thing as giving someone good food (they’re even listed as synonyms in the thesaurus). Paparico offers up the best of Portuguese cuisine at such a high-quality level that it defies description. There is everything Portuguese people like: jardinheira (a type of stew), malandrinho rice, veal, sea bass, monkfish, cod à la Brás (salted cod, onions and potatoes in scrambled eggs). But everything here is daring, innovative, and a treat for the eyes, too. Though the chef isn’t Portuguese, he has completely grasped the essence of good Portuguese food.
Francesinha at Cervejaria Brasão
I could make a list of my best bites in Porto and not include the best francesinha, but that wouldn’t be fair. Going against the traditionalists, my vote for the best francesinha in the city goes to Cervejaria Brasão. Their version of the sandwich is balanced but with strong flavors in the sauce, sausages and steak. There is more at Brasão to explore – people don’t necessarily come here for the francesinha – yet I keep ordering this sandwich because they show a great deal of care in making it, unlike some places where production is more industrial. And eating the francesinha in an almost medieval-like setting that is quieter than those places where people queue up to the corner and the tables are constantly turning over seems to me a more pleasant experience. But let the debates begin.
A tribute to Mr. Coelho
I’m bending the rules a bit by choosing three restaurants for one listing, but that’s because what I really want to do is pay homage to the man behind Taberna dos Mercadores, Adega de São Nicolau and Tripeiro: António Coelho. Before he passed away in 2017, Mr. Coelho gave the city some of the best places to eat traditional Portuguese food, which earned him accolades, friendship and thanks from portuenses and tourists alike. Mr. Coelho was so honest in the kitchen that his legacy continues in his perfect shrimp açorda (a soup with bread), rojões (pork), Robalo ao sal (salt crusted sea bream) and Arouquesa beef (one of the best cattle breeds in Portugal). We must always remember those who serve food with soul.