“Where to eat in Porto?” Google search this sequence of five words and a multitude of articles listing restaurants and eateries will naturally come up as a result. Some of those suggestions – the trustworthy ones, at least – will mention Casa Nanda.
It’s a fair choice: Casa Nanda is, indeed, one of the most traditional and historic joints in town. What most listings won’t mention, though, is that the couple who founded it and were its driving force are now working somewhere else.
That place is called Senhor Zé, which is also the way most customers greet José Canelas, its owner. His wife of 45 years, Maria da Soledade, is the woman responsible for all the great recipes that gave – and still give – Casa Nanda fame.
“After a month and a half of doing nothing I got really bored.”
A year and a half ago, Mr. Canelas thought it was time to retire. He sold his family’s share of the restaurant to their partners and went home, to finally relax after a life of hard work. “But after a month and a half of doing nothing I got really bored,” he now recalls, laughing.
That boredom led both him and his wife to an area of town they know quite well: Rua do Campinho, right next to Praça da Batalha. It was where they had met in 1969, while working at another restaurant, Montenegro, which for most portuenses was unofficially known as Mamuda (“Big Breasted Woman”), thanks to the physique of the owner. They opened their new restaurant on that exact same street in November 2017 – an unexpected return to where it all started.
Senhor Zé is a simple restaurant, painted in light colors, with standard furniture and tables covered in white linen. But the kitchen is all that matters, and it does not disappoint: it delivers exactly what one would expect from the culinary talent behind Casa Nanda.
Many of its staple dishes are replicated here with exactly the same richness. It’s the epitome of Portuguese comfort food, as cooked by most northern grandmothers. For instance, pescada, hake, is a fish that many families eat often in Portugal. Here as well, where they serve it as fried fillets with arroz malandro, slightly soppy rice, or just the head, roasted in the oven with potatoes, a delicacy loved by many. “We brought all the best sellers here. We had to,” says Mr. Canelas.
Those aren’t the only ones. As it was in Casa Nanda, weekends are very important at Senhor Zé. Every Saturday, for instance, is Tripas à moda do Porto, Porto-style tripe, day. A spicy stew with tripe, several meats, beans and white rice, it is the city’s most famous dish – probably a technical tie with the francesinha. Sundays, on the other hand, are reserved for cozido à portuguesa, the national stew made with meat, sausages and vegetables; cabrito assado, roasted kid; and vitela assada, roasted veal. In the kitchen, Maria da Soledade makes sure every recipe is followed to the letter.
During lamprey season, from January to April, Senhor Zé is already a sure destination for those who love to eat this jawless fish, boiled in its own blood with rice. Don’t be scared off by the description – it’s simply delicious, especially if José and Maria are the ones responsible for making it.