When it came to eating in Porto in 2019, not everything was new. The sheer number of restaurant openings in the city was overwhelming at times, so we often went back to the known places, just to make sure they were still there. It was cheering to see how many are preserving the flavors that we find so satisfying. And even though some spots have reinvented themselves, the food they put out continues to comfort our stomachs.
“Veal with Grain” at Tasca Vasco
Tasca Vasco is the younger brother of Casa Vasco, restaurateur Vasco Mourão’s namesake spot serving a mix of traditional Portuguese cuisine and international favorites in Foz do Porto. Being the youngest in the family, it was given a leg up: Occupying an attractive former ceviche restaurant in downtown Porto, the contemporary tasca now serves “Peixeirada Pura” (“Pure Fish”), their own take on this Peruvian staple, as well as many classics lifted from its older brother, like the swordfish steak from the Algarve and the squid and shrimp with tartar sauce. It’s all on the menu that Chilean chef Camilo Jaña designed, which is full of what he calls “grandma’s pan cooking” (although we think it must also take some inspiration from the bestseller Traditional Portuguese Cuisine by Maria de Lourdes Modesto, one of the biggest names in the Porto culinary world). At Tasca Vasco, everything tastes more Portuguese than at the other restaurants Mourão has opened. And since all the offerings are billed as snacks, we kept eating and eating. Do we have to choose just one best bite? If we must, it would be the “veal with grain,” a dish of veal and chickpeas that we ordered on the recommendation of the chef. But we enjoyed so much more.
Toast at Casa de Chá da Boa Nova
While Casa de Chá da Boa Nova may have been awarded its second Michelin star, that’s not the reason why it’s on our best bites list. But those stars did play an inadvertent role. After receiving their first star, chef Rui Paula refocused the restaurant’s offerings on serving almost entirely fish and shellfish. At Casa de Chá da Boa Nova, a tasting menu ranges from bread toasted on the grill and brushed with smoked lardo, a reference to the chef’s mornings with his grandmother, to a savory eclair of either mussels or mullet with cassava and cashew.
And as if the food weren’t a good enough reason to go to Casa de Chá da Boa Nova, the experience of eating at a table almost on top of the rocks, with the waves crashing right below and the sea fanning out endlessly, is unparalleled in Porto.
The Return of Rogério do Redondo
This classic Porto spot is among the best of 2019 mostly for being back. After 30 years of cooking traditional Portuguese cuisine so well, Rogério do Redondo closed down in 2015. But its reopening, in spiffier digs, is another reason for us to go back to the classics. Rogério do Redondo brings everything that a portuense likes: guts, Portuguese stew, rojões (fried pork), cabidela (chicken blood rice), oxtail, hake fillets with beans and rice with greens, etc. But we’re not the only ones rejoicing. Owner Rogério Sá built up a loyal clientele in the city, serving locals with the same devotion as he did big names like Anthony Bourdain and the son of Che Guevara. And now he’s back, shuttling between the kitchen and the dining room to put only the highest-quality Portuguese food on the table: meat from Oviedo, seafood from Vila Real de Santo Antonio, potatoes planted in Bragança. Welcome back, Rogério.
Steak at Vaccarum
Nothing against certain ideologies and lifestyles – we truly appreciate the growing number of vegetarian spots in the city – but the truth is that sometimes we also need a good steak. Large, medium rare, tender as butter. We accept that the meat is not Portuguese, coming from Australia and Uruguay – all in the name of a quality Black Angus steak. We don’t have a preferred cut, instead trusting what chef Guido Arraiol recommends. Whether tomahawk or T-bone, or something else entirely, it’s guaranteed to come out on a plate previously warmed in charcoal.
Massada Cod at Terra Nova
Since it’s the Christmas season, our mind is on cod, a dish typically consumed in most parts of the country at this time of year. At Terra Nova, which has one of the best views of Ribeira do Porto, there is a dish that never fails: massada cod. As delicious as it is beautiful, it involves fresh buttery linguini, Icelandic cod chips and a tomato sauce made with four varieties of the fruit. It’s silky on the tongue, and of course the cod is cooked perfectly.
But there is more of this fish that we love so much in Portugal. Terra Nova also offers a cod tasting, which includes a brick pasta stuffed with codfish brandade, codfish balls, and cod tartare over a tapioca made with algae from Ria de Aveiro, a lagoon along the Portuguese coast. Merry Christmas!