This young beauty starts with a refreshing blueberry and blackberry bouquet. Violets and crushed flowers lead into a fast, berry-heavy start with tinges of vanilla. Very nice. The fruit rolls in with some slatey tannins – not too much – to bring it to a tight, luscious finish. A very pleasant wine, medium bodied and delicious. I expected less and got a lot.
With apologies to my Jewish and Muslim friends, I did not make this rule: the name of the game in Porto is Pork-o. Like, for real. While true for most of the Iberian peninsula, this little rule seems to be magnified in Portugal’s second city . . . much to the disappointment of my travel companion who was excited to break his Yom Kippur fast soon after landing. Our gracious AirBNB host gave us more great recommendations than we were ever able to hit, but his stories so frequently included roast pork and the local favorite francesinha sandwich (think Portuguese Hot Brown with ham, sausage, roast beef, coated in a cheese and tomato sauce) that we had to do a bit of our own searching. Casa Guedes, however, had enough options on offer that we made it work.
This little family run spot sits at the corner of the pleasant park Jardim de São Lázaro. As with most of Porto, the locals that have been going there for years seem fascinated by the trickle of foreigners that seem to be coming in ever growing waves. (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor.) Still, it’s a mostly locals spot and the counter service staff gets a kick out of foreigners who can actually manage to order in proper Portuguese. While the bolinhos de bacalhau (classic Portuguese codfish balls) and fresh country
cheese are worthy companions to the Super Bock on tap, the real star of the show here is the pernil sande – slow roasted pork sandwich. I chose the version with fresh cheese and it was to die for. I say this, mind you, with many years of consuming Cuban lechón straight off the Caja China and 12-hour Kentucky-smoked pork under my belt. But beware: you will most likely end up getting two or more and having your friends roll you out of here in a wheelbarrow. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a warm day, have an espresso or two on the terrace to recover. Bom apetito!
Casa Guedes, Praça dos Poveiros 130, 4000-098, Porto, Portugal
This place was a very lucky find and a huge treat. We dug this one out of an old guidebook and, after much arguing and discussion with the cab driver, who had no idea it existed, we were happy to arrive. You need one word and one word only to dine magnificently here: cataplana. I freely admit to not previously being aware of this transcendent dish:
O ye of fishy savor
Of all the salt and wind of the sea
Of all the earthy flavor of plant and seed
Of all the dreams I’ve yet to dream
Cataplana, “oh, sim!”
I’ll have the Cataplana, please.
I just made that up, but you should follow the instructions and order Cataplana and be happy to wait for such perfection to be delivered to your table. It is a traditional dish of assorted seafood and vegetables such as peppers, onions, and potatoes. And, like many traditional dishes, one that is far too overlooked lately. As a huge paella fanatic, I must admit that if the Portuguese ever figure it out, they’ll give the Spaniards a run for their saffron-flavored money with Cataplana.
The owners here have been doing this for a long time: thirty-plus years, as the patriarch of the family told me. The service is very homey – they only serve dishes that make them proud to smile, and generally eat exactly what you do. As in, you will see them around the corner chomping away on their own portion, if you, like us, go too late. For my money, Murta runs like a well-tuned instrument: each note is perfectly tuned with each inch and you almost cannot go wrong ordering any combination on the menu.
I already wrote a poem here. What else do you want to know? In the last several months the Cataplana is probably the best meal I have had, whether Barcelona, Sevilla, Lisbon, New York, LA, Zurich, Geneva, DC, Chicago, or Miami, this little granny-ran hole in the wall in the south of Portugal beat them all. So, go!
Rua Infante Dom Henrique 136, 8000-256 Faro, Portugal
This is the kind of place that causes you to continue giving hyped spots a chance. Each time you think you’ve had it with what the crowd tells you, there’s a Romiro.
Famous for its seafood, that is what you will eat. The waiters come around with digitized menus in several languages on iPads. Items are listed by kilo weight, but you don’t order that way. You just tell them what you want and for how many humans, and they do the estimating for you. And don’t worry, they actually estimate perfectly. Unlike with American spots, which I’ve found tend to constantly over-estimate in an attempt to run up the bill, Europeans (at least Portuguese, Spanish, and French) tend to value your experience over that of the house. I don’t recall being asked how I wanted things prepared, which is fine because the chef chose “perfectly” as the cooking method.
Will you wait in line to get in here? Yes. Even the footballer who thought he could game the system was shuffled back into line. But that line will move quickly and there is a fine reward at the end of it, rather unlike most lines I’ve tolerated. You will be pleased.
One final note: apparently I did it wrong by failing to order a “prego” at the end of the meal. Don’t fail me. Make up for my error and get one of these tiny little beef sandwiches that are said to be exquisite.
Cervejaria Ramiro, Avenida Almirante Reis No. 1-H, 1150-007, Lisboa, Portugal
I never would have found this place on my own. Many thanks to a group of locals that invited my friends and I along to watch the Euro Cup final match, pitting Portugal against France. And a hell of a time, it was!
This is along the lines of the many food markets you see around the world that mixes fresh items with stalls or bars that cook/prepare food. Something like Barcelona’s Boqueria or New York’s Chelsea Market. For the Euro Cup final, they set up several televisions, including a huge projection screen. We sampled many of the wares – from slow roasted pork reminiscent of Cuban lechón, to sushi, burgers, and a gorgeous Portuguese charcuterie board – everything was on point. The wine purveyor had a great selection from several regions of Portugal and nifty little vinyl bags he would fill with ice to keep things cool.
Needless to say that after Portugal triumphed, there was much dancing, singing, kissing, and the beer flowed and flowed . . . free of charge of course. Having had a great experience here during a very hectic, overly-packed moment, I would highly suggest any gastronomy fan to pay it a visit.
Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Rua Coelho da Rocha 104, 1350-074, Lisbon, Portugal
This powerhouse greets the nose with a blend of peppery spice, moss, black fruit, raisins, and cocoa. The front palate gets a kick in the face from fresh strawberries and cocoa, and a hint of pepper. Black rubber, old leather, cocoa, faint vanilla, and red fruits are pulled together by powerful (but no too) tannins and a peppery finish. This is a true reserva, with all the aged wisdom that comes with that. It was fantastic with roasted pork, and I imagine it paring well with any version of parillada.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself stumbling around the Alfama between the right hours, and if you’re lucky enough to find the doors open to this teensy little establishment, you just might be lucky enough for the aged and wise Don Jorge to threaten you with the tiny blade of his wine opener, secretly pay your tab, then bound out onto the street while pumping his biceps at the world and announcing “amanha!” before you ever know what hit you.
Eder (whom I believe speaks English) and the rest of the staff are cordial and ready with a joke and a smile. Though the menus offer food and all manner of tipple at rock bottom prices, I’ve only ever stopped in for a medronho (arbutus berry brandy), some fresh squeezed Algarve orange juice, and the occasional cafezinho. You’ll notice the walls are adorned with all manner of Portuguese liquor, in addition to many different brands of the traditional ginja (cherry liquor) the place is named for. Even if, like me, you stop only for a single fortifying shot of medronho before heading to the next Fado stop, you’ll grow an affection for this little place quickly.
Ginja d’Alfama, Rua São Pedro 12, 1100-172, Lisbon, Portugal