Something’s Fishy about Portugal Repasts

When in Portugal, eat like the natives—except when there are grilled sardines involved.

Suppers provided the main avenue for trying the local cuisine, since we generally grab-and-go for lunch and like simple breakfast fare. In general, food in Portugal is extremely affordable. Two dishes were generally enough for the three of us, and with drinks, water and appetizers, bills were routinely in the 25-35 euro range, although you easily can spend more.

Meaty in Coimbra

Our first night in Coimbra, we dined at Restaurante Giro Churrasqueira, a restaurant Declan found on TripAdvisor. Marilynn enjoyed a plateful of tasty steak served on a decorated roof tile and Declan and I split a mixed-meat platter, with two types of pork and chicken. We all share dishes, so I can attest to the tastiness of the steak and one of the types of pork, but it was all good.

The following night, we dined at Adega Paço des Condes, with its large dining room reminiscent of the old Little Five Points La Fonda. You walk past a deli counter and an open grill, where an older man stands grilling skewers of goodness. We shared a huge salmon steak and a pork skewer, while also enjoying olives, bread and assorted spreads.

Grilled sardines. Why, oh why?

Moving on to Porto, we ate the first night at Restaurante Douro, recommended by our Airbnb hostess and right down the street from the flat. Live fado music provided the background for a fried hake dish that Marilynn and I agree was the best meal we had on this trip. It was so good, we ordered another one. Fried foods can be hit or miss due to the coating, the quality of the frying oil and the amount of doneness. But both servings were identically superb. The TripAdvisor reviews of this restaurant aren’t good overall, but we had a great experience.

The following night, we had grilled sardines and pork at Brasa dos Leoes, near Lavrario Lello, where we saw the Harry Potter stairs. It wasn’t the restaurant’s fault we didn’t have a good meal. No, the blame goes to those four sardines. Both Declan and I forked our way first through what must have been heart, liver and butthole, instead of delicious fish meat. The tiny bones didn’t help, either.

Marilynn deserves extra kudos for eating the fourth sardine. Grilled sardines are supposed to be a Portuguese delicacy, but, to my taste, avoid them at all costs.

On to other cuisines

Although we didn’t discuss this among ourselves, we didn’t eat traditional Portuguese again on this trip. We had so-so Italian at a restaurant on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro River and some tasty Chinese takeway from Restaurante Mar Norte. Marilynn ordered and said the owner was Portuguese, which is surprising. Also surprising was how good and inexpensive the food was. We had two fried rice dishes and a vegetable noodle dish, none of which were greasy, a problem that often occurs with Chinese. We supplemented Chinese leftovers with a fresh noodle dish the next day.

While visiting Braga on our final full day in Portugal, we had a meat-and-cheese platter at Nocha’s Tapas and Wine. It’s hard to screw up meat and cheese, but the recommended house red wine complemented the meal perfectly.

Just avoid the sardines wherever you go, and you should enjoy Portuguese cuisine.

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