Porto – You Either Love It or Hate It
After years—well not many years—but years of wanting to visit Porto to compare to Lisbon, my ace travel partner (sis) and I finally made our way. Luckily we happened to come across a cheap ticket and booked it straight away. Usually the flights to Porto are slightly more expensive in comparison to Lisbon. During our airbnb search, we noticed how reasonably priced and spacious the homes were including areas close to downtown or city center. Our Airbnb had two separate full bathrooms (with shower and toilet), a huge kitchen/dining area, and a huge bedroom with two double beds. Saying all that, it looks like the best time to go if you’re trying to save money is late Fall/Autumn (late September to early December) after the beach season. I’ve heard the weather is still enjoyable during September. We went early in November and it was raining most of the three days.
Most of our time was spent roaming the streets of Porto’s city center. It is easy to get around—you can walk, catch a very slow tram, or grab a cheap taxi/Uber. There were cute cafes, cool bars, lovely smelling bakeries and eateries, as well as plenty of shopping (local and chain stores). We tried a few cafes and wine joints, such as Confeitaria Sao Domingos (tasty pastries), AlmaAtPorto bar at Armazém Shops-Vintage-Bar (eclectic bar with fab drinks and relaxed ambience including a cozy fireplace), The Wine Barrels (lovely affordable wine tasting menus and cozy chill atmosphere), Manteigaria – Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata (favourite pastéis de nata place in Portugal) and Confeitaria Portilho (local cafe with tasty treats and coffee).
Across the Douro River over the Ponte Luis I bridge is what I believe to be the best part of Porto—Vila Nova de Gaia. It’s what you tend to see in images across social media. You know what I’m referring to right?! The bold colourful architecture that resembles stacks of architecture lined at the bottom with boats and happy people strolling the river side. If there is a next time, I’ll stay on this side. The river side is home to port wine cellars, shops, and restaurants. We hung out at Porto Cruz Terrace Lounge 360 and had lovely cocktails that highlighted their port wine.
Besides the food as you’ll find out after reading on, Porto left no other desire for us to return. I honestly did not feel the excitement others have raved about and disagree that it is better than Lisbon. Maybe I am just biased by Lisbon since I’ve been a few times. But like I said before, if I do return I will spend more time across the Douro River where it seemed like all the action was.
Marisqueira do Porto: If you are craving seafood and good company, go here full stop (look at me using Brit terminology). We managed to make our way walking through what felt like a monsoon and were greeted by friendly smiley faces. The host sat us near the window so we could take in the lovely rainy views (in my sarcastic tone). I made a reservation, which is a better idea when it’s high season because there seemed to be plenty of seating. The waiter did his spiel on the specials and recommendations. At the table, we had Gamba Gigante (Ginormous Prawns) and Arroz de Tamboril com Gambas (Rice with monkfish and prawns) for 2. All was better than expected – fresh and savory. The service was awesome and we were well looked after. Which is nice after trekking in the rain for a bit. The prices on the menu were typical of a marisqueira. I’m sure there are other seafood restaurants in the area that are comparable, if not better. But if you are near this one, pay them a visit.
Zenith Brunch & Cocktails: At the time of our visit, this spot was rated 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor, so we had to give it a try. Plus all the images on TripAdvisor and Instagram looked decent. There was a wait for about 30 minutes and we were not allowed to wait inside although there was room which I found odd. There were a bunch of us eager beavers huddled outside under a large table umbrella. The inside was quirky with that hipster-like vibe and communal tables. Anyway, let’s just skip to the food. I ordered the Francesinha Pancake with bacon, chicken breast, cheddar cheese, overly fried egg and no special francesinha sauce because the sauce sounded like overkill. The waitress was nice enough to let me taste the sauce first so I could make an informed decision. My sister had the Eggs Zenith—breaded poached eggs on avocado and toasted sourdough topped with hollandaise sauce, crispy onions, chives, cherry tomatoes and crispy serrano ham. The food all around was meh. It’s so overrated and most of the folks there seemed to be tourists like us who also fell for the Insta pics. We sat across Americans and they seemed just as underwhelmed. The only good thing about this place was the coffee. They seem to have no real system for seating people and didn’t accept credit cards. It seemed like plenty of the restaurants and cafes were cash only so have cash in hand. Let me describe the restaurant experience in two words—chaotic and overrated. Maybe the location in Lisbon or Madrid is better, but doubt it…womp womp.
Casa Guedes: Go here! It was the best meal I had in Porto. Guess what we ate?! Juicy roast pork with gooey sheep’s cheese stuffed in a rustic crispy roll. Yes there’s a long line, but it goes fairly quick and it’s obviously worth it ‘cause I say so. When you finally enter the shop, be ready to order (you can easily get a menu before you enter as others will be sharing them). There’s this hump of roasted pork joint for all to drool over in the front case. The folks serving behind the counter look like they’ve been there since inception. Seating is limited inside, but there is covered seating outside. We ordered four sandwiches and a plate of fries, which was more than enough because we waddled out of there stuffed. The pork was so succulent and seasoned; and the cheese gave it a bit of a tang. Make sure you have a pint of Super Bock to wash it all down. Ignore the crowd and listen to the thousands of good reviews—give this place a go!
Papavinhos: First off, make a reservation if you decide to bless this restaurant with your presence after reading this tidbit. This is to ensure they can cater to you. What drew us here was the image of pan fried potatoes on TripAdvisor….sad I know haha. We walked into a fairly huge dining area that was empty and then were escorted upstairs where it was lively with full tables. The greeter, who seemed to be the owner, was quite ecstatic as he helped us with the menu and was very patient with my questions. We ended up ordering octopus with garlic sauce (Polvo ao Presunto) for apps, fried cod in onion gravy with homemade fried potatoes sliced round like chips (Bacalhau a Papavinhos) and grilled sea bass (Robalo Grelhado) with frites for mains. For dessert, we had cookies and cream in a mason jar. All dishes made me feel like we were eating food straight from a mother’s kitchen…made with love and full of flavour. Give it a whirl! Almost forgot to mention, this place is very affordable with plates averaging 11-12€.
O Caseirinho: This was the first stop after arriving in Porto. My hangry ass couldn’t wait to get my hands on something super delish and authentic. Upon entry, this older gentleman who I would assume was the owner, did not seem thrilled to have us first thing. We didn’t let that stop us from sitting down. He warmed up to us after a few minutes of getting into the groove. The menu is quite basic which I found comforting. I ordered the Prego em Prata (steak with eggs and homemade fries) for about 7€ and coffee. I asked for ketchup for my fries and boy was that wrong of me. I was laughed at by the youngin’ and told they did not have any American ketchup. He explained how it was not normal to eat this dish with ketchup. He ended up finding me some but I was too embarrassed to use it after that. The food was tasty for what it was. The coffee was quite strong for my liking even after dosing it with loads of sugar and milk. This is not a must visit place, but if you do it is cash only.