One Week in Portugal
My sister and I will be travelling to Lisbon and Porto for a week. We are in search of some recs for fantastic food at reasonable prices. We pretty much eat everything but would like to discover what Portugese cuisine has to offer. Also, any recs on hip drinking spots will be greatly appreciated! Please keep in mind that we are both students in our mid-twenties so we do not have unlimited funds. Saying that, we both love good food and are looking to add some memorable eating experiences to what already promises to be a memorable traveling experience.
It's really easy to eat well in Lisbon. First, most cafes/bars serve soup and sandwiches (tosta mista - ham and cheese, is my favorite) if you want to eat in a hurry or outside of normal dining hours. People eat LATE in Lisbon - dinner begins at 9 p.m., so if you can't wait that long, you can grab a snack at a cafe or bar.
Second, head up to Barrio Alto, taking either the "elevator" from the Avenue de Liberdade (the main drag). Right across the street is the Port Wine Institute. You should visit once even if you aren't a huge port fan - have an inexpensive port in a quiet, lovely atmosphere. Then wander around the Barrio Alto, the neigborhood just beyond the Institute, which is a food and beverage lovers paradise - just look in the places, scan the menus, and go in to whichever place looks and smells the best. It's hard to go wrong. There are some very cheap places and some very expensive. There is lots of typical regional food and great foreign food. You could eat up there every night and never get tired of it. It's a great scene, and though it looks a bit run down, it is actually very safe. Just avoid the Fado places in Barrio Alto. They are very expensive tourist traps.
On the other side of Avenue de Liberdade, towards the Castle, as an area known as Restauradores (spelling? it has it's own subway stop). I thought the word meant restaurants, because there are so many (it means "Restorers"). Don't go to the places hawking tourist menus. Head down toward the river to find places where more locals are eating. Again, look at menus to see what appeals. Many of these typical Portuguese places are quite inexpensive. Farther away from the River in Restauradores is a place called El Rey de Frangos (King of chickens). For some reason, Portuguese roasted chickens are fabulously delicious. Two people can split a whole chicken, along with fries and/or a little salad, for $10 each.
There are tons of hipper, more "western" places in the developments along the river toward the soaring new bridge. They are all expensive, and to my way of thinking, mediocre.
Then, there's the Alfama neighborhood, near the Castle. Just wandering around up there (it's really, really easy to get lost!) you'll find tons of yummy, very inexpensive places to eat and drink.
If you only have a few days in Lisbon, I'd spend one day doing the Castle in the morning and the Alfama for lunch. One half-day exploring the Restauradores/Baixa/Chiado area, with lunch in the Restauradores (Baixa and Chiado neighborhoods are pretty expensive). Go to Belem, to visit St. Geranimo Monastery and to see the Explorers Monument on the River. Eat dinner every night in Barrio Alto. If you can squeeze in a day trip from Lisbon (easy to do as trains are frequent and inexpensive), go to Cais Cais (a beach community) or to Sintra (Palace and Moorish castle - a UNESCO World heritage site).
In Porto, I'd stick to neighborhood places, or to the less touristy places (harder and harder to find) on the Port Cave side of the Douro River. The places near the river on the other side (closer to the heart of the city) tend to be touristy, crowded and pretty expensive by Portugal standards. By all means visit a few Port Caves. You'll get free samples! Sandeman's is nice if you only want to visit one.
I've spent alot of time eating in Portugal, in fact it's about all I do when I'm there. I find that the best traditional Portuguese food is found outside the major cities. However, in Porto I had one of the best grilled calamari dishes of my life, in one of the restaurants along the river port. My suggestion, if it is all feasible is to wander out a bit. Coimbra, roughly between Porto and Lisbon has some great dining options. The local specialty is roast suckling pig and chanfana ( a type of goat stew). I've has some great food at the University Cantinas - where the meals are ridiculously cheap and cooked by a team of mothers and grandmothers - its really more like a cafeteria but for lunch it's fantastic with many Portuguese specialties. I really enjoy eating in the northern interior part of the country - you'll get dishes like roast suckling goat, different kinds of traditional sausages like morcela and alheiras, roast boar, and tons of other meatier dishes. On the whole I have had wonderful meals in Portugal, but again, I find that they are better in the little towns and villages. Cheers.
Any folk from/familiar with Lisbon know if Sua Excelensia is still in business and still owned by the same multi-lingual eccentric? one of the best meals of my life there, but I hate to recommend something 8 years out-of-date...