Memorable Dining Experiences in Portugal

My wife and I enjoy food experiences, and we were excited about exploring the food and restaurants of Portugal.  These are a few of the more memorable experiences we had on our first trip to the country.

Dinner at Flor de Laranja, Lisbon.  The Moors have a long history in Portugal and the Moorish influence is scattered throughout the country, from castles originally built by the Moors to the beautiful azulejos that are seen everywhere.  We were excited about a chance to eat genuine Moroccan food and were surprised at how few Moroccan restaurants were to be found in Portugal.

Fortunately, we found a good one in the Bairro Alto neighborhood of Lisbon.  This very small restaurant is tucked into a narrow street and is a one person operation.  The owner is cook and hostess all rolled into one.  The atmosphere was appropriately exotic, the service was great, and the food was phenomenal.

Flor da Laranja

A couple words of warning, though.  Reservations are a must.  The owner only seats one or two groups at a time and will not allow anyone else into the dining room.  Also, because of personal attention the owner pays to her guests and the fact that she also cooks the food, do not expect to run in, slam down your food,  and then run out.   We found this to be true pretty much everywhere in Portugal.  The Portuguese love their food and take the time to enjoy the experience.  I suggest you do the same.

Dinner at Ze Manel dos Ossos, Coimbra.  This restaurant came highly recommended in several of the travel guides I’d read.  It’s a tiny little place located on a narrow alley near Hotel Astoria.  We arrived in a drizzling rain and had to wait outside in the alley with other hopeful diners until tables were available.  It was worth the wait.

The inside is tiny, with just a handful of tables and the walls are covered with notes and odds and ends left from past visitors.  Interesting place.  One word of warning, though; it’s cash only.  On the bright side, the bill was very reasonable, so you won’t break the bank to dine here.

The food was fabulous, what I would describe as country cooking.  We had braised goat, soup, and homemade red wine served in a stoneware jug.  There was so much food that we couldn’t finish it all.  And, as the waiter pointed out, we had ordered a half serving!

Breakfast at Cafe Guarany, Porto.  This place is an elegant old restaurant located on Avenida dos Aliados, right in the heart of Porto.  Established in 1933, this old cafe was once a favorite hangout of intellectuals and businessmen.  Named after an indigenous Brazilian tribe, the restaurant celebrates this with a beautiful painting by Porto artist Graça Morais  called “The Lords of Amazonia.”

Cafe Guarany

The food was great, as was the service.  It’s probably the first time in my life that I’ve had ice cream for breakfast.  If you want to experience one of Porto’s iconic cafes, this would be a great place to go.  We were so impressed that we stopped back later in our Porto visit for coffee and dessert.

Francesinhas in Porto.  Porto is famous for a sandwich called the “Little Frenchie.”  It’s anything but little, though.  We’d read so much about it in the guide books that we had to try it, and we weren’t disappointed.

The francesinha is a sandwich filled with a variety of meats including ham and sausage, and covered with melted cheese and a wonderful beer sauce.  It’s usually served with fries, and ours were.

Francesinha

It was a wonderful, delicious, messy delight.  We sat outside a cafe near the beautiful monument to Dom Pedro IV, in .  It’s a lot of food, though, so be prepared to either stuff yourself of leave your plate unfinished.

Dinner at Maria do Mar, Nazaré.  It was raining the night we wandered into Maria do Mar.  It’s a great little place that was full of locals, which is a good sign when you’re looking for good food.  It’s also a favorite hangout of the surfers who come to Nazaré for the giant waves at North Beach.  Maria proudly displays a trophy given to her by a young Brazilian surfer a couple years ago.

It was karaoke night, and several of the staff took their turns singing fado favorites for the locals.  It was a fun place and service was great.

We shared a big pot of seafood stew and a bottle of wine.  The food was excellent and Maria was a very attentive host.  It was a great way to spend a rainy night at the beach.

These are just a few of the memorable dining experiences we had in Portugal.  We had many other great food experiences, and I’m sure on our next visit we’ll find more to enjoy.

Flor da Laranja, Lisbon, March 2018

On our last night in Portugal we had the pleasure of dining at Flor da Laranja, a Moroccan restaurant in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon.

Morocco and Portugal have a history that goes back to the eighth century.  Moorish influence can be seen in architecture and art (Portugal’s famous azulejo tiles are of Moorish origin) and heard in place names throughout the country.  Despite this history, Moroccan restaurants are relatively rare in Portugal.

We asked our hotel to make reservations at the restaurant, which was fortunate, because without a reservation you will not get in.  The owner keeps the door locked and you must ring the doorbell to get in.  If you don’t have a reservation, she turns you away.  There was never more than three groups dining at one time, which allowed for a very personal and intimate experience.

Stepping out of the night and into the restaurant was our first indication that this would be a unique dining experience.  The interior is bright, with lots of flowers and candles, and Moorish-influenced art and furniture.  Moroccan music added to the vibrant atmosphere.

Flor da Laranja
Flor da Laranja

Flor da Laranja is truly a one man- or in this case, one woman show.  The owner, Rabea Esserghini, does it all, from waiting on the tables, to cooking the food, to answering the door.  I asked her about doing everything herself and she replied that it’s not much different from cooking dinner for her family.  A native of Casablanca, she loves sharing her country’s food with her guests.

And the food is really good.  We started with a glass of white vinho verde, or green wine.  The wine gets its name from the fact that it’s made from young grapes, not from its color.  It’s a bit sweet and slightly bubbly.  With dinner Sra. Esserghini recommended a bottle of rosé vinho verde, which was very good.

For the entrees, I chose a stuffed pepper and Ann Marie chose chicken with preserved lemons.  There were several small plates of eggplant, spinach, chickpeas and potatoes, which were all very good.  Sra. Esserghini made sure I didn’t forget about the sauce from the pepper, actually scooping it up and pouring it over the pepper.  She was right.  The sauce was awesome.

We enjoyed our dining experience at Flor da Laranja.  The food was outstanding and it’s obvious that Sra. Esserghini loves to share her culture and cuisine with her customers.  If you’re in Lisbon I recommend you make Flor da Laranja a stop on your journey.  But don’t forget the reservation.