The food of northern Portugal is famously hearty–and very often, meat-centric. In Porto, as elsewhere in Portugal, portions at traditional restaurants can be generous to a fault. Happily, the contemporary food scene is inventive in the city where the Douro meets the sea.
Many wonderful Portuguese flavors are now on offer as petiscos (tapas). Petiscos come in smaller portions than a standard main course, and many of the ones we have sampled have been lighter food as well. We’ve found to our delight that there are many options in Porto–including superb vegetarian food– to help offset the caloric intake of a Francesinha and other waistline-expanding meals.
Here’s a starter kit for you: four of our favorite places to enjoy lighter fare in wonderful Porto.
Always an option: lighter fare!
Taste tapas with a difference
Take the Electrico to Foz for good eats at Casa de pasto da Palmeiro in Foz. Grab an outdoor table for a view of the Douro, and enjoy the laid-back ambiance, friendly service and imaginative tapas. Three tapas makes a meal for two people, accompanied by excellent wines or beer. A bonus is the ding of the tram as it slows down to pass the restaurant on tracks just a meter from the terrace!
Casa de Pasto da Palmeira
Rua do Passeio Alegre, 450, Porto, Portugal
00351 22 616 8244
“When you taste this wine, you taste Douro….”
Stop in at PROVA, an inviting wine bar between Largo São Domingo and Praça do Infante D. Henrique, and travel Portugal in a glass. Diogo Amado, sommelier and owner of this delightful spot, lives and breathes wine, and happily introduces his guests to wines known and not-so-known, from every region of Portugal. The mood is relaxed, with soft sounds of jazz music in the background.
“When you taste this wine, you taste Douro,” our host smiled. On cue, our taste buds lit up as we quaffed our glasses of Pormenor Douro 2013. Then it was on to the Dão and a glass of Munda 2008, elegant and fruity, aptly paired with a range of cheeses from across Europe, and petingos on bread with red peppers. I can’t wait to return for my next glass-and-plate of Portugal!
PROVA Wine Food & Pleasure
Rua Ferreira Borges, 86 – Porto, Portugal
00351 91 794 3056
Have a meat detox at Essência
Looking for respite from northern Portugal’s meat-intensive diet? Essencia, not far from Porto’s BoaVista rotunda and the Casa da Musica has you covered. Daily lunch menus feature ovo-lacto and vegan options, as well as a fish or meat alternative for the main course. An extensive evening menu offers a number of intriguing vegetarian combinations, as well as fresh takes on Portuguese standards (bacalhao, seafood and steaks).
Located in a residential neighborhood about ten minutes on foot from Casa da Musica, Essência offers a choice of eating indoors or on the terrace beside a colorful garden. Owners Isabel, Alexandra and Cristina are hands-on hosts, who braved the region’s meat-loving traditions to provide a refreshing change of pace for the Porto dining scene.
Essência Restaurante Vegetariano
Rua de Pedro Hispano, 1190
00351 22 830 1813
Take to the beach!
Another Foz destination, Praia de Luz, offers a range of simple dishes. This beachside restaurant offers a sublime setting to enjoy salads, sandwiches and seafood, or simply while away an afternoon over drinks with friends. The restaurant is tucked away along the boardwalk, just steps from the busy thoroughfare above. Take your choice of tables-and-chairs under an umbrella (or inside if you need to escape sun or rain) or plop into deck chairs and enjoy the sea view.
Praia de Luz
Avenida de Brasil, 4150-155
00351 22 617 3234
Want to know more?
Catavino’s Porto: A Gourmet’s Travel Guide provides background on Porto’s culinary options and neighborhoods, (the article was published in 2013, but is still valid, especially the suggestion to lighten up your meal at a traditional restaurant by ordering a half portion).
Another–and one of our favorite–ways to eat light in Portugal is to order seafood. More about that coming soon. In the meantime, here’s a recent recommendation from Gail at Large to whet your appetite.
Do you have a light-dining favorite in Porto?
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To see all our travel stories from Portugal, click here.