Food lovers who visit Portugal will be thrilled to find that you can eat well, enjoy four-course meals in restaurants, and spend very little – if you eat like the locals do.
As you head out at the start of the day, you’ll notice people gathering at coffee stands, snack bars and cafes to have their pequeno almoco. This breakfast meal usually consists of some kind of bread or pastry, coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. Try the pastel de nata, that famously delicious, two-bite flaky pastry with a custard filling. One of these with coffee will set you back around 1 euro, depending on where you go. The coffee in Portugal is usually no more than an espresso shot in a pretty demitasse cup, but it’s strong and satisfying. Pick up a bagful of sweet oranges at one of the bodegas found on just about every corner, and you’ve got a light breakfast for less than 2 euros.
Lunch is a bigger meal, and the best bargain. It begins around noon and lasts until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. This is also when many shops will close doors. Look in restaurant windows, or on a board outside, for their menu do dia. This is a 3 or 4 course meal, and it usually costs 10 Euros or less. It includes a starter, a main course – typically one meat and one seafood dish to choose from, a beverage (wine, beer or sparkling water), and a dessert, coffee, or both.
Dinner service in most Portuguese restaurants doesn’t start until 8pm or so, and most locals will start arriving at 9pm. In a nice restaurant, a dinner for two of grilled fish with vegetables, a glass of wine or beer, and an appetizer will run around 40 Euros. If you’re not a night owl, there are many snack bars, tabernas or tascas open in the early evening, where you can grab a light meal, along with beer and wine. For dessert, why not stop in for a gelado at one of the local artisan ice cream shops like La Copa, in Porto for a real treat.
Finally, pay attention to where the locals head to eat and avoid the tourist spots with multi-lingual menus. You’ll end up having an experience that is more affordable, and much more authentic.