“I’d suggest Muralhas,” says the waitress. She sits with us, puts down her pad and pen, and for a minute I forget she’s at work. Her recommendations come laced with personal experience. “I’d go for this or Casal Garcia. It’s what all the young people in Porto are drinking.”
We follow her advice; Muralhas proves to be a delicate vinho verde that bounces with citrusy notes and the tiniest hint of fizz. It’s the sort of elixir that whisks me back to a holiday in the Algarve. Although any promise of crashing Atlantic waves is quashed by the clatter of cutlery on ceramic at Tascö; the local crowds have descended in their droves despite the late hour, lured, as were we, by the waft of garlic and the glow of minimalist, wooden interiors.
We’ve just stepped off the Rua do Almada, a long, narrow street near the sweeping Praça da Liberdade. It’s nearing midnight but, in true Iberian style, nothing shows any signs of winding down; hungry passersby are even being turned away at the door.
Out back, the kitchen is busy preparing petiscos — bigger, brawnier Portuguese cousins of tapas. First to arrive are bacalhau (salt cod) fritters, their crisp golden casing giving way to light hits of this popular fish. Soon to follow is tangy tomato rice, and sautéed potatoes, deliciously heady with garlic.
The hearty alheira is a carnivore-pleaser, a chunky sausage that sings with smoky paprika. It’s flecked with a smattering of greens, and accompanied by chunks of fresh bread slathered in chouriço butter.
I’ve underestimated the proportions of Tascö’s petiscos; my groaning stomach is testament to the fact that these are no teeny tapas. Somehow, though, I manage to find room for homemade ice cream — the only way to finish a foray into Portuguese fare. Dishes from €2-12.50/£1.75-11 (three between five was plenty), Vinho verde around €13 (£11.50) a bottle.
Three restaurants to try in Porto
O Paparico: Welcome to a tastefully honoured bygone era, with old photos on the walls and blue-and-white plates on display. The food, though, is distinctly 21st century, with classic Portuguese dishes, such as roasted goat and bacalhau, elevated to grand new heights.
Casa Guedes: The warm, crusty buns crammed with sticky, tender pork knuckle from Casa Guedes are not to be missed. Watch as the meat is expertly carved and the sandwiches stuffed, and then join the locals on the terrace for a glass of stout. Praça dos Poveiros 130. T: 00 351 22 200 2874.
Xico Queijo: Laden with Portuguese meats and cheeses, the platters at this sophisticated spot are made for grazing. Wash them down with one of the signature cocktails, or a pitcher of house sangria made with sparkling rosé, cucumber and grapes. Galeria de Paris 79. T: 351 22 316 4000.