Along the cobblestone streets adorned with rows of vibrantly painted tiles, you’re just as likely to run into a portly grill master tending to his barbecued sardines as you might find a highly stylized door leading to an army of dapper waiters at your beck and call. In Porto, there is no distinct divide between one neighborhood and the next, between Michelin-starred dining rooms and rustic tascas, between modern and ancient recipes. Any door might lead to the discovery of colorful culinary stories and a portfolio of wines extending far beyond Port, which is why Porto is becoming one of the top gastronomic cities in Europe.
As waves crash on the rocky shores of Leça de Palmeira, and gentle Atlantic winds carry salty aromas inside Casa de Chá da Boa Nova, the division between space and time dissolves. Famed Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza built the Boa Nova Tea House in 1963, and restored it 50 years later to house chef Rui Paula’s grand vision, a minimalist space that honors nature’s inspiration. It’s worth the 20-minute drive from Porto to experience it: Here, every dish incorporates the elements surrounding the restaurant both in its ingredients and its plating. Thick chunks of juicy Wagyu beef nestle alongside four types of cauliflower—pickled, puréed, chopped and diced—and wild mushrooms appear on a transparent box of bright green lithophytes taken from the surrounding shore. Silky sea urchin brûlée is served within a spiky glass ramekin perched on a fresh bed of seaweed. It’s the gentle play between nature and cuisine that heightens each dish. Choose the wine-pairing option to get the most out of the tasting menus, or pick from the 800-bottle wine list deep in Portuguese wine. A personal favorite of head sommelier Carlos Monteiro is the Terrantez do Pico 2015. A tiny-production wine grown on the volcanic soils of the archipelago of the Azores, it unveils everything the sea has to offer: maritime aromas and bright mineral acidity to balance the chef’s fresh fish.
Cozy and unassuming, Pedro Limão’s newest creation values friendship and conversation. With mismatched chairs, thick wooden-slatted tables and blues playing in the open kitchen, the atmosphere feels welcoming—especially when Limão’s wife, Catia, is by the door, greeting guests with a refreshing lemon-lime-mint infusion. As you peruse the menu, a plate of warm rye bread arrives with homemade butter and grassy local olive oil. Choose plates à la carte or go for the bargain-priced €9 tasting menu; recently, it included a juicy lamb chop on a silky mound of puréed chickpeas with cilantro, caramelized eggplant and onions, and a stunning poached egg nestled in a mushroom-infused mayonnaise. A ten-course seasonal tasting menu is also available at dinner for €32. The wine list is tight and eclectic, with finds such as Aphros Yakkos Grande Reserve, a biodynamic sparkling vinhão; aged Vinho Verde from Ponte de Lima; and Titular’s alfrocheiro from the Dão.
Should you find your way to O’Paparico’s elusive door, simply grab the copper knocker and rap-tap-tap your way into a parallel universe filled with glowing candelabras, gourmet pestiscos (tapas) and exceptionally gracious service. Savor small dishes of Azeitão, an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese produced at the foot of the Arrabida Mountains; veal terrine drizzled in Port wine sauce; and a buttery prosciutto from black pork, an Iberian breed of pig. For a knee-buckling experience, wrap your lips around the perfectly sweet and tender grilled scallop floating in coral butter, or the octopus ceviche showered in olive oil and coriander. Owner Sérgio Cambas fills his 1,200-label Portuguese wine list with everything from old-vine Colares to earthy Bairrada. For the fresh fish and wild mushroom dishes, consider the 1970 Chitas, made from ungrafted malvasia de Colares. From vines planted in sandy soils with direct ocean influence, this wine bursts with acidity and minerality. Or, for meat dishes, check out the 2013 Poeira, from the vertiginous schist terraces of the Douro. There is no wine corkage fee, so don’t hesitate to bring a few special bottles, as long as you reserve a sip or two for the curious staff.
As a gentle breeze carries mouthwatering aromas of salt and sardines grilling over hot coals, a pescador (fisherman) sits on a wooden box mending and patching green mesh to the sound of the sea. A long line of assadores (grill masters)—often the restaurant owners—stand terrace-side gripping worn tongs to flip giant prawns, fresh squid and sweet sea bass. Welcome to the seaside town of Matosinhos, where hungry Portuguese have come for their fish fill for decades, more frequently than not to O Gaveto. Manuel Pinheiro’s family has run this shrine to local seafood for more than 30 years and thanks to the professionalism of their wine service—they have a range of wine glasses and decanters on hand—they’ve made it a second home to top winemakers from across the region. Choose your catch from the numerous tanks swimming with lobster, crab or lamprey, or revel in the mounds of locally caught gooseneck barnacles, mussels and sweet orange shrimp. Be sure to order the sapateira recheada, stone crab stuffed with a creamy purée of cornbread, pickled cauliflower, onions, egg, beer and Port wine. To drink, order one of the many sparklers on the wine list, such as the Soalheiro Rosé Espumante, or a rich white from the Dão like Druida, or ask co-owner João Silva for an off-the-beaten-path recommendation. If you have time, hike up the street to Garage Wines, a retail shop where you can schedule a VIP tasting with Ivone Ribeiro.
In the heart of Porto’s historical center—a maze of medieval alleys, cobbled streets and baroque monuments—Prova has become a magnet for wine lovers. And Diogo Amado has become a player in the revival of Porto’s vibrant city center since he opened this chic narrow bar, the only wine bar in the area when he arrived in 2014. Put yourself in Amado’s hands to taste what he’s procured in the last week, as he’s the only one who knows where he’s stashed it. He may pull out the 1969 Colares Viúva Gomes Red, wildly earthy yet still bright in its cherry fruit (and remarkably affordable), or the lemony, mineral Vale de Capucha Arinto. Both pair beautifully with Prova’s cheese and charcuterie platter, as well as with the popular empada de frango, a chicken pie. Often there’s live music and, late in the evening, impromptu tastings with local winemakers. Prova is renowned for its informality and friendly atmosphere, so don’t hesitate to join the wine geek festivities.