Great food and a nice dining experience are an important part for an unforgettable journey, city trip or road trip. Portugal is a country where good and healthy food is available. So, that already is a stroke of luck. But where do you find it? What are the best practice rules to follow in a restaurant or pastelaria? And finally, what are some hidden traps? In this post, I will give you 10 restaurant tips in Portugal.
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This list gives you 10 best practice rules for dining in Portugal. Locations where you find the great Portuguese food of good quality at the best prices and service. Follow the 10 restaurant tips below to experience a great local dining experience in Portugal.
First of all, it is good to know the dining hours to get the most local dining experience in Portugal. Are you wondered about at what time the Portuguese people eat? And are there possibilities to match it with your own biorhythm?
Portuguese people are not known to take an extensive breakfast. For a lot of locals, the working day starts at around 9h. In larger cities like Lisbon or Porto, you see this morning rush in the metro and train stations. It is very common that you see locals taking a coffee and a small sandwich or croissant as a breakfast. Mostly somewhere in a paselaria or at a kiosk.
Taking a long lunch break of 2 hours is very common in Portugal. A lot of locals have lunch time from 13h to 15h. So, these are the hours when you will meet the most locals in the pastelarias or restaurants. Some also go for a faster service in a shopping centre or the canteen of the company. In tourist areas, restaurants are already open from 12h for the lunch.
Portugal has a huge restaurant culture. So, also in the evening you also will discover a lot of Portuguese people in the restaurants. Because they can take a lunch time of 2 hours, they also have to work longer. This is a reason why locals go out for diner around 10-21h. Also here, a lot of restaurants are already open from 18-19h for dinner time. Especially for tourists.
To find the best restaurants with a great local feeling, go for restaurants that more look like a refectory or canteen. In most cases, in these restaurants with basic furniture, you find the best local food with a great service and at lower prices. And yes, also here they mostly speak English. So, don't stay at the large tourist areas or restaurants where they lure you in the restaurant with showing the menu, photos and small talk.
Give the restaurants in a shopping centre a try. I know that in some countries, you don't find the best food in the restaurants of a shopping centre. But, in Portugal, you also find great restaurants in the shopping centres. Sometimes with a great view. A lot of shopping centres are very good accessible with public transport. So, you don't need a car to reach them. And no, you don't have to pass the shops. There is nothing wrong with only go for the restaurant. Mostly they are located at the top level of the building. Give it a try.
Of course, when you are in a group or with more people, it always is a good idea to make a reservation. Otherwise, it can take you a longer time to find a restaurant or a table. Some restaurants take reservations, some only work on reservation due to popularity and available space. But in Portugal, it also is very common that restaurants, even very popular restaurants, don't work with reservations. Like other countries in southern Europe, they use another method.
When restaurants don't work with a reservation, it is possible that when you arrive they put your name on a waiting list. Sometimes they give you an indication of the waiting time, sometimes not. When they call your name, you have to be there to give you the table. Otherwise, your moment is gone and they go further with the next name on the list. So, outside these restaurants you see people waiting, already drinking something and socialising. It is very common that people wait this way for 1h on a table in the restaurant. So in these kind of restaurants, you better come at opening hour if you want to avoid this queue. Otherwise, welcome to the social Portuguese restaurant culture.
Fine, you found a restaurant and want a table. In Portugal it is normal to first ask the waiter for a free table. Don't take a table by yourself. Be polite and wait till the waiter shows you a free table. In a pasteleria, paderia or smaller eating house, you usually order first at the counter and afterwards take place at a table. And oh yeah, follow the line. In Portugal, they don't stand in a pile, but follow the one line principle. First come, first served and wait your turn.
Of course, when you are in a country like Portugal, it can be very attractive to take a seat on a terrace, a esplanada. Why not? Such a sunny country, where you can enjoy good weather and a lot of great views. Indeed, it is. But, keep in mind that restaurants in Portugal, especially in tourist areas, can have a different menu for inside and for outside. Yes, another menu or list with different prices. In some restaurants you have to pay around 10% more when you want to sit on the terrace in stead of inside. So, most locals take a table inside. Or even stand at the counter to eat a small dish with a drink. It is more social and the most important reason, it is cheaper.
Oh yeah, a lot of restaurants don't have the standard drinks listed on the menu. This is very normal.
Great, you have a seat at a table. Now, your moment to enjoy great food can begin. And wow, there already stands some bread, olives, cheese and more on the table. Or the waiter comes to you to present some of these appetizers and you may choose what you want. Nice, isn't it? Euh, wait a moment. These are appetizers, entradas or petiscos, and these are not free. If you take them, you have to pay them. In case you take only one olive, you have to pay all the olives on your table. So, if you don't want them, say it to the waiter that you don't need them or take only the petiscos you're gonna eat. In some countries, it is normal that they present you a small appetizer, some olives or bread from the house, but not in Portugal.
Some people say that you get much food in Portugal. Indeed, this is not a lie. On some menus, you find 2 portions, a 1/2 dose and 1 dose. In this way, the "meia dose" (1/2) is not for children or people who eat less. No, the 1/2 dose is a portion good enough for 1 person, while 1 dose is for 2 persons. Ideal to share the food with 2. So, if you see this on the menu, maybe it can be better to take the 1/2 dose in stead of the 1 dose.
When you order wine, don't be afraid to order the house wine. Portugal is a wine country. So, they mostly serve you a great Portuguese wine from excellent quality. Of course, not a top wine. But not as in some countries, a cheap one.
When you order a glass of wine, mostly they come to your table with a new bottle of wine. They open it at your table and first let you taste it, the same way as you ordered a bottle of wine. This is not only done in more expensive restaurants, maybe more in the typical Portuguese restaurants. But due to rising prizes, I already discovered in Lisboa that they sometimes changed this to bring you a very small bottle of wine for 1 person.
Some countries are known that when you order water this is free. Water from tap can indeed also be free in Portugal. Mostly, when you order water, the waiter will ask you "fresh or natural" or in Portuguese "fresca ou natural". This doesn't mean that you have to choose between sparkling or still water. This means water from the fridge (fresh, fresca) or water at room temperature (natural). This is because a lot of people order water at room temperature, even when it is very hot in the summer.
To order sparkling or still water, you say especially these words when you order in English. Or in Portuguese this is "água com gás" and "água sem gás".
Finally, the food was good and you had a great time in the restaurant. Mostly, the waiter asks you if you would like a dessert. Desserts in Portuguese restaurants are basics. But, mostly they also have some seasonal fruit or a local dessert.
Aside of a restaurant culture, Portugal also has a coffee culture. If you like to drink coffee, it is very polite to take a coffee at the end of your meal. Learn how to order a coffee in Portugal in our post about the coffee culture in Portugal. So, you maybe also go for a dessert. Fine. But in the Portuguese culture, it is common to drink the coffee not together with your dessert. A lot of locals drink a coffee after the dessert, when you asked for the bill. This brings us to to the last point of this list. Now, it is time to pay the bill.
Now we are at the end. It is time to pay the bill. In most restaurants it is possible to pay by cards. But, as I already told in my post "3 tips to pay", about money in Portugal, they don't accept everywhere international debit cards. Sometimes it is better to pay cash. It still is the best way to have no hassle in case something technical is not working well or there are incorrect amounts. Also, it is the best way to give a tip.
Tipping in Portugal is no must, but it still is very common. Because the salaries are low and it is a way to give your appreciation for the waiter. So, if you liked the meal and the service, it is a good idea to give a tip. An amount of maximum 10% of the bill is a fair tip.
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