Eating out is rarely expensive and many Portuguese enjoy daily lunches and weekend family evening meals at a restaurant. Standards are fairly uniform and price differentials usually depend on the restaurant location, decor and the way the food is presented rather than on the quality of ingredients. Indeed menus tend to be markedly similar wherever you go, certainly within each region.
Apart from straightforward restaurants (restaurantes), you could end up eating a meal in one of several other venues. A tasca is a small neighbourhood tavern, while a casa de pasto is a cheap local dining room usually with a set three-course menu, mostly served at lunch only. A cervejaria is literally a “beer house”, more informal than a restaurant, with people dropping in at all hours for a beer and a snack. In Lisbon they’re often wonderful tiled caverns specializing in seafood. Also specializing in seafood is a marisqueira, while a churrasqueira specializes in char-grilled meat, especially chicken, pork chops and sausages.
Wherever you eat, it’s always worth taking stock of the prato do dia (dish of the day) if you’re interested in sampling local specialities. The ementa turística is worth checking out, too – not a “tourist menu”, but the set meal of the day, sometimes with a choice of two starters and two main courses, plus dessert and a glass of beer or a small carafe of wine. It can be very good value, though smarter restaurants sometimes resent the law that compels them to offer the ementa turística, responding with stingy portions and excessive prices.
The one thing to watch for when eating out in Portugal is the plate of appetizers placed before you when you take a table and before you order. These can be quite elaborate little dishes of seafood, cheese, sardine spread and chouriço, or can consist of little more than rolls and butter, but what you eat is counted and you will be charged for every bite. Não quero isto (“I don’t want this”) should get the waiter to take it away. When you want the bill, ask for a conta and make sure nothing is included that you haven’t eaten, beyond the basic cover charge.
Restaurants listed in this guide have each been given a price category: inexpensive (less than e15), moderate (e15–25), expensive (e25–35), or very expensive (over e35). This is the price per person you can expect to pay for a three-course meal, or equivalent, including drinks. Obviously, in many restaurants, the listing is only a guide to average costs, since you will almost always be able to eat more cheaply (choosing the prato do dia, skipping dessert) or more expensively (eating seafood, quafﬁng vintage port).