One of the nice things about living here in the Algarve is being able to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy a leisurely meal in a pretty restaurant, savouring good quality, simple and tasty food.
Some careful planning can mean that you can make your budget stretch just a little further – and will mean that you can leave the restaurant with a full stomach and still have some cash left in your wallet!
In any tourist resort, you are going to pay a premium for the restaurants with a sea view of course – and the Algarve is full of restaurants, bars and cafés with stunning views of the beautiful Algarve coastline and sandy beaches. Eating at lunchtime instead of in the evening, however, should ensure that you can enjoy that amazing view for a little less as menus at lunchtime are often cheaper than in the evening, and many places are open all day in the tourist areas – especially in the summer months.
Look out for the set menus – many restaurants offer a ‘prato do dia’ at lunchtime. Sometimes this is only a selection of three or four main dishes at a set price – often 7.50 – 8.50 Euros – but search around and you will find a local restaurant offering a ‘prato do dia menu’ – you can enjoy a starter, main course, dessert, a drink and a coffee for around 8.50 Euros if you know where to go!
This is often an excellent way to try different Portuguese fare – expect to choose from three or four different main course dishes; often you will have 2 or 3 different meat dishes and a fish dish of the day. If you are a vegetarian you can always just ask for something different – most local restaurants are pretty accommodating. Your ‘drink’ can be anything from a small beer, soft drink, or glass of wine .. right up to a half carafe of wine per person – it all depends on the restaurant.
Be careful of the ‘couvert’ that will arrive at your table almost the minute that you sit down – contrary to popular tourist belief – this is not free! Fresh bread, butter, sardine pâté, and olives – and sometimes sliced carrot in garlic oil – will look very appealing to you if you are hungry and waiting for your food to appear, but it is fine to say a polite ‘no thank you’ to the waiter as it appears if you do not want it. Most restaurants charge a mark-up on the bill for every individual item of couvert that you consume … 50c per pat of butter and 2 Euros each for a few olives or some bread soon adds quite a lot to your final bill!
Beware also of the fish restaurants that line most quayside and tourist routes – fish sold by the kg can leave you with the worst kind of dilemma – you will have no idea how much your bill will be until it arrives – and you can have quite a shock when a table of four people sharing one large fish and a bottle of wine can suddenly find themselves with very little change from 100 Euros.
Another way of keeping the cost down is to move back from the frontline tourist restaurants near the beach – find a small backstreet restaurant .. old furniture, paper tablecloths, a chalkboard menu and ‘local’ Portuguese customers are all a good sign! Some of our finest meals out have come from the most inauspicious looking little places.
If you are lucky – and like fresh fish – and can find a person ‘in the know’ then you can ask for directions to an ‘all you can eat’ local fish restaurant – one of our favourites is Zé Leiteiro in Armação de Pêra – a real ‘locals’ place with just a few tables and benches where you sit beside your fellow diners and enjoy plate after plate of the most amazing array of different fish and seafood – all for only 12.50 Euros per head. If you don’t manage to eat at least eight different platefuls of fish, the waiting staff actually look disappointed! We’ve enjoyed plate after plate of robalo, sea bass, salmon, squid, mackerel and sardines until we could literally eat no more! You can’t book, you either have to turn up early and bag a table, or wait in a queue outside. It’s another little tip – the Portuguese will happily stand outside a good restaurant for an hour or more waiting for a table, while the restaurant nearby is half empty – they know where the best food is!
Sardines are a staple menu addition in the summer months, and Portimão and its many fish restaurants are renowned for their sardines. 8.50 Euros will get you 6 sardines, a side salad, boiled potatoes and a hunk of bread – more than enough to keep the hunger at bay!
If it’s chicken you like – and the Algarve loves its piri-piri chicken served with chips and a side salad – then our top tip is to move away from Guia and its tourist prices and try Algoz which is only 10 minutes away inland. There are two great chicken restaurants, O Martinhos and O Marinhos – yes it’s confusing isn’t it! Or head to Foia above Monchique and go to A Rampa and enjoy some spectacular views with your meal and have change from 30 Euros for a meal for two.
Wherever you go – and wherever you eat – we are sure that you will have a memorable and enjoyable experience. The Algarve are proud of their food and gastronomic heritage, they love to please and ensure that you enjoy your meal – and they will often let you linger all afternoon or evening in the restaurant, enjoying the sights and tastes of the Algarve.
These are just a few ideas – if you have visited the Algarve or live here – do leave your tips and recommendations in a comment below … and