“There is only one vegan restaurant in Porto.” Yup, I read that a few times and it’s fake news baby, so don’t buy it. Whenever I go on holiday I do heaps of research to make sure I don’t go hungry – and that goes double now I am vegan. I scour Happy Cow, of course, but I like to read blogs and reviews as well. I don’t want to drag my other half to a terrible café just cos it’s meat-free. That means I kept stumbling across this fib about Porto having just one vegan place. It was not a good sign.
In truth, Porto is better for vegans than you might expect, given the bad press online. But it could definitely do better. Ninety-five per cent of the tourist restaurants I passed seemed to be serving plates piled high with veggies … and meat or fish. But they had no vegan options on the menu. Many of the tapas menus leaned so heavily on meat, fish, seafood and egg that it would have been a struggle to put together a decent vegan meal. Although the mushrooms and tomatoes at Wine Quay Bar were a delicious accompaniment to some chilled vinho verde.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. The city’s most famous delicacy is the stomach-stretching Francesinha, a sandwich of smoked meat and sausage, draped in cheese and drenched in a tongue-tingling sauce made from beer, tomato and seafood.
Speaking of local delicacies, the big question is: is the port wine vegan? Argh. Information about filtration is as ever elusive and fluctuating – and certainly not highlighted in the port tours or promotional material. I resorted to using Barnivore. And taking my chance on a cool port and tonic the size of my head on a hot day. Sorry.
That said, Porto has a few vegan and vegan-friendly places. And I found one heroic omnivore restaurant that showed the rest how it can be done. So have faith, if you’re venturing on a break to Porto, that you won’t go hungry.
We visited a smattering of vegan places. My favourite was the warm, welcoming, casual, utterly delightful and 100% vegan Lupin, where we ate fancy starters (raw beetroot ravioli and roasted tomato with garlic toast) and tastebud-baffling vegan Francesinhas.
Second favourite for me (but easily top for my other half) was the hipster joint Black Mamba, a record shop and burger restaurant, with sandwiches named after hard rock genres and an enjoyably laid-back vibe. Beers, burgers and potato wedges, with spicy sauce. What’s not to love?
We also visited Em Carne Viva, a smart-looking vegetarian restaurant, but at least on the occasion of our visit, a rather shambolic one. They managed to lose our online booking, and then quite rudely ushered us into the back room, because the front one was “only for people who had reserved”. The food was tasty, and definitely filling, not to say stodgy, and we loved the view over the garden and high ceilings reminiscent of a Hampstead villa. My starter of “little garden fishes” or asparagus tempura to you and me, was especially good.
Side note: not a single veggie or vegan place we visited accepted card payments. If you want to eat plant-based in Porto, make sure your wallet is stuffed with green.
As far as omni restaurants go, I had a rare disappointment with pasta, twice. I ordered the vegetarian pasta at a riverfront restaurant, only to find it was enriched with cream, and the penne arrabbiata in a small Italian place was over-sweet and under-seasoned. That said, my vegan hero of the weekend was an omni restaurant, but one where I could eat delicious vegan treats while my other half tucked into cod pizza and Brazilian steak. O Cacula, just a few metres north of the Igreja do Carmo is an unassuming place on a shopping street, but I really liked the tofu curry, and loved the “soya cookies” on our return visit (they don’t look much, but trust me).
You see, it’s not so hard to keep the vegans happy, Porto.