Unless you’ve snagged one of those increasingly elusive all-inclusive bargain deals, holidays can be costly exercises, especially if you have to eat out every day. And that is where Portugal has the upper-hand over many of its peers across Europe.
Padding out its expanding framework of first-rate fine-dining restaurants, Portugal boasts a plethora of down-to-earth, local eateries where set meals can still be found for under €15, sometimes even less, especially the lunchtime specials.
Not necessarily remote or rustic, but unpretentious, no-frills restaurants where the food may be plain and simple, like the décor, but it’s fresh and tasty and genuinely Portuguese. These are characterful places favoured by locals, which is usually a clear sign that the food is good – and inexpensive!
If you’re looking for flavourful, hearty home-cooked typical fare at a price that won’t strip the wallet, start by looking for a Casa de Pasto (which loosely translates as ‘eating house’), a Churrasqueira (which will usually served grilled meats and takeaways) or even a local café, which, if it caters to a larger crowd, will generally put on a few daily specials, or at least fresh homemade soups, salads and sandwiches.
Casas de Pasto tend to be cheap and serve good old-fashioned, filling comfort foods, like stews, typical regional dishes, simply grilled meats and fresh fish, and oven-baked fare. A sort of a cross-over between a tavern and a snack-bar; expect portions to be big and the presentation basic.
Churrasqueira literally translates as a ‘grill’, and most will serve grilled meat, normally chicken and pork cuts, or fish, and generally also available to take away if you prefer not to eat in. Many of these little restaurants will have started out as take-aways and expanded to fit a table or three into the establishment due to demand over the years. Not always the most scenic or peaceful of dining experiences, but tasty and economical!
Here we’ve listed our ten favourite budget-friendly restaurants in the wider central Algarve area.
A Guitarra – Mexilhoeira da Carregação, Lagoa
Largo Luís de Camões 66, tel. 282 412 056
If you love juicy meat and fresh seafood then this little gem won’t disappoint. Tucked away in one of
the most unlikely of places, in a residential urbanisation in the heart of Mexilhoeira da Carregação
(Lagoa) A Guitarra is famous for its bbq skewers. It has a varied á la carte menu, but stick to the
skewer menu. For a set price of €15 you can enjoy drinks, fresh baked bread, a fish skewer (usually
little squid with a garlicky buttery sauce), followed by a meat skewer, and dessert.
Tasca do Petrol – Marmelete, Monchique
Corgo do Vale, Marmelete, tel. 282 955 117
If you make the 12km journey out from Monchique to Tasca do Petrol you’ll be glad you did. It’s a
little out of the way, but the restaurant’s reputation has a pull that reaches far and wide. A cosy,
bistro-like interior welcomes patrons, who are greeted with an extensive menu of regional and local
cuisine, using fresh, local mountain ingredients, which, coupled with its cheap as chips prices, has
made Tasca do Petrol a local celebrity. Average spend is around €15 per head.
Ti Teresa – Alcantarilha, Silves
Rua de Alcantarilha, EN125, tel. 282 314 282
On the roadside of the EN125 through Alcantarilha, Ti Teresa is a typical Algarvian restaurant where
the onus is on regional specialties. Rustic and comfortable, with exposed brickwork and wooden
trimmings, the Black Pig pork meat is particularly popular. Conveniently, it also has its own car park
and a bar/waiting area. Expect to pay around €12 per person.
O Tintol – Faro
Sitio dos virgilios, tel. 935 849 797
Family-run for over 40 years, O Tintol is honest food served with good old fashioned local hospitality.
You probably wouldn’t look twice at O Tintol’s nondescript roadside façade, just off the EN125
between Faro and Olhão, were it not for the fact it’s painted a rather loud shade of bright yellow.
But any lack of curb appeal belies the size and popularity of the eatery once inside. With the Dish of
the Day coming in at €3.50 for a half portion and €5 for a full portion, and a fresh grilled fish Rodízio
(eat as much as you like) at €10 per person, there’s little wonder this place is always buzzing.
Fabio’s Road Stop – Armação de Pera, Silves
Rua Dr Manuel de Arriaga, edifício mar salgado lote 1, tel. 282 317 025
Hamburgers and steak with a dollop of beachy Americana are served at this cool little diner in
Armação de Pêra, one of the more recent additions to the local restaurant scene. Open from
breakfast through till dinner, and for shakes and drinks, Fabio’s has all the great US classics, like
apple pie, breakfast pancakes, cookie milkshakes, and some of the best burgers in the area.
Maria do Mar – Portimão
Rua Direita, 89, tel. 282 094 104
For a different take on the Algarve’s most famous product – its fish – head to Maria do Mar. Finger-
foods, tapas and sharing platters – plus some interesting concoctions such as a mackerel burger
–made mostly from national tinned and conserved fish produce, the menu pays homage to
Portimão’s former canning industry. A tasting menu is available for €9.
Poké Lagos – Lagos
Rua Dom Vasco da Gama 51 N12A, Bloco B, Loja 9B, tel. 963 440 584
Visit Hawaii without the expense of travelling there at Poké Lagos, which brings the rapidly-
expanding Poké bowl trend to the Algarve. Poké Lagos’ colourful menu features fresh, healthy native
Hawaiian-inspired flavours in traditional dishes and drinks, with prices ranging from €4-€9.
Tiffany’s Bar – Carvoeiro, Lagoa
Monte Carvoeiro, lote 57, tel. 282 086 810
If its good old, reasonably-priced British pub grub you want, a full English breakfast or a wholesome
Sunday Roast, then head to Tiffany’s Bar in Monte Carvoeiro. With a set 3-course lunch menu priced
at €9.50, a Sunday roast from €7.95 and a full English breakfast from €5.55, it’s a little slice of home
comfort with an appetizing price tag.
Casa de Pasto O Calvário – Calvário, Lagoa
Estrada Nacional 125, 78, Calvário, Estômbar, Lagoa, tel. 282 432 744,
Located in the little hamlet of Calvário, just off the main EN125, on a busy thoroughfare between Lagoa and Mexilhoeira da Carregação, Casa de Pasto O Calvário is well-known among locals, who fill its wooden benches daily for lunch and dinner. Portuguese daily specials and heaped platters of fresh grilled fish and meat, accompanied by mounds of hand-cut chips, rice and salad make this saloon-like tavern with wooden ceilings and cork-clad walls a firm favourite. Most main dishes come in at under €10. Don’t miss the Sunday Fado.
Casa de Pasto O Escondidinho – Carvoeiro, Lagoa
Quinta do Paraíso, tel. 282 357 362
Hidden inside the Quinta do Paraíso resort in Carvoeiro, Escondidinho is something of an institution
among locals. A firm favourite among ex-pats and labourers, it has a limited menu of half a dozen
staple dishes – grilled meat or fried fish fillets – all served with the obligatory fried egg,
complemented by rotating daily specials (Thursdays and Saturdays are grilled chicken days!) Family-
run for generations, Escondidinho recently underwent a bit of a modern revamp, but the food is still
humble and hearty. Fixed-price set menus, including drinks, bread and olives, soup, main and
dessert (and coffee), are €12.