Portugal is a compact country—roughly the size of Indiana—with no two mainland destinations more than a half-day’s drive apart. It’s also a treasure trove of gorgeous landscapes, fascinating cultures, and delicious food. And did I mention it gets 3,000 hours of sunshine a year? As a Lisbon native who has spent the past decade covering the country’s restaurant scene, I may be a bit biased, but what I can say is this: You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for a meal-driven road trip than Portugal. Here I offer you my ultimate guide.
Explore by city
Do like I do and start in the capital city of Lisbon, where you can get acquainted with the country, rent a car (convertible optional but highly recommended!) and prepare to uncover Portugal’s endless varieties of unique regional cooking, including all the fresh-caught seafood and fluffy egg tarts you could ever hope for.
Drive along cliff-backed beaches and quiet fishing villages in the Algarve, through gently undulating landscapes dotted with cork trees in Alentejo, across rugged mountaintops in the Centro region, and over vineyard-covered hills in the Douro Valley. Along the way try the country’s famous convent sweets (pastries made by nuns since the 15th century), fish stews, juicy pork dishes, and wine—so much wine.
My best advice? Take your time and don’t be afraid of getting lost: Each wrong turn and detour can bring you to another breathtaking village, always with a heavenly place to eat nearby.
Where to eat in Lisbon
Spend a few hours in the sunny, laid-back Portuguese capital and you’ll immediately understand why so many people are visiting right now. Coexisting with the historic pastel-tiled buildings, vintage trams, and narrow cobblestone streets is one of the fastest-evolving food cities in Europe, powered by youthful, progressive energy and an entrepreneurial spirit. At lunch, unpretentious tascas—the unadorned neighborhood restaurants serving traditional rustic food— are filled with locals, always in search of well-cooked comfort and honest prices.
Try O Pitéu da Graça (Largo da Graça 95 96, 1170-165 Lisbon) or Tasca da Esquina (R. Domingos Sequeira 41C, 1350-119 Lisbon) for the Platonic ideal, or visit the newly opened Suzana (R. São Sebastião da Pedreira 167, 1050-227 Lisbon) in Lisbon’s office district of Picoas. Here 30-year-old chef Zé Saudade e Silva is on a quest to preserve some of the city’s most traditional recipes with his own subtle updates, like coelho com maionese de miúdos (super juicy rabbit legs dipped in garlicky, unctuous giblet mayo), raia com arroz de coentros (smoky, succulent skate wings with fragrant, fluffy cilantro rice), and abanicos de porco preto (thin strips of finger-licking charred Iberian pork served with glorious thick-cut chips).