Friends recently asked about picking a memorable restaurant for their evening meal on one of their first visits to the Algarve. There are so many good choices! But when you are sitting near a beach that fishermen have been dragging their catch across since pre-Roman times, or when you are watching a sunset behind a handful of medieval farm buildings atop million year-old cliffs, sometimes modern, on-trend chic and sterile gastro-temples can seem a bit jarring, and that can fail to provide the memorable authenticity you have been hoping to enjoy over a meal.
You do not need to drive out into the hills to satisfy that urge. My solution to finding a great local dinner in the Algarve has always been to wander through an older part of any of the towns I have been to, in the part of town where people used to walk – not drive, and where you can still imagine that they even rode their horses.
Have you found an old stone restaurant with weathered timber-beam door frames? Might it need a touch up on the outdoor plaster? If it were in your hometown neighborhood, would you be thinking it could use a coat of paint? (Why do they have that old advertising still painted on the side wall, anyways? Does that brand of mints even exist anymore?). Do some of the tiles look as though they might match, but might also be from different eras?
Sounds like the location is full of character, and that could be a great candidate for the authentic Algarve dining experience you are looking for. Here are a few simple questions I ask myself to help decide whether or not the establishment is worth further consideration. Are the napkins made of fabric, or paper? Are the outdoor chairs real furniture, or are they sponsored by a coffee or a beverage company? Does the menu posted at the door look like the chefs have had time to get comfortable with it, or is it yet another experimental daily special? Each of these answers can tell you how the establishment is hoping to make or save money, or can reveal if they have already figured out how to stay successful over the years.
An old restaurant, with fabric napkins, real furniture, and time-tested recipes will always get my attention. So have a seat. Order a glass of local wine. Relax while you wait, and settle into the stories that the building wants to tell you. Give the ambience time to invite you to dinner. Even if you opt not to stay for a meal, at least you have found a place to enjoy a quick break from the cobblestones.
Alternatively, when you are gazing out across the Vilamoura Marina at all the sleek modern yachts, get onboard, no walking required. Lux Charters is known for stopping at well-known beachside seafood restaurants for a relaxing pleasurable afternoon lunch. From the ultra-chic and rather formal gourmet restaurants to the downright casual with sand between your toes beach restaurants, you can experience it with Lux Charters on their Full Day or Half Day & Sunset Charters.
Imagine, a table reserved for your party, being brought ashore via dingy or water taxi, and after your extraordinary gourmet experience you return to your private yacht to continue your day on the ocean. The relaxed beach vibe, the fabulous views across the ocean, the gorgeous décor and amazing food all add up to that perfect summer feel restaurant. Beachside seafood restaurants you may choose to dine at on your charter include Evaristo, Restaurante A Sardinha, and Borda do Cais. Fish and shellfish are very important elements in Algarve cuisine and there is a great range of fresh fish available all year round. Aside from tasty, seafood is healthy too!
Simply grilled over charcoal it is hard to beat the deliciousness of sea bass, sea bream, mackerel or the humble sardine. In many Algarve fish restaurants, the catch of the day is sold by weight. Choose your fish, check its weight and onto the grill it goes. Enjoy prawns, crab and lobster, or mussels, oysters, clams, whelks, octopus and squid.
Save the austere steel-and-glass decor for when you are in the mood for high fashion and small plates. But when you want something that feels like it belongs with the Mesozoic cliffs soaring above the beaches and coves; something that feels like it will complement all of the history you are inhaling, then go looking for something more rustic, and let your imagination join you for the meal.
There are many deliciously successful rustic restaurants that are alive and well in the Algarve – there are some of them right there in the center of all the small towns up and down the coast. Go out and find one. You will see that it fits the scenery; fits your imagination; and because of that, the rest of your senses will already be tuned into the food.