The Francesinha is a sandwich concoction of epic proportions, packed with almost every type of meat that Portugal produces. Literally meaning "little Frenchie," this gluttonous masterpiece is the pride of the city of Porto. The traditional Francesinha that every Tripeiros (name given to the locals of Porto) eats is stuffed with four types of meats -- wet cured ham, linguica (smoked cured pork sausage), chipolata, and steak or roast beef -- then smothered in melted cheese and dowsed in a beer-and-tomato sauce. The Francesinha is offered in every Porto café, bar, whole in the wall, and every other possible gastro outlet in Portugal's second largest city.
The sauce is the boss when it comes to the Francesinha! Each restaurant prides themselves on their unique recipe, with the only consistent ingredients being beer and tomato sauce. Peppery spices can be added, and some eateries use the local port wine to create the magical sauce potion that engulfs the meal -- floating in this sea of deliciousness, this is a sandwich that must be eaten with a knife and fork.
It really is the definition of a true comfort food offering the meaty cheesy goodness that satisfies even the deepest hunger. With its astronomical amounts of protein, the Francesinha can serve as the ultimate remedy for a hangover.
If you find yourself ordering one, it is highly recommended that you add a heaping portion of chips and a bottle or two of the locally brewed beer, Super Bock.
Almost every year, I have been fortunate enough to spend some time in this majestic city and absolutely every year I am constantly recommended a new place to consume this HOT MESS of a sandwich! Rarely will you find two people in all of Porto, who send you to the same place.
Over the years I have compiled a list with the places I have tried the pride of Porto and they are as follows:
5) Capa Negra II
Capa Negra is a diner-style stop that serves up other traditional Portuguese dishes, but just like most restaurants in Porto, they pride themselves on their Francesinha. Service is decent and the food comes out quick, but I would rate the Francesinha average at best. It seemed their sauce was made from a can of condensed tomato soup.
4) Restaurante Cufra
Cufra, very much like Capa Negra, is an all-night diner-style restaurant offering an array of different Porto-style and regional cuisine. It has a bustling atmosphere and the menu options as well as the quality of food, seemed to exceed that of Capa Negra's. As usual, the Francesinha came in a tasty sauce smothered in cheese, but glancing around at other patron's orders left me wishing I had tried one of the other menu items.
Portobeer is located near all the 4 and 5 star hotels; therefore the ambience is a step up from the diner-style that Negra and Cufra offer. It offers a sleek lounge interior feel that would cater to the business class happy hour crowd. As their name suggests, the beer list is fairly decent for this establishment, exceeding the usual offering of Super Bock and Sagres.
Most importantly, I was surprised when they served up a stunning presentation of the Francesinha. The ingredients tasted farm fresh, with a sauce that was carefully balanced between tomato, beer, and their spice blend. It also left a lot of room to taste the high quality meats that were used.
2) Café Santiago
Café Santiago is a benchmark in every guidebook and a local favorite. Its central location makes it a great spot if you are sightseeing in Downtown Porto. Café Santiago also a diner-style restaurant, but it mainly cranks out different variations of Francesinha. The one that I tried was topped off with an over easy style egg. Who would have thought that an additional layer of protein could have been added? But it seems Café Santiago figured this out.
I enjoyed their sauce, which seemed to have a hint of Port wine that complimented the generous portions of the various meats.
1) Bufete Fase
I was turned on to Bufete Fase this past year, and I am so happy that one of my friends took me there. This hole-in-the-wall eatery, which can be challenging to find if you are not with a local, has a line that sometimes extends all the way outside and around the corner during its peak hours. The only thing on the menu at Bufete Fase is the Francesinha and only makes two types of Francesinha, the big one and the BIGGER ONE! This is a family owned establishment that barley has any seating, but it is worth the challenge. And if you make it in, you will see that Chef Jamie Oliver visited Bufete Fase, which they proudly display signage indicating such.
The Francesinha is truly home made, as you could tell the chef/owner started cooking his aromatic sauce in the wee hours of the morning only to be at the pinnacle of perfection by lunchtime. It's as if every piece of meat was carefully selected to complement the other, creating a cascade of flavor from the sauce to the cheese, and finally to the meats.