Portugal Sandwich Feature

The Portuguese Sandwich – It’s Not All About the Francesinha

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Dalene & Pete Heck

So goes our nomadic lifestyle cycle – travel like mad, settle and work, travel like mad – that after our almost three-week road trip around New Zealand, we found ourselves in desperate need of a settle and work segment. With two weeks to spare in Europe before returning to North America, we finally turned our attention to a country that we’ve always longed for but never ventured to: Portugal. We had lofty plans to work hard/play hard but found the work taking over. We made it out to explore only a couple of times and never strayed very far. (For goodness sake, we didn’t even take a port tour in Porto.) Pete managed to carve out a few photo walks, but I often only emerged from behind my laptop to eat.

A view of Porto at sunset
Porto – the city where we hoped to find the best sandwich

We are not food bloggers or critics, and when I say that a pork cheek tasted like a well-spiced hot dog, that is as far as my culinary descriptive skills go. As such, we rarely search for a story about food in a new place, but in Porto, a food story found us.

We learned that it was all about SANDWICHES!

Where to Find the Best Portuguese Sandwich in Porto

“Just eat the damn sandwich,” Pete said as I sat snarling at the plate in front of me. We were a few days into our stay and all of my cravings for mountainous plates of grilled veggies were going unsatisfied. After three weeks of camping food, I was in dire need. But restaurant menus were lined with carbs and meat, and the salads were uninspired. Pete had clearly grown tired of my complaining and barked to just eat what was in front of me.

It was a dinner plate heaping with everything I didn’t need: a pile of shoestring french fries cascaded over a rather sorry and simple-looking sandwich. On its way home, it had gotten a bit squished; the streaky brown steak could be seen spilling out one side, melted cheese another. The aroma, however, had me salivating. After popping a couple of perfectly soft but outwardly crispy fries in my mouth, I managed to get a handle on the sandwich underneath. I shot Pete one last snarl and then took a bite.

Porto Portraits

Please excuse my language (remember, I’m not a food blogger, so descriptive words fail me), but it was the best f***ing sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

It was simple: marinated steak grilled to a perfect pink on a soft floury bun with aioli and melted cheese. Every bite melted away on my tongue in a burst of delicate spices. And each was followed by a low guttural moan of pure pleasure. (Sorry, is that TMI? Probably. But it’s the truth.)

Portugal Sandwich Feature

This wasn’t an anomaly in Portugal as we soon found out that sandwiches are the specialty. From then on, there was less growling about the calories being consumed as we instead decided to embrace it. Sandwiches became our quest. We would work all day and venture out to discover Portugal’s second-biggest city via sandwich shops. (We’d worry about the few extra pounds later.)

And this is what we found.

Dona Maria Pregaria

Dona Maria Pregaria shall henceforth be known as the producer of all the guttural moans (the photo of two sandwiches near the top is the culprit). Order its namesake (the Dona Maria sandwich) to experience all of the goodness. It’s marinated medium-rare grilled steak served on a soft bun topped with aioli and melted cheese. Pete would try a couple of others, but none would compare.

Bifana Dona Maria


They don’t look the most appetizing, but the secret to Conga’s famous bifana sandwich is the sauce. It’s all seasoned pork, all bread, and then a savoury, juicy sauce that soaks in. It should be eaten immediately while hot and the crust on the bread still has some crunch. And, for only two euros each on takeout, this is an insanely valued and memorable meal.

Conga Bifana

And not surprisingly, insanely delicious bifanas can also be found in Lisbon.

Flor des Congregados

Close to Conga and a little more upscale, this restaurant also offers the bifana, but it is not quite as good as Conga (despite the fact that there is also a thin slice of tasty ham included). But if you are in the mood for a pork cheek that tastes like a well-spiced hot dog, this is also where you can find it.


Francesinha at Cafe Ceuta

This would be the day that we would try the Francesinha. Afraid we would have a post-meal heart attack, we fasted for the morning in anticipation of trying it. The Francesinha is a famous Portuguese sandwich and a monstrous thing to boot. It’s also known as the mother of all Porto sandwiches. When eating it, it should be approached with caution. It contains cured ham, two different kinds of sausage and steak slapped between thick sliced bread, then smothered in melted cheese. We’re not done yet. It’s then served in a thick tomato and beer sauce.

Each restaurant has its own secret sauce, and each person’s preference for sauce varies. We found this one tasty, if a bit excruciating overall. The verdict: Well, we finished every last bite and walked out of the restaurant to tell the tale. Truth be told, it would probably be the last Francesinha I would eat, but I’m glad I had the chance to try it.


The best thing about our stop at Cafe Ceuta was the staff who enthusiastically spoke about the history of the sandwich in the city. Actually, that can be said about many restaurant staff we met on our quest – so many were very excited to talk about their food.

Sins Sandwich

The name says it all, right? Although this one had spinach in it (there’s the veggies we were looking for!), this is actually Pete’s sandwich and I went with the goat cheese burger instead. Mistake.

Sin Sandwiches

Stick with the sandwich.

Traveling around the world and celiac? Check out these detailed gluten free restaurant cards (PORTUGAL).

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  1. While you may not be food bloggers, mouthwatering reviews like this are ones I would read for sure! These all look amazing, if not heart attack inducing.

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