The citizens of Portugal's southernmost region have enjoyed a pretty steamy love affair with food for centuries. The Algarve is categorised by its two faces – a vast and hilly landscape paved with almond, fig, carob and orange trees that gives way to a gloriously Mediterranean coastline. Both mean Algarvios are treated to the freshest picks of seafood, meat and produce. Wherever you holiday in the Algarve, the emphasis is always the same – only the freshest foods for the freshest dishes.
Seafood is undoubtedly the main component on most menus in the Algarve, and there's not much you won't find. Prawns, tuna steaks, clams, mussels, cuttlefish and especially sardines, come prepared in a fish stew, salads, grilled or salted. These mains are often accompanied by any variation of rice, beans and grains, and almost always a cold beer or wine. Algarvios have a very prominent sweet tooth and love to close off a meal with pastries often accompanied by almonds, honey, sugared egg yolks and figs.
Le Cro is a teeny-weeny spot that is often packed to the gills with foodies looking to indulge in the restaurant's tapas-style dishes. The menu is small, but what the chefs do here, they do well, pairing flavours expertly with a long list of wines. Here, you can expect a lot of seafood and veggie-friendly dishes, with little plates like salmon or hake ceviche sitting well alongside large meat platters.
If you like your fish covered in batter, Ol Bastards is the place for you. Just imagine a classic fish and chips dish prepared with fresh fish that has come from Portugal's shores, battered with vodka and beer. That's not the only thing on the menu, as diners here can also enjoy fried prawns, calamari and onion rings, along with a selection of cocktails from the in-house rum bar.
Restaurante Dom Carlos is a go-to for special occasions, offering five-course meals in a classic and elegant setting. It's run by a husband-wife duo who really know their stuff, and are glad to take the time to explain each course in detail. From there, you'll be treated to a set menu at a set price, sampling dishes like crispy chicken with chilli sauce and Bailey's cheesecake.
The outdoor tables at this crowd favourite begin to fill up even before the restaurant opens. Once the doors sweep apart, a splendid parade of fish and seafood can be enjoyed. In fact, the restaurant offers an all you can eat service for staggeringly low prices. From start to finish, the waiters simply walk around serving everything from halibut to squid, mackerel and seabass until you're full and happy.
You'll have to book well in advance for a table at this popular restaurant, as its simple but well-done dishes are in high demand. Restaurante Ruccula blends Portuguese and European plates, serving up meals like steak with blue cheese dressing and lamb shank with a side of creamy potatoes. It's one of the newer restaurants to open within the area, but has quickly earned a reputation as one of the finest places to eat on your Algarve holidays.