If you come to Porto, you can’t leave the city without trying francesinha. This decadent, over-the-top meat-filled sandwich is a must eat in Porto. The carb-heavy, beer-friendly dish of meat, bread, cheese, and gravy can be enjoyed any hour of the day.
Francesinha, which means “little Frenchie” in French, was the creation of Portuguese citizen Daniel Silva. Silva, who lived in France, wanted to create his own version of the popular croque monsieur. So, he invented the francesinha, which today is a staple of Porto. Francesinha is a sandwich made with an assortment of meats, cheese, and bread. It is then topped with an egg, beer sauce, and served with fries.
Today, many restaurants and bars claim to serve the best francesinha in Porto. While there are many places in Porto, and Portugal, to try francesinha, you can’t go wrong with Café Santiago.If you are looking for more information about Porto and Portugal, I highly recommend picking up a guidebook such as Rick Steves Portugal.
Interior of Café Santiago
There were two separate dining areas at Café Santiago. On one side was a bar with counter seating along with a few tables. It was here were workers in blue shirts were preparing food on the grills. And, they were pouring drinks to thirsty guests. On the other side of the restaurant was a small but open dining room. Though small, both dining areas were bright, casual, and cozy. Though there were tourists, the spot felt more like a local bar and restaurant.
In the background, I could hear the sounds of the chefs in the kitchen as they prepared food. I also noticed a phone ringing non-stop with people trying to make reservations or place take away orders.
As with many restaurants and cafes in Porto, you will find an outdoor patio at Café Santiago. The patio was the perfect spot to enjoy your meal with a cold beer or glass of wine. And, you can’t beat the people watching.
Café Santiago Menu
While you will find many items on the menu at Café Santiago, most come here for the francesinha. It is the house specialty and a staple of Porto. As mentioned before, a francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich made with bread, meat, cheese, egg, and sauce. French fries are usually served on the side. If this is your first time here, you want to order the francesinha.
The menu featured four types of francesinha. All were the same, made with bread, bologna, fresh sausage, beef steak, ham, cheese, and francesinha sauce. The only difference was that one option came without a fried egg, another without fries, and one substituted a sirloin beef steak. So, you can choose the option which is best for you.
If you do decide to order something else on the menu, you will find a good selection of Portuguese dishes. This included cachorros (hot dogs), meat dishes, seafood, steak sandwiches, salads, toasts, desserts, and sides.
When the Francesinha Santiago (€9,75 or about $11.27) was placed in front of me, all I could think to myself was wow. What did I get myself into? It was enormous. But, I was hungry and ready to dig right in.
All the ingredients used at Café Santiago were of premium quality, delivered fresh each day and cooked to order. This included the breads, meats, and cheeses. This is what made Café Santiago stand out from the other restaurants in Porto.
I don’t even know where to begin. The sandwich was massive, so come hungry or plan on sharing. Planning to share a francesinha? It will cost you an extra €1,00 (or about $1.16) to share the dish.
When I took my knife and cut through the tower of bread, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Layer after layer of salty, smoky meats. My favorites were the red sausage and bologna. The red sausage, known as linguiça, is a popular Portuguese sausage similar to spicy chorizo. Its flavor was smoky and intense. While thin, the bologna was creamy and tender with a fresh peppery flavor. And, I can’t forget about the beef steak. The beef steak, which could have been a meal on its own, was tender and grilled to a perfect medium.
Covering the sandwich was the francesinha sauce which glistened under the bright lights. While the recipe for the sauce is a closely guarded family secret, I tasted tomato and beer in it. There might have been some port wine mixed in too. And, it was unexpectedly spicy. When the runny yolk mixed with the viscous sauce, it was a match made in food heaven. The combination of spicy tomato sauce and rich yolk complemented the smoky, salty flavors of the meat.
Though simple, the thick white bread covered in melted cheese was crucial to the success of this dish. If the bread fell apart, then the dish would fall apart too. And, it didn’t, even when covered with sauce, cheese, and meat. While the fluffy, toasted bread soaked up all the goodness of the meat and sauce, it never turned to mush. It kept its texture until the last bite.
As for the fries, they were basic and forgettable. They weren’t soggy nor were they crispy. Though I did enjoy dipping them in the francesinha sauce.
Service at Café Santiago was prompt and straight to the point. When I sat down at my table, before I could get my bearings, placed in front of me was a menu. I knew what I was ordering, so I was ready when the friendly but professional server returned. Even though the restaurant was busy with a line out front, my food arrived fast, fresh, and hot. My server was always around when needed yet knew when to let me enjoy my meal.
If you come to Portugal or Porto, you can’t leave the city without trying francesinha. This decadent, over-the-top meat-filled sandwich is a must eat in Porto. While there are many places in Porto for francesinha, you can’t go wrong with Café Santiago. The service, the affordability, and the quality of meat, bread, and cheese makes Café Santiago a great choice for francesinha in Porto.
- One of the best francesinha in Porto
- Clean, modern, and bright interior
- Friendly staff
- Extensive menu featuring affordable options
- Often a wait for a table
R. de Passos Manuel 226, 4000-382 Porto, Portugal
GPS Coordinates: 41.14643,-8.60484