I’ll be straight up honest and admit that Portugal doesn't offer one of my favourite world cuisines although it is perfectly possible to eat very well in the country if you follow a few basic guidelines.
Breakfast: I must confess we usually simply buy a nice fresh crusty loaf of bread and buy fresh tomatoes and one of the wonderful local cheeses (there is a particularly impressive range of goat's cheese on offer in Portugal) or fish pastes and have a DIY breakfast picnic. It helps if you book an apartment to stay in (and I can recommend rent4days.com), but you can usually get away with it in a hotel room as long as you have a knife of some kind with you.
Alternatively, you can go to one of the many Portugal Cafes and have a coffee, a tasty pastry (most are good although beware they are often deep fried and contain cheese and ham) or yummy custard tart (a Portugal institution) and a nice strong coffee. This can set you back around 2.50 Euros a head for a light breakfast in a no frills but clean and friendly cafe. The orange juice is good in Portugal too, but unlike Spain where every cafe sells freshly squeezed orange juice, you may find you are given a bottle or can of the preprepared stuff. Look out for the juicing machine for an indication that fresh orange is on the menu.
Lunch offers probably the best and most filling deal of the day, although evening menus are usually the same as lunch. We tend to "big up" on lunch and then finish off the day’s bread and cheese before nipping out on the city streets for a few beers or glasses of wine and port.
The real morale of the Portugal eating story is to keep it simple. Fresh fish by the coast is delicious and usually served plain; skin rubbed in sea salt and charcoal grilled and served with boiled potato, maybe fries and rice and maybe salad. Use the olive oil and white wine vinegar accompaniments to jazz up your dish a little. We usually ordered a side salad to be shared between us, as the Portuguese don't seem to be too keen on greens! (but note, these sometimes arrive as starters).
Meat too is fine if served plain; I liked the Meat cooked Portuguese style which was charcoal kebab style pork, cooked in a casserole with fries, small pieces of vegetable and sprinkled with lemon, garlic and olive oil. The meats in sauces tend to be gooey, heavy and salty affairs – fine if you have the taste for it.
Also note the habit of restaurants to serve you a tempting array of nibbles to start; bread, olives and maybe some kind of fish spread, and some of those deep fried cheesy things. They are usually cheap in price and negate the need for you to order a starter, but note they will be added to your bill if you accept them. The restaurant owners will not be offended if you turn away some or all of the nibbles as they are set down.
Portuguese wine (the red, the white and the rose) is generally good, so if you are on a budget don’t be afraid to simply order the Casa de Vinho. This can be for as little as 5 Euros for a bottle- sized amount (this can the price of a single large beer in another not dissimilar looking establishment!). There are two kinds of local beers on sale; Super Bock the southern beer, and Sagres (a lager with a bit more bite), more popular in the North. As northerners in the UK we allied ourselves to Sagres, but most restaurants sell one or the other and not both.
In many restaurants the price of food of a main course is nominally often quite similar
irrespective of whether you are dining on a paper covered plastic patio set or linen covered wicker dining set. The financially astute will cast an eye over the wine list before sitting down. The difference in price at a restaurant can often be seen in the price of the wine and the price of the nibbles (and believe you me the cheap jugs of wine from the local farmers barrel can taste just as good (or not so good) as a bespoke bottle of house plonk).
As in many countries, we always find the best meals are found in restaurants just off the main drag where they need to encourage a local client base of people who know where they are. Many of the restaurants on the main circuit will serve you good food, but it will often be a little smaller and a little more expensive than those that have to make a bit more effort. Likewise, the quality and style of the house wine will often be affected.