Ana Leão

An unstoppable chef with a passion for feeding people, Ana Leão swapped her apron at Michelin-starred kitchens for the open road, setting out to free her love for food and travel. That freedom brought her all the way to Australia where she lived the #vanlife, striving to learn more about where food comes from on small farms, meeting people from around the globe and learning about their food cultures. The pandemic sent the nomadic chef back to her hometown to rediscover her roots. When she’s not in the kitchen at craft brewer Musa, she’s running pop-ups with a collective of young chefs, taking what she learned in a global kitchen and applying it to Portuguese cuisine.
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The Great Snacks of Old Porto

If you compare Porto to Lisbon, it’s kind of a hidden gem. While Lisbon screams about new stuff everywhere, here you have little corners with really old treasures where the food is amazing, but not everyone knows about it. One of my favourite things to eat is sandes de rojōes, which is like a pork sandwich. It’s really, really good at this place called Casa Expresso. And it has papas de sarrabulho (bread and pork blood soup), which is really typical from the north. The tasca (traditional Portuguese restaurant) is always full of old people drinking more than they should be before 11am. Xico dos Presuntos is another spot that’s like a small snack bar where you go and get this sandwich that’s four fingers of presunto (prosciutto) high. It’s absurd. There’s more meat than bread and it’s ridiculously cheap. It also makes great moelas (chicken gizzards).

Back to My Seaside Roots

When I was a child my mother used to take me to a restaurant that actually ended up becoming the first restaurant I ever worked in. It’s a very Portuguese, old school restaurant called Arquino do Castelo in Leça da Palmeira, a seaside area north of Porto. Order the filetes de polvo com arroz do mesmo there. You take the legs of the octopus, crumb and deep fry it. With the head, you make watery rice. Then you dip the octopus schnitzel in the rice. It’s so good. Every time I go, the owner says to me: “I remember when you were doing bolinhas do bacalhau (codfish croquettes), and now look at you.”

The Best Tripas in Town

Taberna Santo Antonio is great. It’s just next door to Musa and it’s an old family business run by this really cute old lady. She makes the best tripas on Thursdays. Tripas is tripe. It’s very typical in Porto to eat tripas with beans (tripas à moda do Porto) and it’s one of my favourite dishes. If you go to Taberna, you must come to Musa next door where I’ll be in the kitchen. 

Traditional Portuguese Cuisine With a Modern Twist

Pedro Braga from Mito is my good friend. He uses seasonal produce to plate something really cool. For instance, he makes fried little bolas de berlim (jam-filled doughnuts) but instead of sweet fillings he makes one with bacon inside. He makes rice dishes in the oven that are very traditional, but with a twist, really nice produce and serious finesse. He takes the traditional stuff and makes it better.

The Unmissable Fine-Dining Experience

Vasco [Coelho Santos] needs no introduction. He’s one of the best chefs in Portugal. I worked with him at three-Michelin-starred El Bulli, and now he has some of the best restaurants around here. Euskalduna is very exclusive. It only seats 14 people at a time and has an amazing fine-dining experience where you sit at the counter and see them cooking. Like Braga (from Mito), Vasco uses the best possible produce, but while Braga is a bit more rustic, Vasco takes things to another level. He’s a really, really talented chef. 

Simple Nostalgia by a Waterfall

A 30-minute drive from Porto is this place near an amazing waterfall where my dad used to take me. You sit in the middle of the forest and they only make two dishes. One is punheta de bacalhau – the English translation is “codfish handjob”. It’s a raw codfish salad. And they make prego, the grilled beef sandwich. It’s called Febra Nossa Senhora do Salto and it’s like a sanctuary because they say some kind of a miracle happened there. You have to bring cash.

Best Bar Food bar None

Torto is something you don’t see in Porto so much. It’s very relaxed but it has really nice bar food that you can enjoy with a really nice cocktail. It’s all finger food but Portuguese. They’ve taken traditional dishes like cabidela (chicken blood rice) and turned it into arancini (Italian fried rice balls), or cozido à Portuguesa (boiled meats and cabbage) but as a croquette. And there’s a sandwich with jardineira (beef and potato stew). This is my favourite spot in Porto, hands down. It’s my second home as I’m always there.

Hangover Cure

I’ve eaten a lot of bifanas (grilled pork sandwich) and the best are found at O Astro. When you have a hangover it’s good to walk with a goal. Like, you’re not going to the gym, you’re going to get that bifana and you’re going to feel heaps better.

Food Playing Mind Tricks

Nuno Castro is doing really cool stuff at Esquina do Avesso and Fava Tonka. Fava Tonka does vegetarian fine-dining where you forget that you’re not eating meat. Castro really respects the produce and everything is seasonal. Esquina do Avesso is right next door. It does Portuguese tapas, but Castro likes to play with technique and with your head. He’ll make you ice cream but with hay or sourdough.

A French Chef Making Waves

Aurora Goy is originally from France but she’s been here for a while. She has an amazing restaurant called Apego in Santa Catarina, where she focuses on produce and seasonal eating and makes lots of veggie dishes inspired by French cooking. Her cooking is amazing and it’s just her in the kitchen working by herself.

Best Places To Drink in Porto

The Royal Cocktail Club is a really posh and elegant bar with a speakeasy downstairs. It’s a nice place to go with a date or with friends. Meridians & Parallels is also fun for a cocktail. It’s relaxed and attracts an artistic kind of crowd. It has a big garden with a cave. For craft beer, Catraio is an artisanal beer bar in Porto. Even though Musa is supposed to be a competitor, we love each other. Porto is like that. It’s why I prefer it to Lisbon.

Explore Small Cities Around Porto

If you go to Guimarães, you should go to Serra da Penha and visit Adega do Ermitão. It’s in a cave, like literally inside of a rock at the top of a mountain. You are surrounded by forests and they cook Portuguese food with a wood-fired oven. They make this typical flatbread with fried sardines. In Barcelos there is a place called Adega Costa. I used to go there almost every week. It has really cheap, amazing food. You must try the moelas, octopus salad and grilled codfish. Adega Costa cooks cod on the fire, which is something that is really hard to do without making it really dry.

Photography Credit: Theo Gould

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