The perfect Portuguese food experience at Botequim de Mouraria

If you want to eat at Boutequim de Mouraria (R. da Mouraria 16A, 7000-585 Évora, Portugal) you have to plan in advance. There are only nine seats, and a single seating for lunch and one for dinner. Moreover,  there are no reservations – you have to wait. Our party of 4 got there at 1130 AM for the 1230 opening on a weekday, and there was a family of four already there waiting. Despite these restrictions, we really encourage you to go – this was probably the best meal we had in all of Portugal. The Botequim de Mouratia is basically a bar, where you sit at the counter and watch the master of ceremonies, Domingos Canelas, and his wife Florbela cook a classic Portuguese meal and entertain. The bar itself is tiny and old fashioned, lined with vintage photos, wine bottles and the flags of the nations of every visitor that have dined there (a lot at this point).

The menu is small and simple, and at first glance does not really seem like anything different than at any Portuguese corner restaurant. However, you won’t feel lost, and you are free to pick and choose and customize. In essence you just ask Domingos what is good, and he will make it for you. What really sets this place apart is the level of detail paid to every single ingredient and preparation. For example, when picking out the fresh figs to serve with our presunto (jamon serrano) he threw out at least three because they were not up to his standards before settling on the perfect picks. He carefully sliced off each slice of presunto by hand. Our first course was a classic: of fresh figs, melon and hand-sliced presunto from a leg kept right in the middle of the bar (13€). The figs were the best we ever had and the combination of all three together was divine. Next, we sampled a local goat cheese baked with marjoram (4.50€) . The ultimate farm to table appetizer, this goat cheese is from a local farm only a few miles away. I could have eaten this whole dish myself, though we shared it between us. As a complement to the cheese there was fresh crusty bread and fig jam that was delectable enough to eat on its own.

Seafood is an art in Portugal, so we knew we had to sample some here. We each ordered a langostine, which was advertised as “shrimp,” with a whopping price of 80 Euros a kilo. Domingos told us that each shrimp was about 500 grams, which is about half of a pound – so HUGE, but of course we were not envisioning the proper size – even when given full information. So lo and behold that we were surprised when a  giant shrimp came out for each of us – to the tune of 20€ each. However, even with that steep price tag – it was worth it – these shrimp were the most delicious, tender and flavorful ones we had ever eaten. We could have made an entire meal out of these alone.

For mains we tried the wine-braised pork loin (14.50€), other options included fish and steak (13-16€).  The pork loin was a simple cut, but deliciously prepared in a clean wine sauce. One order was more than enough to serve the both of us. On the side were homemade chips and a simple vinaigrette salad. This was the best version of the classic Portuguese meat and two sides we have ever had. Though each sounded simple, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. Throughout the dinner Domingos chatted amiably with guests, and plated, served, and described everything himself.

All of the desserts were displayed on the back of the bar, and they all looked delicious – we didn’t know what to choose. Of course, Domingos then suggested that we tried one of everything. The mixed dessert plate consisted of: a fresh fig in syrup, a queijada, fig and chocolate cake and an almond and coconut Morgado cake. The fresh fig again was a revelation. Before this trip to Iberia I don’t think we had every really had fresh figs (certainly not common in the Midwest), and now we can’t get enough of them. We also like the appearance of the figs in the pound cake with chocolate chunks.

There is an extensive wine selection and Domingos will happily will choose a wine for you, and of course he is extremely knowledgeable about the wide selection of Alentejan wines.  Our dining experience lasted about 2 hours, and we never felt the least bit rushed. You can tell all of the pride that Domingos and Florbela take in their restaurant, and it really shows through in the service and the food. The lunch reminded us of the Japanese dining experience presented in Jiro Dreams of Sushi – a master at the height of his craft in a tiny, well-curated restaurant. If we went back to Portugal, this would definitely be our first stop. Boutequim de Mouraria serves amazing, simple Portuguese food that is worth waiting for!

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