I’ve been researching this post for the last three years and on doctor’s orders, it’s got to stop.
There are just too many cafés in Central Portugal and having to sample all of their coffees and pastries is going to be the end of my arteries and me. I can no longer justify a diet of pasteis, bolos and caffeine for the sake of the blog. Sorry.
In any case the parameters of my research have become blurred. Do I stick to the boundaries of the three Beiras regions or shall we just call it Central Portugal instead? Is it really a post about the best pastelarias in which case does it become a study of fabrico proprio? Is it really just a competition of coffee brands, because I think I’ve developed a preference for Delta. What if I catch a great café on an off day? What if they do the best duchesse in the region and I order a marselhesa by mistake?
But the main reason to stop is that there are just too many good cafés and a post can only be soooo looong…
So I’ll just tell you about my favourites (so far) and you can tell me yours, ok? Let’s go.
How I judge a place. The coffee has to be good on successive visits, with or without milk, bastante quente (who actually likes their coffee luke warm? I don’t know) and a good café IMhO serves directo whether you ask for it or not (or if you can’t tell the difference, that’s impressive). These things show a respect for coffee.
Either a good range of pastelaria, or a unique, small range. I look for specialities, or if they do a classic exceptionally well.
And that’s it: this is not about interior design, comfortable chairs, history, fame or even the temper of the staff… it’s just strictly a coffee and cake experience.
There are certainly many good places. What made it to this selection is being exceptionally good, and I do confess that the surprise of their sometimes obscure locations may have influenced their ranking. How do they compare with my favourite cafés of Lisbon? Certainly not well for décor(!), but for the quality of their coffee and cake, yes, I do believe they are as good.
In alphabetical order, we start in Avelar… a funny little town with really nothing much to recommend it except a pretty church, the Casa Farrica hardware shop and this outrageously good pastelaria. When I was new here I thought I was a genius to discover a cute side alley old fashioned little café which then abruptly closed its doors. I felt guilty and unfaithful when I decided to go to the new big modern place, whose pastries were possibly even better… until I realised it was the same place, they had just expanded. Phew!
Pastelaria Rocha’s thing is sonhos, and they don’t call them dreams for nothing. Their miniatures are adorable and their savoury things also are great.
Ansião is also nothing much of a place (sorry Ansianense) but it does have Pastelaria Diogo, or two, actually. Massive display of goodies, consistently good coffee.
In Condeixa-a-Nova, conveniently located across from the centro de saude, is O Pote de Mel. It is slightly infamous for turning out more unusual creations, in life threatening sizes. If you’re up for something truly decadent, pop in here for a escrapiada or a delicia. After your blood tests.
Technically still in Condeixa, but tucked away in a bairro they call Urbanização Nova de Conimbriga (it’s off the roundabout that joins the IC3 to the IC2, towards Soure) is a little gem of a café called O Bom Forno. It serves more polite, but no less decadent, cake portions of divine invention. And they make the cutest baby berlims I’ve seen. Chocolate berlims too. And it’s wookie friendly.
Coimbra has a few good places. There are three close together on Rua de Sofia near Praça 8 Maio. My favourite is the old fashioned stand-up-only Pastelaria Palmeira, whose speciality is the weird-but-yummy pastel de santa clara. Almost next door, Pastelaria Penta has a bigger range of mouth watering sins and arguably better coffee. Across the road, Pastelaria Sirius is also very good.
When in Leiria I always go to Martin & Thomas on Praça Rodrigues Lobo. It quite rightly uses “gourmet” in its self description and indeed would not be out of place in any modern foodie location in the world. Great bread. Great everything. I think of Leiria as the Braga of Central Portugal. It’s civilised. It has Zara.
And now to Tentúgal and Vouzela. But these places and their pastelarias are SO good that they deserve their own day trip posts. It’s certainly worth going all the way to Vouzela for a visit to Café Central, and to eat a pastel de Vouzela. But the town itself is such a treasure that it’s a destination in itself. Similarly, at first glance Tentúgal’s pastelarias dos doces conventuais look like a truckies´ stop. But Tentúgal not only has an exceptional café but an unforgettable restaurant and a fascinating historic church as well. It’s not just a lay-by, it’s a lay-day.
But after visiting hundreds of other cafés, I always come back to my local. Pastelaria Pingo Doce in Figueiró Dos Vinhos, behind the Câmara, is so inconspicuous you’d normally not notice it. The coffee here is just as I like it and while I’m very fond of their bolos de arroz and tigeladas, it’s their pasteis de nata that are by far and away the best in Central Portugal. I’m tempted to say, the best outside of Pastéis de Belém. I know, it’s a big call, but I have tried, I have tested and I have the belly to prove it.
I would like to hear I’ve missed something in Castelo Branco, or that there’s a gem in Guarda (I’ve never been to Guarda). Have I passed on something in Pombal? Fundão? Do you have a favourite in Aveiro? Does Sertã have something hidden? Anything new in Lousã? Let me know. Not for any more serious research, no, just in case I’m passing…