#01 – Driving between Madeira airport and the capital Funchal, most visitors to the island will normally bypass south coast towns like Sao Goncalo, Garajau, Canico and Gaula. It’s worth staying off the Via Rapida dual carriageway sometimes – take a drive through Funchal’s eastern commuter belt instead, where restaurateurs work hard to attract local custom and to make their dishes stand out from the crowd.
Something the Restaurante A Gosta excels at. Local produce meets world cooking: camarao enrolado em massa kataifi (Greek-inspired shrimps rolled in a kataifi pastry), tempura de caranguejo de casca mole (crab tampura), waygu hamburgers, salteado polvo (sauteed octopus) and batata doce glaceada (glazed sweet potato). I also recommend their tábua a gusto – a generous petiscos taster boards.
The presentation is immaculate, the service is excellent and the atmosphere is cozy. It can be tricky to find – a little one-storey, glass-fronted building, hidden in the middle of a residential area. The google map link above is the best way to find them and you can reserve a table via their website.
#02 – If you’re staying around Garajau and looking for somewhere informal and relaxed in the evenings, the Taberna Cacarola is a friendly locals’ bar with cold beers and very reasonable wines, home-made burgers for 5€ or Francesinha for 8.5€.
#03 – If you’re spending the day diving or kayaking at the Garajau nature reserve, the Pizzaria La Carbonara Canico de Baixo is just a five minute walk away. It’s a good lunchtime spot for freshly-made pizzas, toasted sandwiches and salads.
#04 – For lunch with an outstanding sea view over the reserve, the Inn & Art Madeira is even closer and they have a light lunch menu of reasonably-priced salads and toasted sandwiches. There’s a more substantial a la carte menu available in the evenings – it’s not so-special that I’d drive there from Funchal, but if you’re staying in Canico the terrace is a lovely spot for a sunset dinner.
#05 – Heading east out of Canico and towards Gaulo, you’ll come to the Restaurante Laranjinha Bistro & Grill. This is somewhere I’d recommend taking a drive to one evening. The menu is modern, very mainland in style – poached red snapper, duck confit with a port and raspberry sauce, pork and black bean feijoada – all delicious, great presentation and service to match. It’s a bit more pricey than most restaurants outside of Funchal but well worth it, and they have an excellent range of mainland Portuguese wines.
#06 – Taking a detour inland and if you’re staying locally, the Restaurante O Moinho is very easy to miss. They serve good value, typically-Madeiran food cook over hot coals. The restaurant itself is no-frills, sociable open-plan dining with a great view down over the south coast.
#07 – The Espetada (Pedro) is arguably the most rustic place you’ll eat on the island. (Not to be confused with the Espetada do Pedro down in Gaula), the Espetada (Pedro) is in the small hamlet of Levadas, on the minor road from Santa Cruz to Santo Antonio da Serra.
If there was ever a classic example of a ‘locals’ place’, this is it – no signage, no fancy glass frontage, no seaview terrace. In fact, at first glance the building looks abandoned lockup from the outside, and it’s extremely rough and ready once you’re in.
However, this is THE place for the best steak espetada and that’s all the menu is – steak, fresh local bread and a glass of wine for around six euros per person. Owner Pedro will skewer your meat, but you’ll season and cook your own over the wood fire. It’s messy, clearly unhygienic, delicious fun.
#08 – Back down to Santa Cruz on the coast, another rustic (not quite as rustic as Pedro’s ut close) venue is the Bar Sai De Baixo. It’s not the most luxurious of locations – under a Via Rapida bridge, next to the semi-derelict Cais do Porto Novo.
It feels like a surfers’ beach bar/bistro that’s misplaced it’s beach. Not a place for dinner perhaps, but a great spot for a night out with food and wine where you’re guaranteed to make new friends. It’s family run and the service can be little slow, but that just fits nicely with the super-friendly, laidback atmosphere. There’s also dancing and live music from owner and one-man band Carlos most nights.
#09 – Passing by the airport, you’ll arrive in historic Machico – the spot where Joao Goncalves Zarco and Trisao Vaz Teixiera first landed when they (re)discovered the island on 1st July 1419. The island had appeared on maps as early as 1339 – there’s even archaeological evidence that suggests the Vikings may have visited the island around the year 1030.
The centre of Machico is marked by a statue of Tristao and the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. To the north of town is the Solar do Ribeirinho museum, which houses some nice archaeology dating back to the original settlement of the island. At the southern tree-lined side of town (overlooking the marina) is the Forte de Nossa Senhora do Amparo – an 18th Century fort built to protect Machico’s natural harbour from pirates and privateers. The fort was the last Liberal stronghold on the island during the Portuguese Civil War and became a protected regional landmark in 1993.
There’s a nice selection of lunch spots in the centre of town – O Gala, O Casco, and the Restaurante Goncalves are all pretty similar. Maré Alta – Peixe & Mariscos is closest to the beach and serves good fresh fish.
#10 – If you’re staying in town, the Baía Beach Club on the eastern side of the bay (overlooking the harbour) is a nice bar for the evenings, with a great view of Ponta Queimada.
#11 – For food with a view, head up to Restaurante Lily’s on the western side of the valley – the menu is a mix of Madeiran and straight-European (with some nice veggie pasta options, and the view down the valley is magnificent.
#12 – Pico Da MaréAlta has a similarly lovely view, with a more Madeiran menu and a much larger outside terrace for al-fresco dining on warm summer evenings.
#13 – Probably my favourite restaurant in Machico is on the eastern side of the valley. O Grelhador serves fresh, home-style Madeiran cooking; nice specials and a reasonable price. Whilst the restaurants in the centre tend to be frequented by visitors, O Grelhador feels much-more local.
#14 – Machico’s the obvious choice for lunch if you’re walking the Sao Lourenco peninsula. However, an often-overlooked option is the Captain’s bar at Quinta do Lorde. It has a nice terrace overlooking the quiet marina (quieter as the hotel is currently closed) and a reasonably-priced lunch menu. With the hotel closed and investment in the marina on-hold, the bar could take a downturn through lack of footfall – let’s hope not.
#15 – Heading up the east coast, the small village of Porto da Cruz is maybe best known for the Engenho do Norte rum distillery. There are three Engenho’s on the island and the distillery here in Porto da Cruz is the only one still driven by steam. One of Madeira’s best loved cakes is made from a by-product of the distillery – molasses, which is the main ingredient in Bolo de Melo, or ‘Honey Cake’ in English, which is available to purchase in their gift shop.
#16 – Porto da Cruz is also a popular spot for surfing and bodyboarding lessons. For a post-lesson, family-friendly lunch, the obvious choice (and easiest to find) is the seaview Piscinas Snack-bar. I also quite like A Pipa, particularly if it’s a breezy day as it’s a more sheltered spot.
#18 – Up the road in the centre of Faial itself (just next door to the Igreja do Faial church), you’ll find the Restaurante a Chave. Great for lunch or dinner, great for homemade cakes and afternoon coffees, and their garden terrace is a lovely suntrap any time of day.
#19 – Heading out of Faial and leaving the coast behind, one of our favourite drives zig-zags you up through the green valleys of Cruzinha to the forest park at Ribeiro Frio and the famous miradouro at Balcões – a wonderful spot overlooking the Ribeira da Metade valley. En-route, you’ll pass by Casa de Cha: the location is beautiful and the traditional menu is reasonably priced – but avoid the lunchtime rush as the Casa is on the coach tour circuit.
#20 – South of Ribeiro Frio, high in the forest and close to the village of Poiso, you’ll find two very similar restaurants: Casa De Abrigo Do Poiso and the Restaurante Abrigo do Pastor. Décor-wise, both restaurants have a mountain lodge feel more common to northern-Europe, and the offer menus to match. Unapologetically robust dishes such as Iberian black pork slow-cooked in (Madeiran) wine, chunky wood-fired steaks with fresh bolo do caco, and hearty one-pot chicken and bean stews. Big flavours, big portions and lots of calories: perfect for refuelling after a day exploring the island’s high peaks.
Our Where to eat guides are based on our first-hand experience and our love of great Portuguese cuisine:
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