Porto’s Bufete Fase offers rich sandwiches

May 4, 2013

The uneven cobblestone streets lined with houses in an array of coral, mint green and canary yellow hue lead downhill to the Douro River in Porto. Following the narrow pathways, one could easily get lost amongst the sea of coral rooftops. Among the masses of artistically crafted structures, lies a nondescript old building, covered by a tattered awning declaring its name: Bufete Fase.

Unless familiar with Bufete Fase’s reputation, one may walk past the restaurant and not once consider stopping in for a bite.

Despite its modest appearance, the restaurant is a gem in Porto, serving the best Francesinha in the city, according to the 2010 review of For the Love of Port.

Francesinhas, which are sandwiches with a French origin as the name indicates, can be described succinctly as a sandwich with a lot of calories, said Filipa Meneses of Bufete Fase, with her father José Meneses Pinto Filipa.

Since 1996, the restaurant has been serving up hearty Francesinhas consisting of bread, cheese, ham, sausage, steak, roast pork topped with Flemish cheese and a specialty sauce, made with a tomato and alcohol base.

“We were known for our steak sandwich, but the amount of work gave little monetary return, which led us to look for a new area,” Filipa Mene- ses said. “We were doing some experiments with ‘Francesinha,’ which became fashionable in the city of Porto, and we presented them to our customers.”

After listening to customer criticisms, owner and Chef José Pinto Filipa adapted the sauce to become the specialty it is now.

“In 1999, a business magazine did a story on Francesinhas and found this restaurant, considering it as the best for quality of products, sauce, simplicity and friendliness,” Filipa Meneses said.

Since then the number of customers has con- tinued to grow, she said. Though the restaurant’s popularity has grown significantly, with the chef making hundreds of these sandwiches each day, the dining area remains humble. The restaurant seats about 20 diners at a given time and hungry visitors line up out the door and down the uneven cobble- stone street, waiting their turn.

Once seated, only one question remains: “Spicy or normal sauce?”

“We want our Francesinha to have the ideal size, top quality products and to be enjoyed by all ages,” said José Pinto Meneses Filipa.

And Bufete Fase works to do just that in each systematically chaotic assembly of the Francesinha.