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Tasty compromises

Satisfy your yearnings for Portuguese and Middle Eastern delicacies without breaking the bank

Codfish cakes (right) and turnovers filled with seafood.


Codfish cakes (right) and turnovers filled with seafood.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/1/2015 (1960 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

High prices don't guarantee quality. I've often dropped a bundle and been disappointed, and I've often had wonderful food for surprisingly little. Which is why -- at a time when the holiday bills are rolling in -- I always devote three columns to bargains, retesting restaurants that were reviewed favourably in the not-too-distant past.

Viena do Castelo's bargains come in two ways -- for eating in or taking out. It is a grocery store, its shelves stacked with Portuguese imports, but there are also seven little tables where one can have lunch or a snack. Not only is everything still delicious, but -- in a city that just doesn't have enough Portuguese food -- Viena's menu is constantly evolving.

Chourico bun with fried egg.


Chourico bun with fried egg.

The bifana sandwich of marinated pork and caramelized onions is a constant, and so is my new love, the fabulous soft, chewy housemade bun with a baked-in filling of the housemade chourico with (you may have to ask for it) a fried egg, for $4.50. Other sandwiches are $3.50, or $6 with soup -- a savoury kale and potato caldo verde as often as not.

The kitchen's greatest glory is the piri piri-glazed roast chicken, which can be purchased whole for $17, including a heap of roasted potatoes saturated with the glorious chicken juices. It's best ordered a day in advance for optimum marinating time although it is sometimes available on shorter notice. It also turns up from time to time as a lunch entrée.

The main courses vary from day to day, with the largest selection on the weekend, particularly Saturday, most $6.50 to $10, for either in-house or takeout portions. As well as the chicken, some other options might be the alcatra wine-sauced braised beef; marinated roast pork; or pork and clams alentejana. Or, if you're lucky, wine-marinated ribs.

Fridays usually run to fish dishes. There will always be a bacalhao casserole, and those who think they don't like salt cod might be converted by the version with potatoes and onions in a luscious cream sauce. Other possibilities are octopus in port wine, mussels with chourico, stuffed squid or fried horse mackerel.

For starters you could nibble on such tapa-size tidbits as the incredibly light, fluffy codfish cakes or pastry turnovers filled with tuna, codfish or shrimp ($1 each, $8 a dozen). Alternately, the tuna and potato salad with pieces of hard boiled egg dressed in olive oil would make an ideal light lunch or shared appetizer ($6.50)

Pastries are nothing short of exquisite -- glorious mocha-iced chocolate cupcakes, the city's best custard tarts and the equally wonderful tarts with orange-flavoured flan or marzipan-like fillings ($1.50 each, six for $6). The coffee -- a weak point in the past -- is now excellent.

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday and Saturday. until 6 p.m. Fridays.

Donair platter.


Donair platter.


-- -- --


MIDDLE Eastern dishes are turning up everywhere, but nowhere have I found a donair, shawarma or kafta kebab to equal those at Best Pizza & Donair. It is possible to eat here, but it will be at one of the two tables or a counter seat, which are squeezed into the tiny foyer, and takeout would be the wiser choice for a leisurely feast on some of the city's very best Middle Eastern food.

They still serve pizzas and calzones, as well as several Middle Eastern flatbreads, thinly spread with various toppings -- my favourites were the zaatar spice mix, with hints of thyme and sumac, and the yogurt-like lebneh ($4.25 to $5.50). But the main draws for me are the fabulously flavourful marinated meats -- the donairs (a mixture of lamb and beef), the chicken shawarma, and the kafta kebabs of freshly ground lamb. They come in generous portions, either on platters ($11.50 to $12.50), or wrapped in unusually fine, pliant pitas ($7.99 to $8.99).

Luscious hummus and a great tabouli salad garnish the platters, along with tasty rice and a simple lettuce and tomato salad. If tucked into a pita the meats come with salad veggies and either a potent, thick garlic sauce or an oddly sweet sauce (I'd opt for the garlic); there are strips of pickled turnip with the chicken, and, with the kafta, tahini sauce. There are also platters or pita sandwiches of cauliflower (which I didn't try) and falafel, which are tasty but too dense and dry for my taste.

Communication may be a problem, but the menu has colour photographs and descriptions of everything. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.


Chicken shawarma.



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Updated on Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 10:17 AM CST: Adds map

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