When you type on google the search "best restaurants in Algarve", the first 3 lines will probably be Tripadvisor links. Working and living in Algarve as an hotel manager and tour operator, and being a lover of genuine food, made of passion and knowledge of local ingredients, I cannot remain silent in front of the "users-generated" ranking shown by Tripadvisor to millions of visitors in the Algarve every year.
If you don't have time to read the full article about the reasons why it would be better NOT TO USE Tripadvisor when you are looking for a restaurant with Portuguese Cuisine, and you are just looking for unbiased restaurants' recommendations, I suggest you to look directly in this list created by an experienced journalist, passionate about local cuisine. It's written in Portuguese but with a simple copy and paste on google translator you get access to a balanced and honest collection of 40 restaurants offering a wide selection of Portuguese ingredients and recipes.
First Problem - Misleading Classification
The Portuguese cuisine is serious. It's not a badge that you hang at the entrance or self-attribute to yourself on the internet. It comes from afar, from the knowledge of the territory, the seasonal ingredients, the preservation processes and the thousand recipes that are used to prepare them. The sad ranking that presents itself to my eyes makes me sink into a feeling of anger mixed with deep dismay.
This is my search on Tripadvisor:
- Area: Algarve
- Establishment Type: Restaurants
- Cuisine: Portuguese (Total Results: 2660 restaurants)
First 10 "Restaurants" Sort by: "Relevance" by TRIPADVISOR
- Fabio's RoadStop (1st in Armaçao de Pera)
- Pigs and Cows (2nd in Faro)
- Casa Vintage Tapas&Wine (1st Restaurant in Monchique)
- Artefact (1st Restaurant in Tavira)
- Maria do Mar (1st in Portimao)
- Marigil Restaurante (1st in Vila do Bispo)
- Le Cro Portugal - Tapas (1st in Carvoeiro)
- Restaurante & Bar Quinta da Saudade
- Cafe Snack Domino
- Real Portuguese Cuisine
First thing to note. If you are a bar selling Toasts, Hamburgers, and you have Fast Food in your categories, PLEASE DO NOT FLAG YOUR PLACE AS PORTUGUESE CUISINE. You can call yourself Bar, Fast Food, Hamburgueria, Tapas Bar etc..
Second thing: If you serve mozzarella, parmisan, parma ham, bacon, mayonnaise, ketchup or any other KRAFT crap, it's NOT Portuguese cuisine.
Third Thing: if you serve in your menu fois gras, brie cheese, roquefort and other ingredients of clear French origin....we understand each other... it's not Portuguese cuisine. I'm open to any kind of Fusion cuisine, mixing local ingredients and inventing new recipes, but PLEASE, use the TAGs Modern, Fusion, French, International or even European cuisine instead.
Fourth Thing to note: The Percentage of Reviews made by portuguese speaking users is drammatically low for the majority of these restaurants:
Excluding the case of Fabio's RoadStop and Maria do Mar that are clearly Bar/Tapas/Hamburguerias and not Restaurants, we find the following percentage of portuguese reviews: Pigs and Cows (18%), Casa Vintage Tapas & Wine (12%), Artefact ( 7%), LeCro (10%), Quiinta da Saudade (13%), Real Portuguese Cuisine (11%).
What does it mean to me? That restaurants that adapt their cuisine to the palate of their customers make a legitimate business choice but simply should not call themselves portuguese cuisine, because in doing so they damage the Algarve and Portuguese culinary tradition, confusing and contaminating it with ingredients that have nothing to do with Portugual.
My Final Opinion: Of the list above, only MARIGIL shoud be classified as a Restaurant with Portuguese Cuisine. TRIPADVISOR TEAM should take some time at least to attribute the right classification if it's too expensive to send a food journalist to every restaurant in the world. The Flag Portuguese Cuisine should be attributed only to restaurants that use local ingredients to create Portuguese Recipes. I love Japanease, Italian, Mexican, Greek and many other cuisines, but when I fleg Portuguese Restaurants I want to eat PORTUGUESE RECIPES with portuguese ingredients.
Second Problem - Fake Reviews
TripAdvisor built its brand on the trademark “World’s most trusted travel site”. But after countless lawsuits in multiple countries, by 2013 TripAdvisor quietly removed the words “trusted” as well “honest” from all of its website marketing (now it’s just the “World’s largest travel site”). An Independent investigation conducted by THE TIMES in 2018 shows that a shocking 33% of the B&Bs and hotels reviews are fake. Despite the countless efforts of the anti-fraud team of Tripadvisor, there are situations so absurd that one wonders if anyone on the tripadvisor team has ever set foot in the Algarve...Let me show a clear example of that happening in Algarve:
- Case 1: Jaipur, an indian restaurant with 1978 Reviews of which 1734 Excellents that shoot it in the standings to be the best restaurant in Albufeira and best Indian in the Algarve. If you browse, the positive reviews appear mostly written by contributors with less than 10 reviews. Then we tried ourselves and we can tell you in full honesty: nothing special, just an average indian restaurant with pre-cooked sauces and no fresh ingredients/spices at all.
- Case 2 Chilli Lounge in Vilamoura, another indian restaurant with more than thousand positive reviews. Clearly, from the persistency of the waiter to write reviews on TripAdvisor we imagine how easily it is for them to collect positive reviews from their "friends" or community.
Third Problem - Tripadvisor Conflict of Interests
The reviews are customized based on past search behavior or marketing relationships with the company. You’ll find that the majority of the “Just For You” reviews are based on companies that pay money to TripAdvisor, not that they are places you may want to eat or stay. Clearing your cache won’t stop all of this, but it does help reduce the target marketing.
If you are interested in learning more about tripadvisor conflict of interests, how this affects its rankings and why it generates biased results, I highly recommend reading this comprehensive article by Heather Stimmler-Hall published on Medium.com in 2016.