Vila Algarve delivers a beautiful take on Portuguese cuisine

Vila Algarve’s grilled halloumi cheese, served with a slightly spicy peri peri sauce, is a must-try dish.
Photo: Sam Morris

With the arrival of Vila Algarve, our culinary landscape continues to diversify and mature. Vila introduces Portuguese cuisine to Las Vegas, and it’s surprising it took so long to arrive given this food’s prevalence in a foreign locale inextricably tied to Vegas—Macau.

While now a special administrative region of China, Macau was a Portuguese colony for centuries, leaving an indelible mark on its dining scene. I was exposed to Portuguese cuisine during a stint there years ago, and I suspect numerous Las Vegans who have spent time in the Asian gaming enclave have had a similar experience. Now we barely need to change ZIP codes, never mind time zones, to get it.

In Macau, Coloane’s beachside Restaurante Fernando is famous for its suckling pig. While there’s no baby swine on Vila’s menu, there is certainly enough pork to go around. The highlight is the half chorizo ($5.50), a wine-marinated sausage link served in a flaming pig. If that presentation isn’t enough to make you rush out and order some, I’m not sure what will; it’s a sight to behold, and unlike its Mexican brethren, not the least bit greasy.

Begin your Portuguese exploration with the beef <em>espetada</em>.

Begin your Portuguese exploration with the beef espetada.

A little more challenging is the cozido Portuguesa ($5.50), aka pig ears. The well-flavored cartilaginous appendages are marinated and grilled, yet still maintain some of their characteristic chewiness. Surprisingly more accessible is the dobrada Portuguesa ($6.50), tripe layered with a mixture of cream and cheese, its texture not the least bit off-putting.

You could make a meal of Vila’s starters alone. Portuguese sardines ($5.50) grilled and drizzled with olive oil are deliciously smoky but not so much as to obscure the fishiness (that’s a good thing). Likewise, the slight salinity of the grilled halloumi cheese ($9) isn’t masked by its preparation. Served with an addictive, slightly spicy peri peri sauce, the halloumi’s squeaky, curd-like consistency makes it a must-try. And snails ($6.50) swim in an outstanding chardonnay-based garlic and cheese sauce; be prepared to sop up every last bit.

Bacalao a brass ($20) mixes a shredded rendition of traditional salted cod with potatoes, well prepared but a bit too pedestrian for my tastes. Instead, order the remarkable trinchado ($18.50), where cubed meat of your choice is bathed in a complex red wine sauce. The menu rightfully heralds Vila’s house-made sauces, all worthy of recognition.

More straightforward are the espetadas, skewers of beef, chicken or pork delivered on a medieval contraption reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Request a side of peri peri for a bit of a kick with your beef, as this is one of the few dishes served sans sauce. And while there is no Super Bock beer here, Vila’s deceptively boozy sangria ($20 for a carafe; $10 during happy hour) is a worthy substitute to wash it all down. Free flowing sangria and flaming pig—what more could you want?

Vila Algarve 6120 W. Tropicana Ave. #A11, 666-3877. Daily, 11 a.m.-midnight.

Tags: Dining
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Jim Begley

Jim Begley is an avid food lover who began writing about his Las Vegas dining adventures to defray his obscene ...

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