I ate at the most beautiful McDonald's in the world, with crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, and outrageously delicious pastries

ShutterstockMany travellers believe the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world is in Porto, an age-old coastal city in northwest Portugal known for its gorgeous cobblestone streets and historic medieval city center.
  • Many travellers believe the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world is in Porto, a coastal city in northwest Portugal.
  • Opened in 1995, the restaurant is located in a renovated space previously occupied by Cafe Imperial, a famous coffee shop open in the city since the 1930s.
  • I stopped by “the McDonald’s Imperial” to see if it truly is the “World’s Most Beautiful McDonald’s.”

You’ve probably eaten a Big Mac or McNuggets at dozens of McDonald’s restaurants throughout your life, but have you ever stopped to think which of the chain’s 36,899 locations is the most beautiful?

Many travellers believe the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world is in Porto, an age-old coastal city in northwest Portugal known for its gorgeous cobblestone streets and historic medieval city center.

Opened in 1995, the restaurant is located in a renovated space previously occupied by Cafe Imperial, a famous coffee shop open in the city since the 1930s. The coffee shop was seen as a prime example of Art Deco architecture of the period and, thus, McDonald’s retained most of the main architectural features when it took over the location.

One of my favourite things to do when travelling is to visit American fast food joints in other countries – you never know how much companies cater to local tastes. When I visited China in April, I found that KFC is by far the most popular American fast food chain there and it is far better than in the US.

When I got to Porto earlier this week, I decided that I had to check out the McDonald’s Imperial – as it is called by locals – to see if it lived up to the hype as the “World’s Most Beautiful McDonald’s.”

Here’s what it was like:


The McDonald’s was pretty busy when I stopped by for a late afternoon lunch one day this past week. It being summer in Portugal, there were tons of tourists dining al fresco. The restaurant is located in Liberdade Square in the center of the city and near many attractions.


The first thing you notice upon approaching the McDonald’s is the giant bronze eagle by Portuguese sculptor Henrique Moreira. When Cafe Imperial opened in 1936, the entrance had a revolving door, but that is long gone.

Source: Hard Musica Portugal


When you first enter the restaurant, you notice the hallmarks of the Art Deco style (think Empire State Building-style): the ornate friezes along the ceiling, the crystal chandeliers, and, most famously, the massive stained glass window behind the counter.

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Source: Hard Musica Portugal


The stained glass window is the centrepiece of the McDonald’s, as it was the centrepiece of Cafe Imperial. The window depicts scenes related to coffee, from cultivation and processing to enjoying a cup of joe in a cafe.

Source: Hard Musica Portugal


The stained glass window was made by Portuguese artist Ricardo Leone. It’s an exquisite work of the period.

Source: Hard Musica Portugal


The crystal chandeliers that hang from the ceiling are a stark contrast with what one usually finds in a McDonald’s.


The tiling on the ground is nothing special.


The friezes, however, are visually arresting if you take the time to examine the reliefs, which depict different dances.


The friezes were also designed by Moreira. The entire cafe was originally designed by Swiss-born architect Ernesto Korrodi, who moved to Portugal at 19, and his son Ernesto Camilo.

Source: Porto Desaparecido


The ornate chandeliers are a marvel to look at. McDonald’s Imperial is far from the only restaurant in Porto to feature stunning architectural work. Opened in 1933, Cafe Guarany is located a couple of blocks away and features similarly beautiful architecture.


While the McDonald’s location might be described as historic or classic, the ordering follows the chain’s new trend of automation.


After sufficiently enjoying the architecture, I combed the menu for Portugal-specific items. One interesting note: You can order Sagres beer.


The pay counter retains Art-Deco styling. When the location was Cafe Imperial, there was a majestic balcony in the space.


As I waited 15 minutes for my food — there was a long line; apparently a lot of people want to eat at “the world’s most beautiful McDonald’s” — I got another chance to view the windows.


Finally, I had my haul. I ended up with: a Chicken Bacon Onion sandwich, a Miami Burger, a Creme de Legumes soup, medium fries, and a mango-pineapple smoothie.

Source: McDonald’s Portugal


I unboxed the Miami Burger first. It was introduced to the Portuguese market last month and is one of their newest international items. It promised that I would “taste America.”

Source: McDonald’s YouTube


The top of the bun seems to have cheese baked into it and it has crunchy fried onions, cheese, bacon, and a vaguely tropical mayo-based sauce. All in all, the combo isn’t half bad, but it’s all ruined by the thin, sad formerly-frozen patty. The tropical sauce was tasty and seemed to be a riff on Mac sauce, but even a nice layer wasn’t enough to cover the dry meat.


The next item up was the Chicken Bacon Onion. While not specific to Portugal, I’ve never seen the sandwich in the US so I decided to give it a try. This fared a lot better. The onion-bread added a zest to the chicken patty, which seemed more like a giant McNugget than a breast or cutlet. The bacon was a bit limp, but the crispy onion on top added the crunchy texture I was looking for.


After reading about McDonald’s Portugal’s soups in Business Insider, I was amped to try it out. The creme de legumes seemed to be a butternut squash-based soup and while inoffensive, it was boring. I could’ve had better in a bodega.

Source: Business Insider


After washing all that down with the mango-pineapple smoothie (by far the best part of the meal so far), I headed back in to the McCafe. Portugal is known for its pastries, so I figured if McDonald’s was going to step up for local customers, this is where it would be.


I have to say McDonald’s did not disappoint in the pastry department. I ordered a pasteis de nata, a Portuguese egg tart pastry that might as well be the national dish, and a bolas de berlim, a Portuguese take on a Berliner doughnut. If it’s not obvious from the picture, the chocolate bolas de berlim was outrageous. Overflowing with chocolate and covered in granulated sugar, it was better than most doughnuts I’ve had in the US.


The pasteis de nata was a sugary delight as well. While I’m no expert on natas, it seemed an acceptable version. It could’ve used a flakier crust, but the custard inside had both a creaminess and that creme brulee-esque zing.


So was it worth a visit? Definitely, if you are into architecture. The food is typical McDonald’s. If you want to enjoy the space, do as the Portuguese do and get a coffee and a pasteis de nata.

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