Where and what to eat in Lisbon

Many of our guests want to see more than just the Algarve during their trip to Portugal. They fly to Lisbon and take some days to travel south – either by the sea or through the beautiful landscapes and historic towns of the Alentejo. Before hitting the road, they usually stay a day or two in Lisbon and frequently ask us where and what to eat. This is why we have compiled a totally subjective and incomplete list of our favourite restaurants [and a few that we would never go to] in and around Lisbon.

Seafood

  • Ramiro (Lisbon – $$): An institution. Loud and crowded. No reservations after 7pm. Excellent seafood at reasonable prices. Try “Gamba Grelhada”. Locals order a “Prego”, a beef on a bun, to round off the meal.
  • Mar do Inferno (Cascais – $$): Try the big seafood plate “Mariscada Especial”. It says it’s for two, but as a starter it’s more than enough for six persons. As a main dish, count one plate for three to four persons.
  • Nunes Real Marisqueira (Belém – $$$): Located near the Jerónimos Monastery, Nunes arguably offers the freshest and best seafood in the Lisbon area. If you’re adventurous, try a plate of Percebes (goose barnacles in English) whose strange and pre-historic appearance corresponds with their authentic sea flavor. Once you start eating them, you’ll understand why the waiters bind a bib around your neck.

The freshest fish

  • Neptuno (Praia das Maçãs – $$): Excellent fresh fish. Watch the surfers ride the ocean waves while your kids play in the sand.
  • Último Porto (Port of Lisbon – $): Only lunch, mostly fresh grilled fish, clams or cuttlefish. Between shipping containers, next to an abandoned maritime station, office workers enjoy a sunny and tasty lunchbreak.

Meat

  • O Arêgos (Lisbon – $): There seems to be an unwritten law that makes visitors eat nothing but fish and seafood while in Portugal. What you miss out are the tastiest barbecued beefs you will have eaten in years. One of the best, albeit simple and relatively unknown, places is Arêgos in the Santos-o-Velho district. Try the “Naco na Pedra”, a beef tenderloin that will be brought to your table on a hot stone, with salad and French fries. They also serve fresh fish and an excellent grilled bacalhau.
  • Soajeiro (Lisbon – $): Famous for its grilled Madeiran beef skewers. Only lunch, no reservations, always full. Try the Madeiran garlic bread “Bolo de Caco”, the mixed salad with grilled peppers, “Espetada Madeirense” or the “Naco de Vaca”.

Petiscos: the Portuguese tapas

  • Pharmácia (Lisbon – $$): Beautifully located at the Santa Catarina viewpoint and sharing a building with the national pharmacy museum, Pharmácia is a stylish place to have an afternoon drink and enjoy a modernized version of the traditional Portuguese petiscos (the Portuguese version of “Tapas”).
  • Madame Petisca (Lisbon – $$): Rooftop restaurant with one of Lisbon’s most amazing views, right next to Pharmácia. Excellent petiscos, a lunch menu with a glass of wine for 12€, and vegetarian options.
  • Taberna da Rua das Flores (Lisbon – $$): Tiny restaurant in the centre of Lisbon next to Praça Luís de Camões. Beautifully arranged and very tasty petiscos. Always full, no reservations, be prepared to wait for an hour or more.

Traditional Portuguese

  • Gambrinus (Lisbon – $$): In a street crowded with bad restaurants, Gambrinus almost goes unnoticed. An old Lisbon classic, it seems awkwardly out of time with its wood paneled walls and red carpets. The food is old-fashioned, but still very good. Feels like an António Tabucchi novel.
  • Zapata (Lisbon – $): Loud and always full. Serves simple and authentic Portuguese food. Everything from the tasty alheira sausage to octopus and small shrimps caught in the Portuguese Atlantic. If you try the tenderloin (Bife de Lombo) you’ll understand why Argentinian steak houses are not catching on in Portugal. Zapata still slightly resembles what normal Lisbon restaurants looked like 30 years ago (including the eye-soring neon light). This, together with Arêgos, Ramiro and Soajeiro, is where we take our non-portuguese friends.
  • Restaurante Os Barões (Lisbon – $): Hidden in a small side street between Santos and Cais do Sodré, this is the closest you get to a popular restaurant that hasn’t changed a bit since the 1970s. The dish of the day (prato do dia) is between 7 and 9€, the french fries are handmade and portions are huge.

Modern Portuguese

  • Boi Cavalo (Lisbon – $$): If you are stranded in Alfama and don’t feel like sitting in a Fado restaurant together with a busload of tourists, Boi Cavalo is the place to go. It’s creative tapas-like dishes are beautiful and tasty. You’ll probably need two or three of them before you’ve had enough.
  • Taberna do Calhau (Lisbon – $$): You have spent the last two decades chasing the memory of that unassuming osteria in a side street of Siena with a bearded and cheerful Bud Spencer lookalike greeting you at the entrance while cleaning fresh truffles with a toothbrush. You don’t remember what you ate and drank, but you know everything was simple, unpretentious and extremely tasty. You ended up with a half empty bottle of Grappa on your table, decided to return the next evening, but never found the place again … Well, don’t search any longer. You found Taberna do Calhau, a small tavern hidden in an Alfama side street. Chef Leopoldo Calhau greets you amidst dozens of open and yet-to-open bottles of wine from small local producers. Share as many of the small dishes as you can to get the most complete taste of what Portuguese kitchen used to be, is today, and may become in the near future.
  • Cantinho do Avillez (Lisbon – $$): Lively and fun spin-off of José Avillez’ Michelin star restaurant Belcanto. Loud and crowded with lots of interesting starters and main dishes.

Vegetarian

  • Mezze (Lisbon – $): Restaurant run by Syrian refugees serving 6 excellent combinations, two of which are vegetarian. You can also order à la carte. Loud and beautiful space in the Arroios market hall.
  • Arkhe (Lisbon – $$): One of those fancy restaurants that insist on explaining their “concept” while all you want to do is jump right into their beautifully crafted and tasty meatless creations. Book at least a week in advance.
  • [Encanto (Lisbon – $$$): The food is probably excellent, but we would never go there. Encanto has this sterile Michelin-Star-Dark-Polished-Wood-Flair that is the same all over the excessively affluent parts of this world. While Belcanto is Michelin Chef José Avillez’ flagship, Encanto is the vegetarian addition to his culinary empire. The food is certainly well-crafted, but Cantinho do Avillez, which also has one or two veggie dishes, is clearly the better and more fun alternative.]

Panoramic views of Lisbon

  • Atira-te ao Rio (Almada – $$): Take the ferry from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas on the other side of the river. From there it’s awalk along the Tejo, passing by abandoned or squatted warehouses, always with a panoramic view of Lisbon. Make a reservation and go there early in order to see the sun going down over Lisbon. Ignore the restaurant’s name – Atira-te ao Rio means Throw yourself into the River – and take the ferry back together with dozens of youngsters heading for the Lisbon nightlife.
  • Ponto Final (Almada – $$): Right next to Atira-te ao Rio. The view is the same, but the bright yellow Portuguese “Gonçalo” terrace chairs make the most beautiful contrast with the dark blue of the Tejo river (see photo at the top of this page).

When you just want to have a glass of good wine …

  • Comida Independente (Lisbon – $$): Wine bars are a relatively recent phenomenon in Portugal. While most restaurants offer a nice selection of wines from all over the country, in bars you have to be lucky to get a decent one at all. More often than not the choice is merely between red and white. But fortunately, globalisation has not spared this Portuguese idiosyncrasy and a number of young and innovative wine bars have sprung up in recent years. One of the best is Comida Independente where you can taste your way through at least 8 daily changing wines from small and independent, often organic, producers. Comida Independente is the perfect after-work place. From the late afternoon onwards, people gather at the bar tables to watch the last rays of sun sparkle in their wine glasses. Bring time and patience as, in an almost ritualistic manner, each guest tries the entire range of open wines before finally deciding on one. It’s here that we tasted our first Georgian wine, which strangely smelled of cabbage, and heard about “orange” wine. On Saturdays, Comida Independente organizes a small weekly market near the bigger Mercado da Ribeira where independent organic farmers sell their products and local restaurants offer street food.
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