Insider’s Guide: Where to Eat and Drink in Lisbon
Lisbon, and Portugal in general, has been getting lots of buzz over the last few years; I recently heard it referred to as Los-Sanfran-Paris-Angeles—and once you arrive, you’ll immediately understand why this portmanteau works. Also known as ‘The City of Seven Hills’ and ‘Queen of the Sea’, this capital city somehow manages to be both laid-back and cutting-edge all at once.
It’s no surprise that this vibrant energy has crept into the food scene; gastronomy is a huge part of why Lisbon has been such a popular place to spend a vacation. Traditional Portuguese food is simple, embracing the natural goodness of the ocean’s bounty and the fertile land (why mess with the good stuff?), and getting a taste of the culture is always a good place to start. (The days of humble servings of cod bread and plain vegetables are over!) Here are some of my absolute favourite places to eat and drink in the city.
I couldn’t start a list of truly great Lisbon restaurants—and I am certain all Lisboans would agree—without mentioning Cervejaria Ramiro in Intendente. Aptly nicknamed the “seafood temple” of the city, this is the place to eat Portugal’s fabulous seafood. No-nonsense, they serve the same things as they did when they first opened in 1956. There are no reservations here, so arrive early or go for lunch. Seafood is ordered by weight. If you can hold yourself back, try to save room for a steak sandwich, which locals traditionally eat at the end of a seafood feast. You won’t be disappointed, so come hungry!
When it comes to exciting and new in Lisbon restaurants, the young restaurateur and chef José Avillez is the one leading the way. The best-known of his six Lisbon restaurants is the Belcanto, with two Michelin stars. Widely regarded as Portugal’s best restaurant, Avillez was the first Portuguese chef to receive a Michelin star for his creations here. Expect an expansive culinary experience!
Another Avillez eatery, quirky vintage décor and a more casual vibe sets the stage for unfussy Portuguese-style tapas influenced by the chef’s travels. Take a spin around the globe with lamb tagine, tartare with ‘New York’ potatoes, and the most tender tuna I’ve ever tasted. My personal favourite is the red Algarve shrimp seasoned with Thai spices. Go at lunchtime to take advantage of very reasonable prices, and you will walk out well-fed for less than 20 euros.
The Kiosks of Lisbon
Just about every visitor to Lisbon wonders why not every city has the quiosques de refrescos—‘refreshment kiosks’—that are ubiquitous in Lisbon’s numerous parks and squares. Chalk it up to year-round pleasant weather. Decent snacks and sandwiches, fresh juices, good espresso coffee, draft beer, and even cocktails are available in these heavenly convenient establishments. You’ll find yourself exclaiming to the Lisboans that they have no idea how good they have it!
If you’re the kind of eater who likes to visit traditional establishments, places whose doors you walk through to feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, try visiting a neighborhood churrascaria—or grill. The Churrasco da Graça in the Graça neighborhood is one such place: white paper tablecloths, TV on in the corner, tables full of locals. Get your fix of traditional bacalhau (codfish), grilled sardines, and roast chicken. You may need to gesture to make your order, but you will leave satisfied!
Atira-te ao Rio, Cacilhas
The many hills in Lisbon make for spectacular views across the Tagus. But to see the city from afar you need to cross the river, and there’s no better way to do it than by ferry on your way to eat at Atira-te ao Rio. Ferries run from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas about every 15 minutes. Once you’re on the other side, a short walk alongside abandoned riverside warehouses will bring you to this little restaurant set by the water’s edge. The view and the setting is what makes this place so special. And the food? It’s simple, traditional and tasty. Nibble on tuna pâté, olives, bread and olive butter before the codfish stew or Portuguese steak arrives.