Lisbon has rightly garnered a reputation as being one of Europe’s hippest cities – but Portuguese cuisine remains somewhat unknown. Rest assured, though, Lisbon’s food scene is every bit as exciting as the city’s nightlife, trams and quirky charm. Here’s our expert guide to the best places to eat around the capital.
Best place to start: Cais do Sodré
The formerly rundown waterfront district of Cais do Sodré has been cleaned up in recent years and is now home to some of the city’s hippest bars and restaurants. A wander down Rua Cor-de-Rosa or “pink street” will lead you to some of the best.
For a bit of everything: Mercado da Ribeira, AKA the Time Out market. The spacious 1930s building has been given a new lease of life since it became a giant food hall and many of Lisbon’s leading restaurants showcase their cuisine at a series of stalls here. Sit at one of the communal benches in the central area, and sample everything from smoked ham to sheep’s cheeses, organic salads and seafood.
Best for bargains: The Baixa
The Baixa is Lisbon’s compact grid of streets in the historic centre. One of the first examples of town planning, the district was built after the 1755 earthquake as the commercial hub of the city. Though it has become something of a tourist epicentre, it still has plenty of restaurants which cater to local office workers. And that means local prices.
Fast food Lisbon style: Beira Gare. Right opposite the impressive frontage of Rossio station, Beira Gare (which means beside the station) caters to commuters on the line out to Sintra and Lisbon’s northern suburbs. If you want something quick, tasty and inexpensive, Beira Gare ticks all three boxes with aplomb. Grab a squished-in table or perch at the bar and tuck into the likes of grilled octopus, pork steaks or hake fillets with rice, all for under €10.
Comfort food: Bom Jardim. The King of Chickens has been serving mouth-watering roast chickens, with or without piri piri, long before Nando’s came on the scene. Though it serves other grilled meats, chargrilled chicken with salad and chips is the thing to go for.
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Best for views: Bica
Bica is best known for its lift of the same name, which glides up one of Lisbon’s steepest cobbled streets. From the top, it’s a short walk to the Miradouro de Santa Catarina, an alluring viewpoint gazing out over the western riverfront.
Best for tapas: Pharmacia. Part of the Pharmaceutical Museum, the restaurant’s quirky décor features retro fittings from old pharmacies. However, the big pull is the river view from the front terrace. The speciality here is petiscos, Portuguese-style tapas, such as duck croquettes, salted-cod fritters or sublime aubergine-wrapped goat’s cheese.
Best outdoor terrace: Noobai. Perched under the lip of the Miradouro de Santa Catarina, the uninterrupted views across the Tagus are as tasty as the varied menu, which features everything from healthy brunches to petiscos and tuna steaks.
Best for upmarket dining: Chiado
Chiado is Lisbon’s upmarket shopping district and home to its most famous café, A Brasileira. It has also become the domain of Lisbon’s leading celebrity chef, José Avillez. You’ll find his double Michelin-starred restaurant, Belcanto here, along with two more affordable options:
An innovative menu: Mini Bar. Tucked into the splendid Art Deco interior of the Teatro de São Luís, the menu here is presented as acts in a play and certainly throws up some theatrical delights: there are “exploding” olives, edible cocktails and “ice cream” cones filled with tuna tartare, with the cone made of seaweed. Virtually every dish deserves a round of applause.
Contemporary Portuguese: Cantinho do Avillez. This fashionable space serves memorable modern Portuguese cuisine: think black pork with coriander or scallops with sweet potatoes and asparagus, and if you need reminding you are in Lisbon, the famous 28 tram rattles past the door every half an hour or so.
Best for pastries: Belém
This area is famed for its monastery and distinctive Torre de Belém tower. But, once you’ve taken in the sights, no visit to this riverside suburb is complete without a taste of its famous custard-cream tarts.
Best for a sweet tooth: Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. This café has been making pasteis de nata using a closely-guarded recipe since 1837. For a slice of heaven, have a couple served warm and sprinkled with cinnamon, washed down with a strong bica coffee. Its cool, cavernous interior somehow absorbs the hoards of visitors.
Best for neighbourhood restaurants: Madragoa and Lapa
West of the centre lies the more earthy, traditional district of Madragoa and the more chi-chi neighbouring Lapa, where tourists have yet to discover the fine restaurants. If you want to rub shoulders with the locals, this is the place to come.
For tradition: Varina da Madragoa. Tucked into a cobbled backstreet lies this quintessentially Portuguese restaurant whose previous clients have included José Saramago and Jimmy Carter. Decorated with grape-motif azulejos, its snug interior offers the chance to sample sublime salted-cod cakes, trout stuffed with presunto ham or goat cutlets.
Classic dining: Guarda Mor. Its worth turning up hungry at this small upmarket local so you have room for starters that include unmissable peixinhos da horta (tempura vegetables). Follow that with one of its bacalhau dishes or mackerel ceviche. For the full Portuguese experience, go on a Wednesday for live fado.
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