I theorize that Mr. Welles was rather onto something. I know I talk a lot about food on this blog but living in Italy has catapulted my respect for the l’arte di mangiar bene [art of eating well – something that even sounds better in Italian, doesn’t it?] and life for this Tuscan Texan is almost reminiscent an endless mission of great meals and good company.
Food is the vehicle that does so much more than to just satisfy an empty stomach. Eating brings people together, it means exploring a new culture, it makes a person pause their busy lives for just a fleeting moment to concentrate on something else. I always say, if world leaders met over a glass of Amarone red wine and a steaming plate of fresh Tuscan pasta, wars would be a thing of the past ;).
When we decided to visit Lisbon, I did a few google searches on local food and what we should look out for like I imagine we all do. My excitement started to really increase when writers touted the cuisine in Portugal as something really worth salivating for. This meant the need to plan just as many excursions based around eating my way through the city than general sightseeing – which is just how we roll. These are a few things we learned when dining out in Lisbon.
Just because it’s on the table, doesn’t make it free
After a few less-than-spectacular meals in Spain, we were really excited for something different and on our first night in Lisbon we splurged with a restaurant a little pricier than we normally go for. You know the kind of place where your waiter speaking a couple of languages and white tablecloths don the wooden tables. Besides the food, the waiter proved to be just as much a highlight of our evening.
A whip-smart funny sense of humor, he was the Portuguese Jim Carey and as an added bonus he kind of looked like him too. He explained what the entradas were, Portuguese appetizers placed on the table that you didn’t order – the idea is that if you eat these tantalizing goodies, you will be charged though minimally’. A common Portuguese practice, its less of a scam but more a cultural norm. Portuguese Jim cracked jokes about fellow diners while winking in between breaths.
As long as you know that you can make the executive decision if you trust that it hasn’t been sitting there in open air for extended periods of time. FYI: Ours didn’t move from the table during our meal, I could have rubbed my finger in that soft cheese for sure ;). We skipped on the entradas and ordered local favorite cod-fish instead.
One thing you want to keep in mind is that main dishes come automatically with sides, usually potatoes and something green. Mine was covered in corn breadcrumbs which was absolutely divine – the cod as thick as a Florentine steak, his a more simple olive oil and herbs coated version. Our waiter claimed that if for some reason we didn’t like our food, it wasn’t their fault, it was because of the Spaniards. The rivalry between these countries proves to be the butt of many jokes in Portugal, all of which I found pretty funny.
Look for special ‘plate of the day’ or pratos do dia deals
Like Italy, many eateries in Lisbon have special dishes that change daily or weekly that tend to be a little cheaper than the rest of the menu. I personally love ordering this plate since it usually tends to be seasonal and very good at the right price. Perfect for a traveler on a budget. I normally order a glass of local wine, vinho da casa, or new wine: vinho verde and being that its Portugal – chances are this also will be very palatable.
There are so many amazing places to eat in this dynamic city. I couldn’t possibly claim to be an expert by any means and for food alone, this country needs a second, third, maybe fourth visit. To get an idea of local cuisine and great restaurant suggestions from local experts, also refer to this great article by the Go Lisbon Blog.
Cheap Eats in Lisbon
- Pastéis de Belém
This famous place is in all of the guidebooks as a ‘must visit’ while in Belem, close to Lisbon and the home of the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém. We worked up quite the appetite while visiting the tower and walking along the waterfront so naturally I had to have one of these famous pasteis de belem – custard tarts that I heard about. While they don’t really seem like anything special from appearances, one bite into this flaky, creamy confection sprinkled with cinnamon and you will be instantly converted. According to wiki: it is believed that pastéis de nata were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery due to the large quantity of eggs on site. While the take-out line is always crowded, I recommend sitting down – its faster and everything is still cheap. Price: A selection of sandwiches and pasteis with water and coffee – around 20 euros for two.
Address: Rua de Belém, nº 84 a 92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal. Phone number +351 213 637 423.
- O Prego da Peixaria
We happened to find this hipster paradise on our last night in Lisbon, when I was certain that everything would be closed – It was January first! Lo and behold when walking down the street I see a few people standing outside of this restaurant and so we decided to give it a chance. Thank god we did, this place rocks. A fresh take on the traditional steak sandwich, they serve a delightful array of fish, steak and veggie sandwiches served on great bread and with unique sauces, our’s had a light pesto that matched perfectly and didn’t soak through the bread.
Mine came with cheddar and tender beef, his with salmon accompanied with sweet potato fries on the side. They also have amazing cocktails and yes, one was called hipster with basil and fresh mint… fitting! For dessert was a whole lot of cinnamon, I got the rice pudding and he – a green apple carpaccio with cinnamon gelato. Highly recommend! Price: Around 30-40 euros for two with cocktails.
Rua da Escola Politécnica, 40. 1250-102 Lisbon. Neighborhood: Príncipe Real
Mid-Range restaurants in Lisbon
- Lisboa à Noite
This was the restaurant where we had the famous cod dishes I spoke about above. This is a nice place with a good wine list and a fair mix of tourists and locals. We both really enjoyed our meal here, and while it isn’t cheap, it’s not too crazy either. Price: around 70 euros for two with wine.
Rua das Gáveas, 69
Neighborhood: Bairro Alto
+351 213 468 557
This was our place of choice for New Year’s Eve, which we took as sort of risk since sometimes these nights can be a big disappointment. We showed up at 8pm, got our special ‘open bar’ bracelets and started the night off with rose champagne, hallelujah!. After about 3 glasses later, we made it to our table for what was one of the best New Year’s Eve dinners I have ever had. The nutty bread and oil set the tone for what was a classy, sumptuous and elegant dinner featuring a mix of meat and fish, all the perfect portions. We ended with huge mojitos and danced the night away, undoubtably the best way to work off dinner.
address: Calçada Sacramento 40 a 46, 1200-394 Lisboa, Neighborhood: Chiado
This is a tiny little wine bar that serves food in the heart of Bairro Alto. We were running a little late this night and I really wanted to try some local cheeses and wine so we found this place and loved the cozy atmosphere. I have to say the service was mediocre, but I adored the wine, cheese and cold cod & mussel dishes we ordered. Everything was really tasty. Price around 40-50 for two with wine.
address:Travessa da Queimada, 1200-365 Lisboa, Neighborhood: Bairro Alto
I know you are thinking, you went to Portugal and you ate at a Mexican restaurant? Damn right I did! If I see a Mexican restaurant anywhere in the world with a half decent menu, I have to eat there, It is literally in my DNA. This place being no exception. The interior was beautiful and interior with starter margaritas that were mixed perfectly (on the rocks). While pretty pricey, my heart was sold when I spotted Mole enchiladas on the menu. We got an order of guacamole to start, a beautiful corn and pomegranate dessert to end, and the rest was history. Price 50-60 for two
address: RUA DOS REMOLARES, 34, Lisbon 1200-371 , Portugal.
Luxury cuisine in Lisbon
This restaurant is inside the famous Four Seasons Hotel Ritz in Lisbon. The elegance of this place will take your breath away, and if that doesn’t – you better believe the service will. That’s why it’s so expensive after all. We had their splendid lunch buffet which was all you can imagine – from the sushi corner, decadent cod, I pretty much ate the heck out of that buffet.
Dessert is on a whole other stratosphere – including a succulent, almost dangerous chocolate cake and of course the omnipresent pateis de belem. Because good port wine can be hard to find in Lisbon (typically a wine only drunk at special occasions), I recommend having a glass or two here where you can be assured of its quality. Being that it’s the Four Seasons, staff is helpful and intuitive, where do they find these people, but really? Price: $$$ [of course]
Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon. Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 88 1099-039 Lisboa. Neighborhood: Parque Eduardo VII
I couldn’t possibly end this post without mentioning ginginha, a sour cherry liquor that the Portuguese love and now, so do I. You can find it pretty much everywhere and I highly recommend taking a bottle or two home. We ran into this tiny little bar, Ginjinha do Carmo, serving pretty much just that at the bottom of a steep set of stairs. Take a shot, and then be on your merry little way, great idea!
Obrigada to Lisbon for all your delicious food – I will be back, eating your steak sandwiches and drinking your green wine, don’t you worry.
This post was part of my #winteroadtrip adventures from the south of France to Portugal. More posts about Lisbon and what to explore are coming, so stay tuned!