Lisbon is no longer up and coming. It’s here.
Ranked No. 4 on our inaugural Best Cities for Expats list, Portugal’s capital is beautiful, affordable, and ripe with opportunities for newcomers. If you’re traveling there, one thing is bound to stand out amongst the fado, breathtaking ocean vistas, and cute yellow street trolleys.
It’s the food.
Thanks to its climate and vicinity to the ocean, Lisbon naturally has access to all the ingredients necessary for culinary success.
The city is known for many delicious traditional dishes, but more than this, what makes this moment in its culinary development so exciting is the passion and creativity of the chefs emerging there. Without further ado we’ve got the foodie portion of your trip covered.
Feast at restaurants of every stripe
From the dramatic incantations of fado wafting onto the streets from bistros and bars to the stunning surrounding seascapes of the Atlantic and the charmingly antiquated buildings, Lisbon is an undeniably sultry city. This feeling easily translates into the culinary scene, as there are many spots to enjoy a romantic dinner.
• If you’re in the Arab Quarter, Alfama Cellar is a small space with a warm staff, where they serve traditional but thoughtful fare with big flavors. Great attention is brought to the quality of ingredients in each item on the daily changing menu, and there they are, experts at helping you pair your food with the perfect Portuguese wine.
• Taberna Rua das Flores in Chiado offers much of the same but in a candlelit setting that feels a bit more like a bistro with what feels like family cooking and a jovial ambiance.
• For something on the fancier side, there are also plenty of options that won’t break the bank. On the most traditional end of the spectrum is the ornate Tavares, the oldest restaurant in the city. If you’ve come here to experience the resplendent grandeur of old Europe, this Lisbon establishment is something of a national treasure, which serves classic Portuguese dishes to match its elegant setting.
• If you’re looking to indulge your senses in a playful and exciting ways, the best approach to contemporary fine dining in the city is Mini Bar in Lisbon’s vibrant Chiado District. Rising star on the global scene and famed young Lisbon chef, José Avillez, is the mastermind behind this restaurant. Described by the New York Times as “creative and prolific,” he’s also well known in the city and beyond for his other acclaimed restaurants including the nearby Cantinho do Avillez. The highly tasting menu comes as an ode to dramatic storytelling as it is organized in five acts as if it were a play. Exciting and affordable, each successive dish will keep you at the edge of your seat.
• When you want something a bit more casual but still dynamic, an option on equal par with all the others in terms of its emphasis on celebrating locality is Mercado da Ribeira. This hip market hall was revamped by TimeOut, as a project to revitalize the city’s food scene. Now, it’s consistently packed with locals and tourists on weekends and features food from some of the best restaurants in the city. One of the best standout places to try here is SeaMe, which is also a restaurant renowned for its outstanding seafood creations.
Speaking of which, as far as Lisbon’s fortuitous proximity to myriad different ingredients, any trip to Lisbon should be a celebration of fresh seafood. Of course, bacalhau, Portugal’s trademark codfish fritter, is probably one of the most quintessential ways of doing so. You can find this served at virtually every restaurant in the city.
• A lighter, more interesting way to pay homage to the city’s phenomenal seafood is to go for some ceviche. A Cevicheria, a Michelin starred spot near the scenic lookout point of Graça Jardim de São Pedro de Alcantara, is definitely the place to do it. Upscale but still affordable, watch as the expert chefs prepare each sensational creations from the restaurant’s open kitchen. Everything offered here is fresh and colorful from start to finish.
Now for dessert
• It’s imperative that you try pastéis de nata, Lisbon’s signature bubbling yellow custard tarts speckled bronze with caramelized sugar. These decadent desserts are best eaten warm and often synonymous with Pastéis de Belém, a world-famous bakery that serves some of the best.
• It’s worth a visit if a trip to nearby Museu Berardo or the Monastery of Jerónimos are on your itinerary, but the ones at Manteigaria are possibly better and this place is far less inundated with tourists. Located in the trendy Chiado district just adjacent to the bustling Baixa Chiado there’s not much room to sit, so take a few pastries to go and sit in the adjacent square in the evening for some prime people watching.
• On the subject of desserts, a lesser-known delicacy that’s a must on your trip to Lisbon is the bolo de chocolate at Landeau. There are a few locations around the city, but if you’re looking to get a sense of the Lisbon in all its contemporary glory, have your slice of luxurious chocolate truffle cake at the one located in LX Factory. This pedestrian-friendly industrial complex is filled with cafes, restaurants, flea markets, and a very cool bookstore Ler Devagar.
Drinks: where to have a pick-me-up and a libation
• Lisbon has a deeply historical café and coffee drinking culture. In fact, the Portuguese empire helped to spread the coffee bean around the world centuries ago. While sipping an espresso after a meal or in an old-school café is common, Fábrica Coffee Roasters offers a specialty experience with attention to every detail of the coffee’s cultivation from start to finish.
For those inevitable moments when you’re ready to wind down after a day of exploring, order some port wine and watch the sunset. Many venues claim to have the best vantage point for doing so, but the patio at Memmo Hotel really is perfection. By dusk, the skyline itself will begin to emulate the hues of what’s in your glass, as all becomes enveloped in ravishing hues of red and pink. After seeing it once, you might even find yourself wanting to change your accommodations so that you don’t have to leave
Lisbon is a city with a proud new generation of creatives in the culinary scene and beyond continually working to celebrate their culture by elevating and reinventing it in exciting new ways. While this list offers more than enough to get you started on your own foodie adventure, leave some room for spontaneity. Get lost in the city’s steep, winding cobblestone streets and take a chance every now and then on a place that beckons you in by making a good first impression. The city is teeming with places poised to do just that.
About the author:
Lily Cichanowicz is an American freelance writer and journalist currently based in Berlin. In the form of cultural analysis, her writing is a critical exploration of everything from the personal to the political, and her aim is to share the insights she has with readers.
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