I have yet to meet someone whose pupils didn’t dilate and face didn’t light up upon the mention of Lisbon, particularly with regard to food. Is this over enthusiasm or appropriately placed zeal? Well, after my first meal in Lisbon I was an easy convert. I am in love. Although cuisine is ‘limited’ in comparison to London (but we are very spoilt here), the Portugese fare is ample enough. Jamon, Duoro wine, port and copious amounts of shellfish are no disappointment for even the most discerning of tastebuds and shallow of pockets. With just three and a half days to eat my way through one of the most exciting cities, this is my foodie guide on 6 of the best local restaurants and bars in Lisbon. Look forward to the most exquisite seafood and innovative local bars, because it’s not just about pastel de nata, guys.
Said to be the best seafood restaurant in Lisbon, this boisterous and popular joint sits in a quiet neighbourhood just beyond the Rossio area. If you’ve already asked around, it’s likely this will already be a recommendation but let me seal that as a must-do.
As if by fate, it was conveniently located opposite our hotel 1908 Lisboa and we arrived just before 7pm, which meant that we didn’t need to wait for a table. Ramiro is far more similar to a local banqueting restaurant in Asia with its large aquariums and packed tables than an upscale French seafood restaurant with an orderly shellfish display. So if you’re one for laid-back dining with zero frills, you’ll feel more at home than stressed. However, figuring out how to orderwas a bit of a mystery – we were given an iPad menu but had to order by scribbling down the desired weight of our food on the paper tablecloth.
I’m no connoisseur when it comes to ordering via the metric system and I doubt you’re one either, unless you frequent wet markets or you’re a nutrition obsessive. Much of the ordering was experimental, we went for 250g of oysters (which appeared as two large juicy ones), 150g of glass prawns, which was quite a large portion, clams in garlic and olive oil, 1kg of lobster (a giant pregnant one and the best I’ve ever had in my life) and finally a plate of sweet and fatty jamon. Including a bottle of wine and some water, it came to €120 or around £105. It was one of those meals that are deeply satisfying while in progress but becomes even more lust-worthy after it’s over, and I honestly would not have minded if I had to have dinner there for the three nights we were in Lisbon.
Amiable staff, great ham and a punchy list of affordable wines. This bar is a chic yet relaxing place to rest your feet after a day of exploring the city. A bottle of cava and a plate of ham will go for less than €30. Although you can find it at the Time Out Market, the central main location is a better choice for a more intimate atmosphere.
Just next to the mercado, the Time Out Market is home to lovingly curated food stalls from the magazine’s editors, featuring the best restaurants and bars in Lisboa. But let what they call ‘editorialised gourmet stalls’ be an indication of price – you’re here to experience the Hot Tables section IRL rather than find hearty Portugese street food. Montemar Seafood is a popular choice but the grilled garlic tiger prawn or grilled squid with rice comes at the hefty price of €19 for a simple meal.
Amelia, the ‘girlfriend’ cafe to the original Nicolau, doesn’t have the kind of food that will change your life. But then again, how many breakfast places do that? This is where the locals flock to on weekends for brunch on the patio. It has all the elements of an Instagram cafe – neon signs, palm tree motifs, sun-drenched outdoor space and photogenic breakfast and salad bowls; so no wonder it’s a 30 minute wait or more at peak times. We went for the warm salad bowls and I’d recommend the shrimp with black rice and moreish turmeric granola, a heavy dish punctuated with cubes of refreshing cucumber (€15) and the homemade lemonade, a sourish pulp-filled drink more like the lemon juice you get in Morocco than Lipton Ice Tea.
Admittedly, this place looks like a tourist trap. And it’s just behind a street lined with those restaurants with menus in 100 different languages with staff accosting you as you walk by. But this place is different. The green and white umbrellas call its loyal local customers and in-the-know visitors for a taste of their signature paella dishes (around €26 for one person, €52 for two). Portions are very liberal, so although prices aren’t as low as you’d expect, they’re pretty reasonable. We saw locals order the grilled seafood and a sizzling steak on a hot plate and it looked amazing.
The Bairro Alto area is the Soho of Libson packed with sleek independent wine bars, upbeat restaurants with tables that spill out onto the street and walls lined with street art. Double Nine, the experimental cocktail bar that specialises in tea mixology, lives here. You’ll notice that prices are shockingly low for what would be a premium watering hole in any other city, where complex concoctions are around €10-15. I went for the New Fashioned, a twist on the Old Fashioned cocktail which was served with a crowd pleasing giant ice ball and cinnamon smoke. Also a bonus and in true Portugese hospitality, the venue provides complimentary canapes while you sip. The only downside is the lack of speed for a bar that wasn’t packed at 10pm on a Sunday.
Interested in more foodie city guides? Check out What A Girl Eats in Bangkok