Lisbon eats: a pleasant surprise.
Never having been to Portugal, but have occasionally dined at Portuguese restaurants at whichever city we happen to be living or travelling in, with each restaurant seemingly having only the bacalhau dish in common, I had no clue as to what to expect during our 5-day stay in Lisbon. With some pre-trip online research, we decided during a 5-day trip in mid March, to roll the dice and spend our dining Euros at:
Rua do Vale do Pereiro, 19
+351 213 867 696
Our first night’s dinner in the city turned out to be an excellent culinary start. The struggling local economy appears to show its impact on the local high-end dining scene with just 4 parties, I counted, in spite of a drizzly Thursday night in Lisbon. While I’m not too crazy about the sort-of minimalist décor with the kitschy-looking landscape photo of the residential hills of Lisbon covering one side of the wall, the overall atmosphere, from the attentive and efficient service, to the wine and elaborate food presentation that came with very knowledgeable explanation by each server, was the saving grace. Opting for the Euro 49 5-course menu, I also requested for the both of us to go with the wine-pairings, but specifically instructed our maître d’ that we will prefer a mix-and-match of the frescos e jovens (young and fresh) with the elegantes e evoluidos (elegant and mature) wines, as opposed to picking just one category as indicated on their menu. I admit that my Portuguese wine knowledge is close to zero and my decision to rely on their sommelier to guide our food-and wine-pairing destiny was to say the least, a successful one, especially as I was given the opportunity to sample prior to pouring for each pairing. Other than what is shown in my iPhone photos, I’m not able to recall the exact nature of each dish we had, but am happy to say this was one of the highlights meal during our stay in Lisbon. I will say that the fish dishes are the ones that are embedded more in my happy memories. As opposed to a restaurant that creates modern dishes that are fitted in with local/regional infusion, I’m happy to say that Assinatura’s are based on Portuguese classics and effectively executed with a creative modern twist, all without seemingly losing authenticity and regionalism. I heartily recommend Assinatura for a “splurge” meal in Lisbon. If I may state, by New York City standard, this is 4-star dining at 2-star pricing. As is always in line with my travel-eating creed, it’s always a good practice to reserve in advance.
Av. Almirante Reis 1-H,
+351 218 851 024
So, New York City’s own great traveler/former chef/writer/visionary/sage Anthony Bourdain had a blast in this restaurant, or so he claims and shows in his popular TV travel and food program. For once, he got one right. A traditional Lisbon cervejaria, in a grungy locals neighborhood, and complete with hurried and slightly brusque serving staff, who will quickly wipe away shellfish remnants from your table half of which would end in the wiping rag, the other half onto the restaurant floor. They’ll rightly start you off with the local azeitao sheep’s milk cheese and toasted buttered Portuguese half-buns. Then we followed-up with the very fresh grilled sweet large tiger prawns and the unforgettable steamed whole meaty crab served cracked with the large shell containing the crab fat-and-roe mixture. YUM! For dessert, go for the traditional Prego or fried steak sandwich on a Portuguese bun. Priceless. All washed down with very good local beers, and I recommend going for the Super Bock over rival brand of Sagres. The bill can add up (not by much), but who cares, especially as one enjoys the freshest and tastiest seafood this side of the Atlantic. Very highly recommended.
Cervejaria da Esquina
Rua Correia Teles 56,
+351 213 874 644
Located in a residential neighborhood, just about a 20-minute cab ride from the city center, this restaurant provides a modern take on the Portuguese cervejaria experience. The modern setting, with the clean, sleek appointments, and a refined wait staff, added to an overall very pleasant dining experience. In addition to beers, there are plenty of Portuguese wines by the glass and by the bottle, which by now we’ve established that ordering wines in local restaurants is the easiest thing on the dining wallet as they are tremendously cheap by any Western European or North American standards. With a bottle of a Douro white and a couple of glasses of Alentejo reds, we both enjoyed our shared dishes of excellent and very juicy Razor Clams and one of the best, if not the best, fresh tuna sandwich I’ve eaten. Yes, there are aquariums with the live large crabs and local lobsters, and also displayed iced cases of the humongous prawns, just as we see in most traditional cervejaria in the city, but we opted not to duplicate our lunch success at Ramiro by ordering similar dishes. We finally ended with a lip-smacking slice of their home-made flan pudding, complemented with a small cup of a very graceful, not the in-your-face kind, of Portuguese coffee. After a quick but careful deliberation, we decided to do a repeat meal with our last lunch in Lisbon, but regretfully unable to do so due to unforeseen airport transfer issues. Will vowed to repeat on our next Lisbon visit, whenever that may be. A very popular restaurant and advanced reservation is definitely required.
Winebar do Castello
Rua Bartolomeu de Gusmao 11/13
+351 962 928 956
It’s up there at the visible-from-everywhere-Lisbon hill of Castelo Sao Jorge. A bit dingy of a neighborhood, but I thought it has its old Lisbon charms. We didn’t want a big dinner and decided to do a light one with finger foods, while sampling local wines. A very small cozy winebar with about 7 to 8 tables, but with more than 150 local wines available by the glass. I continually engaged our assigned wait staff to help me with sample tastes and explanations on the available wines prior to ordering my next glass. Very accommodating and attentive staff. The mix platter of sliced local Iberico ham, sausages and cheeses, with the usual great Portuguese bread, was enough to tide us over for dinner. Add to that about 4 glasses each of different wines, plus a complimentary shot of a 20-year old tawny port, this place made our night. I recommend to anyone who’d want to expand their Portuquese wine horizon. A 15-minute cab ride from city center.
Casa da Bifana
Martim Moniz, Lisboa
Looks like an American diner in setting. A counter with stools, all occupied by folks chomping on fried pork wedged between the open slit of a soft Portuguese roll. A dish that we wanted to try, in supposedly a place that houses the best kind, and I thought it was just ho hum. For anyone craving for this so-called Portuguese staple sandwich, I suggest researching harder for a better place that makes ‘em.
Pasteis de Belem
Rua Belem 34
The area of Belem is a good 30-minute commute from the city center. The pasteis is a creamy-eggy-custardy goodness encased in a flakey, warm-from-the-oven fresh pastry that resembles a tart. The bake shop houses an enormous very busy restaurant that appears to serve nothing but egg tarts and coffee (or tea) to hundreds of patrons, most of which are tourists. It definitely is worth it to make the trek to Belem, with plenty of good cheap transportation options in the city, to check out the Monasterio do Jeronimos, a very fine example of late Gothic architecture. But to go to Belem just for this, I think I’ll pass. The tarts are pretty much available at every street corner coffee shop in Lisbon, with each advertising/touting how good theirs are.
Cantinho do Avillez
Rua Duques de Braganca 7
+351 211 992 369
Our last dinner in Lisbon. It wasn’t the meal of the trip, but just as with the other ones, we were satisfied with our experience. I finally had the national dish-ingredient of bacalhau and it definitely proved to be better than any that I’ve had anywhere. Fresh-tasting moist flaked cod mixed with the very delicious potatoes and plump cooked olive, the dish was a delight. Smiling, efficient and friendly service, this bistro-type establishment serves a good hamburger-with-foie-gras with a side of very good fries, geared for those who have been here long enough to start craving something from home. Being curious, and picky, about the wines that I order in Portugal, just as I did in other restaurants, I politely engage our wait staff into having us first sample anything we order by the glass. They’re more than willing to oblige and were eager to provide useful information about their wines. I’d go back just to sample the prego steak sandwiches and other more local “bistro” dishes that this restaurant seems to be good at. Extremely popular and so, advanced reservation is a definite must.
Rua do Duque 9
Our last meal in Portugal was lunch in a restaurant called Super Mario, a tasca, or through googling, a “cheap eating place”. Filled to capacity, Super Mario happens to be one that is most popular among the local workers, neighbors and business people who all seem to know one another, in the Chiado neighborhood. It was the crowning glory of our culinary adventure in Lisbon. Wandering around the neighborhood, prior to heading off to the airport in the afternoon, we walked in and were ushered to our seats, as the wait staff politely urged a solo dining patron busily gorging on his meal to scoot over one seat so that we both can sit face-to-face in this capacity-filled 40-seater family run restaurant, with very tightly-spaced communal tables. The menu appears to change by the day, depending on the fresh available market buys. Today’s menu, as displayed in Portuguese, hand-written with felt pen on a large white piece of paper taped on one of the wall included a grilled fish dish, a fried fish dish and a large bowl containing something that resembled the French pot-a-feu and which 75% of today’s diners opted for. With a refreshing cold bottle of their most expensive Vinho Verde (Euro 9), we started with a shared plate of the azeitao cheese with some soft Portuguese rolls, until our order of the fried fish steaks and the grilled larger chunk of fish, a different variety from the fried one, arrived and each was simply served with sides of boiled potatoes, rice and some fresh lettuce-tomatoes. We couldn’t help but smile throughout our meal as we chomped on our fish dishes. These were sooooo good. We went with the very light and airy flan dessert that everybody else had, and were also comped a shot each of the house port to finish off our meal. It was the best home-cooked meal that I’ve had in a while, and certainly a memorable one at that. Twenty-two Euro total an excellent local fare, we did well, we did very well. With a name like Super Mario, what else can go right?