We loved Lisbon, Portugal! In other reviews and write-ups about Portugal, it is often lumped with Spain, which is selling it short. It stands alone. Lisbon was economical, the weather in December was mild (60Fs) and sunny, and the food was fantastic – seafood and pastries. Say no more! Many of the locals involved with tourism spoke either English or some Spanish. We loved it. Now, I want to go back and see more of the rest of Portugal.
Our highlights were where we stayed, Villa Baixa, our walking food tour with Kika and the dinners we ate each night with seafood and ending with a pastry. Our full itinerary includes where we stayed and a day by day listing of things to do and places to eat.
Here is more information about where we ate.
Joao do Grao – The first night we arrived in Lisbon, we ate dinner close to our rental apartment at Joao do Grao. This restaurant is one of the ones “on the strip” near one of the big Plazas where the men with menus yell at you to eat at their place. We chose the one with the coziest inside decor and for which the man was not yelling, however, we did not know it was because they were closing soon. We thought the restaurants in Lisbon were open late. This place, however, only serves until 10 pm, at least on this Monday night. Also, as soon as we sat down, the wait staff immediately put out many spreads, bread and appetizers on our table. Beware, in Lisbon you will be charged for each of these! Only select the ones you want and send the rest back. We chose the fish pate and the bread and declined the others. We shared a seafood rice dish and a citron sorbet. The rice dish was filling and good, a bit generic, but hit the spot. The dessert was good. All in all, compared to the other dinners we had in Lisbon this was the least good, but it hit the spot for our first night. If you have to eat near the Plazas, this place is ok and the decor is traditional.
Our second day in Lisbon, I had reserved a food and walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We lucked out; this was fantastic! At 10:30 am, we met Kika and four other people at Mercado du Riberia, now called the Time Out Market.
From 10:30 am until around 3 pm, she walked around the market, Baixa and Chaido areas of Lisbon with us, introducing us to ceramic shops and traditional foods of Lisbon and telling us about where things came from, how things were made and which shops and restaurants were traditional and good. It was charming, informative and fun.
After the market, we started at this plaza to try some of the traditional ginja (cherry) liquor from the red corner kiosk to warm us up.
My daughter and I enjoyed the walking, the food, the company and all of the information. The highlights of the tour for me were the view from the Nun’s Cantina, Vicente’s for lunch, Landau’s chocolate cake and Mantiegeria for traditional pastries – my daughter and I went back every night for one! We watched every step of their process and then ate two warm traditional pastries sprinkled with cinnamon.
I loved the traditional Portuguese shops as well. We enjoyed Kika immensely and we liked our tour members so much we met up with them again later in the week for more. It was a great introduction to the city. We took every one of Kika’s recommendations for dinner through-out our week in Lisbon and each restaurant was great.
That night, we ate at A Cevicheria – This was one of my favorite dinners while in Lisbon. It has a low-key vibe, but lovely seafood dishes, many with quinoa. I loved the seaweed butter with squid ink crackers to start. Each dish had an interesting detail. I liked the green gazpacho with a scallop, Portuguese ceviche, fish with quinoa and octopus foam and dessert of citron quinoa. Surprising and fun. Our wait staff was attentive and helpful. I appreciated the multi-lingual menu. The options were fresh and good. There is just a line of tables in this corridor style restaurant and it filled up quickly. So we ate at 7 pm and were glad to be early.
Arone – The pastries at Arone in Chaido are all made from various sweetened vegetable fillings with nut paste, such as sweet potato with almond, pumpkin with almond, spaghetti squash, etc. It may sound quirky, but the combinations are good and with crunchy meringue or toffee. They are sweet and exciting. We ate here twice after dinner for dessert and enjoyed trying a number of their prize winning pastries.
Gelato – While in Lisbon, we tried many of the various gelato places, all along or around Rua Garrett. We tried Grom, which had nice fruit and dark chocolate flavors. I liked Persimmon there. We also tried Santini both at the market and in Chaido. My favorite gelato were Santini and Sorbettini in Chaido off the main square. Santini used Valhonna for their dark Chocolate and it was very good. Their fruit flavors seemed to be just a bit denser and more flavorful than the others.
Cantinko de Sé – We ate lunch at a restaurant down from Sé near a tram stop so that we could catch the #12 tram after we ate. This was not great food, but we had paella. Our guide later chided us for eating Spanish food in Portugal. But, my black squid rice hit the spot. We tried three pastries afterwards and they were not great. After walking all day, though it was good to sit down and get warm.
Tapisco – We ate dinner at Tapisco for our third dinner out and it was my favorite. It is also at the top of Dom Pedro in Barro Alto near some of the other restaurants. It is a long corridor style restaurant which fills up as it gets later in the evening, so we were glad to arrive around 7 pm for dinner and not have a problem getting a table for two. We had a wonderful dinner. They served traditional, but very elegant and special food. I had the salted cod with potatoes and it was perfect. Fantastic service and food. We loved it.
Walking around the Alfama area, there were a number of small Ginja “carts” set up. When we found one man sitting on his own, in front of his house, we took him up on his offer of ginja in chocolate cups – a wonderful local delicacy and fun to try!
Miss Can – For lunch, we visited Miss Can, which sells canned fish. I know, not everyone thinks they will like canned fish. But, we all went in and the charming owner (who is a friend of Kika’s) opened four to six cans of his fish caught and canned in the north part of Portugal. He also had a number of salads and we all tried different things: salted cod with garlic, tuna with rosemary, stuffed squid, mackerel in spicy sauce, tomato salad, etc. We also had special Portuguese “green wine” Vino Verde, which is like a champagne without bubbles in taste. Everything was wonderful. We all bought canned fish to bring home. I recommend trying it.
Ramiro – Our third evening, dinner four, we went to the famous Ceviche Ramiro for seafood. We knew we had to go early and that we would just have plates full of seafood, but we didn’t know what else to expect. We went at 6 pm. There was no wait and tables were still open. When we left at 7:30 pm, this was not the case. It was a wonderful experience. It is busy and loud with long tables for multiple parties at a table. The male wait staff divide up the parties at the tables. You order various plates of seafood and the food comes in the order it is ready. We had shrimp in garlic and butter, a steak sandwich, the crab, steamed clams and a plate of buttered toast. Everything was excellent. It was “just” seafood without any extras. No salads, no side dishes, no veggies, no desserts, unless you order them ala cart. If you love seafood done multiple ways, this is your place. No frills, nothing fancy and it was affordable.
We started our fourth day at the Time Out Market for a brunch. We wanted to get there before the crowds, so we arrived around 10:30 or 11 am. It was perfect. We were hungry, the shops were open and not busy, and the tables were mostly empty. By the time we left at 12 Noon, it was packed with very few free seats. We got a steak sandwich and octopus salad at the Michelin star restaurant Sa Pessoaa. We got ham, cheese and melon from Manteigeria Jose Oliveria and Sorbetto from Santini. It was a wonderful brunch. By 12 N there was nowhere to sit in the market. The market is a great place to try small plates from some of the great chefs and restaurants with a Michelin star level in the city without having to walk all over the city and without having to pay for a large meal. It is very popular.
Belem is famous for introducing the pastries of Lisbon. When Portugal became a dictatorship, the monks of the monastery were not allowed to worship any longer. They needed to earn money, so they started to sell some of the foods they had been preparing for themselves in the monastery. One of the recipes was for their cream pastries, Pastel du Nata or also called Pasties de Natal. These became very popular and are now one of the symbols of Lisbon. The original recipe is still a guarded secret, although other bakeries also make similar pastries. The Pasteis de Belem are available from the restaurant with blue awnings near the Monastery. There is usually a long line to purchase the pastries from the shop, but if you want to eat inside, you can go around this line and go inside to sit down. There may still be a line inside for seating, but it is usually much shorter. You can order from the menu and have tea and coffee. It is quite lovely to sit inside, also. The pastries of Belem were our favorite.
That night, we ate at the fanciest restaurant in Lisbon, Bairro do Avillez. We had made a reservation for 7 pm to make sure we had a table. There are three sections to the restaurant and we were in the back. Interestingly, although it had been hyped and the prices were much higher than other places we had eaten, the food was not better. The desserts were much more elaborate and were the best we ate anywhere, but the entrees were disappointing for the price. My daughter tried a traditional stew with pureed bread and it was not as tasty as she had hoped and was not served with anything to eat it with, such as rice or potatoes.
After dinner, we walked up towards Dom Pedro and went to Cafe Luso for Fado music. We had to purchase a minimum of food or drink, but the Fado was playing from 10 pm to 2 am. There were four Fado singers, three women and one man. We really loved one of the female singers and enjoyed her solo set the most. It was a real treat to get to hear the traditional Portuguese Fado music in a beautiful setting with the ceramic bricked ceiling of an older building.
Our last dinner in town, we ate at Cafe Fabulas in Chaido. It has a small non-descript front door leading through many hallways to a large outdoor patio and lovely lower ground seating with a tiled traditional roof. The food was simple and lovely. I had a traditional cod with egg and potato set into a quiche sort of pie and my daughter had shrimp. It was filling and good. We had our last Manteigeria pastries in the main Chiado square off Rua Garrett.
We loved Lisbon. It was affordable. The people were open and friendly. The weather in December was warm (each day was sunny and in the 60s). The city has many interesting areas and things to see and do. Most importantly, the food was fantastic. I would love to go back and also see other areas of Portugal. Portugal needs to promote itself more – it is such a wonderful destination!