Lisbon Dining Round Up

Written by Katie Parla on August 21, 2012

A lardy pork sandwich. Best thing I ate all week.

Allow me to begin this post with an understatement. August is not an ideal month for visiting Lisbon. Even more so than my adopted city of Rome, most of the Portuguese capital shuts down in August, its residents flee to coastal villages, and most of its drinking and dining establishments close. Consequently, Mamma Parla and I were condemned to eat very badly during most of our weeklong trip. We did, however, find a few great and/or traditional things. Here are the highlights:

Taberna Da Rua Das Flores is a delightful institution.

Cervejaria Ramiro is wildly popular with locals and visitors alike so be prepared to queue most evenings–you can pop inside to the bar for beers to accompany your wait. Go in a group so you can try lots of beautifully prepared and gently cooked seafood.

Snails at Caracóis de São Bento, a little dive on Rua dos Poiais de São Bento 38: This place is ridiculous. We walked in and the entire crowd of locals inside was transfixed on the power walking Olympic competition. I ordered a prato (small serving) then recanted and went for the travassa (4 person order). I won respect left and right for polishing off the snail trough with little help. No speed walking was required.

Pastéis at Pastéis de Belém: This place topped every list of recommendations I had for Lisbon’s pastry shops. Located near the cathedral in Belém (at Rua de Belém 84 to be exact), this institution sells egg custard tarts. Patrons queue up for the local specialty and the line moves fast. We took ours to go and picnicked in the nearby park.

Chicken at Bonjardim Travessa de Santo Antão 11: Lisbon is famous for its roasted chicken and this place, too, came highly recommended by friends. The chicken was extraordinary. The service less so. As with other touristic places in the dead center of town, Bonjardim loads your table with croquettes, cheese, bread, butter, and other things you didn’t order. You are then charged for what you consume. We were already warned of this practice, which added €10 to our bill. Fine. When I pointed out they had overcharged us for these items, based on the prices listed on their own menu, they got very loud and indignant. One server was particularly abusive. I handled the situation like a lady almost had to fight the guy. Avoid this trap.

’A Ginjinha in Largo São Domingos 8 near the Rossio Metro serves the local sour cherry-infused spirit by the shot. For an extra special buzz, order it with a side of boozy cherries.

Bifana and prego at Beira Gare: this cafeteria-restaurant, also near the Rossio metro, serves home style fast food. Their bifana (sautéed pork sandwich) was the best thing we had all week. If you eat standing at the bar, a hearty portion comes to a whopping €1.80. The pricier prego (sliced beef sandwich) was less satisfying and cost €2.20.

Canned things at Sol e Pesca: on Rua Nova do Carvalho 44, a short stroll from the Cais de Sodré train station, this place serves canned cured fish, a Portuguese delicacy. Highly recommended.

We dreamed of dining at Chef José Avillez’s Belcanto, Lisbon’s top restaurant, which was closed. We settled for his simple bistro Cantinho do Avillez instead. The bright dining room was lovely, the food was fairly good, especially the shrimp with garlic. The house specialty, fried green beans weren’t all that.

Cockles at Tasca da Esquina: This dish was so good I ordered it twice. It made the other five dishes look bad by comparison. No, actually, they were bad, bland, and boring. An expensive disappointment.

Clara Clara, a cafe in the park: Perhaps not a culinary destination, but a fine place to sit in the park and drink watered down coffee with a side of free wifi. The kiosk cafe overlooks the Tejo River in a leafy park near the Feira da Ladra flea market.

To conclude, our worst dining experiences were at the highly recommended Chafariz do Vinho and Ristorante Santo Antonio. Both stood out for their awful food and undrinkable wine. Avoid.

For a local expert point of view, track down the latest from food journalist Miguel Andrade.

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