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There is something to say about a new city that puts a smile on ones face when you take your first steps through the streets. That’s what Lisbon, the capital city on the west coast of Portugal, did for me; a city that breathed a calmness into me and relaxed my sore traveling feet in a figurative sense. Lisbon is a city that moves at its own lingering pace with a populace who are proud of their history and traditions. A culture and people who are known for explorers, a people who were willing to face the power of the Atlantic Ocean and learn to live in harmony with it. Lisbon is a city where the gods opened up the ground underneath it swallowing it whole with only with the Alfama being the last neighborhood standing strong amongst the rubble of the 1755 earthquake. This city and its people no longer need to prove anything to anybody. They are a people who are proud of their blue collar cuisine showcasing the value of simplistic quality ingredients. Lisbon stands alone as a city with its haunting Fado music echoing down the streets as you explore a culture like no other and inhabitants who want to share it with you.
If you are heading to Lisbon, embrace the slow life and explore this city and all it has to offer. Sit down next to the locals and dig in, this is our guide to how to Eat Local in Lisbon!
Eat Local in Lisbon
Rua da Madalena 3a
When walking the streets in the city for the first time it can be a little disorienting as your mind is trying to take everything in. The best way to get your bearings is to grab a beer and a quick bite and just force yourself to stop. Put your focus into one thing and let your mind relax. This is what I found when we stopped in at Bar Covense.
Ash and I had just arrived in the city and decided to go and wander around the city. Our noses led us to this little hole in the wall where we found ourselves staring in the window watching pork slowly stew in its own juices accompanied by wine and spices. We almost moved on with the idea that we would come back.
Luckily there was a little old man who saw us staring at the window. He came out and grabbed my arm and pulled me inside and pointed at the pork and gave me a thumbs up. I asked the man at the counter for what was cooking up and a beer. In the following moments what I experienced was the best dish of food that I have had in Lisbon. What is called a bifana was set in front of me with a small beer.
A bifana is a pork sandwich but describing it as just that would be an understatement. The pork is slow cooked with wine, spices and in its own wonderful pork juices. The pork then is scooped onto a fresh cut roll and then drenched with everything that it has been cooking in. That is it, it is that simple but it might be the greatest thing I have personally eaten. When served, slather on some good mustard, set your elbows on the bar and dig in while sipping on an ice cold larger to wash it all down.
The best part is a bifana and a beer will only run you 2.80 at Bar Covense. This bar became my favorite spot to enjoy this mid afternoon snack as I stood at the bar with locals enjoying this wonderful pork treat. They have the best in town and it is a must stop.
Costa Dias e Amorim
Campo dad Cebolas 9
One of the most interesting experiences we had in Lisbon was when we stopped in at Costa Dias e Amorim. Lisbon was originally a port town or what you might think of a fisherman’s town. What comes with that is some good ol’ blue collar places to eat. Ash and I were walking along the port when we spotted this small hole in the wall with a couple of people standing outside smoking. We decided to check it out.
The inside is small; it consists of a bar that doubles as the kitchen with four small two top tables low to the ground. We walked in and were greeted by a husband and wife working behind the bar. We asked for some lunch and the husband nodded. He had us stand at the bar to enjoy some bolinhos de bacalhau. Bolinhos de bacalhau are croquettes filled with salt cod. These were actually very tasty as we waited for a table to open up. As we waited I observed the patrons of the establishments; they were mostly dock workers by the way they dressed. They were on their lunch break and in the mood to get some food that filled them up and put enough energy in them to keep them going. I was thinking to myself, man we found the spot.
After being seated we were offered two different options for lunch. Ash and I decided that it was a good idea to get both options. I went with the bacalhau with black eyed peas, and Ash had a plate of bolinhos de bacalhau over some rice and of course a large bottle of wine.
The meal started with the soup of the day that was delicious and warm on the slightly chilled December day. Then it was followed by a small fresh fruit salad. I devoured these quickly and was ready for more and that was when the main dish arrived…
Now this meal was a no thrills meal and to be honest it was tough for me to eat. It was in no way the restaurant’s fault; it was completely mine because I am not used to just a filet of salt cod cooked and placed on a plate before me. She cooked the cod up in some water and then tossed it on a plate with unseasoned black eyed peas and potatoes. The black eyed peas were great once I added some salt, pepper and vinegar which they offer but the salt cod got to me. It was tough, bony and salt ridden, very fitting for its name. Like I said, nothing was wrong with the meal I just realized that salt cod on its own is not my thing. My jaw got a workout just trying to chew it enough to swallow.
I found out later that depending on how long you let the salt cod reconstitute in water depends on the tenderness and the salt level. Some people leave it just for a day which is the toughest and the saltiness of the bunch. I was told next time to find a place that soaked the fish for a few more days. The one I had most likely only had a day of soaking, if that.
Ash’s meal was more enjoyable as it was just a bunch of the bolinhos de bacalhau. The rice that accompanied the dish was very al dente which was not to my taste but the patrons around us were scooping it up like crazy. Then the meal ended with some great coffee and a shot of Raki!
To say the least, this place was not my favorite restaurant. It was an experience of straightforward blue collar cooking. The place is always filled with the dockworkers drinking wine and enjoying some type of bacalhau. The best part about the restaurant though, was the entire meal cost us 10 euros! So it is worth a try and who knows you might like it 🙂
Merendinha do Arco
Rua dos Sapateiros 230
Back to more eating and this place is good! Now this place is known for their fried salt cod but I will admit I had to stay away from it. I was not ready to give salt cod another try. I can say though that I tried it because Ash’s sister Hailey ordered it and I will admit it was tastier than my first experience but it is still not my thing. If salt cod is your thing this is the place to stop.
If you are like me and do not enjoy salt cod there are plenty more options. I went with the special of the day which was the roast lamb which just fell off the bone and was delicious. Ashley dug into her fried shrimp and squid platter which I helped her out with. Hailey’s boyfriend Ross, enjoyed a seafood stew filled veggies and shrimp. All of it was superb and filled us right up for lunch!
The ambiance here is relaxed as once again it’s filled with a lot of locals and we ate at long cafeteria style tables. It does look like a place during the summer that would fill up tourists but during the winter and off season it seemed to be nothing but the locals! And don’t be thrown off by its location right next to “Sexyland” 😉
Tomo Da La Ça
Travessa do Sequeiro 38
This next restaurant is a classic example of Lisbon cooking: great, simple and fresh food and cheap to boot. The food is pretty basic. If you order fish you are going to get fish on a plate and that’s it and then with some sides to share in the middle. The food here though is amazing and high quality.
As you walk into the restaurant it is filled with locals all sitting at large tables enjoying each others company as they eat and drink with family and friends. It puts you into an instant great mood. We sat at our table and were served with a couple of snacks that we enjoyed while browsing the menu. We ordered a couple bottles of their house wine which was set at an amazing price of five euros to go along with our meal. How can you not say yes to wine at that price? We then ordered our meals. Ashley ordered a grilled tuna, I had the pork tenderloin in a mustard sauce and Ash’s sister and her boyfriend enjoyed grilled dorada. All of the food was cooked perfectly as we dug into our plates.
We ate and laughed as we enjoyed more bottles of wine until it was time for dessert. If we thought the meal was great, the dessert knocked the meal out of the park. We all shared a chocolate mousse, and two different types of cakes including the most delicious cookie crumb cake with another bottle of wine. I mean come on the wine is only five euros and it is good!
This restaurant was absolutely wonderful with great traditional food and crowds of locals which made it that much more special. And we left the place without our wallets being emptied! For four main dishes, three desserts and 4 or 5 bottles of wine we walked out for less the 50 euros. It was a steal and is a place I will be going back to. It was one of the best meals of the trip!
Cafe Buenos Aires
Calçada do Duque 31b
Okay, this is not a traditional place for the cuisine of Portugal but it was so good we could not keep it off the list. This is a great place to stop at and enjoy some starters and wine, especially if you are looking for some great light and fresh salads. Sometimes you just need to feel healthy a bit while you are traveling. We sat down and ordered just four starters with a bottle of wine. We had a goat cheese and flower salad with fresh cut strawberries and raspberries that was the prettiest salad ever. Then an avocado, shrimp, grapefruit and jicama salad that was a well needed dish for theses Californians that miss avocados! We took a small detour off all the freshness when we devoured a filo dough goat cheese pocket. Last but not least we had an endive salad with pear and blue cheese just to wrap up all the deliciousness.
We ended our meal with perhaps one of the greatest desserts ever; a crushed meringue with macerated strawberries, whipped cream and strawberry coulis. It was so light but decadent and we devoured it in seconds!
Pasteis de Belem
Rua de Belem 84-92
Okay guys this is a must stop when visiting Lisbon. All over the city one can find Pasteis de Natal, but enjoying these delicious pastries where they were invented is a must. It would be like going to New Orleans and not eating a beignet from Café du Monde. The pasties are simple, small custards in a buttery pastry cup with cinnamon and sugar on top. They are only a 1.05 € each and you can eat a ton of them if you are not careful.
To find Pasteis de Belem you have to head just outside of the city. It is not technically in Lisbon but a quick tram ride to the town Belem. We rode bikes because it was such a wonderful day! It is hard to miss Pasteis del Belem as it is the busiest place in town but don’t let the crowds throw you off. The place is huge and finding a seat is not to difficult as there are multiple large back rooms. Take a seat order a café com leite and a few pastries. Make sure to sprinkle some extra cinnamon on top and dig into these warm custard pastries. Up front you can wait in line and get them to go but I prefer sitting with the rest of the crowd snacking on these treats.
Rua Augusto Rosa 19
Another place that Ash and I happened to come upon on our adventures was Cafe Pit. It had a cool look to it and we were hungry so we decided to give it a try even though the place was empty. Cafe Pit is modern take on classic Portuguese cuisine. I would suggest getting the sampler to eat. I am not one to usually suggest a sampler but the owner promised us that we would get more bang for our buck from it and that it is all delicious. I tend to take advice from an owner who hangs out in his own place. It did not let us down as we were able to try multiple delicious bites from the menu.
The owner, after serving us wine, started us off with a shot of cold vegetable soup. I wish I had more than just a shot, it was that good. The sharing plate came with a salt cod spread, pork cooked in port, ratatouille, wild mushrooms, cheeses and cured meats. The ratatouille (which I know is French and not Portuguese) was stellar, while the pork slowed cooked in port was perfection. They do have full meals but we just wanted a snack while we drank wine so this was perfect for a calm evening. If you happen to be veggie they do have plenty of veggie options too!
Av. Almirante Reis n•1
Lisbon is on the water and the water brings with it a long tradition of fishing and sailing. Fishing is still alive and strong today as the cuisine has some of the best seafood one can find in Europe. That is were Cervejaria Ramiro comes into the scene, a place that specializes in some of the best seafood that I have had. This is a traditional Portuguese seafood restaurant with plenty of tables ready to serve you a feast. Oh and did I mention you can get all the the critters from sea that you can imagine?
With Ashley’s family, we feasted on barnacles, shrimp, crab, clams and that was just a taster of all the seafood you can enjoy. The restaurant is reasonably priced for the amount and quality you can enjoy. If seafood is your thing then this your place! Also, the ambience is like a big family feast as the wine and food seems to be endless.
Rua Serpa Pinto 15
Tartine is a cute little modern place in the heart of Lisbon. They are also known for their pasteis de natal. They are a little bit heavier in body with tiny bit more creme brûlée feel to them than Pasteis del Belem. I really enjoyed them and ate more than a few myself but I would not substitute these for going out and trying the originals.
This is a great place if you are looking for something good to eat during breakfast as they have a little something for everybody including eggs benedict, omelets, tartines, pastries and so forth. I would recommend trying the tartine with the smoked salmon as the topping. It is loaded with salmon, cream cheese and the works. This is what Ash got and I was a little jealous. Also if you want to stop in for lunch they do have stuff for lunch and a glass of wine or even just pastries and coffee. This is definitely not your most traditional place but don’t worry there are plenty of locals so enjoy the great food.
Rua do Ginjal 72
We are going across the river to the next place on the list. Lisbon is actually on a river that leads to the Atlantic not actually on the Atlantic. The town of Almada is what lies across the river and that is where Ponto Final is. This place has a cool location as it is set on the point of the coast and overlooks the giant river with Lisbon as its backdrop. They have plenty of local and traditional dishes along with a few innovative ones. One of the best dishes we had was the monkfish stew that Ash’s sister enjoyed. The portions were large and filling as we enjoyed our feast outside on the water. I would suggest trying to catch the sunset at the place if you can because the view would be spectacular.
If you are looking on how to get over to Almada just take one of the many ferries from the port. Once you land in Almada it can be a little confusing on how to get to the restaurant. You can either walk along a small road on the water which takes you all away around to the point. At night it seems a bit sketchy looking as it is not lit up at all but we took that route anyway. Or you can go up into the town and then take a large elevator down to the point. Either way, this was a great restaurant worth the journey.
Rua do Carmo 9
Okay for all you Instagram lovers out there this a gelato shop for you. It is a picturesque shop that takes you back in time. This gelato shop has been around since 1949 and makes some of the best homemade gelato I have ever had. It definitely rivals Rome’s gelato shops and we tend to be biased for Italy in this area. Hot summer day or rainy winter afternoon, it is worth a stop to try some of this fabulous gelato.
Rua Nova do Almada 14
We actually came upon this restaurant before it opened as we were drawn in by its style. Unfortunately it was not open for another week. We patiently waited a week and came back for an amazing meal. Now the name is a little misleading as it is not really a coffee bar or a grill; it is a modern Mediterranean restaurant that happens to also serve unbelievable sushi. The menu is very eclectic and there will be something for everybody. I actually would suggest trying the sushi, it is extremely fresh and really good. All of the food they served looked great and the style and look of the place is a cool hip vibe to hang out in. They also have a great wine list to go along with the great food.
Sol e Pesca
Rua Nova do Carvalho 44
This a really cool and unique place in Lisbon. First off you need to know that Portugal is really well known for their high quality canned seafood. I am not talking about “chicken from the sea”, but I am talking about fine dining canned food. If you want a taste of it then this is the place for you as everything on the menu comes out of a can. It is delicious and worth a check out.
The restaurant was set up in an old bait shop and has an old fisherman look to it with nets hanging from the walls and the menu served on fishing poles as you sit by a wall of their selection of canned food. You can get some of their dishes that get inventive with the canned goods or you can just pick out the canned seafood that you want. Be careful though some of these canned fish can get up into the 100’s of euros depending on what you want. The majority of it is reasonable and affordable when it comes to price but if you want to go pricy you can. This is a great place to get to know about this part of the Portuguese cuisine.
Drink Local in Lisbon
Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo 42
If you want to enjoy a little of the Lisbon nightlife in the Barrio Alto, this is the place to go for a glass of wine or a cocktail. It was packed to the brim inside but do not worry; slide your way up to the bar and get a drink to go and stand outside and enjoy your drink with other young locals. This is really a great stop and a perfect place to just hang around and have few drinks. You will see people doing the same all up and down this street. Just be wary of Lisbon’s hills after a few drinks!
Tabuas Porto Wine Tavern
Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 143
Lisbon is a walking city as long as you don’t mind the occasional hill which Ash and I do not. We like walking as it helps keep us from blowing up like the Michelin man as we eat and drink our way through the city. One of the best things about walking is that you find great places that you might not have found online. Tabuas Porto Wine Tavern is one of those places. We were just walking by when the walls covered with bottles of wine drew us in.
They have a great selection of Ports and well as local Portuguese wine. Along with this great selection you can fill your stomachs with all the cheese and cured meats you can handle. A perfect way to spend an early evening in the city of Lisbon.
A Tasca do Chico
Rua do Diário de Notícias 39
A Tasca do Chico might be the most famous place for Fado in Lisbon. It is a small hole in the wall place that serves small tapas, beer and wine. Make sure to get there early as the place fills up with locals and tourists alike. The show always starts with a professional set but after that anybody who wants to sing some Fado can. The amateurs from the crowd though are usually local regulars who have the chops to sing this haunting music.
The music of Fado really shares the soul of the Portuguese people. The songs usually focus the struggles and hardships of life, the idea of longing, loss, and so forth. The music has the deep history of Lisbon in it and it is the voice of the people.
*Note: If you do visit here make sure that you do not get up and walk around or attempt to order during the performances. Wait for the breaks; there are many and you do not want to interrupt the performances.
Graça do Vinho
Calçada da Graça 10b
Graça do Vinho is in the historic Alfama but it not overrun by tourists. Portugal, like most of southern Europe, is well known for wine. Now when you think of Portugal you may think only of port but don’t forget about all the other wine they drink as well. This is a good place to get to know Portuguese wine. Most of the bottles are under 20 euros and you can accompany your wine with small bites or great Portuguese cheese. If you are not feeling the wine they also have some locally produced craft beer that is really tasty. I wish I had more time to spend and drink at this delightful wine bar.
Ginginha do Carmo
Calçada do Carmo, 37 A
Okay, this might be one of the tastiest things I have enjoyed while in Lisbon. The best part is that it is okay to drink it in the morning. Ginginha a liquor made out of ginja berries that you can find everywhere! During the winter season, they serve them in chocolate cups but I prefer a shot glass to be able to sip and enjoy. If you are going to enjoy this drink I suggest stopping at Ginginha do Carmo which makes their own. The place has enough space for a few people to go in and order but it gets filled up quickly. If it is crowded it is well worth the wait. We never had to wait too long though. Just make sure to buy a few shots and start slurping them down! Oh, did I forget to tell you that they are only a euro fifty? If was allowed to I would have spent all day at this bar drinking ginginha!
Shop Local in Lisbon
Fernando Pessia Em Alfama
Rua de São João da Praça 24
When Ash and I are traveling in different cities we really enjoy taking a look at local art, whether it is on the streets or in small studios. It is a great way to get a neat perspective on how the locals see the city that brings them inspiration. Fernando Pessia is one of the artists that we fell in love with. His shop is situated in the Em Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. It is the only neighborhood that survived the 1755 earthquake while the rest of the city was swallowed whole and is a great neighborhood for an artist to hole up in.
Fernando Pessia’s art is unique as it utilizes coffee and red wine along with Japanese ink to bring Lisbon alive. His art may seem simplistic to execute; a painting with just the bare outlines, but those simple brushstrokes evoke the spirit and motion of his subjects. Ash and I were drawn in by his minimalistic expression on the city and the people of Lisbon.
Loja da Burel
Rua Serpa Pinto 15b
Loja da Burel is an awesome wool shop right next to Tartine and the two times we explored this shop I always came out with a purchase. This shop specializes in all handmade wool items that the stores personally make themselves with Portuguese wool. This is a great way to support local Lisbon crafts. They have a wide arrange of things to buy from the shop, anywhere from stuffed toys, dresses, coats, and hats. I ended up buying a great cap and I bought my little niece her first teddy bear here!
That’s it that is all I have for you to do in Lisbon. I’ll be honest, I don’t even think I truly scratched the surface of this amazing city. It has a rich history and cuisine that makes it a must stop for foodie travelers. The locals of very proud of their food and are more than willing to help you grab a good bite to eat. You don’t have to go far you just have to stay away from the darn tourist traps but they are pretty easy to spot! Look for the locals, look for the older generation sitting with their family enjoying great meals as they celebrate life and their culture. Take your time and explore and make sure to eat local in Lisbon!
Heading to Lisbon soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance! Sure you may not use it but its always good to have. We recommend World Nomads which we have been using for years and have always made us feel secure as we travel around the world!
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