Portugal’s capital lives up to its reputation as an ‘it’ place in Europe, with elegant Pombaline architecture, more historical attractions than you can poke a stick at, and a magical glow come sundown. Oh yeah and food – it has mighty fine food.
Whether you want to save or splurge (because let’s face it, if you’re going to cash-splash in Western Europe, Portugal is one of the most affordable countries to do it), we’ve scoped the best restaurants in Lisbon. Time to tuck in.
Given Portugal’s Western and Southern borders are bound by sea, it’s no surprise that seafood is the hero of many Portuguese meals. And in central Lisbon is one of the city’s best seafood restaurants, Solar 31. Order whatever whole fish the staff recommend and enjoy it cooked simply, but to perfection. The place can get busy with locals and lucky travellers who’ve discovered its whereabouts up a hill and around a corner, but it’s worth putting your name down for a table.
People in the know want to keep this hole-in-the-wall a secret because nobody wants to see change. Despite being right near the cruise ship terminal and main train station at Santa Apolónia, RC is about as traditional as they come. It’s also the best value restaurant in Lisbon. For €5 you can select a cooked meal from a sizeable menu, with bread, olives, wine and dessert thrown in for good measure. Many locals eat here every day. Expect to be crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of strangers but making friends is half the fun.
Image: Cervejaria Liberdade
If you’d like your traditional Portuguese with a little more finesse, stroll Lisbon’s beautiful tree-lined high street Avenida da Liberdade, to the cervejaria attached to the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Hotel. The cured meats are up there with the finest and the pica pau (a traditional pork dish) is a flavour-filled knockout. It may be a little pricier than some of the other traditional spots around the city, but still won’t break the bank.
Want to really treat yourself and make a night of it? Then book yourself a table at the cabaret-style restaurant of renowned Portuguese chef José Avillez. The operative word here is book, as you’ll need a reservation to enter the heavy doors hidden at the back of the Bairro do Avillez indoor dining precinct. Once inside it’s all glam and a little risqué, with saucy dishes interspersed with fun bouts of song and dance. Avillez is also the man behind Lisbon’s two Michelin star Belcanto, but our tip is to opt for the more lively and affordable Beco, which is just as good, if not better. And despite fine dining’s reputation for teeny portion sizes – a night at Beco will leave you stuffed.
This funky restaurant began its life in Berlin, before spreading its modern Indian wings to land in a quiet street in Lisbon’s trendy Príncipe Real neighbourhood. Fresh ingredients are spun into Insta-likeable dishes, which importantly happen to taste good too. A place associated with good food and good pics doesn’t go unnoticed, so arrive early or reserve a table.
After a whip around the country, we’ve decided Mestre André might just make the best pataniscas (codfish fritters) in Portugal. This small family-run establishment has been going for decades, so retains valued authenticity in the touristy hub of Alfama. Sometimes the food takes a while to come out, but that’s because everything is cooked to order. So kick back on the terrace with a vinho. Trust us, it’s worth the wait.
No frills, no fuss, good grub. That’s what Sherpa has going on from its perch up a side street in central Lisbon. A plate of momos or stir-fry costs less than 5 euros so you can pile you plate with traditional Nepalese flavours. If you’re budget conscious and love a good curry, you might find yourself here every day.
One of Lisbon’s highlights and challenges is its hills. Hard to climb but golly there are some cracking views from the top. Noobai is located on one such hill, and from the rooftop terrace, you can gaze across the river to the Cristo Rei statue (the one that looks like Christ the Redeemer in Rio) and the 25 Abril bridge (the one that looks like the Golden Gate in San Fran). Choose from traditional Portuguese dishes like bacalhau com broa washed down with a glass of wine. Visit during the day for maximum sun-basking view-absorbing potential.
Lisbon is known to have a secret squirrel network of Chinese restaurants operating behind unmarked doors. So don’t worry about the name of this one, because there is none. Instead, make your way to number 59 and buzz to get in, or feel free to stroll through if the door is open. Once you’re up the stairs a basic but surprisingly large restaurant opens up and you’ll be seated with a long menu of Chinese dishes. To prove you found your way you can grab a pen and sign the wall.
Rua do Benformoso 59
Image: Restaurante a Gina
Another option that’s not quite so secretive is local favourite A Gina. Come with your stretchy pants because the portions here are huge. If you order a beef steak (which you should) you may question whether you inadvertently ordered a horse when a giant slab of meat hits the table. Like all Portuguese restaurants, the bread and cheese offered at the start isn’t free, but do as the locals do and stuff your face with all the bells and whistles. We’ve already established that Lisbon has plenty of calorie-burning hills so you’ll be back into your skinny jeans in no time.
Barbecued chicken is a thing in Portugal and is spun over hot coals to achieve a nice balance of moisture and char. Frangasqueira Nacional in Príncipe Real is pint-sized, so best order a serve of chicken and tomato salad for the road. (Ask for a lashing of piri piri if you want to ramp the heat.) Stroll up the street and plonk yourself in a leafy square or park to dive into your finger-lickin’ chicken. The beautiful Jardim do Príncipe Real is a good option, and when you’re done, you can wander a block to The Bar for a drink and a rollicking fun night.
About the author
Emily McAuliffe is a travel writer and copywriter who contributes to the likes of Lonely Planet, Time Out and numerous inflight magazines. Subscribe to her blog The Portugal Wire at and follow her on Instagram @mcauliffeemily.
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