Lisbon’s 10 secret food spots
About Nelson Carvalheiro
With 32 years old and an amazing professional traveller résumé, Nelson Carvalheiro was considered Travel Blogger of the Year in Europe, at Madrid’s Tourism Fair. "People, Travel and Food” is the travel blog that everyone is talking about, a place where stories are told, photographs are taken and travel tips are given to the ones that are curious enough to know all about it. All of that in English, so it would be easier to spread the word all over the world.
Every time Nelson travels, he falls in love with the details. He never stops looking for the most unique, small and intimate places — the ones where someone that doesn’t know the country can feel the culture on its most pure and simple state.
Small, big, sophisticated, charming or plain Portuguese "tascas”: hurry up and visit Lisbon’s 10 secret food spots before it’s too late !!
Nested in the maze of hippy chic Principe Real neighbourhood and a stone’s throw away from the Portuguese Parliament, Cantinho Lusitano is Lisbon’s epiphany of the Portuguese petiscos (small eats) and good wine.
It’s a sober and well-lit establishment that seats only 20 people, so reservations are recommended. Ask for the daily specials and try out a selections of cheeses and charcuteries, stewed snails, fava beans with cumin salad, salt cod with chickpea salad and many other Portuguese delights. For the desert, the cottage cheese with pumpkin jam is a must.
Rua dos Prazeres, 52
Tel: 21 806 5185
Merendinha do Arco
Merendinha do Arco by the Rossio Arch has been, for many years, one my favourite tascas — Portuguese local eateries — in Lisbon. It’s famous for the best char grilled cutlass fish (peixe espada) in town, served with comforting red bean rice.
It’s a small place with no fancy décor; just what the owner has put in in the more than 20 years of running the place. It seats about 30 people sharing 3 communal tables, which are always filled with only locals, so elbow space can be a challenge at busy lunch times.
Ask for the daily specials which include salt cod with chickpeas, viel & vegetable stew, fried black pork loin and some house vinho verde (unripe wine) to go with your meal. At the end everyone is offered a shot of aged distilled grape must liqueur, so be ready to feel as happy as you can after this experience.
Rua dos Sapateiros, 230
If you want to experience authentic Lisbon at its purest, this is the place. Family run, this tiny restaurant (just 7 tables) has been open for 40 years and the décor has not changed since.
The food is basic and unpretentious with dishes like monkfish stew and char grilled fish, however the real draw is the fado, Portugal’s traditional, melancholy folk music sung by a female vocalist with two or three guitarists accompanying her.
When the singing starts, everything else stops, including the kitchen, the table service — and even the neighbours who often drop in for the performance. This is the place to hear pure original Fado music, so remember: no lights, no PA, just the singers, the guitars, the candles and your tears.
Rua de São Miguel, 20 — Alfama
Tel: 21 886 7284
Forget about Cervejaria Ramiro and its messy crowds and nightmare queues.
The new seafood hotspot in Lisbon in Marisqueira Nunes, a place where the tablecloth is used and orders can be made at regular voice decibels. Smacked in the middle of Belem, Lisbon’s cultural hub, this marisqueira it ticks all the boxes. The seafood and fish are as fresh as it gets, the chef is committed into cooking high quality traditional Portuguese cuisine, tap beer is ice cold and there are no crowds at the door.
It’s also one of the few places in Lisbon to sell lapas (limpet muscles) normally found in Madeira island) and bruxas (slipper lobster), particular species of slipper lobster only found off the coast of the Azores.
Garlic jumbo prawns are a must with the lobster rice being also a sensible option. Rumours have it that the President of Portugal, who is their next-door neighbour, sometimes sneaks in for a piri piri carabineiro and a cold beer before a major decision.
Rua Bartolomeu Dias 120 — Belém
Tel: 21 301 9899
Tasquinha do Lagarto
Outside of the touristic centre of Lisbon, Tasquinha do Lagarto is pinnacle of honest Portuguese cuisine within a capital full of "fashionable” insipid food concepts. The lack of any international notoriety does not seem to bother clients who are even thankful that they can enjoy the place just for themselves.
One of the menu highlights is roasted veal flank with roast potatoes and broccoli for and the grouper rice.
Needless to say that the portions are big enough to feed a family of Norwegians but are just enough for the Portuguese hunger. The owners come from the north of Portugal, so a very warm welcome and a chilled glass of "green red” wine are guaranteed.
Rua de Campolide, 273
Tel: 21 388 3202
Zé dos Cornos
Adequately named after the owner’s father extra matrimonial frolicking (Cornos translates into horns in Portuguese), this place is so hidden that only a few of the locals know about it.
The menu basically consists of charcoal grilled fish and meats, with my recommendations going to the salt cod and the pork ribs, but the truth is, this place is really about the bifana, the Portuguese version of fast food. This braised pork loin on a bun is religiously eaten with mustard and enjoyed all across Portugal no matter the social status.
The house wine actually comes from João’s (the owner’s) grapes, so be sure to tap into some pretty archaic Portuguese wine aromas.
Beco dos Surradores, 5
Tel: 21 886 9641
The name does justice to the location of this restaurant, as it is literally at the end of a riverside walk on the other side of the Tagus.
To get to the restaurant, you will have to cross the river on the commuter ferry from Cais do Sodré (Lisbon side) to Caçilhas (Almada side). I always recommend that you call ahead and reserve a table to be sure you can enjoy unimpeded magnificent views of the water, with 6.00pm being the best time for an early dinner with a view of the sunset over Lisbon.
Here the food is all about deep traditional Portuguese home cooked flavours, so the must haves starters are: salt cod with chickpeas and the escabeche sardines, which are served with very candid Alentejo bread.
For main course, I strongly suggest the tomato rice with deep fried baby mackerels for a taste of a local fisherman’s home dish, or ask for the catch of the day and they will char grill it for you on request.
Cais do Ginjal, 72
Varina da Madragoa
Varina da Madragoa has been nicknamed "the best pataniscas in Lisbon”, and take my word for it, because they really are. Pataniscas are deep fried codfish coated in a parsley, potato and onion batter and normally come with red bean rice stew or migas — fried bread and cabbage.
Fish is also a good option, especially the bacalhau (salt cod), which comes grilled to perfection: crispy edible skin with translucent flesh next to the spine.
If you’re close to the Ancient Art Museum or if you’re visiting the Madragoa Quarter, this is definitely the place to go: charming, typical restaurant with honest and authentic Portuguese cuisine at affordable prices for a capital city.
Rua das Madres, 34-36
Tasca do Vigário
A small tasca (very simple and typical restaurant), with 4 or 5 daily dishes at unbeatable prices, it’s a good place to go if you are visiting Alfama neighbourhood.
Very close to the Flea Market, the Pantheon and the beautiful Remédios Street, you’ll find it crowded if you arrive after mid-day, so don’t be late.
It’s a beautiful immersion in Lisbon life, with great food, cooked by mother, and very friendly people. The portions are extremely generous and the meat was lean, tender and tasty.
Rua do Vigario 18, Santo Estêvão
Tel: 218 876 534
Zé da Mouraria
You won’t find a sign pointing to the restaurant, but you will probably see a line outside, so try to be there around noon or you will have to wait.
This little restaurant is just round the corner from the tram 28’s 1st stop. It’s a favourite amongst Lisbon’s taxi drivers, so you know that food is good, it varies often and there are no tourists.
Don’t be surprised if you walk into see people eating calamari and potatoes in a huge steel bowel. One portion feeds 4. The locals had doggy bags to take what they didn't eat home. The calamari was so tender and the flavour . .. out of this world. All I can say is seek this place out. You won't be disappointed !!
Rua João do Outeiro, 24
Exotic ingredients, French refined touches and Portuguese palates will make any lunch choice at Bistrô4 a real challenge.
A discrete space, with shades and elegant textures enhanced by a lemon tree patio with a comfortable terrace, one can taste flavours of Portugal and Brazil, the countries where the Group PortoBay operates. A menu signed by Chef Benoît Sinthon full of simple ingredients, rich and fresh flavors which bring to the table a sense of exclusivity.
Any menu flavour is a must and the aged meat is imperative to taste because of its exclusivity.
If I have to advise a discreet restaurant, which provides intense and diverse flavours in the heart of Lisbon, Bistrô4 would be my choice indeed.
Rua Rosa Araújo, 8
+351 210 015 700 firstname.lastname@example.org