From the pastries in every pastelaria window to the roasted chestnuts being sold on every other street corner, I discovered a plethora of traditional Portuguese dishes to tempt me during my quest to find the best food and drink in Lisbon. One of the oldest cities in Europe, Lisbon has a fascinating history and its prominence as a great trading city is reflected in its culinary traditions with influences being drawn from around the world.
My top ten Lisbon food and drink highlights
Here are my favourite Lisbon food and drink finds, some hidden away in unexpected places, some a little more obvious. To help you find them they are all marked on this map, starting in the north of the Alfama district. I found many great places where you can connect with local people and discover traditional food and wine, so live like a local and join me on an edible tour of Lisbon.
1. Doce Mila Pastelaria
This great little pastelaria is tucked down a narrow alley off Rua Cavaleiros. Venture down said alley, and you’ll find a tiny courtyard with a few tables and chairs in front of the shopfront. With a selection of savoury and sweet treats on offer, including the scrumptious pastel de nata pictured below, be sure to also take a glimpse into the kitchen to the left of the counter to see what’s fresh out of the oven. When I visited, a colourful tray of Bolo Rei (King Cake) was cooling, also pictured below. This is a lovely little place to stop for a coffee, and the pastel de nata (custard tarts) were superb. Mind you, I’ve yet to have one that wasn’t. When it comes to Lisbon food, pastel de nata, has to be top of the list!
Don’t forget your travel adaptor
2. Casa do Alentejo
With an unassuming exterior, I’m sure many visitors pass this by every day without realising what a fabulous treat they are missing out on. But step through the green door at 58 Rua das Portas de Santo Antão, and you are transported to another time and place.
While I didn’t get a chance to eat at the restaurant, it is reputed to serve excellent, authentic food from the Alentejo region of Portugal.
In addition, if you turn right at the entrance hall (pictured above) and walk through a small open courtyard, you’ll find a bar serving snacks such as this delectable chorizo and a selection of cheeses and some very drinkable red wine. I really loved the atmosphere here, and when I visited it was bursting at the seams with locals – there was barely a tourist in sight.
Something not so hidden, but a treat you must not miss, is a glass of ginjinha at this little bar just around the corner from the National Theatre. Ginja or ginjinha is a sticky, bitter-sweet liqueur made from ginja berries, a kind of cherry. The traditional way to drink it is with a berry floating on top, ‘com Ginja’, but you could also have it without the berry, ‘sem Ginja’. Down the liqueur, then suck on the berry and spit the pip out onto the often sticky pavement or, somewhat untraditionally, just pop it in the bin.
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4. Confeitaria Nacional
Known for selling the best Bolo Rei each Christmas, this elegant pastelaria opened in 1829, and it’s well worth popping inside to admire the interior and sample one of their glazed pastries. You’ll find Confeitaria Nacional on Rua da Betesga, between Rossio and Figueira Square.
5. Manuel Tavares, Lda
Just a few doors down the Rua da Betesga is one of Lisbon’s oldest and best wine shops. It’s been here since 1860 and is a favourite amongst port enthusiasts, with shelf after shelf of seemingly endless types and ages of port. It does, of course, sell some other very good wines and spirits too, but the variety of port is particularly astounding.
On Rossio Square, opposite the National Theatre, this is the perfect place to eat some Portuguese tapas and drink a couple of glasses of wine with a few locals. I tried the pastel de bacalhau, deep-fried cod and potato balls, with a refreshing glass of crisp vinho verde, green wine. I loved them both.
7. Café Nicola and Nicola Gourmet
I do enjoy a great coffee, and no doubt drink more than I should. Round the back of the famous café of the same name, pictured below, Nicola Gourmet sells some 25 varieties of coffee beans by the bag. The café was once a favourite haunt of literary and political types following its opening in 1929. Now it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but nevertheless, it’s a great place to sip a coffee and watch the world go by. You’ll find Café Nicola on Rossio Square.
8. A Brasileira
A Brasileira on Rua Garrett opened in 1905, and still retains its beautiful art nouveau facade and interior. One of the oldest cafés in town, and the original owner is said to have brought the first (Brazilian) coffee to the residents of Lisbon.
9. Restaurante Farol
This fabulous fish and seafood restaurant across the water in Cacilhas is well worth catching the ferry for. It just costs a few Euros for a return ticket, and they run quite late into the night. You can catch the ferry just across the road from the Time Out market (see 10).
10. The Time Out Market
The Time Out Market, on Cais do Sodré, is a fabulous Lisbon food court that opened last year, with around 35 kiosks selling regional specialities plus superb restaurants from some top chefs. Everyone eats on communal wooden tables and it’s open late into the evening. I tried the most delicious and seriously rich chocolate cake from chef Miguel Castro e Silva. I have since learnt, however, that one of the most famous makers of pastel de nata is also represented here, namely Pastelaria Aloma, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t spot it while I was there. Mind you, the chocolate cake was exceptional.
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