The way to this woman’s heart is definitely through the stomach. Happily, Lisbon has plenty of restaurants that make my heart sing. Here are some of my favourite restaurants in Lisbon for you to try out next time you visit.
1. Sea Me
If you’re into seafood, look no further than the fishy fusion at Sea Me in Chiado. Modern, stylish and very popular, they have a reputation for serving the best sushi and sashimi in this part of the city, at least. You definitely need to book a table at weekends.
The owners wanted to find a chef that excelled in both Portuguese and Japanese cuisine in order to set themselves apart from the more traditional seafood restaurants. What swung it for chef Filipe Rodrigues was his sardine nigiri – the perfect blend of both cultures. The menu is full of fishy favourites with ingenious twists such as the ninja seafood fritter and Japanese sea bass salad.
As well as an array of fresh fish and assorted shellfish displayed on crushed ice, you can also go down to the basement where they keep the lobsters and crabs live in tanks and choose your dinner.
It took me a while to get my head around the Portuguese tradition of finishing off a seafood dinner with prego, a steak sandwich, but trust me, it’s worth trying. The prego at Sea Me is no ordinary steak sandwich, though. Not only does the meat require no chewing whatsoever, the bread is imported from Madeira and it’s served with sweet potato tempura chips. Be warned though, it’s very filling and could even do as a meal in its own right.
Sea Me, Rua do Loreto 21, Chiado, Lisbon. Phone 21-346-6465.
Open daily for lunch and dinner – it’s best to make a reservation, especially at the weekend. Expect to pay anything from 20 – 50 euros per person, depending on what you order. They take all major credit cards.
2. Café Buenos Aires
Mike and I stopped here for a drink and a rest after walking up seemingly endless flights of steps. The burgundy walls, old photographs and mismatched wooden furniture give the place a very cosy, South American atmosphere. It was early evening so the place was quiet but gradually, people began to trickle in, looking for a table. When I saw the well-thumbed reservations book, I knew this was a popular spot and overhearing the conversations, I gathered that they were fully booked for later on but could squeeze walk-ins in for an early sitting.
My interest as well as my hunger piqued, I asked for the menu and quickly begged for a table. They fly steaks in twice a week from Argentina and I can honestly say that we both had the best steaks we’ve ever had in Portugal. We went back a few months later with high expectations and although the menu had changed slightly, the quality was still outstanding.
Café Buenos Aires, Rua do Duque 22 / Calcada do Duque 31B. Phone 21-342-0739.
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 6 pm- 1 am – reservations strongly recommended. Price range is around 30 – 40 euros per person; they don’t take cards.
3. Taberna da Esperança
I found this little place on my way back into town from the Museu de Arte Antiga. As a lone diner, I was made to feel very welcome and the waiter introduced himself and explained the chalkboard menu to me.
It’s a tiny room with mismatched tables, some with marble tops, and wooden chairs. Curling fado posters and memorabilia decorate the walls and shelves and the atmosphere is informal and relaxed. It’s popular with large groups as well as couples and it’s a good idea to book a table.
I found myself in food heaven with a tiborna (a goats’ cheese and rosemary bruschetta dipped in honey) followed by chicken liver and apples poached in balsamic vinegar. The menu is based around traditional Portuguese dishes with a heavy dollop of creativity, for example chouriço served with orange, mushrooms and chestnuts or migas (coarse breadcrumbs) with prawns.
Most of the food is intended for sharing so bear that in mind when ordering; one dish will usually do for two people, especially if you work your way across the different stages of the menu.
For something a bit different, you could try the licor de alfarroba (carob liqueur), which is sweet and tasty and not widely available.
Taberna da Esperança, Rua da Esperança 112-114, Lisbon. Phone 21-396-2744.
Open Wednesday to Saturday from 7.30 pm to 2 am, Sundays from 1.30 pm to 5 pm and 7.30 pm to 12.30 pm, although the kitchen closes earlier each night.
They don’t take cards so bring plenty of cash. A full meal will set you back somewhere in the region of 30-40 euros per person.
4. Café Fábulas
Stone walls, eclectic furniture including sewing machine tables, sofas, antique bookcases and a modern chandelier – you’ll find all these and more in the many nooks and crannies of the cavernous Café Fábulas. There’s also an outside patio in a square shared by neighbouring cafés, restaurants and cocktail bars.
Don’t be fooled by the name; this is more than just a place for a quick coffee. As well as snacks such as toasted sandwiches and salads, they serve main meals. Using 90% organic ingredients, they infuse traditional Portuguese flavours with international influences to create a tempting menu with dishes like Pad Thai prawns. I can thoroughly recommend the duck with raspberry coulis.
Café Fábulas, Calcada Nova de Sao Francisco 14, Lisbon. Phone 21-601-8472.
They open daily from 11 am until around midnight. Prices from 6 euros for snacks to around 14 euros for mains.
For affordable eats in Lisbon, check out Two Scots Abroad’s guide to cheap restaurants in Lisbon.
Tip: If you find accommodation in the Chiado neighbourhood, you can walk to most if not all of these restaurants.
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