It took me four years to go back to Lisbon. I went there on a risky but potentially life-changing adventure, I unfortunately lost my bet and after few months I had to hastily leave, stuffing all of my belongings in two suitcases, and a hand luggage full of crushed hopes.
My return there was aimed to claim back all the time I wasted and balance the negative experiences of the past with relentless fun and tons of good fun. The plan was simple but challenging: 9 restaurants in 5 days, short-listed out of the suggestions given to us by a friend who lived there. Some (more or less) unforeseen events prevented us from sticking to the schedule, but we got very close to it.
One of the most pleasant features of Libsona the little family-run restaurants, Tascas, spread all over town, especially where the roads gets steeper and narrower. To enter a traditional tasca is like time travelling: man proudly sporting big moustache serving house wine on tap from behind a zinc counter top.
The menu in these restaurants revolves around soup entrées and a main of meat or grilled soup with a side of salad or rice. A main and half litre of house wine will cost roughly 6-7 euros.
In the central area of town, a few steps uphill from Praça Dom Pedro IV along Calçada Santana, you’ll find Floresta – easily spotted by the lonely tree standing in front of the entrance – and the Vinho Minho, opposite to it. Both are highly recommended for the fish, that will be grilled in front of your eyes. Another tasca tested and approved is in Alfama and is called Tasca do Vigario, its name conveniently borrowed from the name of its street, where I enjoyed the pork meat main with salad and chips. In Travessa do Forno you’ll find A Provinciana, one of my favourite for bacalhau and grilled fish.
Warning: everywhere you go to eat you’ll be given olives, bread and butter. Those are not for free and you will be charged for it, it’s not a huge sum but if you don’t want it you can kindly ask the waiter to take it all away.
Rua dos Prazeres 52
Telefono: +351 21 806 5185
First fact: the restaurant is only open in the evening. So that you won’t have to find out yourself after a long sweaty walk under the scorching midday sun.
Second fact: the place is so small that a reservation is necessary. You can also show up, maybe early in the evening, and hope to get a table but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Surely this is not a hidden gem, as it’s very popular with tourists for its petiscos, but it has maintained a friendly and authentic atmosphere. Moreover its location and the difficulty of finding a table work as a filter so you shouldn’t find drunk stag dos or spoiled cruise ship passengers.
Their menu of petiscos, which are like Portuguese tapas, changes constantly according to the season and the chef’s mood. Ask the staff for suggestion or pick any item on the menu, you can’t go wrong.
Penalva da Graça
24 Rua da Graça
If you are visiting Graça to admire the sunset from the highest miradouro in Lisbon, embraced by excited crowds and buzzing tuk-tuks, or simply because it’s a great borough to explore, you should dine here.
A rather non-descript restaurant, which looks quite similar to any other Portuguese restaurant, the Penalva offers a fantastic fish menu. If you won’t be able to have the excellent arroz the marisco (seafood risotto) at the Marisqueria Uma, try it here as it’s not too far behind. Whatever you order wash it down with some fresh Muralhas.
Escolas Gerais 54, Lisbona
Telefono: +351 218 862 133
This is a tasca too, but Ti Natercia (Auntie Natercia) deserves a paragraph of its own. Natercia is a show of a woman, she cooks, serves and runs the place. A real “hole in the wall”, so much that it’s even quite difficult to spot: you’ll find it along the famous tram no.28 route, on a point where the street is so narrow that you need to be extremely careful before stepping out of the tasca, and its sign is partly concealed under a balcony. Being so small it’s necessary to make a reservation, not only for the table but also for the food, that Natercia will cook for the occasion. I understood the criteria on which she decides whether to accept your reservation, nor I understood her opening times. After the first attempt, when we’ve been told to come back the next day at 1pm – maybe – we decided to place this tasca under siege: we went there half an hour before and sat at the bar at the other side of the door, sipping coffee and not taking our eyes off the door. At the tiniest movement we sprung up and ran there imploring Natercia who, with an expression of false resignation, let us in. Luckily we were also blessed with their speciality, the bacalhau folhado (which apparently has been prepared for other customers…sorry lovely Spanish couple, you’ll have to go back). Despite the expectations being set very high by my friend who recommended me this place this super cod-roll somehow exceeded them, so that my mate and I wolfed one down while it’s usually for four people. We also cleared off the salad plate and some cheese.
Rua dos Sapateiros 177, Lisbon
Phone: +351 21 342 7425
Apparently this miniature family-run restaurant in Baixa has been rewarded with the best arroz de marisco (a sort of seafood risotto with a thick and slightly spicy sauce) in Lisbon, or maybe the whole world. Now I have only tried this but I struggle to think of something better. My friend and I got served a satisfying pot, that was enough for 3 portions each but was so good that reaching the bottom made us consider a second round. Luckily for our health the kitchen closes pretty early (at 10pm), for this reason I would recommend to get here quite early (very early for the portuguese dining standards). When we arrived all tables were occupied so we asked the young waiter, whose speed was in dizzying contrast with his slow motion father, who informally reserved us a table. Just the time for a quick Ginja and back. Do whatever it takes for a meal here because a visit to Lisbon without trying the arroz the marisco is not worth mentioning.
Rua das Gáveas 8, Lisbon
Phone: +351 21 346 3443
After eating our way through a good share of the marine fauna we decided to move to terrestrial species. For meat eaters this must be the first stop, a restaurant specialised in carne na pedra, which means meat on stone. A big chunk of raw meat is served on a thick wooden tray embedded with a piping hot stone on which you will cook the slices of juicy beef as you wish. I love the rough and DIY atmosphere that makes the whole place buzzing with friendliness. However my opinion might have been biased by the house wine. What a devilish wine they serve…
This is not a restaurant but it will have to be your favourite snack. The Portuguese version to your bacon sandwich, your slice of pizza, your sausage roll. You can order a bifana in almost every tasca, but also in smaller shops selling some sort of Portuguese fast food. Usually you will see beef steaks cooking in big pots exposed behind the shop window. I still can0t explain how a steak in a roll can taste so good.