Tasting on Lisbon
Lisbon is the first place I’ve tried Portuguese food, and I’ve become a fan! Each region has its own specialties, and Lisbon offers a lion’s share of different kinds of seafood. It’s also where pastéis de nata were invented by the monks of Jerónimos Monastery.
The currency in Portugal is the euro (€), and at the time of writing, the exchange rate was about €0.9 to US$1. All businesses are listed from most budget-friendly to least within each category. My favorite place is marked with a .
- Desserts & ice cream
- Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
Desserts & ice cream
Castanhas Assadas street vendors
You will encounter these street vendors all over Lisbon in the fall and winter time. I just so happened to buy a half dozen of roasted chestnuts (€1) from one in Bairro Alto. I shared them with Nadya, a friend of a friend who is originally from Ukraine but now lives in Lisbon.
I’ve only ever seen roasted chestnuts being sold on the street in Taiwan, but this was the first time I tried them. These chestnuts are tricky to peel even though they’ve been cracked beforehand because of the two layers of skin: one hard and one thin. I enjoyed them, though: they taste like a much denser sweet potato.
Although Pastéis de Belém is the primary tourist attraction for pastéis de nata, I ended up preferring the ones that they make at Manteigaria (€1 each). Make sure to sprinkle cinnamon on top for an authentic experience!
The custard filling was more flavorful, and because it’s a much more intimate space, you can get up-close and watch the production process.
Pastéis de Belém
This venerated establishment uses the original recipe from the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery, which is why they’re called Pastéis de Belém rather than pastéis de nata. The recipe is a closely guarded secret, but the pastries themselves are widely known: many tourists line up outside to order boxes of them to-go. I preferred waiting in the shorter line in the back of the large seating area. You can admire the tile artwork and various antiques from the restaurant’s history.
The assembly line is tucked away in the back, but it’s too far away to see much of the process. Once you sit down, the staff is pretty quick about filling your order. I got an espresso (€0.75) and two warm, crispy, and flaky natas (€1.05 each). The problem I had with them was that the custard filling didn’t taste sweet at all. Yes, you can sprinkle powdered sugar on top to make up for it, but because it’s a dessert, I believe it should be inherently sweet. Plus, who enjoys feeling like another sucker in the never-ending line of tourists?
Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
After dinner at Carvoaria Jacto, I checked out the nearby Lidl for fun. Other than some essentials, I found some local cheese (€1.09). I couldn’t tell if it was any different from store-bought, pre-sliced mozzarella cheese.
Before hopping on the train to Porto, I went to Stop Caffé in the Santa Apolónia railway station to get a chorizo baguette (€2.35). The cheese and chorizo slices were much wider than the baguette, and two slices of cheese actually slipped out while I was trying to eat it. But it satisfied my hunger during the three-hour train ride from Lisbon.
A Tasquinha do Lagarto
This is a family-owned restaurant off the beaten path, affordable, and frequented by locals. They didn’t have an English menu (which changes daily), but a friendly local named Mario, who was sitting next to me, asked if I needed help and translated it for me. I got what he ordered (half portion of sea bass with rice, €7), which was hearty and comforting with generous helpings of fish. I also got the soup of the day (kale and potato, €1.50), which was creamy and delicious. Mario also recommended that I get the sericaia for dessert (€2.50), an egg-based pie with cinnamon on top and a honey-soaked plum on the side.
My waiter didn’t seem to speak any English, and they only accept cash.
Sabor do Bairro
Nadya, a friend of a friend from Ukraine who now lives in Lisbon, meticulously studied upwards of ten different restaurants’ menus in Bairro Alto to find grilled sardines. We settled on Sabor do Bairro and both ordered it (€8.95), which came with potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. Some sardines still had roe in them! I was a bit wary of the restaurant since the menu was translated into half a dozen different languages, but the food turned out to be decent and not terribly expensive. It wasn’t sardine season when I was visiting in mid-October, but they tasted good nonetheless.
The staff speaks great English, and they accept credit cards.
After walking from just east of Ponte 25 de Abril to the heart of Belém, I was getting hungry around lunch time. O Prado seemed like an okay place to try some cod. I asked my waiter if he could recommend one from the three cooking methods they use (grilled, fried, and baked). I decide on the grilled cod (€9.50), which came with boiled potatoes, two tomato slices, and slices of raw onions. It honestly wasn’t spectacular, and the cod got really stuck in my teeth, too. On top of all that, my waiter was very touchy-feely. I wouldn’t return to this place.
This spot is rated number one for steak in Lisbon. It’s a neighborhood joint that filled up quickly by 20:00, but I didn’t have any issues coming around 19:00. One of the waitstaff brought out a tray of the starters and asked if I wanted anything. I got the fresh cow’s milk cheese (€1), which you turn upside-down to empty the container. My waitress suggested that I try it plain first, then season as I like with salt and pepper. It was so nice, like solidified fresh milk!
I ended up getting the Mirandesa steak (€14.95). The cows are raised in northeastern Portugal. Even today, some of them are used to pull fishing boats out of the water! I also got a side of sautéed veggies (€2.95), which included cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and green beans.
They do have a house red wine by the glass (€3.50), but my waitress recommended that I get a 375mL bottle of red wine for €3.75 instead. Good call! Time to get sauced on 13.5% ABV wine. For dessert, I chose bolo de bolache (€2.95, biscuit cake), which was a bit dry.
The staff speaks excellent English, but they don’t take credit cards or debit cards from outside of Portugal. Bring your euros!