Dining in Lisbon is extraordinary. It’s also, at times, daunting and overwhelming. Portuguese food itself remains a mystery to most, unsure of what it entails beyond gooey, torched egg custard tarts—pastéis de nata—and sardines. Yet, Lisboetas love eating out, relaxing in the sun at a neighborhood café, tasca (a no-frills eatery), pastelaria, or restaurant, which can be found on any given corner. With so many options, and a new wave of interesting projects from rising star chefs, the options are endless.
That’s where Célia Pedroso comes in. She’s the co-author of the book Eat Portugal, and Lisbon bureau chief of Culinary Backstreets, a website and tour operator focusing on the stories of traditional culinary life. Through reviews, books, walking tours, and tailor-made “Eatineraries,” Pedroso keeps searching for the best pastéis de nata, so that you don’t have to. Follow her down the culinary backstreets of Lisbon, to uncover her top gastronomic gems by neighborhood.
Avenida da Liberdade
“On top of a hill beside Avenida da Liberdade, this neighborhood is full of traditions, and the Lavra Funicular helps you to climb its steep hill. Walking around Avenida is lovely as you discover 19th century palaces and the Torel Park. Restaurant Cave 23, hidden in the Torel Palace Hotel, is a great excuse to climb the hill. Try the exquisite and inventive tasting menu with many surprises and drink in the views from the terrace bar.”
Cais do Sodre
“With gentrification in the last five years, Cais do Sodré has become one of the trendiest neighborhoods, where people party all night long. Meaning, a peaceful meal in the area isn’t always easy. In a backstreet lies a quiet restaurant, Vicente by Carnalentejana. It’s a beautiful setting for traditional Portuguese food and wine from the Alentejo region, and they make amazing pataniscas de bacalhau (cod fritters) and peixinhos da horta (green beans in tempura), though the meat dishes are also specialties. It’s also a great location, close to Gelato Davvero or Landeau for dessert, and to By The Wine, for after-dinner drinks.”
“The neighborhood of Príncipe Real is one of the most charming in Lisbon, with beautiful façades and a lush park that’s the central point of life with a few kiosks for a drink or a small bite. There are many restaurants, bars, and shops close by, as well as the iconic new-Moorish building Embaixada, with interesting independent shops, a gin bar, and restaurant. My favorite spot in the neighborhood is Tapisco, with its clever menu of Iberian small plates. Portuguese petiscos and Spanish tapas enjoy an elegant marriage and setting. If you go for lunch, take a stroll in the park afterwards and get a rewarding and delicious chocolate sorbet from Bettina & Niccolò.”
“This is one of the most visited neighborhoods, and it should be—you’ll find monuments like Jerónimos Monastery, Centro Cultural de Belém, and Belém Tower. There’s also the original Pastéis de Belém, an example of the Portuguese baking tradition from the convents, though it’s overblown with tourists now. Before or after sightseeing, take a break for a good meal at Descobre. It’s on a quiet road between Centro Cultural de Belém and the Tower. Don’t miss the ‘pica’ starters and make sure to try the tangerine sorbet for dessert. The open-air area can be busy, so book ahead for the evening. Enjoy wine from the cellar and take some bottles home, too.”
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