Eating local cuisine is one of my favorite things about travel. I spend a lot of time trying to seek out the best versions of the most authentic food in each destination we visit. We spent two months in Lisbon this past winter, and so I had plenty of time to try lots of Portuguese food. I knew very little about Portuguese food prior to our time in Lisbon. It’s not a common cuisine choice at home. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen a Portuguese restaurant prior to this trip. But that’s a shame, because I quickly discovered that I loved eating in Lisbon. Here’s a look at some of the very best Portuguese food I ate in Lisbon.
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Bacalhau à Brás
Cod is undoubtedly the most common protein in all of Portuguese cuisine. In fact, Portugal consumes more cod than any other country. This seems a little bit surprising because cod is from the North Atlantic and is not found in the ocean that surrounds Portugal. Portuguese recipes mostly use preserved cod – cod that’s been dried with salt and then rehydrated before preparation.
You can find this salt cod (called bacalhau in Portuguese) served in a myriad of ways. Perhaps the most common is Bacalhau à Brás. This dish is Portuguese comfort food at its best. Flakes of cod, combined with onions and matchstick potatoes, all held together with scrambled eggs. Olives are usually thrown in there in one way or another too.
The pictured version is from famed Portuguese chef Henrique sá Pessoa’s kiosk in Lisbon’s Time Out Market.
Grilled Fresh Fish
The Portuguese love cod, but don’t limit their fish intake to only cod. Because Portugal is surrounded by ocean, you’ll find plenty of other types of fish in Lisbon restaurants. In fact, Portugal ranks #3 in the world for most fish consumed per capita.
Wherever I travel, my personal favorite fish preparation is the most simple – grilled fresh ocean fish. And I found this everywhere in Lisbon. Grilled whole with olive oil, sea salt, and lemon. Simple perfection.
The sea bass in the photo above is from a small family-run restaurant called A Flor da Praça in Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood. Typically while in Lisbon, I found that the fresh daily catch was grilled over charcoal – which of course adds a whole additional layer of flavor. But at A Flor da Praça, the fish is grilled in a cast iron pan instead. And they used some additional aromatics, as well. Those few tweaks produced what I immediately declared was the best version of grilled fresh fish that I’ve ever eaten anywhere.
Conservas (Tinned Fish)
Not only do the Portuguese love salt cod and fresh fish, they also consume huge amounts of tinned fish, too. Walk through any grocery store in Lisbon, and you will find an entire aisle dedicated exclusively to tinned fish, each displaying a mind-boggling number of varieties. Walk through the streets of Lisbon, and you will find entire stores dedicated to just tinned fish.
And the quality of the Conservas in Portugal is unlike anything you are likely to find at your own local grocery store. In fact, the quality of the conservas is so good, it is often served in Lisbon restaurants. Either as an appetizer. Or even as a main course at Conservas-focused restaurants.
One of those is called Miss Can in the Alfama district. At Miss Can, you choose from their award-winning selection of Conservas. They will then plate it for you along with bread, olives, salad, and wine. After your meal, you should then buy several cans to take and eat at home – like we did. Truly one of the the great Portuguese food experiences that you must try in Lisbon.
Polvo à Lagareiro
In addition to these fish preparations I’ve just highlighted, you can also find a wide variety of other seafood when seeking out the best Portuguese food in Lisbon. My favorite seafood dish from our entire stay was Polvo à Lagareiro. Octopus is very popular in Portugal and is prepared several different ways, but this was my favorite.
I ate Polvo à Lagareiro several times at a restaurant called El-Rei Dom Frango. (We decided that this was our #1 favorite spot to find the best traditional Portuguese food in Lisbon. It’s located centrally, near the Rossio train station, and we visited often).
To prepare this tasty dish, they first boil and then grill the octopus, before setting it on a bed of grilled baby potatoes. Then they pour hot olive oil with loads of garlic over the top. The octopus prepared in this Lagareiro style was the most tender and flavorful that I’ve ever eaten.
If you don’t like the idea of eating a whole (though small) octopus, you can also (and unsurprisingly) find cod prepared in this same style. It’s called Bacalhau à Lagareiro.
Linguine Negro com Camarão
Shellfish is also easy to find while dining in Lisbon. Black Pasta with Shrimp is not unique to Portuguese cuisine. It can be found in several southern European countries. But I chose to include it in this post because it seemed to be one of the most common menu items throughout Lisbon. And it was one of Mrs. TT’s favorite things to order.
Squid ink pasta, shrimp, olive oil, white wine, garlic, herbs. Colorful and delicious. This batch was from the aforementioned El-Rei Dom Frango.
Arroz de Marisco
Another really common seafood dish in Lisbon is Arroz de Marisco or Seafood Rice. The version above, from a restaurant called O Funil, contained a combination of shrimp and grouper. I also tried Octopus Rice and Monkfish Rice at other restaurants in Lisbon – you’ll find lots of versions of this dish using a variety of different seafood.
Seafood Rice is sometimes referred to as the Portuguese Paella, but I thought it more like the Portuguese Gumbo. The sauce – made from white wine, olive oil, garlic, and herbs – is not completely reduced, so it eats more like a thick stew.
This dish was always served to me in a pot with the lid on. Then I could put a portion onto my plate, eat it, and then return for more…still warm. O Funil’s version was the best I ate.
Porco à Alentejana
Here’s a dish that combines seafood with pork. I haven’t talked about pork yet in this post, but in case you are starting to think that the best Portuguese cuisine in Lisbon is exclusively seafood-focused, it’s not.
Porco à Alentejana combines cubes of tender marinated pork with clams, fried potatoes, and seasonings that include paprika and coriander. It gets its name from the Alentejo region of Portugal where Iberian pigs are commonly raised. But the dish is easy to find in Lisbon and throughout the country.
Pictured is a version I ate just outside of Lisbon in the seaside town of Cascais at a restaurant called Hifen.
And since we have started to talk about pork in Portuguese cuisine, let’s talk about the Bifana next. This is easily the most popular “quick bite” in Portugal, and can be found just about everywhere in Lisbon.
Bifanas are simple pork sandwiches, made from thin slices of marinated pork loin. The marinade usually consists of white wine, garlic, and paprika. A few slices of this pork is slapped in between a traditional Portuguese crusty roll called a Papo Seco, then topped with yellow mustard and a spicy chili oil. Cheese can be added if you wish. They aren’t large, and are usually consumed more as snack or appetizer.
I’ve written an entire post about following in the footsteps of my travel hero Anthony Bourdain and eating bifanas from O Trevo – considered by many to be the best place in Lisbon to get them.
Another tasty pork sandwich that you can eat in Lisbon features Leitão. Leitão is roasted suckling pig and is such a beloved dish in Portugal that it’s considered one of The Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy.
The sandwich version features chunks of chopped Leitão lightly mixed with a black pepper sauce. It’s crunchy and tender and juicy and porky all at the same time.
The pictured sandwich is from O Forno Leitão do Zé – a chain of Leitão restaurants with two locations in Lisbon and several others throughout Portugal.
Alheira de Mirandela
Another of those Seven Wonders is Alheira de Mirandela.
This is basically a sausage substitute, invented by Jews living in Portugal during the Middle Ages. Unable to use pork, and needing to blend in with their Christian neighbors during the Inquisition, they created a sausage from other meats (like chicken, duck, rabbit), in combination with bread to help give it volume. They then hung the “sausage” in bunches from their doors like everyone else did at the time. I guess they looked sufficiently like pork sausage to fool the Inquisitors.
Alheira remains a very popular food choice in Portugal and is easy to find in Lisbon. Nowadays, it’s usually served with a fried egg and either rice or fries. It’s very mild in flavor and definitely has a bready texture.
The pictured version is from El-Rei Dom Frango (making it’s third appearance in this post – remember it’s one of the best places to try classic Portuguese food in Lisbon).
One of the most popular takeaway foods that you’ll find in Lisbon is Piri-Piri Chicken. It was one of my very favorite things to eat while there.
Piri-piri is a type of marinade and sauce made from the piri-piri chili pepper. It was invented by Portuguese settlers in Mozambique centuries ago, and is now one of the most popular marinades in many parts of Africa and in Portugal.
In a Portuguese churrasqueria (barbecue restaurant), piri-piri marinated chicken is splayed open and cooked on a charcoal grill as pictured above. Additional piri-piri sauce is then added afterwards depending on your desired intensity of spice. The chicken is tender, and smokey, and spicy. Barbecue perfection!
I’ve written an entire post about this Portuguese favorite. Check it out if you want to know where to find the Best Peri-Peri Chicken in Lisbon.
OK, I know that Burgers aren’t traditionally Portuguese. But when you are in Lisbon, and have a hankering for a good burger, you will not have any problem finding great burger joints. There are many.
But I especially wanted to give a shout out to Hamburgeria 21, where I ate the second best burger of my life. Juicy beef, carmelized onions, a thick slice of goat cheese, and a whole grain mustard sauce.
They had an entire menu of similarly unique, high-quality burgers. Hamburgeria 21 is a little off the beaten path in North Lisbon, but it’s very close to the Areeiro Metro stop, and well worth the short journey.
(And click here if you want to read about the best burger I’ve ever eaten)
Now it’s time to talk dessert, and this was one of our favorites in Lisbon. Maças Assadas is a baked apple, and we were introduced to this dessert by our server at Gulas For Kitchen Lovers. We immediately did fall in love with it.
A specific type of apple called Maça Reinetas (Russet apple) is used for this not-too-sweet dessert. The Russet has a leathery skin and is very fleshy. It’s covered in cinnamon & sugar, baked, and then doused in Port – Portugal’s favorite fortified wine. The sweetness from the Port nicely counterbalances the tang of the apple.
Port is a common accompaniment to Portuguese desserts – whether in a glass by itself…or covering a baked apple.
Pastel de Nata
But the most popular Portuguese dessert by far is the Pastel de Nata. These little gems are egg custard tarts, baked in a puff-pastry shell. You will see them everywhere in Lisbon. Every restaurant, bakery, coffee shop, and grocery store sells its own version.
The best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon….actually the best Pastel de Nata in the world….is from Pastéis de Belém. These are the original version of this now world-famous dessert. Created by the monks at the nearby Jerónimos Monastery in 1837, their recipe is a long-guarded secret. You can try great versions all around Lisbon – I never had a bad one. But like most visitors, and like most Pastel de Nata enthusiasts, I think that Pastéis de Belém are the very best.
Certainly this is not an exhaustive list of the best Portuguese food in Lisbon. There are so many more great things to eat in this foodie-friendly city. I absolutely encourage you to visit Lisbon and discover all its gastronomic wonders for yourself.
If you would like to read more about Lisbon then check out these posts
And if you would like to read more about Food from other parts of the world, then check out these posts