Iconic foods and places Lisbon locals love
Much could be written about Lisbon’s most iconic foods. We could praise the uber popular Portuguese custard tarts, or talk about the historical importance of salt cod in our national cuisine. We could point you towards where Lisbon’s residents like to go out to drink, or get your cravings going by listing the top pastries and cakes you simply can’t miss in Lisbon.
Actually, we have done all of the above at some point or the other. It’s all part of the local food culture! But besides these more well known foods and facts, we would love to put the spotlight on pretty specific foods which Lisbon locals love and which are, for the most part, simply unknown to those who come to visit us. These are the types of foods and places that you will usually not see featured in commercial travel guides. These are true gems which not only taste great, but also leave an aftertaste of nostalgia in the mouths of those who have been enjoying them for many, many years. Furthermore, we’re talking about simple and democratic foods which, for the most part, are affordable for the common pocket too.
If you want to feel – almost – like a local eating out and about in Lisbon, we recommend trying the following foods and places:
Meat croquetes at Gambrinus
Gambrinus is one of the city’s most legendary establishments, and one of the oldest restaurants in Lisbon. According to good ‘ol tradition, you simply can’t go for a meal at Gambrinus and not have a meat croquete as an appetizer. Croquetes are one of Portugal’s most beloved snacks, prepared with shredded meat, shaped as little fat tubes, breaded and deep-fried and, here at Gambrinus, served with home-made mustard sauce. You may be thinking that these fritters are something you could get anywhere else, and that is indeed true. You could eat them cheaply at any given corner cafe so, why would you order these when visiting a fancy restaurant, when the long menu has many other enticing things you could be trying? Trust us (and the many fans of Gambrinus’ croquetes) when we say these are so worth it! Plus, it’s a bit of a tradition for us locals to simply eat these when having a special meal out at Gambrinus.
Because indeed we love croquetes, as many of other Lisboetas also do, we also have to mention that Pastelaria Califa (Estr. de Benfica 463), in the lively neighborhood of Benfica, also makes incredible fritters. Are you inspired to do a little croquete tour of Lisbon? Make sure you also include Tico Tico (Av. Rio de Janeiro 19) and Pastelaria Versailles (Av. da República 15 A) in your delicious itinerary.
📍Rua das Portas de Santo Antão 23, 1150-264 Lisbon
Photo by Time Out Lisboa
Bife à Portugália, the signature steak at Portugália
Portugália Cervejaria is the birthplace of one of Portugal’s most famous steaks. Just like it happens in many other countries, at least within Europe, beef steaks cooked in a variety of ways are one of the staple foods in Portuguese restaurants and homes. We adore bitoques, thin steaks topped with a fried egg; Portuguese style steaks, also with fried egg and a salty and mouth watering slice of cured ham; and then we also reserve a little corner of our heart to devote some love to steaks covered in creamy sauces. Portugália style steak belongs in this latter category.
Bife à Portugália is essentially the home style steak at restaurant Portugália, a pan fried beef steak covered in the most flavorsome “secret” sauce. If it’s truly secret is debatable, as this is a recipe you will very often come across in Portuguese recipe websites and there’s even Youtube videos dedicated to trying to decode what’s really in it. You may choose your preferred cut of meat (sirloin, rump or filet) and the chefs at Portugália will make sure to drench it with a creamy concoction of milk, butter, mustard and coffee, just like they have been doing for the past almost one hundred years.
📍Av. Alm. Reis 117, 1150-014 Lisbon
Photo by Portugália
Codfish pataniscas at A Merendinha do Arco Bandeira
If you are an avid reader of our blog, by now you’ll surely know that Portugal has an ongoing love affair with cod that has been lasting for about half a millenia. Even though this is a species that is not captured off our coastline and we rely on imports to satisfy our cravings, bacalhau is simply one of the most relevant ingredients in the repertoire of Portuguese cuisine.
Besides pastéis de bacalhau, egg-shaped cod fritters you’ll easily come across a little all over Portugal, including the tourist-favorite Casa do Pastel de Bacalhau (R. Augusta 106), in Lisbon, there are other cod fritters which often go unnoticed by travelers. Cod pataniscas are one of them, but we simply love to eat them either as an appetizer, as an on-the-go meal tucked inside a bread bun or, for a proper sit-down meal experience, served with naughty rice with tomato and coriander. A Merendinha do Arco da Bandeira, in Rossio, in the very heart of the city, has a window display where you’ll see the pataniscas ready to be enjoyed as you walk by. But don’t do that, don’t just walk by. Step inside and have what has the potential to be one of the most memorable (yet simple) meals you can enjoy in Lisbon!.
📍Rua dos Sapateiros 230, 1100-581 Lisbon
Photo by Evasões
Chorizo stuffed bread at A Merendeira
Before the era of convenience stores and late night shawarma joints, here in Lisbon, there were not that many places to satisfy our midnight cravings. Besides a few food trucks parked in strategic locations, such as outside night clubs, there was only one establishment where our mighty hunger (oftentimes drinking induced) could be satisfied. That place was (and still is) A Merendeira, in the neighborhood of Santos, but close enough to walk to from the happening Cais do Sodré.
A Merendeira is open almost 24/7, besides a couple of hours for cleaning, in the very early morning. They specialize in pão com chouriço, that is, chorizo stuffed bread. Even though their prices are fast food joints like, everything is done artisanally and like the good ‘ol days. You can see the staff shaping your buns and placing a generous amount of slices of meat on the inside. The buns are baked inside a high temperature wood oven and, as the heat penetrates the dough, the hidden slices of meat release a paprika infused fat which flavors the entire bread. We truly can’t think of a more satisfying (and accessible) snack after some drinks have been enjoyed in Lisbon’s nightlife. At A Merendeira, for as little as 6 euros, you can enjoy a decently sized and well stuffed bun, a bowl of caldo verde (one of Portugal’s most typical soups), a drink of choice, some sweet rice pudding (arroz doce) for dessert, and an espresso coffee. And then, only then, you can go home and sleep peacefully with your tummy full.
📍Av. 24 de Julho 54, 1200-657 Lisbon
Photo by A Merendeira
Beef Burger at Galeto
Alongside A Merendeira, Galeto is one of Lisbon’s most well established late night restaurants. The vibe here is completely different from A Merendeira above, though. Located in Saldanha, Galeto is an extremely interesting place to eat but also for people watching, as folks from all walks of life make it here in the middle of the night. This is a full-on restaurant, with an incredibly extensive menu.
If you feel like a typical octopus dish at 3AM, Galego delivers. Want to enjoy an all-day breakfast, of course this is also on the menu. But what if your cravings demand a juicy beef burger, tucked inside the freshed home-made brioche bun? Then Galeto will certainly make you happy. Not only does Galeto serve one of the very best burgers in Lisbon, it does so every day of the week and weekend between 7.30AM and 3.30AM. We know fries are a customary order when you ask for a burger and, of course, Galeto has very good home fries too. But, in a little streak of eccentricity, we love ordering a side of esparregado, which is Portugal’s take on creamed spinach, something most commonly ordered when you eat a steak, such as the mighty bife à Galeto.
📍Av. da República 14, 1050-191 Lisbon
Photo by Visão
Sugary croissants at O Careca
Sugar lovers rejoice! Puff pastry lovers rejoice! Neighborhood pastelaria lovers rejoice as well! O Careca is one of Lisbon’s temples for croissants. Over the decades, O Careca has gathered quite a following, thanks to the way it approaches laminated dough and shapes it both as half crescents and as palmiers – regular size and mini (which we dare you to stop eating after having just a couple of them). Even though O Careca’s croissants are often highlighted as one of Lisbon’s best croissants, we think these pastries should almost be in a separate category of their own. After all, these have very little to do with the usual flaky French style croissant, and are also distinct from the brioche croissants you will very commonly come across in the usual range of cakes found in Portuguese pastry shops.
O Careca’s croissants are dense, super doughy, incredibly sugary (on the inside and on the outside as well) and, as some may be happy to find out, they’re accidentally vegan, as they are prepared with margarine and not dairy butter. You may enjoy them as a straightforward treat or, if you are into sweet and savory combinations, order them stuffed with ham, cheese, or both. Some say that O Careca’s croissants are the biggest attraction in the neighborhood of Restelo. So, if you didn’t have this part of Lisbon on your travel itinerary yet… Well, now you know!
📍Rua Duarte Pacheco Pereira 11D, 1440-139 Lisbon
Photo by Lifecooler
Strawberries & whipped cream cake at Frutalmeidas
Never has a fruit store gathered such a good reputation as Frutalmeidas and, funnily enough, it has little to do with the fresh produce you find in the boxes to be sold per kilo. Frutalmeidas is known for their tasty and healthy fruit juices, for their not so healthy but scrumptious pastéis de massa tenra (fritters of dough stuffed with creamy minced meat, somehow similar to empanadas), and for their decadent cakes.
They have several desserts which feature fruits and, the strawberries and whipped cream one is simply the most popular of them all. It’s fairly simply, featuring fluffy sponge cake turned moister with the generous layers of chantilly and fresh fruit. But it’s one of those desserts that is just the right amount of sweet, creamy and that actually tastes like the fruit.
If you celebrate your birthday in Lisbon and someone brings you a cake from Frutalmeidas, you can assume this person loves you dearly.
📍Frutalmeidas Roma: Av. de Roma 45, 1700-342 Lisbon
📍Frutalmeidas Saldanha: Rua Pedro Nunes 25, 1050-010 Lisbon
Photo by Frutalmeidas
Bolo rei at Confeitaria Nacional
Simply put, there is no Christmas in Portugal without bolo rei. Amongst all of the typical Christmas foods in Portugal, this crown shaped confection has got to be the most essential, at least in the sweets department.
Confeitaria Nacional is the oldest and still running cake shop in Lisbon [inserir link para o novo artigo sobre os restaurantes antigos] and they make one of the best (if not the very best) bolo rei in town. This is no surprise, as they are the ones behind the recipe itself.
Bolo rei derives inspiration from the French gâteau des rois. It was a French baker who used to work at Confeitaria Nacional who adapted the recipe to Portuguese taste, between the years of 1869 and 1870. This brioche style cake with candied fruits, dried fruit and nuts soon became popular and other bakeries in Lisbon, and afterwards Porto and all over Portugal, started making their own versions and commercializing them too. Still, to this day, Confeitaria Nacional makes the most popular bolo rei in the country. It’s not the most affordable in town, but it’s a treat worth the little splurge over the festive holidays, for the sake of enjoying the cake in itself, as well as partaking in one of Lisbon’s oldest sweet traditions.
📍Praça da Figueira 18B, 1100-241 Lisbon
Photo by Câmara Municipal de Lisboa on Flickr
Chocolate mousse at Pap’Açôrda
Portuguese folks have an incredibly sweet tooth and, as a general rule of thumb, we’re great lovers of all things chocolate. In the spirit of World Chocolate Day celebrated in July, we have previously shared with you where you can eat the best chocolate based treats in Lisbon, and even where to grab the most luscious hot cocoa to warm you up during a cold day in the city.
When it comes to dessert time, chocolate mousse is one of Portuguese folks’ favorite sweets. This is one of those uncomplicated desserts you will find featured in the menu of many local restaurants and even tascas. But not all chocolate mousses were created equal! While most of them come served in individual cups or bowls, the chocolate mousse at old time restaurant Pap’Açôrda (originally opened in Bairro Alto, but now located on the 1st floor of Time Out Market Lisboa) is spooned onto your dessert plate upon order. It’s thick, luxurious, and it tastes intensely of good quality chocolate, not just like sugar. Ask any chocolate mousse connoisseur in Lisbon (and, trust us, there are quite a few…) and they’ll tell you: keep it simple, go to Pap’Açôrda.
📍Av. 24 de Julho 49, 1200-479 Lisbon
Photo by Pap’Açôrda
Do you know of any other true gems of Lisbon’s food and beverage scene? Please share them with us via Instagram, where we also keep posting about other insider tips straight out of Portugal to you! Tag @tasteoflisboa or #tasteoflisboa.
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