We spent a few days in Lisbon not too long ago with our parents, which was their first vacation “alone” in about 15 years. Honestly, I’m not sure hanging out with Food and I is much of a vacation, but we love them dearly and were crazy happy to see them for the second time in the last nine months.
As always, one of the highlights of traveling for both Food and I (and really the rest of our family) is the food and drink! We’d heard a lot of people sing high praises of Lisbon’s eats, so we went expecting good things. Almost every restaurant we visited were wonderful, but I had some interesting reactions to a few of them. Let’s start with the great.
Cervejaria Ramiro was one of our first restaurants we visited. Food and I were psyched about the seafood – our mom less so (anything with tentacles is a no-go) – and they definitely delivered. There was one single thing of red meat – a filet – on the menu, and not a single vegetable in sight. When Cervejaria Ramiro says seafood, they mean your choices are seafood or seafood. We went with some raw oysters to start, then some garlic shrimp and clams, way too many giant prawns and a super refreshing green wine. I don’t tend to like white wine, but evidently I like green ones. Food’s with me on this one. Green is better.
After that relatively large lunch, we weren’t going to go wild at dinner, so the choice was Corkscrew Wine Bar – a few minutes walk from our rented flat. The wine was, of course excellent, as were the cheeses, meats, and bread that our mother was ecstatic about, but the real standout for me was what we drank after dinner. We couldn’t leave Portugal without having port, of course! I’ve had port before – once (illegally), at basically the nicest restaurant I’ve ever stepped foot in, I had a sip of my dad’s. It was $150 for a glass the size of a thimble and my 14-year-old mind could not comprehend why you’d purchase something at that price that tasted that foul. 21-year-old (legal) me decided to try again at the same restaurant. Better, but not great. Close, but no cigar. We tried, yet again, in a tiny little wine bar in Alfama and got it right this time. Third time’s the charm.
A Minhota da Prata is the place to go for some authentic Portuguese. The menu isn’t in English and the tiny place – no more than five tables – is manned by a father and daughter duo. He explains, in broken English, what the food is and then you just guess and point essentially. Don’t worry, all of it’s good. Food, craving mashed potatoes, said theirs were almost as good as mine – which means they’re probably the second-best mashed potatoes available for consumption in the world. I’m that damn good.
Fabrica Lisboa is an eclectically furnished and decorated cafe with a great brunch. Their croissants are the highlight, and the self-titled Fabrica croissant is the showstopper. Tomato, egg, and lots of other yummy stuff in a perfectly flaky and buttery croissant. Mmm! The salmon and spinach quiche was amazing, and their orange juice was better than drugs. I’m going through withdrawals.
Casanova Pizzeria has an amazing view of the Tagus River and also some excellent bruschetta. It’s a bit hard to find. Head across the street from the Santa Apollonia Metro Station, and then look for the expansive windows with people cooking inside them. The name isn’t clearly stated, so just walk inside and make yourself at home – if there’s room to be had! Both times we went there were people waiting, which clearly means they’re doing something right. Try the Diavolo pizz, but don’t believe them when they say it’s spicy. It might be named after the devil, but I’ve had water that packs more kick.
For dessert, a Lisbon-approved pastel de nata is the way to go. These cream-filled egg pastries were first created in the 1700’s in the Jerónimos Monastery by monks. Now you can enjoy them throughout Portugal, Brazil, and a few other countries, but nowhere is better than a bakery a block away from their birthplace that bought the recipe from the monks in the mid-1800s. Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém has much more than just these cream cakes, but these are definitely their main sellers. We topped them with a bit of cinnamon and powdered sugar and took a bite. Or four.
A must while in Lisbon is their famed Fado music. Originating in the Alfama region, this music showcases the vocal talents of the singer as much as any crown calls attention to the head of the wearer. The guitar parts are generally quite spectacular as well, but the singing – if there’s a good vocalist – can be breathtaking. We learned this, after sitting through a few lunches hearing background noises of not so good Fado tracks, by stumbling into a bar called Mesa de Frades. A mere five minutes into us being there, a hush fell over the room and a 19-year-old boy (I know because I talked to him – this is not supposition.) positively mesmerized everyone. I turned to my mom to softly whisper “He is amazing.” and was shushed by no less than twelve people. I should probably mention I’m not good at whispering.
Now, unfortunately, the bad. I’m not going to go into too much detail – no one likes a Debbie Downer – but two restaurants were a bit disappointing. Pateo 13 – consisting of just a patio and a kitchen, don’t go here expecting inside seating – gives you a lot of food for the price, but we weren’t impressed with the quality. Quality, quantity, etc. you take your pick, but I like to enjoy the food I’m eating. Tasca Bela, serving petiscos (or tapas-style food), was our choice for our third night. The food was already on the table when we showed up, and then they let you choose what to eat and what not to. My family is a generally easy to please and adventurous crowd, but everything – even things that should definitely have been warm – was cold. I came down with food poisoning the following day, resulting in an interesting public appearance (read more later), so perhaps my opinion is skewed, but I won’t be returning to Bela.
Overall, lots of good. Very little bad. We’ll chat later about what we actually did in Lisbon outside of eating, but for now here’s a glimpse of our mom being a badass boater. XoXx Fernweh & Food