By Annie Fitzsimmons
Photography by Sivan Askayo
Originally appeared in September 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life
Every night in Lisbon, a cheerful hubbub of chatter fills Mercado da Ribeira, a historic produce hall reborn as the city’s most convivial food emporium, where families and friends gather around long wooden tables that create a sophisticated beer-hall atmosphere.
Outside the market, Lisbon is awash in centuries-old elegance. Homes are charmingly imperfect, adorned with crumbling glazed tiles and peeling wrought-iron balconies. Muffled strains of Portugal’s sorrowful fado music waft from tiny bars on cobblestoned streets. But lately there’s a palpable sense of innovation and originality, especially when it comes to food.
Chef José Avillez is Lisbon’s brightest culinary star and owner of six restaurants. His flagship, Belcanto, became the city’s first two-Michelin-starred establishment last year, a reflection of its upswing in international culinary prestige.
“Ten years ago, you would find very good traditional cuisine in Lisbon, but you wouldn’t have the choices you have today,” Avillez says. “A new wave of well-traveled, educated chefs and restaurateurs is changing the dining experience, creating diverse, delicious food that is helping to make Portuguese cuisine more visible.”
Inside Mercado da Ribeira, it’s clear why Lisbon is such a culinary joy right now. The market is hyperlocal, a microcosm of the city’s dining scene. Revered Portuguese chefs such as Alexandre Silva and Henrique Sá Pessoa have opened stalls along the back wall, serving casual fare with signature stamps of creativity.
You’ll still find Lisbon’s best-known dishes everywhere, such as salted cod (bacalhau) and buttery custard tarts (pastéis de nata). Portugal’s food has always been rooted in simple cooking techniques and the best ingredients. But it’s impossible not to be enchanted by the new culinary energy, the work of award-winning chefs, and a sense that the city is becoming one of Europe’s great dining capitals.
Here’s a list of places to check out on your next visit.
To see the list of Lisbon's buzziest food spots, use the arrows. If you'd like to collaborate with a Virtuoso travel advisor on your next adventure to Portugal, connect below.
The Market Buzz
Start your exploration of the Mercado da Ribeira by nibbling on petiscos, the Portuguese equivalent of Spanish tapas, a tradition of small bites that is rising in popularity in Lisbon. These might be a vinegary octopus salad, fried green beans, or local cheeses. Sip wild cherry liqueur and eat a prego, or steak sandwich, served on soft, circular bolo do caco bread. Sample bites of cured ham and sausage, sourdough acorn bread, and creamy cinnamon gelato from Santini, and make sure to buy a small bottle of local piri piri chili oil. With around 30 stalls, you can easily wander and try whatever looks good. One of the best souvenirs is inexpensive but high-quality tinned fish at the Conserveira de Lisboa outpost. For kitchenware and other Portuguese-made finds, browse the shelves of local favorite A Vida Portuguesa. Rua Anchieta 11.
The Altar of Avillez
José Avillez is the most visible chef in Lisbon’s evolving dining scene. At Cantinho do Avillez (Rua dos Duques de Bragança 7, Mártires; 351-21/199-2369), a buzzy, appealing spot in the Chiado neighborhood, diners linger over lazy lunches of green curried meatballs and chilled Portuguese white wine. Mini Bar (Rua António Maria Cardoso 58; 351-21/130-5393), inside a local theater, serves reasonably priced, elaborate mini portions, such as tuna tartare cones and a ceviche of Algarve prawns. Belcanto (Largo de São Carlos 10; 351-21/342-0607) makes for a grand night out. “Belcanto is one of my favorite restaurants in Lisbon,” says New York City-based Virtuoso advisor Martina Reznick. “The avant-garde food is delicious, fresh, and beautifully presented. The service, wine list, and ambience are excellent as well.”
If you’re feeling daring, call one-Michelin-starred Feitoria Restaurante & Wine Bar 48 hours in advance to book the “creative menu,” which leaves you in the hands of chef João Rodrigues’ whimsy, tailored to your preferences, such as a secret spin on Algarve shrimp or Angus sirloin. Located in riverfront Belém, Feitoria evokes Portuguese gastronomic history and traditions with its tasting menus. Doca do Bom Sucesso; 351-21/040-0207.
The vast lunch buffet and floor-to-ceiling windows at Varanda in the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon attract both locals and visitors who come for classic Portuguese dishes and indulgent desserts. The sushi service is especially popular; lounge on the terrace overlooking Eduardo VII Park while watching the sushi chef work his culinary magic. There’s a huge daily breakfast buffet, and the festive Sunday brunch always draws a packed crowd. Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca 88; 351-21/381-1400.
The latest restaurant to join the inter-national cuisine trend is A Cevicheria, a Peruvian spot by chef Kiko Martins specializing in ceviches. End the meal on a sweet note with the dulce de leche piña colada dessert. They don’t take reservations, so show up around 7 pm, before the dinner rush. Rua Dom Pedro V 129; 351-21/803-8815.
Opened by one of Portugal’s oldest and most highly respected wine producers, lively By the Wine José Maria da Fonseca bar in Chiado serves even the most expensive vinhos by the glass in a space that resembles a futuristic subway tunnel. Small snacks include local cheeses, mussels, and a fantastic sirloin prego on bread from the Algarve region. Rua das Flores 41-43; 351-21/342-0319.
In an intimate sliver of a space in the bohemian Bairro Alto district, 100 Maneiras welcomes guests with a warm interior and an adventurous tasting menu (there is no à la carte menu). Well-known chef Ljubomir Stanisic shows off his quirky personality in dishes such as poached eggs with truffles and corn-bread “sand,” and dehydrated codfish with coriander oil. Rua do Teixeira 35; 351-91/030-7575
You could linger for hours at bright and airy Choupana Caffé, a local favorite and a welcome change from the red velvet and dark wood of the city center’s old European coffeehouses. Create your own treat at the organic yogurt bar for breakfast, or try Choupana’s crisp salads, homemade soups, and hot sandwiches for lunch. Avenida da República 25A; 351-21/357-0140.
To see where you should stay in Lisbon, use the arrows. If you'd like to collaborate with a Virtuoso travel advisor on your next adventure to Portugal, connect below.
Colonial touches meld with urban European influences at the boutique-style, 55-room Bairro Alto Hotel
in the heart of downtown Lisbon. Its top-floor Terrace BA boasts views of the iconic 25th of April Bridge. Doubles from $285, including breakfast daily and one lunch or dinner for two at the hotel’s Flores do Bairro restaurant.
Situated on a hill in the historic center, the 282-room Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon
offers private terraces in most rooms with panoramic views of the city. Spectacular contemporary Portuguese art adorns the walls of the public spaces. Doubles from $503, including breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.
Originally a private residence, the 109-room Olissippo Lapa Palace
welcomes guests in one of Lisbon’s most exclusive, quiet enclaves, close to the Tagus River. The Mediterranean menu at Lapa Restaurant perfectly complements the lush gardens and pool. Doubles from $387, including breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.