With Lisbon as Europe’s reigning capital of cool, Portuguese cuisine is finally getting its moment on the world stage. Names like José Avillez and Kiko Martins are starting to become as well known as names like Adría and Redzepi. And as Lisbon is basking in this moment, the restaurant scene is booming, with accomplished new places opening by the week and the classics only getting better.
First, the Michelin-starry special event restaurants:
Alma is very well the most reverent one-star temple of gastronomy I’ve visited in Lisbon and also one of the most precise and wondrous. Chef Henrique Sá Pessoa knows his way around Portuguese fish, as well as suckling pig, octopus and a very popular seared foie gras, which my server said is among the best in the world. Even roasted carrots turned out to be one of the most beautiful, delicious dishes I’ve encountered lately.
Before the full onslaught of “moments” (courses), expect to be asked to select a key from an intricate box. That’s how deep the commitment to theatricality runs at this 22-seat one-star near the Basilica da Estrela. The open kitchen, helmed by chef Alexandre Silva, turns out a series of surprising bites, followed by a few more substantial morsels, all of which brim with freshness and creativity.
If you have one big-splurge meal in Lisbon do it here, at celebrity chef José Avillez’s fine-dining restaurant in Chiado, the only two-star in the city. The tasting menus are ambitious and playful—think morsels of raw seafood arranged on a porthole-like plate, or the famous gilded slow-cooked egg—but also satisfying and crave-able.
I suppose I fully fell in love with Feitoria, a one-star in Belém, when the servers rolled out a duck press to extract the juice from the heads of the sautéed Algarve red shrimp on my plate. This is clearly a place that is all-in. Traditional, 100% Portuguese ingredients inform a high-wire cuisine set to compete on bigger stages.
Arguably the most charming basement in town, this 20-seat room is full of handsome leather club chairs and cowskin rugs. Chef Bernardo Agrela was only 27 when he took over last year but had already worked in the Seychelles, the Maldives,Tokyo and London. That global experience infuses his unconventional tasting menus—doughnuts filled with tongue, pickled gherkins and toffee sauce; cuttlefish tempura with coriander chutney; and ramen with smoked swordfish, prawns from the Tagus River, seaweed and leek dashi.
And then, the places for a random Tuesday—or your first visit to the City of Seven Hills:
Bistro 100 Maneiras
Transplant chef Ljobomir Stanisic has crafted a love letter to Portuguese cuisine that’s on par with the Michelin establishments via his irreverent tasting menus at 100 Maneiras. (In Portuguese, the name is a double entendre meaning “100 ways” and “without manners.”) That restaurant’s lengthy tasting menus are intriguing, but the more relaxed Bistro is where Lisboetas return again and again.
The rooftop restaurant at the Altis Avendia hotel is worth a visit for the rooftop views over the beautifully tiled square of Restauradores. If weather allows (it usually does), insist on a table on the terrace. Chef João Correia is proud of the fact that his robust, rustic cuisine is inspired not by fine dining but by his grandmother’s cooking in the central province of Ribatejo. There’s no use of liquid nitrogen or spherified anything, just a desire to feed people well.
Anthony Bourdain and just about every guidebook has sent people to the justifiably beloved Cervejaria Ramiro. I prefer this classic seafood-and-beer hall in the dockside Alcântara neighborhood for a similar experience minus the long waits and lines out the door. It’s popular with locals and a haunt for Benfica fans, which makes the atmosphere even more of a party on match nights.
A hotel in the tourist center of Lisbon seems like the last place one would want to have dinner, but the restaurant in the Internacional Design Hotel upends that thought. Bastardo occupies a playful, upstairs space and serves a creative menu that acknowledges cultures from Japan (ramen) to India (chicken curry with coconut milk) to Peru (ceviche).
There are plenty of restaurants in Lisbon that play on the country’s Goan connections, but another colony, Mozambique, is largely overlooked. An important exception is this waterside restaurant on the shore of the Tagus Estuary. Chef João Pedrosa grew up in this African nation and is dedicated to bringing the coconut curries and Mozambican prawns of his upbringing to a larger, more upscale audience.
Under-the-radar in the best possible ways, the unassuming restaurant at the Valverde hotel has managed to be an oasis of cool and calm on one of Lisbon’s busiest thoroughfares. Along with solid cuisine (thanks to award-winning chef Carla Sousa), it has a quiet courtyard that is one of the best, most hidden places to enjoy happy hour jazz or fado in Lisbon.
Jesus É Goês
A local food tour company hailed the Goan immigrant at this 12-seat hole in the wall the “messiah of masala.” Chef Jesus Lee began serving artful deconstructed food at his namesake restaurant soon after he returned from a stint back in Goa during which he did a lot of cooking with his mother. The playful menu riffs on samosas and vindaloos in a way that transcends the usual curry house fare but also attracts local Goan families.
The beach club for the top-tier Penha Longa Resort, the dining room at the Villa Tamariz resort is one of the most civilized weekend-afternoon dining rooms—and one of the few places you can find a good Bloody Mary—in greater Lisbon. It’s worth the train ride to sample sumptuous fruit before a plate of eggs Benedict. Afterward, the beach is right there.