Best Lisbon Lunch Spots, From Stylish Restaurants to Humble Bistros
By Paul Bernhardt
Lisbon Local Expert
Lisbon’s elegant Chiado district is where you’ll find Cantinho do Avillez. This chic little restaurant offers a menu designed by Michelin star chef José Avillez and celebrates traditional Portuguese gastronomy. Across town in Alfama Chapitô à Mesa wins applause for its colourful cuisine and wacky location – the restaurant is housed in a circus school. Lovers of Spanish tapas will certainly appreciate the appetising selection at Mesón Andaluz, located near Cais do Sodré. Spanish customers think so too, a great compliment! Al fresco dining can be enjoyed at Aura down in the Baixa area: tables look out over Lisbon’s magnificent Praço do Comércio. Cat lovers will find Bistrô & Brechó Gato Pardo ‘purrfect’ for lunch. The owners of this unpretentious Alfama bistro worship felines. If you like your food served with river views hop over to Belém and the Altis Belém Hotel & Spa. This is where Cafeteria Mensagem is situated. Again, a Michelin star chef, José Cordeiro, is responsible for the menu. The waterside theme is extended to 5 Oceanos, a fantastic fish and seafood restaurant based in Santo Amaro docks near Alcântara. Back in Alfama diners can enjoy inspired views from Portas do Sol, a trendy café-restaurant whose name means “Doors to the Sun”. For no-nonsense service and friendly banter, grab lunch on the go at Beira Gare, a city-centre eatery renowned for its pork steak sandwiches. Alternatively, for a more laid-back experience stay in Alfama and chill out in a sofa at Pois, Café.
10 Pois Café
The soups and salads prepared at this wonderfully wacky lounge café are some of the most nourishing in town. It's pretty much a vegetarian menu here, but they do include meat and fish for some dishes. The colourful retro bric-a-bac that decorates the interior lends this place a home from home quality that's immediately appealing. Old travel trunks, tired-looking sofas, creaky wicker chairs and 1960's lampshades all conspire to create a scene out of someone's dorm, right down to the prints and posters hanging on the walls. Food choice changes daily. The tagliatelle with courgette, herbs and lemon sprinkled with Parmesan cheese is a favourite. So too is the smoked salmon fritters. If it's on, order the cauliflower curry with herbs and lentils. Occasionally the kitchen gets very creative. For example, they do a Lebanese dish, all hummus, yoghurt and meatballs. Delicious! (+351 (0)21 886 2497)
9 Beira Gare
Succulent grilled chicken with hot spicy sauce, plump, juicy sardines drizzled with olive oil, mouth-watering shrimps in garlic butter, tender pork chops with tomato salad... the lunchtime menu at this typical city-centre restaurant is what everyday Portugal is all about -- good, tasty food at pocket money prices. There are many similar places in Lisbon, but here the waiters make just a little more effort with their friendly banter and super quick service. There all are manner of snacks available too, from nourishing soups to things like meat croquettes, cod fish cakes and the bifana -- a thin pork steak braised in a savoury sauce served up no nonsense in a bread roll. This is Beira Gare's fast food speciality and they've got cooking them down to a fine art. During the summer more tables are set on the pavement. Eat as the world goes by. (+351 (0)21 342 0405)
8 Portas do Sol
If you're looking for lunch with a fabulous view then the "Doors to the Sun" are worth opening. This trendy café-restaurant crowns a lofty terrace in Lisbon's historic Alfama district. The panorama over the terracotta rooftops and chalk white church domes is truly memorable, and the river beyond adds a suitable backdrop. The food here is excellent, the menu erring towards light and easy meals, wholesome and nourishing. The pasta of the day is worth trying, and the mini burgers made with traditional Portuguese sausage and topped with egg are always popular. The restaurant interior exudes a bright and breezy ambiance, but it's the spacious esplanade that draws the crowds. This is prime real estate and outside tables are quickly snapped up. Seating arrangements include charcoal coloured sofas and plump beanbags. (+351 (0)21 885 1299)
7 5 Oceanos
Lisbon's fashionable Alcântara docks provide an ideal setting for this highly regarded fish and seafood restaurant. Tables spill out onto a wood deck that overlooks the Santo Amaro marina and the River Tagus beyond. The restaurant proper is a converted warehouse, and as its name suggests, the gastronomy celebrates the oceans' harvest. Weekend lunchtimes are always busy, with locals and tourists alike flocking to sample delights such as grilled prawns with garlic, tuna steak, and an assortment of flame grilled fish options including grouper, bass, sea bream and turbot. Lobster, oyster and crab can also be ordered. The wines, especially the whites, perfectly complement the cuisine, and they also offer sangria. The restaurant practically lies under the spectacular Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge and traffic noise is audible, although it's a low hum that the ear readily gets used to. (+351 21 397 8015)
6 Cafeteria Mensagem
Located in the Altis Belém Hotel & Spa, this idyllic riverfront eatery affords glorious views of the River Tagus and oozes a refined but laid-back ambiance. This is a place to chill, to pause over a glass of white wine before choosing from a menu that celebrates the reinvention of traditional Portuguese cuisine. Chef José Cordeiro, a one-star Michelin chef who works next door in the hotel's Feitoria restaurant, has carefully crafted Mensagem's gastronomy to offer a variety of meat and fish dishes, as well as a more exotic choice of rice and risotto options. Perhaps the best way to experience the restaurant is to drop by for lunch. The buffet spread is expansive and allows diners to pick and mix at leisure, and alcoholic beverages are included in the price. Sunday brunch is very popular, and the exterior wood deck terrace fills up quickly on sunny days. (+351 (0)21 040 0209)
5 Bistrô & Brechó Gato Pardo
Mario and Werner love cats. It's why they named their restaurant after a feline (the bistro's logo resembles a domestic cat but with the spots of a leopard). This place is like walking into someone's front room, and the domestic ambiance is tangible. Vintage wooden furniture is used throughout, with leather-clad chairs and an old sofa adding to the lived-in appeal. Werner is from Switzerland so he's embellished the menu with a selection of crêpes, both sweet and savoury. The international flavour is further enhanced with dishes like ravioli funghi porcini. Portuguese options include prato tira-gostos com pão, and the kitchen always offers a dish of the day. When it gets really busy (especially Tuesday and Saturday lunchtimes due to crowds visiting a nearby flea market) tables are set outside on the sidewalk. From here, diners can gaze at the trams trundling past São Vicente de Fora church. (+351 934 696 871)
This stylish café-lounge restaurant wakes up early in the morning and only closes late at night. Midway through the day it draws locals and tourists in equal measure, lured by a delicious buffet lunch option or the set menu inspired by Portuguese gastronomy. On warm sunny days tables on the outside terrace are quickly snapped up: they overlook Lisbon's landmark square, and this is a great location for people watching. That said it's worth taking a look inside the restaurant. It's housed in a converted palace building and designed under enormous vaulted ceilings. It's an impressive setting. Being located near the river, it's no surprise that fish dishes are popular choices, cooked to perfection and presented with a contemporary flourish. If a lighter lunch is in order, then diners can order a gourmet snack, served perhaps with one of Aura's refreshingly tangy cocktails. (+351 (0)21 346 9447)
3 Mesón Andaluz
The mouth-watering selection of tapas at this enchanting Spanish restaurant is on par with anything Madrid can rustle up. Tasty appetizers listed include pumpkin soup with curd cheese and wild fruits, garlic prawns bathed in virgin olive oil, and piquillo peppers stuffed with cod. The 'Classic' menu inspires with dishes like lamb shoulder over a carrot and pimento pardon (green Galician pepper) purée. These main courses, and some desserts, appear at the table served not on a plate but instead on a wedge of slate -- a delightfully simple and effect presentation. Wines include a Duende from the Alentejo, made by one André Herrera de Almeida, who just happens to be the son of the restaurant's owner, Ilídio. Mesón Andaluz's interior blends a contemporary design signature with original 19th-century walls, but an outside terrace allows for al fresco dining -- great for lunch in warmer weather. (+351 21 460 0659, +351 939 502 803)
2 Chapitô à Mesa
Chapito is Lisbon's famed circus school and performing arts centre located a couple of minutes' walk from Castelo de Sáo Jorge. Its restaurant is one of the quirkiest in town, a colourful and vibrant eatery set in a mustard-hued townhouse. Tables are also set outside across a courtyard and a small covered terrace, and diners are treated to a spectacular downtown panorama. Food is deliciously appetising -- the menu lists fresh crunchy salads (try the mackerel and boguerones) all bursting with goodness, seafood dishes such as octopus and sweet potato, and assorted toasted sandwiches and tempting desserts. Specials of the day are chalked up on a blackboard. Wine is served by the glass as well as by bottle -- a dry white works wonders on a hot day! Given its location and the quality of service, a meal here is excellent value for money. Furthermore, the vibe is offbeat, eclectic and seriously friendly. All this under the same hat! (+351 (0)21 887 5077)
1 Cantinho do Avillez Restaurant
The informal character and ad-hoc layout of this modest little eatery belies a menu of outstanding quality and originality. And no wonder! The creative genius pushing all the buttons is chef José Avillez, who bagged a Michelin star in 2012 for his inventive haute cuisine at Belcanto, just up the road from this place. Cantinho do Avillez is the result of Avillez's desire to offer a more casual drop-in spot where simple but sophisticated fare is served promptly and without fuss. This concept is particularly suited to lunchtimes, when diners can opt for a prego no pão -- a juicy steak sandwich -- or something more substantial like grilled tuna with vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce. The choice is select but amazingly varied and largely Portuguese inspired. The deliberate mish mash of antique furniture and decorative bric-a-brac further heightens the allure of this chic venue. (+351 (0)21 199 2369)
About Paul Bernhardt
Paul Bernhardt cut his teeth as a press photographer in England before leaving the UK to settle in Portugal, where he has lived for over a decade, and where he started to focus on more travel-related topics. He has journeyed the length and breadth of his adopted homeland and its islands, interacting with locals and photographing a fascinating range of subjects.
Paul waxes lyrical for a number of specialist travel magazines, blogs and websites, and Lisbon is a frequent subject. In fact, he never tires of rediscovering this most beguiling city, usually over a coffee at his favorite downtown café.
Read more about Paul Bernhardt here.