Lunch in Lisbon: Where to Eat Midday in Portugal's Capital
By Paul Bernhardt
Lisbon Local Expert
Restaurants serving lunch in Lisbon are numerous. They cater for diners with diverse tastes and different budgets. The city’s elegant Chiado district is where you’ll find Royale Café. If down to earth cooking in a local atmosphere sounds appealing, head for Floresta do Salitre off Avenida da Liberdade. On the other hand, if more sophisticated cooking is your thing, amble over to Cantinho do Avillez. This chic eatery 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 eat here too, a great compliment! For a more offbeat experience, hop over to Bistrô & Brechó Gato Pardo in Alfama, a small restaurant that resembles an old-fashioned front room. If you prefer lunch with a river view head out to Belém and the Altis Belém Hotel & Spa, where Cafeteria Mensagem is situated. Again, a Michelin star chef, João Rodrigues, 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, grab lunch on the go at Beira Gare, a city-centre eatery set by the railway station.
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 21 342 0405)
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)
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)
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 Joao Rodrigues, 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 21 040 0209)
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)
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)
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 21 887 5077)
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 21 199 2369)
Floresta do Salitre
Don't be surprised if you end up waiting to be seated lunchtimes at this lively little restaurant: Floresta do Salitre is a favourite with lisboetas seeking midday sustenance, and local office workers -- secretaries, admin bods and probably even their managing directors -- snap up many of the tables. The food is typical Portuguese fare, homemade and served promptly with minimum fuss. They're big on seafood here, with a delicious array of grilled fish options embellishing a menu that also lists food from the countryside -- lamb, chicken and pork dishes variously prepared and representing different regions of Portugal. Complementing the gastronomy are wines sold by the glass or available by the bottle. (+351 21 354 7605)
Chef Dolores Lopes is justifiably proud of the menu she's created for this elegant bistro. The cuisine speaks of healthy and balanced eating, of textures and flavours typical of Portugal and southern Europe. Appetizers draw on Mediterranean influences, with options like Greek Tzatziki and North African hummus. Her culinary prowess is further exemplified by contemporary arrangements of traditional Portuguese recipes to produce "Magusto" chicken thighs stuffed with chestnut and smoked sausage and octopus with potato and turnip greens, to name just two dishes. The "Royale Desserts" include an indulgent chocolate cake with forest fruits and ice cream. Some excellent wines (try the Fartote from the Douro) complement the food, and the restaurant also has a selection of artisan beers. (+351 21 346 9125, +351 21 346 9126)
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.