Food and Flavor in Alfama and Graça: Dining Out in Lisbon's Neighborhoods



In Lisbon, Alfama and Graça’s best restaurants represent a national and international cookbook of delicious and imaginatively prepared food. In these two neighbourhoods there are places to eat that serve traditional Portuguese gastronomy as well as international gourmet cuisine. In Alfama, Malmequer Bemmequer is known for its wholesome cooking in a cheery ambiance. Similarly, Trigo Latino offers up traditional Portuguese fare in colourful surroundings. Fashionable Faz Figura, meanwhile, caters for a discerning palate, and the views from the terrace are inspiring. A more humble dining experience can be had at Mestre André. Barracão de Alfama is another no-no-nonsense eatery, where residents and visitors alike appreciate local fare. It’s all about location at Santo António de Alfama, romantically set on a terrace under twisting vine. Around the corner is A Baîuca, a hole-in-the-wall eatery that’s small on space but big in atmosphere. If dining in Graca, head for Via Graça, a long-established restaurant with one of the finest views of the city. For a more offbeat flavour seek out Bistrô e Brechó Gato Preto, a delightful tasca with tables that spill out onto the pavement. Alternatively, O Pitéu de Graça enjoys such a good reputation that city chefs choose here to eat on their days off. 



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Very often it's the simplest and entirely unassuming of restaurants that serve the most memorable meals, and this humble eatery does just that! Of course, the locals have known this for years. The menu is right up their street, an appetising cookbook of homemade fare drawn from traditional recipes handed down from generation to generation. Dishes such as filetes de cherne com arroz de tomate e pimentos (turbot fillet with tomato and pepper rice) and rojões à minhota (spiced and marinated chunks of roast pork Minho-style) celebrate the country's diverse regional gastronomy, plates that positively sing with colour and flavour. Enjoyed with a jug of house red over gossip and laughter, a meal here is to taste the culture of Portuguese cuisine.


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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.


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This romantic retreat situated on a hillside in a quiet Graca backstreet affords breathtaking panoramic views of Castelo de Sao Jorge, the distant Basilica da Estrela and a silvery smooth River Tagus. An interior mirrored wall reflects the whole scene back. At night, flickering candlight and a cosy atmosphere set the scene. Guests can choose from a Michelin-recommended menu of traditional Portuguese dishes such as roast kid with new potatoes and asparagus or grouper rolls stuffed with crab and a wild mushroom risotto. The dessert choice is particularly tempting with the choice extending to flambe crepes in orange sauce and crunchy apple almonds and nuts with green apple ice cream. The wine list includes ports and moscatels.


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This shoe box-sized taberna in Alfama serves up ensopado de borrego (lamb stew and toasted bread) among other rich, heart Portuguese fare. But what really is special about this family-run eatery is the amateur fado performances (fado vadio) that take place between Thursday and Monday. Instead of hosting professional singers, the proprietor, Isabel, invites members of the public to sing in front of diners. Invariably, these are local residents who offer their own unique renditions of favourite fado songs. A surprise is the two cooks, Carla and Paula, who briefly swap kitchen duties for the spotlight and delight the audience with their beautiful singing. The atmosphere is homely and wonderfully amateurish but absolutely genuine. The singing is from the heart and makes for one of the most authentic dining experiences in the city.


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A beautiful courtyard overhung with twisting vines embroidered with spotlight fronts this delightful tasca. The cosy interior with its chunky wooden tables and vaulted ceiling is festooned with portraits of Hollywood's finest. Traditional Portuguese gastronomy has a starring role here, with dishes like grilled bream sprinkled with aromatic herbs, and tuna steak in ginger taking the lead. Support acts include an array of fresh crunchy salads, various pasta plates and mouth-watering desserts – try the banana fritter in a chocolate sauce. On warm summer nights the illuminated terrace is a real scene-stealer, and tables are snapped up quicker than you can shout, "Cut".


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Authentic Portuguese cuisine drawn from traditional recipes characterises the food served at this cosy eatery. Regions are well represented, but it's the fish and seafood that has put unpretentious Barracão de Alfama on the area's where to eat map. Dishes such as the grilled octopus and fish like salmon (and sardine, best savoured during the summer months) are menu favourites. So too is the shrimp and clam rice. An extensive wine list, again representative of the country, complements the tasty fare. Dessert choice is rich and sweet, but it's the fresh and tangy lemon mousse that often rounds up a lunch or dinner.


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Stepping into this humble little tasca is akin to dropping by an old friend's house. The interior is a wonderfully ad-hoc collection of seen-better-days chairs and tables painted bright blue set over a chipped tiled floor. Framed pen-and-ink drawings decorate the walls. A candlelit shrine to St Anthony, Lisbon's favourite saint, features in one of the alcoves, and a huge mirror helps accentuate the diminutive aspect of this delightful local restaurant. This is what a typical Alfama is all about – homely and assuming and run by locals that have lived and worked in the district all their lives. In fact, Mestre André has been serving up delicious homemade cuisine for over 30 years. You can't beat a plate of their succulent sardines with roast potatoes and salad, and the oven-baked octopus melts in your mouth. Actually, fish and seafood are the signature dishes but you can also order various grilled meats.


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Smart, stylish and fashionable, this fine dining venue is another Lisbon restaurant that woos guests with fabulous views – some of the tables are set alongside large picture windows that frame the Tagus Estuary. A light and airy esplanade allows for al fresco meals in summer. The creative Portuguese/Mediterranean cuisine features specialities such as tiger prawns grilled with lemon risotto and duck breast with sour sauce and leek puree. The desserts are equally alluring: try the caipirinha mousse with black currents or the delightfully rich and traditional fig and carob pies. Wine connoisseurs will appreciate the extensive choice of labels from just about every region of Portugal, including a Cartuxa 2009 from the Alentejo and Duas Quintas Reserva 2008 from the Douro. Reservations essential.


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Santa Apolonia


 

A bright and colourful interior enhances the bistro-style flavour at this chic eatery. Tables and chairs are set over a chessboard floor and the retro furniture lends the place a delightfully ad-hoc ambiance. The carefully prepared menu fuses traditional Portuguese and Mediterranean dishes (try the ratatouille with bruschetta) with the full-bodied taste of South America – Trigo Latino is known for its chunky Uruguayan steaks. Some truly remarkable wines from Chile and Argentina grace the cellar, though labels from Spain, Italy and France and of course Portugal will lure connoisseurs to the door. There's also a great gin list, ideal for that all-important aperitif.


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Hidden away in the heart of Alfama, this pleasant restaurant prides itself on its charcoal-grilled specialities, where salmon, shrimp, selections of sausage and meats and other traditional dishes are prepared and served up on terracotta bowls and plates. The proprietor, Sr Vitor, recommends the monkfish fillets with octopus rice. The wine list, written by hand to resemble a ledger, includes wonderfully refreshing vinho verde from Portugal's Minho region. The friendly vibe reflects the cheery interior, with tables laid with navy tablecloths and walls trimmed with polished azulejos (tiles). Together with the honest regional fare, the occasion is heightened by the sound of softly piped Portuguese folk music drifting through the room.


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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...  More About Paul

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