In 2012, Anthony Bourdain visited Lisbon as part of his “No Reservations” TV show. A lot has changed since then— Portugal has come out of the recession, fantastic new restaurants have popped up all over the place, and famous old holes-in-the-wall have become tourist traps. However, many visitors to the city still set out to walk in Bourdain’s footsteps, especially after his untimely death in June of 2018.
If doing Lisbon Bourdain-style is your current plan, the experience you’ll get will most certainly differ from Bourdain’s — to begin with, it’s not likely you will invite a host of famous Portuguese actors, musicians, writers, producers, etc., to join you. You also shouldn’t expect the food and service to be the same at many of these places. You might leave feeling disappointed. This is often the major drawback to the kind of international exposure many of these establishments enjoyed as a result of the show.
In order to ensure you get the culinary experience you’re seeking, I’ve included recommendations for places currently offering the same quality of food that Bourdain sought back in 2012. Happy eating and happy exploring!
First thing’s first: Cervejaria Ramiro is still known for its seafood, but it is far from the marisquiera (seafood restaurant) that it once was. Back in 2012, it was more of a hole-in-the-wall with old waiters, fresh seafood, and a homey feel. Today, Ramiro’s menus are on iPads and there’s a ridiculous line of people waiting outside for seafood that is just…okay. Since they don’t accept reservations, waiting for often laughable amounts of time is the only way you can get in unless you go really early at lunch (12h) or dinner (17h30).
For a city overflowing with incredible seafood, it’s just not worth it.
At Ramiro, Bourdain had percebes (goose barnacles), sapateira (crab), and huge camarões (tiger prawns). For dessert, he took the traditional route and ordered a prego (a steak sandwich with mustard). If you want to duplicate the above menu, I recommend going to Zapata in São Bento, O Palácio in Ancântara, or taking a five-minute ferry ride across the Tejo (from Cais do Sodré) to Cacilhas and checking out O Farol.
A Tasca do Chico
A Tasca do Chico is the fado house that Bourdain visited in Bairro Alto. He sat down with famed author Antonio Lobo Antunes and listened to our favorite fadista Carminho perform the fado song “Escrevi teu Nome no Vento.”
Aside from drinking an imperial (draught beer) alongside a caldo verde soup and listening to Portugal’s most celebrated traditional music, Bourdain, Antunes, and Carminho discussed the former dictatorship, the state of the country (as it was in 2012), how longing and waiting are in the Portuguese blood, and how the Portuguese, in general, aren’t a very positive people. At one point in the conversation, Antunes says, “Sometimes I wonder if Portugal isn’t what the sea doesn’t want.”
Like optimism, Fado isn’t for everyone, but A Tasca do Chico remains one of the best places in town to hear it. If it’s too crowded, you might consider trying Povo in Cais do Sodré, Guarda-Mor in Santos, or just walk around Alfama and wait until you hear something you like coming from one of the many fado bars there. Note: Many fado bars have minimum requirements on drinks and food, but the first two I mentioned do not.
Sol E Pesca
Sol e Pesca is located in a former red-light district right on the riverbank of the Tejo where sailors would take shore leave and drink, dance, and…er…fraternize with the ladies of the night. Since the Time Out Food Market moved into the area, things have certainly cleaned up but many of the original bars still remain there to be explored.
This tiny fishing supply shop-turned-canned fish restaurant on pink street specializes in petiscos (small plates) canned locally in Portugal. You can opt for any of the tins to be opened and served as is with a basket of bread and a beer and/or a glass of vinho verde, or you can select one of the restaurant’s menu options that take the canned fish and twist it into more complex dishes.
Bourdain tasted the smoked tuna fish, local sardines layered on Alentejo bread, and tuna roe served with sweet potatoes and horse mackerel while chatting with Tó Trips and Pedro Gonçalves of the band Dead Combo, a Portuguese folk band that mixes the sounds of fado with alternative, world, and spaghetti western-inspired music. Like Sol e Pesca, the band takes tradition and gives it a little update.
Tinned fish in Portugal is not like the tinned fish you’re used to at home. These packaged portions range from simple to gourmet. They contain almost every kind of fish you can name, multiplied by dozens of different sauces, and seasoned a variety of different ways. These are the perfect souvenir for your foodie friends and you can buy them at dedicated conserveiras (canned food shops) like the nearby Loja das Conservas (founded in 2013) or the more traditional Conserveira de Lisboa (founded in 1930) located near the Sé. Note: If the tinned food shop you pass by has a carousel inside it, please realize this is an abomination.
A Ginjinha is not only one of the most popular places to try ginjinha (sour cherry liqueur), it’s also the original place that sold the aguardente-based shot. Thirsty throngs of tourists stand in front of this shop on the corner of the Praça São Domingos drinking their ginjinha (served with fruit or without fruit), now out of plastic cups — another drawback to the demand brought on by top 10 lists and the like. Yes, this place is the oldest and it’s well worth a visit, but unfortunately, it’s not the best in town anymore as its quality has suffered in recent years.
Just a bit down the road toward the coliseum is the tiny, often overlooked Ginjinha Sem Rival. It’s unclear exactly when it opened as flooding of the street has ruined official documentation, but it’s imagined to have opened in 1840 — founded by the grandfather of the current owner, João Lourenço Cima. Their cherry liqueur is top notch and has remained so since day one. Most importantly, this is one of the few places in Lisbon that makes their own recipe in house, and serve it in a proper glass. The others (A Ginjinha included) ship theirs in from a factory outside the city and usually serve them in disposable cups.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you can try Ginjinha de Óbidos in the façade of Time Out Market. Here, it’s served in a chocolate cup, so you get two for the price of one. This isn’t traditional to Lisbon: here’s it’s served in a glass, but you’ll find both on offer around the city.
Cantinho do Avillez
José Avillez is the Portuguese version of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay. This guy has just shy of ten restaurants here in Lisbon alone, and Cantinho do Avillez is one his most popular and most affordable. The menu is made up of petiscos (small plates) that are meant to be shared.
Bourdain shared a table with José Brito— a music producer, composer, and musician. They sampled peixihos da horta (tempura green beans), morcela (blood sausage) from the North of Portugal, trotters in olive oil, a golden egg invention, and a hazelnut medley for dessert. They discussed the limited exportation of Portuguese wine, cheese, olive oil and more, and how (of course) these products are some of the best in the world.
And they’re right. These products are mainly made for internal consumption, so it’s not difficult to find local restaurants that have the same spread at a fraction of the price. Try Lezíria in Santos, A Maria Não Deixa and Taberna Tosca in Cais do Sodré, or Botequim in Graça. There are hundreds more to choose from, but these stand out.
100 Maneiras Restaurant
After a rousing game of chinquilho (also known as jogo da malha— the Portuguese version of horseshoes), Bourdain brought along the club members to a fine-dining restaurant run by chef Ljubomir Stanisic called Bistro 100 Maneiras located in Bairro Alto. They tried the deep-fried codfish tripe, game pie with truffles, rabbit, and São Jorge cheese, horse heart and bull liver and pork brain stew, and cabrito (milk-fed young goat) served on rice mixed with the goat’s liver, and tongue, mushroom, and chicken stock.
The dishes served at this restaurant are all very delicate “like testicles,” but if you have a squirmish stomach, it’s likely best you don’t look too closely at what makes up each recipe. The ingredients are all pretty old-school here — most people aren’t used to eating offal (or sweetbreads) but the Portuguese don’t seem to mind too much.
100 Maneiras is still a good destination for adventurous foodies; given the nature of the menu, it’s not overrun with hoards of folks wearing socks and sandals. However, if you’re looking for alternatives, try Attla Restaurant in Alcântara, Ceia in Santa Clara/Graça, or Picamiolos. These spots aren’t cheap, so prepare yourself for a heftier tab than you might expect.
Star chef Henrique Sa Pessoa welcomed Bourdain and actor José Diogo Quintela into his restaurant Alma that has been awarded two Michelin stars where they discuss the demographics of the city, and how, in terms of the economic crisis at the time, the Portuguese like to “laugh at their own pain.”
The small marinated mackerel dish was no laughing matter, nor were the baby pork wrapped in a sweet potato purée served over bok choy alongside a semi-salted cod under a chickpea purée. These dishes are small but expertly prepared and if it’s the high quality and high price tag you’re after, Alma is always a good choice. There’s also Pessoa’s more accessibly-priced outpost in Henrique Sá Pessoa in Time Out Market if you don’t want the cozy restaurant feel and you’d rather just try some of his more renown (and somewhat simplified) dishes.
If you’d rather go out to dinner for some of the best and most interesting tastes of Portugal at a fraction of the price, I would recommend trying Taberna Ideal in Santos or Oficina do Duque on the between Rossio and Bairro Alto. Both have a wide range of yummies at lower prices and less pretense.
The bifana is the best thing to punctuate a long night of drinking, or even just to have as a snack in the late afternoon. It’s a simple sandwich made with thin slices of marinated pork served on a roll. That’s it. Top it with mustard and/or piri piri pepper sauce and you’ve got one of the most magical snacks you can get just about anywhere. It’s cheap (usually about €2) and flavorsome, and you can order one in just about any café in Portugal. The Cervejaria O Trevo, however, has always been one of the best places in town to get one.
O Trevo translates to four-leaf clover, but these guys don’t need any luck getting customers to come in, they have their magical bifana recipe. It can get crowded at times but the sandwich is eaten quickly so you can always find a spot. This place is definitely still a must-visit in Lisbon. There are others who are well-known for their stupendous pork sandwich, of course. Try As Bifanas do Afonzo in Mouraria or Parreirrinha do Chile in Praça Chile.