Tapas Bar 52, Lisbon, Portugal

If you’re in need of a late-night bite to stand you well for the fun ahead, this is your jam.  They call it tapas, but they mostly mean delicious Portuguese small plates, with a few Spanish standbys blended in.  We ordered everything.  As in, everything, to the point that the hilarious waiter was afraid to actually order it from the kitchen for fear that we were joking.  No single dish or beverage blew our minds here, but all were well-executed and on-point.  You won’t have a mind-altering culinary experience here, but you will get good food at a reasonable price in a nice atmosphere.

Tapas Bar 52, Rua Dom Pedro V 52, 1250-083 Lisboa, Portugal

Pub Lisboeta, Lisbon, Portugal

We would never have found this place, if not for being summoned here by some locals.  This one-room spot in Principe Real has just the perfect balance of hip ambiance and the truly local flare that you were looking for.  A great jumping off point for a foray into the Bairro Alto.  You will see debauchery near, but can enjoy cocktails or wine with adults in this little oasis.  We were only here for a couple of drinks, but gained a great appreciation for its chill atmosphere shortly – after getting a taste of the just-a-little-much behavior in the nearby street parties.  And they won’t force you into the street.  Not really.  Sit outside by the door, greet your friends en route to the parties, and chill.  Small bites and great cocktails.  But if you leave, you best be strapped in for the wild and wooly student-fueled party atmosphere surrounding it.

Pub Lisboeta, Rua Dom Pedro V 63, 1250-096 Lisboa, Portugal

Winebar do Castelo, Lisbon, Portugal

OK, I’ve kept this place semi-secret long enough.  Put simply, this is my favorite wine bar on the planet at the moment.  Why, you say?  Though the location, ambience, and stock selection are definitely critical pieces of the puzzle, it is the style and quality of the service you will get here that truly sets this place on a pedestal.

Nuno carries more than a few delicious choriço

Nuno Santos, the driving force behind it, takes enormous pride and care in ensuring that patrons have an unparalleled experience on their visit.  Whether Nuno takes care of you personally or one of the several other highly trained and passionate servers here is your guide, you can expect to be led toward the perfect selection with passion, knowledge, and an attention to detail that’s rare these days.  Unlike so many wine bars where you are greeted by a service professional who has memorized the most recent tasting notes from Robert Parker or James Molesworth, the staff’s love and intimate knowledge of the stock here is evident.

Reminiscent of how a guitar player feels about his different axes and each of their own quirks, imperfections, and sublime notes, no matter who takes care of you, you are going to get the straight dope on all of the wines you care to ask about.  On at least one occasion, when asked about a bottle in his stock, Nuno didn’t hold back his true opinion, and in the process educated the hell out of us.  The team is so dedicated to honesty in selection that, in fact, they steadfastly refuse what would be a very lucrative revenue stream in guiding winery tours.  Why?  It might create a conflict of interest; they don’t want to find themselves sending clients toward the highest bidder.

I could blather on here.  But just do yourself a favor and go visit Nuno’s team.  You will find yourself joining their legion of fans, and becoming so much smarter in the meantime.

Winebar do Castelo, No. 13 Rua Bartolomeu de Gusmão 11, 1100-000, Lisbon, Portugal

Cervejaria Romiro, Lisbon, Portugal

This is the kind of place that causes you to continue giving hyped spots a chance.  Each time you think you’ve had it with what the crowd tells you, there’s a Romiro.

Famous for its seafood, that is what you will eat.  The waiters come around with digitized menus in several languages on iPads.  Items are listed by kilo weight, but you don’t order that way.  You just tell them what you want and for how many humans, and they do the estimating for you.  And don’t worry, they actually estimate perfectly.  Unlike with American spots, which I’ve found tend to constantly over-estimate in an attempt to run up the bill, Europeans (at least Portuguese, Spanish, and French) tend to value your experience over that of the house.  I don’t recall being asked how I wanted things prepared, which is fine because the chef chose “perfectly” as the cooking method.

Will you wait in line to get in here?  Yes.  Even the footballer who thought he could game the system was shuffled back into line.  But that line will move quickly and there is a fine reward at the end of it, rather unlike most lines I’ve tolerated.  You will be pleased.

One final note:  apparently I did it wrong by failing to order a “prego” at the end of the meal.  Don’t fail me.  Make up for my error and get one of these tiny little beef sandwiches that are said to be exquisite.

Cervejaria Ramiro, Avenida Almirante Reis No. 1-H, 1150-007, Lisboa, Portugal

Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Lisbon, Portugal

I never would have found this place on my own.  Many thanks to a group of locals that invited my friends and I along to watch the Euro Cup final match, pitting Portugal against France.  And a hell of a time, it was!

This is along the lines of the many food markets you see around the world that mixes fresh items with stalls or bars that cook/prepare food.  Something like Barcelona’s Boqueria or New York’s Chelsea Market.  For the Euro Cup final, they set up several televisions, including a huge projection screen.  We sampled many of the wares – from slow roasted pork reminiscent of Cuban lechón, to sushi, burgers, and a gorgeous Portuguese charcuterie board – everything was on point.  The wine purveyor had a great selection from several regions of Portugal and nifty little vinyl bags he would fill with ice to keep things cool.

Needless to say that after Portugal triumphed, there was much dancing, singing, kissing, and the beer flowed and flowed . . . free of charge of course.  Having had a great experience here during a very hectic, overly-packed moment, I would highly suggest any gastronomy fan to pay it a visit.

Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Rua Coelho da Rocha 104, 1350-074, Lisbon, Portugal

Restaurante Santo António de Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

What was once an absolute steal, tucked away in one of the Alfama’s tough to locate corner terraces, must have made its way into a guide book or two.  I’m now no longer conflicted about listing it here.

Keep going, you’re on the right path.

Although they recently raised their prices to be somewhat less shockingly inexpensive and shrank the number of menu offerings, it’s still great quality Portuguese food at friendly prices.  (Oddly, each time I’ve mentioned the menu changes to the staff, they denied it, saying “impossible!”)  Most of the staff here appear to speak some amount of English, though you don’t need much Portuguese to find dourada grelhada (grilled sea bream) on the menu.

They just really like Dustin Hoffman.

The neighbors sharing the terrace add a good deal of charm to the outdoor ambiance – you will always be accompanied by at least one tiny dog, one Portuguese grandmother straight out of central casting, and a pet bird with a call so distinctive you think it’s fake at first. On the inside, the walls are covered with photographs of actors from their iconic roles, some even signed.  Dustin Hoffman in particular occupies a unique location of honor, getting his own dedicated lighting and wall just off the restrooms.

I’ve been here several times and to my knowledge there is no Fado show included.  Head to Santo António for a break from the ubiquitous singing and price gouging and a nice meal that still benefits from the unique feel of the Alfama.  Oh, and beware the fried potato skins that come with the couvert – you may end up battling your dining mates for them.

Restaurante Santo António de Alfama, Beco São Miguel 7, 1100-538 Lisbon, Portugal

A Vida Portuguesa, Lisbon, Portugal

Audrey Bag
International symbol of good taste:  Audrey

If you’re looking to better understand Portuguese culture through its food, cultural goods, and household products, while finding a unique and distinctively Portuguese gift for that special someone, this is the place for you.  This is perhaps the best of a series of shops trafficking in goods that harken back to older, arguably simpler times.  I call them saudade shops – in reference to the uniquely Portuguese word for a sense of longing for something lost – and there are many great ones.

I’ve never taken a person here that has walked out empty handed.  It just doesn’t happen.  I’ve picked up things for sisters, nieces, mom, friends, and girlfriends – not to mention more than a few things for myself.

A Vida Soaps
More smells than you can handle

You just can’t go wrong.  The collection of fancy scented soaps, lotions, and perfumes is as impressively expansive as it is unique.  The fact that the clientele is at least as Portuguese as it is foreign says much about the quality and authenticity of the stock.

A Vida Portuguesa, Rua Anchieta 11, 1200-023 Lisbon, Portugal  

Ginja d’Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal


Ginja Rack
So many Portuguese liquors, so few shots and still be on your feet.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself stumbling around the Alfama between the right hours, and if you’re lucky enough to find the doors open to this teensy little establishment, you just might be lucky enough for the aged and wise Don Jorge to threaten you with the tiny blade of his wine opener, secretly pay your tab, then bound out onto the street while pumping his biceps at the world and announcing “amanha!” before you ever know what hit you.

Eder (whom I believe speaks English) and the rest of the staff are cordial and ready with a joke and a smile.  Though the menus offer food and all manner of tipple at rock bottom prices, I’ve only ever stopped in for a medronho (arbutus berry brandy), some fresh squeezed Algarve orange juice, and the occasional cafezinho.  You’ll notice the walls are adorned with all manner of Portuguese liquor, in addition to many different brands of the traditional ginja (cherry liquor) the place is named for.  Even if, like me, you stop only for a single fortifying shot of medronho before heading to the next Fado stop, you’ll grow an affection for this little place quickly.

Ginja d’Alfama, Rua São Pedro 12, 1100-172, Lisbon, Portugal

Mesa de Frades, Lisbon, Portugal

Don’t go here.  It’s a terrible place.  If you ignore my warnings and venture here anyway, expect to step into the alternate universe of real, living and breathing, Fado.

As you approach the big wooden door at the end of what looks to be a mixed use carpark or courtyard, prepare to be greeted one of two ways.  First, if the imposingly large, old, and somewhat foreboding door is shut, your approach will surely be halted by one of several different gruff locals who are charged with the task of not letting you get near the door until the time is right.  That means that, after the current song is completed he will “ring” the doorbell, which is actually a tiny light that flashes above the singer’s head, and the door will be opened from inside by the very person who is about to send you headlong into musical revelry.

If, by chance, your timing is just right and you walk up to an open door with clusters of Portuguese folks milling around, smoking cigarettes, and laughing loudly and slapping backs, then you are in.  These folks, in fact, are made up mostly of a community of Fado players – singers, guitar players, and their close supporters – that works much more like a family, than a scene.  As with family, there is much love and support, served with a healthy dose of rivalry and teasing.  If you show up more than once, you too start to become family and can expect nods of recognition and appreciation from performers and the staff alike.  Hopefully, you speak enough Portuguese to join in the conversations – a group of older white-mustachioed enthusiasts I came to call simply “os tios” are quick to include you in conversations ranging from finding the soul of Fado, to politics and love.

A word about the space:  there isn’t much of it.  Within a few hours of being in Lisbon you will have seen thousands of azulejo covered walls.  But Mesa de Frades is inside of an old chapel, the walls of which are covered by azulejo frescoes so stunningly beautiful that you’ll find yourself just beaming at them once the guitar player turns the lights back up.  As with all Fado, there is no amplification of the music, so shut your pie hole.  And you will be hushed as the musicians reach up and shut the lights out and you enter the dark, quiet, intensely romantic and hot heart of the fadistas who are not just performing for you, but pouring out their entire essence right there into your heart and soul.  It’s not uncommon to notice your fellow revelers wiping away tears or for you – your modern, Instagramming, Facebooking, emailing, busy persona – to just melt away into the forgotten corners of your heart, with only the strains of the Fado to guide you back out.  You’ve been warned.

Mesa de Frades, Rua dos Remédios 139, 1100-445 Lisboa, Portugal