“standing there,– Henri Cole, Sardines
like white violets,
a sky dark
with storm and rain”
I had a list of restaurants to try before arriving in Lisbon, though I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to them all. The plan was to check my offline map pins while I was sightseeing to check out what was nearby. Of course, my experience in Porto made dining a bit lighter along the way as I stopped in Lisbon the second time on the way back. I still managed to have some delicious meals.
After my first day of walking around for hours, I was exhausted. I asked at the hotel for a nearby place for a good selection of food and was pointed to the Time Out Market. Most of what was available wasn’t Portuguese food, but I found a few good options and settled on sardines on toast. It was a light and flavorful start to the evening — I wasn’t particularly hungry, so a small meal was enough.
I walked through the rest of the Time Out Market to see if anything else caught my attention. Some food stalls had long lines, particularly those serving burgers or Japanese food. There were also some small grocery shops and a wine shop that would’ve been more tempted had I not been exhausted from walking all day.
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped in a corner shop that made pastéis de bacalhau. I was curious what it was, and the staff explained that it’s a fried mixture of potato and salted cod (also has eggs, onion, spices). For a cheap snack, I figured it was a good option. It was a tasty salty treat, though probably better early in the day instead of in the evening. Considering how many of these shops were around the city, I’d recommend it for a quick snack while sightseeing.
On my second day, I wasn’t hungry for dinner after a very late lunch in Sintra. Instead, I mostly drank my dinner while walking around to work up an appetite. There were a few restaurants that were tempting along my walk that evening, but they were too crowded to get in. By the time I was hungry, I found a wine shop that served snacks, so ordered a small charcuterie board to go with my tasting of port wines.
The first meal I tried after returning to Lisbon was Sr. Lisboa, a restaurant that was not on my original list but looked interesting as I walked by. Fortunately, it was early for dinner, so a table was available without a reservation in the small establishment. I didn’t want to upset my stomach after falling ill in Porto, but I couldn’t resist the polvo chimichurri. It was perfectly cooked, tender octopus covered in a delightful chimichurri, which is garlic, olive oil, espelette pepper, coriander, parsley, and oregano. I’ve never had such tender octopus, and the the chimichurri added so much flavor.
There was a lot more on the menu that I would’ve liked to try at Sr. Lisboa, but I wasn’t certain what my stomach could handle that night. If I had more time in the city, I certainly would’ve returned for a bigger meal. I would recommend making a reservation unless you plan to get there when they open for dinner.
For Thanksgiving, I headed to Pica-Pau, a restaurant that appeared on a few lists that I researched (and I wasn’t the only American celebrating the holiday at this restaurant). The restaurant is named after the Portuguese dish that translates to woodpecker. It’s grilled beef with pickled vegetables — the savory beef melds well with the vinegar of the pickles. It was the first dish the staff recommended as I perused the menu, and it was the best dish I had there (though everything else was good).
I also ordered octopus salad with the pica-pau. After my meal at Sr. Lisboa, this octopus was less impressive — it was still a lovely appetizer though.
As neither the pica-pau nor the octopus was enough, I ordered a little more. The waitstaff recommended Peixinhos da Horta, which is green bean tempura. The restaurant has more than small dishes, but I wanted to order a bunch of little things to try, though the entrees sounded terrific too.
The best restaurant experience I had was my final late lunch before departing. I stopped at Zé da Mouraria, which was recommended by my friend in Japan who saw it featured on a Japanese travel show. I took the tram from the Fernando Pessoa museum, which took far longer than expected — even with a seat, it was too long to enjoy the scenery from one end of the city to the other. Even with GPS, it wasn’t easy to follow the narrow alleys to the restaurant. Plus the sign for Zé da Mouraria was a small plaque.
I had to wait about 15 minutes for a seat, which was a shared table in the cramped space. There was a mix of tourists and locals at Zé da Mouraria, which made the experience interesting. It also looked like almost everyone ordered the same thing — the salted cod. I decided to have that along with an appetizer of chorizo and a half carafe of vinho verde.
Everything on the menu at Zé da Mouraria is intended for two people, but the restaurant offers half orders for single diners (and supposedly the bill reflects that). The chorizo was a savory choice with a mix of sourness from the pickled vegetables while I waited for the fish to cook. As I dug into the plate of chorizo, I noticed what other customers had — the salted cod I ordered looked enormous, and I began to think I should stop with the appetizer.
The salted cod came out on a huge platter buried under about two pounds of chickpeas, some potatoes, and a lot of onion and cabbage. Digging deeper into the platter revealed about three pounds of cod (I saw them cooking it on the grill, and it was a lot of fish). It was a delicious medley of flavor — salty, savory, sweet. I wanted to eat more, but it was impossible. I made it through about a third of the meal before throwing in the towel.
When the waitstaff asked if I wanted to take the leftovers, I paused. I didn’t want the food to go to waste. Maybe I’d run into some homeless people on the walk back to the hotel I could give it to. Turned out, the hotel was much closer than I thought. I ended up giving the leftovers to the front desk staff — they offered to put in the fridge for me, but I said I was leaving early morning and wouldn’t have an opportunity to eat it. I hope someone there enjoyed it.
As I was thoroughly stuffed from that late lunch, I skipped dinner. I bought some fruit for breakfast before heading to the airport in the morning, had a couple drinks, and went to sleep dreaming of all the seafood and other delicacies I tried around Lisbon.