I quickly declared Lisbon as my favourite city in Europe after my solo trip to Porto and Lisbon last year. The colourful houses, steep hills and cobbled streets won me over immediately. The sunshine and bustle of people during the summer made the Portuguese charm even more irresistible. So when I heard a couple of friends were flying to Lisbon in mid-June, the appeal was so strong, I jumped at the opportunity to invite myself along.
Visiting the city with locals was of course a very different experience. With two foodie friends, Catarina and Joana, taking the lead, I uncovered even more tempting delicacies and beautiful spots in Portugal.
El Clandestino: Fun Mexican/Peruvian spot with great cocktails
Whether traditionally Portuguese or not, food in Portugal is generally extremely good. On one of our nights, our local friends took us to a Mexican/Peruvian restaurant, El Clandestino. Its laid back and fun ambience made it the perfect place for a group of 8 people to gather and start the night. The food was delicious – though the ceviches were not very Peruvian (I now say, after sampling a lot of them in Lima) the tuna ceviche was refreshing and tasty in its own right. And, despite being an avid fan of very red red meat, Joana’s strong conviction towards the vegetarian tacos was convincing and I’d now definitely highly recommend it too.
But the biggest highlight here was the long list of creative cocktails. Their margaritas and “Alma de Guadalupe” (tequila based sour with rosemary foam) are a must-try.
TOPO Chiado / Topo Terraco: Rooftop bars with views and sangria
Over the course of just two days, we managed to visit two of the TOPO bars. They’re known for their beautiful open air rooftops, especially at the Chiado branch. They are both great places to hang out and serve deliciously fruity jugs of red and white wine sangrias. It’s a must-visit spot for any tourists needing just one more opportunity to admire a panoramic view of the charmingly hilly landscape of Lisbon.
Careca: One-of-a-kind pastries and coffee for breakfast
“Are you girls Portuguese?” eyebrows raised, our Uber driver asked, as he rightly assumed that we were probably tourists. But he was shocked to see our destination pop up on his screen: Careca.
Our Portuguese foodie friend, Catarina, revealed that Careca is only frequented by locals – in fact, she set our expectations straight, reiterating that this was “really nothing fancy, just a regular cafe for locals.”
The cafe is located in a nice residential area and despite being out of the centre of Lisbon (about a 15 minute ride away), its one-of-a-kind croissants and palmiers are definitely worth the visit. Their croissants were guiltfully sugar-filled and that description would usually turn me off completely. But the almost fudge-like interior was a delightful surprise; it reminded me of the almond paste inside an almond croissant. It was delicious, although no doubt a pretty guilty pleasure.
It’s not too far away from Pasteis de Belem (which is a must-visit in Lisbon), so I’d recommend this if you’re not afraid of a heavy breakfast with an excellent espresso – to my surprise, the coffee was so good, I had to order a second immediately after.
Pasteis de Belém: Touristic tarts that locals love too
Even during my first trip to Lisbon, I thought the classic Portuguese egg tarts pasteis de nata or pasteis de Belém were best here. Being such a touristic attraction, you would think it was overrated. But the thin flakey crust and smooth tasty filling of the tarts at Pasteis de Belém are always perfect, and it turns out locals agree too.
Rio Maravilha: Rooftop lunch and cocktails at LX Factory
Dotted with a variety of cool cafes/bars/restaurants and a couple of small local boutiques, LX Factory is the place to visit if you’re looking for a bit of a hipster scene in Lisbon. Its rugged warehouse-cargo container look itself will definitely make you feel just a tad more trendy too.
We headed up to Rio Maravilha, a rooftop bar and restaurant with colourful decor, deliciously crafted cocktails and a great view.
Ramiro: Extremely fresh and fuss-free seafood
I was directed here by some foodie friends back in Hong Kong during my last trip. But some research suggested that it wouldn’t be a great place to come alone – that’s when I ended up at Tapisco, which by the way was one of my all time personal favourite meals.
Ramiro is best for a group of at least four people, so you can share and sample a range of dishes. We got off to a great start with delicious white wine and some butter-lathered toasted bread, which escalated quickly as we were served some of the freshest, tastiest and meatiest crabs and lobsters I’ve had in my life. The clams in white wine sauce were also perfect – don’t forget to soak your bread in the leftover sauces!
With a good selection of seafood and a bit of wine, the bill came up to an extremely reasonable EUR40 per person. It could definitely rack up to more, if you’re ordering more expensive items – but you can always tell the waiter your rough budget to keep things in control.