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For Europe experts who feel as though they’ve “been there, done that,” Lisbon is a breath of fresh air. The Portuguese capital had me at first sight.
Reminiscent of San Francisco, complete with its own suspension bridge (built in the style of the Golden Gate Bridge), this foggy city on a hillside tumbles down to the Tagus River. Its pink-and-white buildings are topped with classic red-tile roofs, a maze of cobblestone streets weaving between them. Broad plazas open out to the river, while a trolley system clicks along through pedestrian avenues. A mix of Old World Europe and hipster Brooklyn, Lisbon is not as sought after as other cities in the region. It remains unbelievably cheap, absurdly bohemian and sublimely cool.
There are many things to say about Lisbon, but I was there to eat. And I ate. I ate a lot — and at a wide variety of restaurants and bars. Here are the most memorable ones, worth a second visit, even on the same trip.
A Nova PombalinaThe tiny, popular A Nova Pombalina restaurant is always packed at lunchtime. Locals stop in for quick “leitao” (suckling pig) sandwiches prepared in 60 seconds or less on fresh-baked Portuguese bread with an amazing — and totally secret — vinegar sauce. The crew behind the counter is composed of old-school Lisboans, who are quick to crack a joke and even quicker to toss a hot-and-crusty sandwich your way. Pair yours with a pint of local beer on tap or a fresh-squeezed juice.
El ClandestinoWhen you’ve had your fill of Portuguese food, check out El Clandestino, a Mexican restaurant at the top of the Bairro Alto district serving unbelievable tacos and ceviche. A dimly lit and romantic restaurant accented by a wall decorated with a 3-D neighborhood scene, this sexy spot is a rare find. Opt for the tuna tostadas and the shrimp tacos.
Fumeiro de Santa CatarinaMuch like Spain, Portugal has its own version of tapas culture. These small plates, known as “petiscos,” are meant for sharing. One of the hottest newcomers to hit the restaurant scene on the fringe of Lisbon’s trendy Bairro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods is the rustic Fumeiro de Santa Catarina. With a distinctly hip, vintage vibe, this nouveau tapas bar has a menu focused on smoked meats and fish.
Noobai CafePerched atop the Miradouro de Santa Catarina — a hillside lookout with views of the city and river below — is Noobai Cafe, where a Moroccan-meets-Asian-meets-Mediterranean menu pairs perfectly with gorgeous sunset views from the open-air terrace. The chicken salad with red curry and mango goes well with a pitcher of white sangria infused with basil and pomegranate. Tip: Create your own happy hour on the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. Bring a bottle of Vinho Verde and kick back at sunset. It’s a popular local spot to listen to live music and drink with friends.
Park Restaurant & BarSunsets in Lisbon are truly spectacular, and where better to catch them than on a roof? Park Restaurant & Bar is no ordinary rooftop, however. It’s at the top of a parking garage, at the base of Bairro Alto. Once inside, you’ll find a menu of delicious wines, sangrias and small plates. Get there early to score an outdoor seat.
Pensao AmorThis hidden gem off the famous “Pink Street” (Rua Nova do Carvalho) is hard to find. In fact, the address appears not to exist. But if you follow your gut up a flight of stairs, you’ll emerge into Pensao Amor’s bordello-esque Victorian speakeasy, complete with velvet wingback chairs, dangling chandeliers and several Day-Glo rooms committed to live music and art installations.
Pois CafeIf a lingering brunch complete with bike culture and bearded hipsters speaks to you, head to Pois Cafe in the Alfama neighborhood. Floor-to-ceiling windows, an exposed stone wall and dozens of young professionals in oversize chunky sweaters set the vibe here. Sandwiches, salads and eggy brunch favorites dominate the menu, along with coffees and cocktails.
Time Out Market LisboaIf you simply cannot decide where to go and what to eat in Lisbon, rest assured: You don’t have to. Take a trip over to Time Out Market Lisboa in the Cais do Sodre district. In this gourmet food-hall concept that opened in 2014, 24 restaurants, eight bars, a dozen shops and a high-end music venue all come together under one roof to showcase the very best of Lisbon. You can find everything from steaks and burgers to sushi and traditional seafood. Best of all, it’s very convenient for visitors who want to sample a bit of everything.
Time Out Market Lisboawww.timeoutmarket.com