Portugal’s cuisine has always been rooted in simple cooking practices that highlight the country’s great ingredients. For decades, dining in Lisbon meant no-fuss dishes served humbly on a plate. But there’s a sea change coming. Perhaps no one has done more for the Portuguese culinary scene than José Avillez, owner of six restaurants in Lisbon. The 36-year-old chef has almost single-handedly reinvented the city’s dining scene by eschewing rustic, traditional cooking in favor of something completely different: dishes that are inventive, playful, and modern. But he is not the only one.
In recent years, the culinary landscape has seen a new wave of young chefs who have, often after stints working at Michelin-starred restaurants around the globe, returned to their native Portugal to open restaurants, head established ones, and earn their own stars. Inspired by exotic flavors and new methods of cooking, these chefs are putting their own unexpected twists on traditional dishes, which they serve on rocks, cork, wood, and coral serving dishes. The experience is multisensory and unforgettable.
Here’s where to eat on your next trip to Lisbon. Go hungry.
Set in Lisbon’s Chiado neighborhood next to the São Carlos National Theatre, Belcanto was taken over by José Avillez and completely redesigned in 2012 (it was awarded its first Michelin star that same year). The decor is elegant but restrained, while the food is anything but. In one dish he calls “the garden of the goose that laid the golden eggs,” Avillez encases a slow-cooked egg in edible gold leaf. His tasting menus are journeys on a theme, and each dish helps tell a story. In 2014 Belcanto was awarded its second Michelin star, making Avillez the first Portuguese chef to have the honor.
Cantinho do Avillez
Two blocks away is Cantinho do Avillez, another Avillez eatery where the vibe is casual chic. Instead of white tablecloths, the decor features mismatched chairs, vintage lights, and weathered wooden tables. The menu mixes informal Portuguese bites, such as steak sandwiches, with dishes inspired by Portugal and the chef’s travels in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. Try the giant red shrimp from Algarve seasoned with Thai spices.
Located in São Luiz Theatre, Mini Bar is Avillez’s first gourmet bar. The ambience celebrates the glitz and glamour of cinema’s early era—think: lots of wood paneling and Art Deco fixtures—and a menu that is anything but ordinary. Order a green apple and spearmint margarita, and what arrives isn’t a cocktail but a perfectly round bite-size concoction. Another standout dish is the Algarve prawn ceviche served on a lime slice.
Henrique Sá Pessoa presides in the kitchen at Alma, a casual-chic restaurant that recently moved from the Santos to Chiado district. Copper light fixtures, walnut wood tables, and massive wool tapestry add warmth to the stone-arched dining room. Sá Pessoa, who has traveled the world honing his craft and gathering inspiration, cooks from the soul (alma in Portuguese). A national staple like pig is slowly cooked to perfection, served with sweet potato puree and bok choy and drizzled with orange jus. Sá Pessoa’s love of Asian fare is evident in various dishes, including the monkfish, which comes with zucchini flower, green curry, coconut milk, and baby shrimp. Don’t be surprised if the chef stops by to deliver a dish to your table or to say hello.
Set next to Parque Eduardo VII in a bright and modern building with sweeping views of Lisbon, Michelin-starred Eleven features a Mediterranean menu by chef Joachim Koerper. Originally from Germany, Koerper worked in some of Europe’s most beloved Michelin-starred restaurants, including Guy Savoy and L’Ambroisie in Paris. At Eleven, he continues his love affair with fresh, locally grown ingredients to create dishes that blend texture and flavor in unexpected ways. Order the Atlantic Menu, which includes, among its five courses, a confit of codfish with smoked sweet potato and coconut.
Alexandre Silva headed a number of trendy restaurants before winning Portugal’s Top Chef and opening Loco in 2015. Located in the city’s laid-back Estrela neighborhood, Loco is Silva’s dream of a restaurant come to fruition. Inside is an open-concept kitchen that is larger than the dining room itself, an olive tree suspended in the foyer to symbolize the evolutionary and organic process (the roots, as it were) in the kitchen, and two tasting menus featuring 14 or 18 “moments” divided into four movements (snack, main course, dessert, petits fours). The experience begins with carasau, a Sardinian thinly sliced and crispy flatbread that hangs above each table. Other standout moments include the chorizo stuffed in a steamed bun and served on a bed of greens inside a small wood box, and the oysters cooked at the table in a bamboo steamer. Dessert might be a green curry and celery mousse. Coffee is brewed in a glass siphon and served at the table, a nod to a tradition of yesteryear.
Fortaleza do Guincho
Cascais is a pretty beach town around 30 minutes outside of Lisbon and the setting for Fortaleza do Guincho, a Relais & Châteaux hotel perched on a cliff above crashing waves. In 2015 local chef Miguel Rocha Vieira (of Budapest’s award-winning Costes restaurant) took over and did the unthinkable: He scrapped the French haute cuisine that earned the restaurant a coveted Michelin star and created four-, five-, and six-course degustation menus that emphasize Portuguese ingredients and flavors. Vieira sources scarlet prawn from the Algarve, amberjack from the Azores, and crab from the waters right outside the restaurant’s windows. Each dish, which can be paired with a local wine, is gorgeously plated.
Feitoria Restaurante & Wine Bar
Altis Belém Hotel & Spa houses Feitoria, where chef João Rodrigues offers three unique tasting menus—Land, Tradition, and
Journey—that incorporate ingredients plucked from the ocean (sea bass, scarlet shrimp, turbot) and sourced from nearby farms and artisanal producers (goat’s milk, pigeon, Iberian pork, black figs). Exotic elements, like a fermented dairy beverage called amasai, add to the tomato, plum, and avocado dish an unexpected twist while still preserving the essence of traditional flavors.
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