There are plenty of fish in the seaBy Sarah Polonsky, In Lisbon, Food and Drink · 30 Apr 2021, 01:00 · 0 Comments
And Lisbon has them all.
This is a city serving up some of the best seafood I have tasted—a bold statement coming from someone whose former stint as a food critic (albeit brief, there are way too many calories in food critiquing) in New York City where I spent my affirmative years writing all the restaurant articles BlackBook and The New York Post would permit me — this inadvertently led to my myriad seaside escapades across the Amalfi Coast, South of France and Spain. All of these super-classy jaunts have seen me sucking the last bit of juice from every poor lobster tail I ever got my own greasy claws on.
I don’t give a shuck how un-cute a seafood bib looks. And if you don’t love a clam-pun then stop reading (you’ve been warned, but seriously who doesn’t love a clam-pun?).
When it comes to seafood, I like things to get messy. Crab shells should go flying across the room. Clarified butter must end up dripping down the face. If a man still thinks I’m sexy after seeing me eat seafood (specifically shellfish), well, one did… I married that guy.
Imagine my surprise when moving to Lisbon opened my eyes to some of tastiest seafood ever? Take the bait I’m hooking here, and sink your teeth into some the city’s finest catches. To clarify, I am talking about must-try, mouth-watering seafood restaurants, not potential husbands (for advice on how to catch those fish, I charge extra).
The Intendente hot spot rose to infamy when the late Anthony Bourdain took his show “No Reservations” there for a segment. An admission: upon my first visit to the much-lauded Ramiro, I was at-first-glance, annoyed. The queues, the commotion, the bright lights, the waves of people this place draws make it feel like a seafood frat house. Cut to an hour later, I was ready to pledge my life to Phi Beta Ramiro! After heaping plates of spider crab, oily, garlicy clams from heaven, lobster broiled, steamed, stuffed and a thousand other delectably fresh crustaceans straight from the many on-site aquariums, I have since become officially hooked, and been back at least five times. My only suggestion is to avoid going on the weekends and always go early (most-likely you will always have to wait a little but not even this bit bothers me anymore), because like the Bourdain series former namesake, Ramiro takes no reservations.
On the flip-side of Ramiro’s no-booking-in-advance policy, Sea Me is one of the most sought-after reservations in town. Even after a decade since first opening its doors in Chiado, Sea Me is always booked, always trendy. The modern venue is for the fancier seafood-eating set. Offering up perfectly-presented grilled fish and sushi options as well as oysters and seafood platters. Chef Filipe Rodrigues ingenuously infuses Asian influences into traditional Portuguese dishes such as the sumptuous grilled sardine nigiri. Still not sold on Portugal’s infatuation with cod? Try it here and get back to me. Also, if you happen to be a party person and a fan of thrilling gastronomy, a live DJ set-up keeps the place bumping on weekends. While the latter was a pre-curfew staple, I have no doubt once the restrictions ease, the party shall return to this joint where the name of the game is “sea and be seen.”
A seaside oasis serving only the highest quality of essentially all-fish specialties in a very casual environment. While there are many beach restaurants surrounding Lisbon’s coast to go with its countless beaches, Adraga in Sintra (less than an hour drive from Central Lisbon, the nature-beach town where we find Adraga is technically Colares) takes the cod cake. Eating seafood beside the beach, feet still sandy from a day of tanning and swimming in the ocean is my personal raison d’etre. Doing so at this fourth-generation family run restaurant is the perfect way to cap off a day at the beach. Watching the sun go down whilst feasting on food that makes my heart (and tastebuds) sing like a castrato. Since no one wants to hear me sing (I promise), it’s a good thing my mouth will always be full of the tastiest garlicky prawns and buttery mussels at Adraga to stop me… otherwise I just might belt a few notes out of pure food ecstasy.
Nunes Real Marisqueira
Best after a long walk around Torre de Belém, Nunes Real Marisqueira will welcome you, and even lift your tired hungry spirits. Known for its extra-friendly staff and cheerful atmosphere, the lobsters are the star of the show here, as is the extensive winelist. If you like your lobsters handpicked from the aquarium, presented to you while alive then taken away to be cooked and served, this is the place for you. If this just sounds like torture, no one will fault you, the rest of us are simply shellfish.
Because who wouldn’t want to have dinner in a monastery? So much more than a place for tasty seafood, but also a historic Portuguese restaurant built in the 13th century complete with beautiful tile-work, frescos, archeways, as well as a courtyard. To say the ambiance at Cervejaria Trindade by Carmo Convent is remarkable would be an understatement. While it is known as an iconic brewery, even a cultural landmark to some, I must let you in on a secret… go for the experience, sure, and order some of the best stuffed crabs (ever!) while sipping a variety of craft beer that will have you hopping for joy. When culture meets crabs… sounds like the beginning of an epic love story.
Aqui Há Peixe
If Cervejaria Trindade is too grand for your tastes, right around the corner, you will find this adorable Chiado bistro offering some of the freshest seafood in the city. While it remains informal, you could meet anyone at Aqui Há Peixe (especially during lunch), from local celebrities to businessfolks to politicos, the food is simply so good it draws all sorts like moths to the flame. On the menu you will find a Portuguese-meets-Brazilian-style approach at play. There’s a grilled fish of the day always in rotation, shellfish by the kilo, stews of squid, clams, rice and everything nice. You can’t go wrong in picking from Aqui Há Peixe’s sublime sea eats… unless you don’t go, which would be very wrong.
Lisbon-natives want to call it a tourist trap. In that case, go trap yourself at this seafood haven a stones throw from the Santa Justa Lift. I have walked past it so many times, and never have I ever seen the outside terrace empty. Eventually, it was time to give in and go. If you are looking for some top-notch Portuguese seafood (there are other Portuguese dishes here for you land-lovers but the seafood is where Pinóquio nails it), you can stop worrying about that tourist-stigma. After speaking to a few confidantes, it turns out that despite what they want you to think, the locals love it too.