Alfama is Lisbon’s most emblematic quarter, a picturesque part of the city that is like a walk back in time, a village within a city still made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses with tile panels and wrought-iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers. It is a district with an intangible, timeless quality, one that is only fully appreciated by getting a little bit lost in its meandering streets, something almost impossible to avoid anyway, and take in the beautiful urban setting, the picture-postcard views and the tranquility of the streets lost in time. And whilst the district itself is a feast for the eyes and ears, you will need a similar treat for your tastebuds and there is no shortage of sophisticated restaurants and authentic bars to be found in its hidden corners, so here are some recommended places to refuel and experience the taste of the region.
Casa do Alentejo
Not just a dining experience but an overall taste of the region, Casa Do Alenteio is an easy walk from Rossio Square and housed in a Moorish style palace, which houses both a library and a shop selling local handicrafts so be prepared to spend a few hours here. Walk to the second floor and you will be greeted by a lavish dining room, with a menu ranging from simple soups and salads to wide range of meats and fish, all at very reasonable prices. For a less formal experience the ground floor taverna, very popular with the locals, has a great range of tapas and if you are lucky you can dine to the sound of traditional songs being performed live.
Situated in the heart of Alfama, Zambeze celebrates the rich diversity of Portugal’s past with a fusion of traditional Beira foods with intense African flavours. In summer you can eat on the outdoor terrace which offers picturesque views of downtown Lisbon and the Tagus River though when the weather is cooler the minimalist interior dinning room means that you can still eat in style and comfort. The menu caters for all tastes and dietary requirements but like most Portuguese restaurants has a fantastic and wide-ranging fish menu.
Le Petit Cafe
For an informal taste of Portuguese cuisine, Le Petit Cafe is the perfect blend of wine bar and restaurant, but its popularity coupled with its compact and bijou nature means that you need to time it right to get a table ,but once inside you will feel like one of the locals. As well as the local dishes, octopus is particularly popular here, they specialise in Brazilian and Italian food, reflecting Portuguese history and cultural connections, all with a very reasonable price tag.
Chapito a Mesa
Chapito is actually a circus school which has these days become more widely known for the excellent restaurant that they run as a side project. The food is based on traditional recipes but is presented with a touch of modern creativity, in keeping with the artistic nature of the place. And evening roof terrace seat is highly recommended offering fantastic views of the city skyline and the downstairs bar hosts alternative theatre and live music to cater for the post-meal cultural appetites.
Bica do Sapato
This old port building revels in a taste of the old city and boasts excellent views of the river and the ships coming and going at the Port of Cais da Pedra, but as a restaurant it is very much looking to the future. The open terrace is protected from the wind by glass walls and the menu is both unconventional, of gourmet standards and wide ranging. You will pay a little more to eat here but it is money well spent and if you are looking for something less formal or less conventional there is a bar food menu and a sushi bar option. A perfect blend of the old and the new, the traditional and the unusual.