Food & Fun in Portugal: Part I

When I told people that I had booked 10 days in Portugal I got a lot of ‘that seems like an odd choice’ looks. However, after exploring three cities I can safely say that Portugal is anything but boring. Vibrant and charming with a breathtakingly beautiful natural landscape, Portugal surpassed my expectations in almost every way. Here’s what we did, where we ate, and why you should add Portugal to your bucket list.

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A Health-Conscious, Foodie's Guide To Portugal.

PART I: Lisbon

As I write this post we’re on the train from The Algarve back to Lisbon for the final leg of our Portuguese journey.  We’ve spent 10 days eating, walking and drinking our way across three cities, but still I feel like we’ve only scraped the surface. I can’t help but wonder why Portugal isn't a more popular holiday destination. 

With that in mind, I wanted to provide a snapshot of our adventure across Europe’s westernmost country. We ate, slept and explored tons of great places, and it would be remiss not to share our discoveries with other health-conscious travel lovers.

Our itinerary included 4 nights in Lisbon, 2 in Porto, and another 3 in Porto de Mos just outside of Lagos. This first post is all about colorful, gritty Lisboa.

 

Where We Stayed

We stayed in Santa Catarina in this apartment, and then this one-bedder on our final night in Portugal. Both were comfortable, clean and convenient. Santa Catarina is less touristy and quieter than Barrio Alto but within walking distance to just about everything. I loved running along the Rio Tejo, exploring the quirky shops of São Bento, and tramping up the old, winding streets of Alfama. We usually pick a museum or two to explore when we visit a new city but this time we opted to get lost on foot, and immerse ourselves in local culture instead. We were also epically jet-lagged when we arrived in Lisbon so sun exposure was essential!

 

The Food

Lisbon has an excellent (and affordable) food scene that incorporates European, and Moorish flavors, and celebrates it’s proximity to the ocean. We enjoyed an endless run of great food in Lisbon, but these gems were our favorites:

The Mill: This bustling coffee joint in Santa Catarina makes a mean cup of coffee, and a brag-worthy breakfast. I had the bircher muesli and Ethan had the 'The Breakfast Stack'; both were delicious and beautifully presented. In a country that loves a good pastry for breakfast, this was a welcome healthy reprieve.

The Breakfast Stack at The Mill: Tomatoes, chorizo and spinach on top of bread with a fried egg, and toast. 

The Breakfast Stack at The Mill: Tomatoes, chorizo and spinach on top of bread with a fried egg, and toast. 

Hello, Kristof: Hip coffee and magazine spot with a small, but reliable menu. My avocado toast with tomato and pistachios was nothing short of excellent, and just what I needed to shake-off 24 hours of substandard travel food. They have gluten-free bread for those who prefer to eat sans gluten, and a cool-as-sh*% space to ponder your next stop.

Avocado toast with tomato, crushed pistachios, peppercorns and salt at Hello, Kristof. 

Avocado toast with tomato, crushed pistachios, peppercorns and salt at Hello, Kristof. 

Time Out Market Lisboa: Opened in 2014, Time Out Market Lisboa is the Eataly of Portuguese food and aggregates some of the best regional food options. This place offers everything from local favorites like custard tarts and grilled sardines, to burgers and pizza for the less adventurous palate. Surprisingly, takeout is not an option--every dish is elegantly styled and served on porcelain. And if it’s booze you’re after there’s plenty of that too.

Pistola y Corazon Taqueria: Lisbon may be a far cry from Mexico, but this lively bar serves up some seriously delicious Mexican fare. I had shrimp tacos, and Ethan had posole to remedy a 24-hour tummy bug. Both were flavorful and fresh, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Yao Pressed Juicery: A hole-in-the wall juicery and smoothie stop that makes their own almond milk and boasts uber-hip toppings like bee pollen and hemp seeds. A great stop for anyone lusting after a quick dose of fruit and veggies after indulging in one too many custard tarts.

The blueberry muffin smoothie from Yao Pressed Juicery.

The blueberry muffin smoothie from Yao Pressed Juicery.

Hotel do Chiado Rooftop Bar: With gorgeous view of Rio Tejo, and The Alfama this chic terrace bar is hard to beat for happy hour. This is where we spent our last night in Lisbon, before dining at Mini-Bar. Bring your jacket if it’s a cool day.

Looking over Alfama from Hotel do Chiado's rooftop bar. 

Looking over Alfama from Hotel do Chiado's rooftop bar. 

Mini Bar: Run by Portugal’s most famous chef, José Avillez, Mini-Bar feels like Moulin Rouge minus the adult entertainment, and serves-up inventive small plates. We shared 7 dishes and 2 desserts. The avocado tempura with dehydrated kimchi was our favorite, followed by the ‘roasted chicken’ (a chicken skin chip with smoked cottage cheese and avocado), and the steak tataki. The savory selections were better than our dessert.

Prior to our trip I'd heard mixed reviews about Lisbon but I really enjoyed it. Yes, it's gritty but there's something about jeweled-toned buildings with terracotta roofs, and laundry displayed proudly in the street that's incredibly charming. In many way Lisbon is similar to San Francisco. It's been roughed-up by earthquakes several times, has the same undulating terrain, and celebrates good food and drink much like San Francisco.