Lisbon – three cheap (and fun) traditional restaurants

After covering marisqueiras (post here) and higher end restaurants, both traditional (post here) and modern (post here), here are three less expensive places where locals eat well, and have a bit of a laugh while they’re doing it. You’ll find them all on my Google map.

This first place requires a metro ride to the suburbs (nearest station Colégio Militar/Luz) followed by a bit of walk. I assure you the food and the atmosphere are well worth the effort.

Adega das Gravatas, 15 Travessa Pregoeiro,

From the outside it might not look like much is going on…

…but inside there is a warren of rooms…

… with a small army of staff running around between different food stations (my video here).

There are a couple of dining rooms but the main one must be able to seat around a hundred. I went for lunch in the week and was one of the first through the door, but it was packed by the time I left. It seems that people like it so much that they donate their neck ties to the extensive collection hanging from the rafters and the walls.

There are many tempting choices on the menu, but the star of the show, for which the restaurant is particularly famous, is the Polvo à Lagareiro: grilled octopus doused in olive oil (hence ‘in the miller’s style’) and lots of garlic, with small baked potatoes, boiled carrots and sauteed greens served alongside. The serving is huge and could easily feed two.

It really was superb (A) and I can well understand why so many say it’s the best they’ve ever eaten. The small portion of polvo I had at Solar dos Presuntos (post here) was more refined (A+), but Adega das Gravatas can’t be beaten for value.

To finish, Nelson, my lovely waiter, suggested I try the Molotof, a traditional meringue-type pudding made with egg whites and caramel on a bain marie. The slab I received was huge but quite light and fluffy so I just about managed to finish it off.

Other recommended options are the Açorda de Marisco (seafood soup), the goose, the flounder and the steak cooked on a hot stone. Another old-fashioned dessert to try, is the Pudim Abade de Priscos (a rich crème caramel pudding made with bacon). A repeat visit is definitely required.

This next place is more central, near the Marquês de Pombal roundabout, and the metro of the same name, at the top of Avenida da Liberdade.

Associação Caboverdeana, 2 Rua Duque de Palmela, Floor 8,

Located on an upper floor of an unremarkable office block, this is the lunch canteen of the Cape Verde Association, a cultural organisation representing the west African archipelago that was once a Portuguese colony. There are only a few quite simple and basic dishes on the hand-written menu, but everything is homemade and delicious. The Bacalau com Natas was certainly one of the best I’ve tasted. I wanted to try Cachupa (a rich stew made with hominy, beans, vegetables and seasoned meat), or the Muamba (a stew of chicken, spices and palm butter) but they weren’t on the menu that day.

The main reason to come though is for the live music and dancing (my video here). It’s a really fun multicultural atmosphere that attracts all kinds of people. You’ll probably meet some of them sitting on your communal table. The staff are lovely but very busy so you have to collar one to get a seat. My advice is to just go and dive in.

The third place is out of the centre again, but near the Ceramics Museum so it’d make a good lunch stop if you plan to go there.

Rui do Barrote, 95A Rua Castelo Branco Saraiva,

Located next to a bland modern housing estate, this place doesn’t look particularly special, but it’s hugely popular with a clientele of mainly working men. Despite being able to seat well over a hundred at communal tables, you should expect to queue at lunchtimes. Just put your name in the book, order a beer from the bar and hang around outside until you’re called. I mistimed my visit badly by arriving too early when they weren’t really open just after 11 and then coming back at the end of lunchtime when they’d sold out of their most popular dishes, but I still enjoyed the experience.

Time Out critics have declared the Picanha (rump steak) sold here as being the best in Portugal, and the Maminha (flank steak), Bitoque (steak with egg) and pork are also well regarded. However, none of this was left by the time I got there so, in the absence of a menu and being unable to speak much Portuguese, I was only able to get this bit of grilled beef with chips by pointing at what my neighbours had. It wasn’t great (C) but if was filling, and very, very cheap.

When it came to dessert, I tried to ask for a glass of port to go with my pud, but instead it got poured over everything, which must be a local habit I guess.

The fun part is the raucous atmosphere, and just getting my head round how the place works. To this day I don’t really understand how they worked out my bill as the cashier didn’t really seem interested in what I’d had (soup, steak and chips, red wine, water, dessert, port, aguardente, coffee) and just charged me what seemed to be a flat rate of €20. Stunning value for the quantity I had. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to visit but I’ll try to arrive at midday next time, and learn a bit more Portuguese in preparation.

Favourite places for drinks next…

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