"Portugal is one of my favorite topics," says chef George Mendes, a first-generation American born to Portuguese parents. "It really started with my upbringing and my childhood. I traveled here for the first time in the 1980s with my family. As I began to discover Portugal more and more, I fell in love with it more. Just the landscape and the architecture." Today Mendes is bringing his passion for all things Portuguese to New York City as the owner of two Portuguese-inspired restaurants, the Michelin-starred Aldea and Lupulo. "As an adult I began to really connect with my roots, my upbringing and the way my mother and my father would cook Portuguese dishes." Mendes is also the author of the cookbook My Portugal: Recipes and Stories [Buy It], which features 125 recipes showcasing dishes from his favorite coastal country. "I really connect with it from a cooking standpoint and then the sheer beauty of it as a country."
Follow in footsteps of chef George Mendes with his guide for a perfect day of eating, drinking, shopping in Lisbon.
LISBON | Why I Love It
You come here and feel like you are in this beautiful, major modern city in Europe. When I first came to Lisbon in the 1980s and 1990s, it was an underdeveloped city with a lot of poverty. There weren’t as many boutiques, shops, museums, or fine dining restaurants as there are now. After the World’s Expo in 1998, a lot more attention was paid to Lisbon. There was a lot of new construction with more modern structures and you started to see more retailers infiltrate the city.
There is still so much historical architecture and very old parts of Lisbon from the Romans and the Moors that were there. Then you also have what I refer to as the '5th Avenue of Lisbon' along Avenida da Liberdade with Prada and other major retailers that you see in NYC.
Let yourself get lost in the city. Lisbon is all about wandering the streets, taking in the architecture, and discovering the city. It really is a city of discovery. Every time I go back, I find something new.
What Not To Miss
The most popular wine to drink is Port, but don't miss the Vinho Verdes, the wines from Alentejo, as well as red wines from the Douro region. You also have to try the more fortified and strong spirits like Aguardente, which is known as Portuguese moonshine. It is made all over the country and is served as a digestif. Ginjinha is a delicious cherry liqueur and there are a lot of special little shops and bars all over Lisbon that sell it.
The craft beer movement in Portugal is also growing and that is what inspired Lupulo. There are so many different beers to try nowadays. Superbock and Sagres are basically the Budweiser of Portugal and you have to try them, just to say you did, but there are other smaller craft beers like Sovina and Letra. They make a series of different IPAs, ales, and lagers.
Where to Stay | My Favorite Hotel
I stay in the Chiado neighborhood because it's very hip and cool, with a lot of great shops. My favorite hotel is the Bairro Alto Hotel, which is a small boutique hotel with very cozy rooms. They have a small restaurant at the bottom with a lounge and a beautiful roof deck with panoramic views of downtown Lisbon and the Tajo river.
LISBON | My Perfect Day
MANTEIGARIA FÁBRICA DE PASTÉIS DE NATA
Breakfast is really simple in Portugal. In the Chiado, get a coffee and pastry at Manteigaria. They make beautiful Pastéis de Natas, which are the egg custard tarts.
Rua do Loreto 2, 1200-242 Lisbon
The Chiado neighborhood is up on a hill, so after breakfast, I take a leisurely stroll down towards the river, to the Cais do Sodre district.
MERCADO DA RIBEIRA
This is an indoor market and food hall. The market has produce and tropical fruits from all over Portugal and other parts of the world, collard greens, kale, mountains of different varieties of potatoes, onions, and peppers. Down the corridor is the seafood market. It is really great to see early in the morning -- in fact, the earlier you visit the better. You can kill time walking the stalls and looking at all the varieties of fish.
The food hall is in the middle and they have all these little restaurants for sandwiches, or mistas, which are mixed sandwiches. They also have hamburgers, soups, salads, and enormous plates of charcuterie. It is the perfect little lunch hall. What you eat really depends on what you are in the mood for.
Avenida 24 de Julho 49, 1200 Lisbon
WALK OR SUBWAY TO LUNCH
It is a little bit of a long walk to my favorite lunch spot, but you can take the Metro. I really love using the public transportation in Lisbon; it is pretty great.
Located on Avenida Almirante Reis, one of the main avenues, this is my favorite seafood and shellfish restaurant of all time. This is the perfect lunch spot. Start with a beautiful platter of hand-sliced Iberico ham from black pigs [Pata Negra]. Then order gooseneck barnacles and four or five different varieties of shrimp from all over Portugal, that are cooked in sea water. They have langoustines and many different clams to choose from too. They also do traditional Portuguese dishes, but the super, uber-fresh seafood cooked in sea water is their specialty. Sit at the table for two to three hours and pig out.
Avenida Almirante Reis Nº1 - H, 1150-007 Lisbon
T: +351.21.885.1024 | www.cervejariaramiro.pt
After lunch, take a stroll along Avenida Almirante Reis. It is a great way to work off all that food. But before your stroll, stop into A Vida Portuguesa, which is just around the corner from Cervejaria Ramiro.
A VIDA PORTUGUESA
I love shopping here. It is such a wonderful shop with all things Portuguese. They have kitchen supplies, plateware, glassware, spices, spirits, olive oil, tableware, table cloths, decorative frames, all kinds of porcelain, furniture, and pottery. It is an insane place and the perfect place to shop, digest your lunch, and get ready for your nighttime plans.
Largo do Intendente Pina Manique 23, 1100-285 Lisbon
T: +351.211.974.512 | www.avidaportuguesa.com
TABERNA DA RUA DAS FLORES
I love coming here for dinner. My friend chef André Magalhães owns it. The restaurant has about 8 tables in a very narrow room. You have to get here on the early side, because a line forms down the street and often they’ll tell you they aren't able to seat you. There is a little chalkboard menu and the food is Portuguese. Or you can order whatever André wants to give you.
Rua das Flores 103, 1200-194 Lisbon
T: +351.21.347.9418 | www.atabernadaruadasflores.pt
After dinner I like to listen to Fado music, the Portuguese songs of sorrow and hope. They are usually performed by a female and a guy playing an instrument, the guitar. Amália Rodrigues was one of the most famous fadistas and she passed away in the late nineties. In the old district of Alfama, there are all these different places to listen to music.
GALO DE BARCELOS
You have to bring home the Portuguese mascot, the Galo de Barcelos, which is a ceramic rooster. It is the Portuguese version of the Japanese ceramic cat with the arm waving. It is a sign of good luck. The folk lore story is that there was a criminal who was going to be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. They were in a court room and he said that if the dead rooster crowed, then it would prove that he was an innocent man. The dead rooster crowed and that is how it became a Portuguese symbol of luck. They are all over Portugal. There is one on the chef’s counter at Aldea and we have them decorating Lupulo as well.
ABOUT GEORGE MENDES
George Mendes is the executive chef of two New York City restaurants; the Michelin-starred Aldea, which features modern Iberian cuisine and Lupulo, which is inspired by the cervejarias, or breweries, of Lisbon. He is also the author of the cookbook My Portugal: Recipes and Stories.
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