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What to eat in Lisbon

From a pop cereal cafe to avant garde sushi, Portugal’s food scene is fresh.

Pop Cereal Cafe in the Bairro Alto neighborhood is budget friendly.
Denise Drower Swidey
Pop Cereal Cafe in the Bairro Alto neighborhood is budget friendly.
Sara Drower
At Belcanto, a Lisbon restaurant with two Michelin stars, Portuguese classics are imaginatively reinvented, such as this mousse-filled dessert, designed to look like a citrus fruit.

Like the vibrant urban art reviving tired facades around Lisbon, modern Portuguese cuisine is injecting new flavors and twists into the nation’s classic dishes.

Time Out Market, a hulking food hall near the waterfront that London-based travel guide Time Out opened in 2014, curates the best (or trendiest) of Lisbon’s restaurants. Big lunch crowds come for upscale meals at relatively reasonable prices. You can get avant-garde sushi from Sea Me or burgers made of bacalhau (Portugal’s favorite preserved fish) at O Prego da Peixaria. What is difficult to get at the food court, however, is a seat, so be prepared to hover until other diners surrender theirs.

If you don’t have time to make it to Pasteis de Belem, the bakery in the Belem neighborhood that popularized the beloved Portuguese warm custard tartlet pasteis de nata, you can find a very good substitute at Mateigaria in the food court. When you hear a bell ring, that means a fresh batch has just come out of the oven.

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On the other end of the spectrum is the budget-busting special-occasion Belcanto. There, local clams and cod are freed from the constraints of the traditional cataplana (a Portuguese cooking vessel) and land on the 15-course dinner tasting menu with imaginative flavors and texture surprises around every corner. Chef Jose Avillez, who spent some time training at Spain’s late modernist cuisine mecca elBulli, has a half-dozen well-regarded restaurants in Lisbon and one in Porto. But his showpiece is Belcanto, a 1950s Lisbon restaurant that Avillez reinvented in 2012. Thanks to expert execution in meshing local ingredients with modern techniques, Belcanto earned two Michelin stars and was named one of the world’s top 100 restaurants.

If you deplete your wallet with a fancy dinner, you can recover the next morning with breakfast at budget-friendly Pop Cereal Cafe in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. It offers a kick-back setting, including bunk beds you can eat on, plus 100 cereals, and multiple varieties of milk and toppings. Its cartoonish logo splashed on the walls in bright colors will whet your appetite for more urban-art exploring after breakfast.

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