Introduction – I posted this as a reply on a TripAdviser forum but as I wanted to repeat it thought it I would copy and paste it to here.
This is my personal tips of where to eat in Lisbon when visiting.
My personal advice is go for the traditional little restaurants. Yes, like someone said they aren’t flashy or up market but they are small restaurants often family run. They are friendly and food is always excellent. Especially the fish.
There is a street of great restaurants in Rua Santa Marta (just off Avenida de Liberdade, near Marquês do Pombal). You won’t spend more than €15 on 3 courses (including drinks).
[The other reason I love local restaurants is they become more personal and the staff never change so they remember you. My favourite one I visit at least once a week (and will mention later) they know me well and as soon as I sit down they tell me which of my favourites they have that day.]
Also 4 more tips:
Tip 1- Find the ‘Prato do Dia’. These are 3 course meals including a drink and coffee. There is one I know of in Rua Santa Marta called Restaurante Cordinho (I think, I can’t remember the name even though I go there at least once a week). You can see it from the Tivoli theatre in Avenida de Liberdade’. That ‘Prata do dia’ is €7.50. It is all day but as it is fresh, it some times is in limited stock, so some options might not be available in late evening.
The other in ‘Ruxa’ in Avenida Duque de Loulé, one of the roads coming of Marquês do Pombal. If you are coming from there it is about a 5 min walk, on the left just a little after Santander bank (also only 200m from Picoas metro station). I went there for the first time last week as it is literally 6 doors from where I live. The food was amazing. That ‘Prata do Dia’ was only €8, but only at lunch time.
Tip 2 – Take a translator. You will find a lot of restaurants only translate the most expensive dishes. I took a photo last week of a menu outside that demonstrated that perfectly. 2 pages in Portuguese and only half a page translated into English.
Tip 3 – Don’t buy a bottle of wine. I know for us it is normal and if you want a specific wine you might want to. However if you are just going for a hkuse wine, the majority of restaurants will also offer a ‘jarro’, meaning a jar. This can be a 1l or 500ml. Sometimes, you can even get 250/350ml too. Again, they might only offer the expensive bottles in the English translation. So check the Portuguese for ‘Jarro de Vinho Branco’/’Jarro de Vinho Tinto’ (‘branco’ being white and ‘tinto’ being red). If you look around to the local you see this is what they do they order these and share them. 2 of friends and I at our cheap restaurant used to order 1l Jarro de Vinho Tinto (which we also thought tasted better than the bottle we had tried too). We got 2&1/2 glasses each and came to a total of €3 (i.e. €1 each).
Tip 4 – Try Pastalarias. This is the name of the cafes/pastry shops with the long glass counters. They usually do lunch and dinner at a dirt cheap rate! Especially soup! Most pastelarias make a massive pot of homemade soup and sell bigs bowls of if for less than €1.50. It summed it up when a friend of mine visited and I took her one near my school and we had a bowl of soup each and a coffee. I went to pay and when I got back she asked how it was. I replied €3.60 and she commented; “That is amazing. Only €3.60 for coffee and a big bowl of lovely homemade soup, it would be twice that in the UK”; that is of course when I said, “No, I didn’t mean each. That was the total price for both us!” lol.
Oh, when I say Pastelarias I don’t mean any in Baixa. I have tried a few in that touristy area in middle of the city centre and it is such a rip off! They are all twice the price and the quality and service is no where as good as elsewhere. Try the ones in the other areas. For example off Avenida de Liberdade or Rato seemed to be a nice area for this. The exception though is the chain Paderia Portuguesa. That is worth it and a lot more like it. I always notice it is mainly locals who are in there. There is one not too far from the lift (Elevador de Santa Justa) and one opened in July next to the Post Office in Praça do Restauradores too. [Note – If you do go there you need to get a ticket at the door (Number 1, not 2). It is like a delicitesan (how ever you spell it) in the UK. I sometimes wonder it is to put off tourists as that is the only thing not put in English. I’ve often had to help out confused tourists there and I have seen a few give up completely as they don’t understand why they aren’t being served].
Another favourite are the all you can eat buffets. There are 2 which my friends and I like and go to often. There is a Brazillian buffet near Rossio train station on the road running parrallel to Rossio Square. This one has a cavery style for the meats plus vegetables, salads, pastas, rices, etc, oh and desserts. This one is €6.50-€8.50 (depending on the time of day you go). We usually get a jarro too (although more expensive) and in total about €12 or so. But seeing how we usually go for at least 3rds it feels like it is well spent.
Similarly there is Chinese all you can eat buffet literally next to the lift (Elevador de Santa Justa – the left hand side; i.e. opposite the side you queue). The quality is usually very good. There is plenty of choice and is only about €8.00. I went there last Sunday with 2 friends. We went up 4 times and shared 1L of Sangria. In total we paid €11.30 each.
Sorry this is so long. I have learnt a lot in my year so far that I have been here and love to share what I have learnt to help others. Personally I am not a big fan of cooking and as it is so cheap here I usually eat out 3-4 times a week at different places.