The Portuguese-American chef, who travels to Lisbon several times a year, names the three restaurants you cannot miss.
At Aldea in New York City, chef George Mendes prepares refined versions of Portuguese classics, inspired by the traditional dishes of his parents' home country. Mendes, who worked in the kitchens of Alain Ducasse, Roger Vergé, and David Bouley before Aldea opened in 2009, is American-born, but he returns to Portugal several times a year, visiting both the rural Northern village his family is from (Tondela) and Lisbon, his favorite city in the country.
"I usually will land in Lisbon and spend two or three nights there visiting friends and discovering new restaurants I haven’t seen. I love just strolling the streets and getting lost," says Mendes, an F&W Best New Chef in 2011. "You definitely need to see the capital."
His visits, of course, are structured around eating. As you plan your next trip to Lisbon—which, by the way, you should do immediately—consider eating at these three of the chef's must-visit restaurants.
"Cervejaria," which means "brewery" or "beer bar," is a common type of semi-casual eatery you'll see around Portugal. Often, they're known for excellent seafood and raw bars. This spot, Mendes says, serves "some of the best seafood in all of Portugal."
And he's been singing the priases of this place for a while.
"Ramiro’s the place for killer shellfish: They source the best, then treat them simply," he told F&W back in 2011. "For the ultimate delicacy of percebes (gooseneck barnacles), they buy from divers who go dangerously deep to pluck the juiciest ones. Back in the kitchen, they steam them with seawater to retain their briny flavor. I like to twist the crinkly brown neck to slip if off, then suck the pink meat straight off the shell."
Cervejaria Ramiro, Av. Almirante Reis nº1 - H, 1150-007 Lisboa
"It’s very modern creative Portuguese food," says Mendes. "Henrique Sa Pessoa takes risks with traditional Portuguese cooking."
Alma, R. Anchieta 15, 1200-224 Lisboa
Bairro do Avillez
"I love José Avillez," he says. "He’s a very popular chef and a dear friend. He opened up this really big restaurant with many different sections." Inside, there's a fine-dining restaurant called Beco, as well as a taberna, café, seafood emporium and more.
Bairro do Avillez, R. Nova da Trindade 18, 1200-466 Lisboa
To Mendes, there has never been a more exciting time to eat in Lisbon or Portugal in general.
"Portugal goes at its own pace; it's a country that doesn’t want to be that quick fire in the pan," the chef says. "It wants to run a marathon. Be stuck in its own ways and respect tradition, but also welcome the new and the modern."
A dish you should try no matter where you end up eating in Portugal? Bacalao a bras or bacalao de sa. The latter, a casserole with layers of potato, onion, egg, salt clod, black olives, inspired one of the items he made for TAP Air Portugal's dinner service, which is served on business class flights to Lisbon.