On every corner of Lisbon there are little family restaurants – tascas – that serve a small menu of Portuguese classics with a wine selection. Often the menus (bacalhau, grilled fish and steaks) and atmospheres at each of these places are pretty similar (though the quality certainly runs the gamut), and it is hard to know which one to try. When attempting to cut through the dizzying quantity of tasca, we got a tip though, the the best tasca in town is Crisfama (R. Cruz de Sta. Apolónia, 58/60A, 1100-188 Lisboa), where everything was fresh, high-quality and cooked to order. Crisfama is on a backstreet on the outskirts of Alfama, the medieval quarter of Lisbon. It is a little bit of a trek to get there, but getting off the tourist track when it comes to food is definitely a good thing. The restaurant has only a handful of tables in the simple, clean dining room, so it is absolutely essential to make a reservation. Moreover, Crisfama is only open for a few hours for each lunch and dinner, so be sure to plan accordingly. The restaurant seems like a two-person show with the affable owner and his wife running the front and back of the house, respectively. The owner/waiter Fernando is an amiable host, ready to give recommendations, pour wine heavily and exchange in some witty banter in English or Portuguese while his wife mans the kitchen.
For starters you get the typical Portuguese couvert of bread and olives, along with a choice of local Portuguese cheeses (€2-3). We ordered a round of soft goat cheese with herbs and a semi-hard sheep cheese. We are constantly impressed by the huge varieties of goats cheese in Portugal, and it is always fun to try a new variety. For mains, you can get either seafood or meat dishes for prices so reasonable that they will astound you. Everything is less than €12 (the bacalhau tops out the menu at €11.50), and for that price you can get a whole fish or a huge steak. Other specials included grilled octopus, bitoque (steak with an egg), bifana (pork sandwich), and duck with rice. Side salads are a shockingly low €1.25, and you can even get fresh fruit by the piece.
In the mood we for seafood, we ordered sea bass, tuna, dourada and the ultimate Portuguese classic, grilled sardines (€8.5 for each seafood plate). Each came with a side of potatoes and green beans, and the sardines came with a side salad. Each fish was cooked perfectly to order, and this was some of the best, freshest fish we have had in Portugal – everything was absolutely delicious. And as you can see, they didn’t skimp on portions. To wash down your meal, each glass of house wine is only €1.
For dessert there is a refrigerator case with an appealing variety of cakes, tarts and semifreddos. We heard that the chocolate orange semifreddo was sublime – so we ordered two – and it lived up to the hype and was basically the perfect treat for a hot summer day. From start to finish, we enjoyed the attention to detail at Chisfama, and it was definitely the best traditional Portuguese food we have had in Lisbon. With great prices and great quality for classic Portuguese food – you won’t find a better deal in Lisbon.