Calling all adventurous foodies with a sweet tooth: if you haven’t tried the local custard tarts in Lisbon, book a trip right away.
It won’t take long after arriving in Lisbon to notice Portugal’s affinity for sugar. Cafés showcase long, glass counters filled with everything sweet from cookies and cakes to a variety of tarts. And soon, you may notice a few of the usual suspects that are always on display. The most popular sweet is arguably Lisbon’s pastel de nata.
It’s fine to ask for a custard tart. Everyone knows what that means. Sound like a local, however, by asking for a pastel de nata. What are they? Pastéis de nata are custard tarts filled with sweet egg cream and covered in flaky pastry dough. And they fit in the palm of your hand.
Now the difficult part: with so many amazing spots in the city, how do you choose one? Luckily, most locals recommend a few of the same places.
1. Pastéis de Belém
Begin your quest for custard tarts in Lisbon in the neighborhood where it all started: Belém. During the Liberal Revolution of the 19th century, monasteries and convents began shutting down. The monks from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos sold pastries in the sugar refinery next door to raise money. Over time, the owner of the sugar refinery bought the recipe and the refinery became Pastéis de Belém, a café that still sells the original custard tart recipe. Creamy and sweet on the inside and perfectly flaky outside, this recipe is Portugal’s best-kept secret and only found at Pastéis de Belém.
Locals advise tasting the custard tarts from Pastéis de Belém, but many admit that their favorite natas come from Manteigaria. Manteigaria’s pastéis de nata practically drip with creamy goodness after the first bite. Originally a butter shop (manteiga is the Portuguese word for butter), Manteigaria is a specialty store where you can order pastéis de nata to go (although some visitors like to order an espresso and watch the bakers make pastéis de nata through a glass pane). One stall is inside Time Out Market in Cais do Sodré. The original shop, however, is in Lisbon’s Chiado. Visit Manteigaria when it’s time for breakfast in Lisbon, and then come back for a mid-afternoon snack!
3. Confeitaria Nacional
Confeitaria Nacional is an excellent place to try pastéis de nata and a photo-worthy landmark inside one of Lisbon’s grand Pombaline-style buildings. Open since 1829, it is considered Lisbon’s oldest pastry shop. You will find it in Praça da Figueira, one of Lisbon’s buzzing squares. Sit inside with a coffee, a pastel de nata or two, and enjoy the beautiful decorations.
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4. Pastelaria Versailles
Many cafés and pastry shops are recognized for their delicious custard tarts, but the dreamy Pastelaria Versailles stands out for a few reasons. The stunning dining room pops with Art Nouveau style, showcasing large mirrors, chandeliers, and intricate wood paneling. Even the traditionally-uniformed staff add to a romantic and old-world effect. Pastelaria Versailles is also recognized for its long pastry counter. Some sources suggest that this is the home of the longest pastry counter in the Portuguese capital. Finally, in addition to the traditional egg-cream custard tarts, Pastelaria Versailles sells chocolate custard tarts, blending the best of two worlds.
Portugal is full of iconic foods, and custard tarts are just one of them. Take a delicious culinary journey through Portuguese history when you join our new online experience, Discover Portugal’s History Through 10 Dishes!
Nina is an American-Portuguese travel writer who bounces between Madrid, Lisbon, and central Portugal. When she isn’t writing or adventuring, she likes to visit local restaurants and snack on as many Portuguese and Spanish treats as she can.