In an insanely competitive market like Miami, where even the hottest restaurants seem to close weekly only to be replaced by bigger joints with more financial backing, reviving a regional Portuguese restaurant after a fire nearly destroyed its building seems like a miracle. But since flames overtook Old Lisbon on Coral Way about four years ago, the restaurant — along with its owners and enthusiastic clientele — has bounced back, and, most impressive, the food remains strong.
Old Lisbon has become a staple by serving the peculiar flavors from the narrow country on the western border of Spain, and in its post-blaze life, it sticks to its strengths.
"After the fire, I expanded and made it more modern because it was very old," says the owner, Carlos Silva. "Now there's more space, and the decoration is much better. The kitchen is much better."
The sardinhas grelhadas — grilled sardines sourced from Portugal, a steal at $8.99 — are served beautifully charred beneath a salad of raw onions, olives and their oil, and plenty of lemon juice. These aren't the pungent, oily variety of sardines that come from a can. The flesh from each of the four head-on fish slides from the bones.
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For dinner, carne de porco a alentejana — a stew of pork loin sautéed in plenty of paprika, white wine, and garlic, all garnished with pickled vegetables, steamed clams, and potatoes — sounds too peculiar to pass up. Land meets the subtle depths of the sea in this remarkable dish. The mixture is beyond complex, pairing acid from the pickles, umami from the pork, and the richness of the aromatic broth.
Old Lisbon's menu is divided by proteins, including land, sea, and bacalhau. Appetizer prices range from $8.99 to $15.99. Entrée portions are robust, maxing out at $59.99 for a mixed grill of all sorts of shellfish, though that option is best shared by two or more people.
At the back of the modern-rustic dining area, a wine room stocked with Portuguese, Spanish, and other Mediterranean wines beckons for a delicious pairing. The bitter, acidic flavors found across the menu also pair well with a cold mug of Sagres, one of Portugal's refreshing pilsners.
Though finding an international experience in Miami is easy, flavors this extraordinary and exciting make a trip to this Coral Way favorite a dining must.