Much to our surprise, our study of the Best Macarons in Paris continues to be one of the most popular 0n the internet. But we’ve taken a bit of criticism because of our small sample size – since we only had an afternoon, we had to prioritize with the two most popular locations (apparently we should have also gone to Gerard Mulot).
Yet as of today, our last day in Lisbon, we have been in this beautiful city for over two months. L has been tirelessly working on an exhaustive study of Portuguese pastries that would make the authors of Fabrico Próprio sit in awe (though we bought their fabulous book anyway!). We have been to scores and scores of Portuguese pastelarias, in every area of the city, and at this point may be some of the best experts in Portuguese pastries on either side of the Atlantic. And at every Lisboeta pastelaria, we have sampled their offering of Portugal’s most famous and emblematic sweet: the pastel de nata (or pastel de Belém), a small egg-tart pastry originating, so the story goes, with 18th century monks at Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon’s Belém district and now produced throughout the lusophone world. Every street in Lisbon has at least three pastelarias, and every one makes pastéis de nata. We have eaten a lot of pastéis de nata during our time in Portugal and in our time here, combining exhaustive taste testing and testing again, we have concluded what we think is the best pastel de nata in town. There was, obviously, no shortage of contenders but we settled on a ranking after several visits to each place. Surely, there are as many opinions on pastéis as there are pastelarias in Lisbon. However, we think you will have a successful pastel experience if you try these locations.
The Ground Rules:
1. We only included pastelarias that were “Fabrico Próprio,”meaning the pastries were made in house. Any pastelaria worth its weight in egg cream will make its pastries on site, and the ones that do always say “FABRICO PROPRIO” on their sign. If you are visiting a pastelaria that does not say that, just move on, because you will be wasting your money.
2. Only classic pastéis count in this ranking. We needed a 1 to 1 comparison, so no fillings, fruit flavors, mini or giant size, etc. (Although try the pastel de chocolate at Versailles – great!)
3. Rankings are based on custards, crust, caramelization and overall appearance. Most pastéis were of a similar size and cost between 1-1.3€ so we did not include price as a factor.
4. A good tasting does not move you to the top of the ranking, but one bad one knocks you off. If we had a bad experience somewhere, we did not return: with so many in Lisbon, the best place should not be making any errors. If we had a good experience, we were sure to return at least once to test for consistency. Our top three finishers each got no less than three taste tests.
A caveat: we urge everyone who visits Lisbon to try as many pastéis as you can and form your own opinions. It’s really fun! And definitely not damaging to the pocketbook. But for us, so many pastelarias did not make the cut for the top three, and we did not include them in our final ranking. Some were flavorless or too eggy, some were burnt, had too thick a crust, or too thin (a major deal-breaker is when you bit into a pastel and the whole crust goes with it – you should be able to take out a single section of cream and crust in one bite). Among the most famous to be cut were the Confeitaria Nacional and, gasp, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. The Antiga Confeitaria is far and away the most famous place to grab a pastel in Lisbon, and every guidebook will direct you there. Lines are always out the door, and the inside seats hundreds and hundreds of people, all eating pastéis. But you can see the problem already: quality control. Wild inconsistency plagued the Antiga Confeitaria, even in the same batch of four: some were burnt, some were soggy, and some were underdone. With that, we give you our top three choices for the best pastéis in Lisbon.
Our Top Three Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon
3. Pastelaria Aloma
Rua Francisco Metrass, 67
Pastelaria Aloma is a small neighborhood pastelaria northwest of Bairro Alto, which wandered under everyone’s radar until, in 2012, it won the competition for best pastel in Lisbon. In a hilarious and welcome moment of fame capitalization they changed their website’s url to omelhorpasteldenatadelisboa.com (literally, TheBestPasteldeNataInLisbon.com), and plastered the new url all over their small store and delivery trucks. Quite off the beaten path, it takes some searching to find the place, but we were happy to see their quality control has not suffered as a result of their fame (they remain busy, but not crowded). We found the crust to be well-made, the filling very tasty, but the crust’s browning was inconsistent enough as to affect the flavor on one of our pastéis, bringing them to number 3.
Pastelaria Versailles, conveniently located immediately above the Avenida da República exit at the Saldanha metro station, is a charming, old-world style (almost Parisian) cafe offering a wide variety of freshly-made pastries, as well as sandwiches and tea served by a jovial waitstaff that make this a great lunch spot, one of our favorites in Lisbon. As far as we can tell, pastéis de nata are not one of their specialties, and they have not appeared on any major rankings. But we found their pastéis to be magnificant examples: a perfect crust, with a delectable egg cream whose flavor we found to be second only to our overall winner. (And once again, if you go here, try to pastel de chocolate – a variation of the traditional pastel but with chocolate filling, a variety we saw almost nowhere else!)
1. Chique de Belém
Rua da Junqueira, 524
In the end, this was not even close. If you visit Lisbon you will, at some point, find yourself admiring the architectural wonders of the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. You will walk east on Rua da Junqueira, with the crowds, toward the front of the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém and you should, in our humble opinion, keep on walking. A few blocks further is the small, utterly charming, and fantastic Chique de Belém, easily our vote for the best pastel in Lisbon. Perfectly textured, elegantly flavored egg cream inside a crust with just the right balance of flakiness and support make this our go-to place for pastéis in Lisbon. In three visits and six samples we were shocked by the consistency of their output. Even better? Their outdoor seating area, right on the sidewalk, offers a view of Belém’s parks, where you can relax while the servers bring you the pastries of your choosing. And of course, you picked the pastéis.