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Cervejaria Ramiro is the undisputed temple of seafood in central Lisbon. The 50-year-old business represents an old-school type of eatery: a beer hall where the seafood is fresh and cheap, with a choice from the daily menu or directly from the large aquariums that look out to the street.

Taking up two floors of a late-Art Nouveau building on Avenida Almirante Reis, Cervejaria Ramiro is perpetually crowded. The clientele has not been affected by the recent urban regeneration of the area, which is turning the degraded Intendente neighbourhood, long affected by social exclusion, into a fashionable district. In fact, the restaurant was already popular in the 1970s, when eating seafood was new to the capital. In those times, Ramiro – the forefather of this family business – decided to convert his modest, working-class tavern into a new trend. As a migrant from Galicia, the northwestern Spanish region where the cold water and nautical traditions made seafood a pillar of its gastronomy, he was one of the first to introduce shellfish to Lisbon – now a staple of the dining-out scene.

Ramiro is what Lisboetas call a “successful Galician,” due to his business achievements. Galician migration is not a recent phenomenon here; due to the geographical and cultural closeness, many people tried their luck in Portugal during several historical moments – particularly in the 18th century, when workers came to help reconstruct Lisbon after the earthquake, and later in the 20th century, when escaping from the Spanish civil war. Like a lot of Portuguese abroad, many Galicians dedicated their life to gastronomy, merging their traditions with local food habits.

Cervejaria Ramiro, photo by Francesca SavoldiNowadays, there’s a never-ending queue of locals and tourists who want to try the signature fare, which includes Ramiro’s classic sapateira, stone crab stuffed with a pâté composed of its meatier parts and accompanied by a mayonnaise, egg and mustard sauce, served with crusty and buttery warm bread. Gamba á la aguilho, shrimp with garlic and pepper cooked with brandy and lemon, is another appetizing dish. But there’s a huge assortment of quality seafood, including giant Mozambican prawns, carabineiros (scarlet shrimp) and barnacles. The starter of tiny Porto shrimps, normally hard to find in Lisbon, is a must.

Another speciality of this restaurant is the ham, 5J Pata Negra, one of the most desirable hams in all of the Peninsula. It has been on the menu since the 1960s, which reflects Ramiro’s secret passion for hunting in Andalusia – the southern region of Spain abundant with black pigs.

CB’s suggested “dessert” is a heady one: the prego (a garlic-laced beef sandwich) at Cervejaria Ramiro is another icon of Lisbon, known as the most succulent of its kind in the city. “The secret of our prego is to eat it after the seafood,” says manager Pedro Gonçalves. “It ends the food journey that we provide at our restaurant, which navigates different coasts and, finally, comes back to the land.”

Decorated with marine motifs, memories of seafaring discoveries and portraits of Ramiro himself, this restaurant is characterized by a frenzy of friendly, fast waiters and loud chatter. Even though this eatery has become an obligatory listing in pretty much any food guide to Lisbon, especially after the tourist boom kicked off in 2008, it is still a reference point among locals, meaning the informal and bustling atmosphere remains intact. Far from being sophisticated, its emblematic status is due, simply, to the outstanding quality of the ingredients.

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