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Cabana do Pescador (the fisherman’s hut) got its start some 50 years ago with a very simple premise: A fisherman named Luís Maria Lourenço decided to sell his leftover daily catch by grilling it on iron barrels halved lengthwise – an old-school upcycled getup that can still be seen at many popular tascas. Since then, this no-frills fish shack has become such an institution that the strip of Costa da Caparica coastline where it sits has come to be known as cabana de pescador as well.

Costa da Caparica was originally comprised of small fishing villages. In the 1970s, it became the favorite seaside getaway for Lisboetas, owing to its proximity to the Portuguese capital and its numerous spacious beaches. Over time and despite their location, most of the seaside restaurants on this glorious sandy stretch (which goes on for almost 30 kilometers) stopped selling fresh grilled seafood, offering instead a landlocked menu of sandwiches, salads and burgers. Cabana do Pescador, however, has kept its grilling tradition alive and specializes in serving fresh fish from the coast.

Today, it’s Luís’s son-in-law, Francisco Barroca (72), who runs the restaurant, which is now home to a large grill made of brick. But Cabana’s original spirit remains.

The simple fish, cooked over charcoal with a dash of salt, is enough reason to hit this particular beach hut, although if we’re thinking ahead we remember to advance order the caldeirada. This traditional fish stew has won Cabana do Pescador three awards in a row in a local annual caldeirada competition. The secret lies in the fresh fish they are able to obtain. The arroz de marisco (rice cooked with seafood) is also an impressive dish. The perfect tonic after a day on the beach? Clams Bulhão Pato (with cilantro, garlic and olive oil) paired with a bottle of good vinho verde (a crisp wine from the northwest).

Formerly a fisherman himself, Francisco has been managing the restaurant for the past 35 years. He has been making what improvements he can, a tough job considering the area’s protected status. Originally from the Alentejo region, he swapped the countryside for the coastal village when he was a boy. As a teen, he was working at Cabana do Pescador doing a bit of everything, which led him to meeting and then marrying Luís’s daughter. Through the years, he’s done everything from serving tables or helping his in-laws either in the kitchen or on their fishing boats.

Francisco tells us that, for years, Cabana do Pescador was the beach chosen by a certain artistic crowd of Lisbon since it was not as busy or trendy as others. He adds that their simple restaurant was visited by many famous locals and artists. Nowadays, the beach is as busy as any other – as is the restaurant. The fact that they sell fresh seafood on a beachside terrace attracts hungry beach goers throughout the day. Even more so with everyone’s post-pandemic desire to eat outside (as well as weekend regulations requiring indoor diners be vaccinated or tested Covid-negative).

“You’ll sit with your feet in the sand,” Francisco says, as if he is joking, but the tables and chairs are picturesquely laid out on the sandy beach.

The restrictions, Francisco says, have been difficult to deal with. “Unlike other restaurants in the city, we have a very seasonal business,” he says. “It’s only in the summer months that we get busy. It’s the weekends especially that people are looking for a sit-down meal.” He says that on weekdays, beachgoers prefer quick bites like sandwiches and salads (finally an explanation as to the dearth of seafood spots on this beach). But he quickly adds that they also serve such light bites at their restaurant on another terrace. He just opened a new bar as well, Relax, closer to the waterfront, with a simple menu of petiscos (small plates) from cuttlefish to tacos.

“But if you want to eat a proper meal, you have to come to the restaurant,” Francisco insists. “You’ll sit with your feet in the sand,” he says. Indeed, Cabana’s tables and chairs are picturesquely laid out on the sandy beach.

Though Francisco doesn’t fish anymore, like any fisherman worth his salt he knows his fish. He sources it directly from fishermen or from the Costa da Caparica fish auction. “I know when a fish is from the sea and when it is from a farm. Here, we only have fish from the sea,” he assures us.

On display in the restaurant are an array of fresh sardines (which are now in season), dourada (sea bream), turbot, sole and a few others. Fish is sold by the kilo, and staff will let diners know how much they are getting before they put it on the charcoal grill. From there, it’s seasoned with sea salt and grilled slowly by the grill master.

Most likely you will see Francisco running around and managing the staff and suppliers as well as talking to the clients; he is there every day. “You really have to like restaurants to keep working in one,” he says. “But while I can, I will keep coming here every day. It’s what I like to do.” We wish we could come every day ourselves.

Note: Open year-round, August sees a peak in customers. We recommended making a reservation and going for lunch before 1pm and dinner before 8pm – with a sunset aperitif on the new bar – as even the large grill cannot get through all the requests at once.

Published on August 18, 2021

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