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top portuguese/spanish/brazilian eats in newark area (incl. kearny, union, etc.)

i'm interested in portuguese, spanish, and brazilian food in the newark area. i don't care if it's in the ironbound or not; i know that there are a lot of brazilians and portuguese in kearny, harrison, east newark, belleville, union, and hillside these days, so i'm sure there are some good eateries in those towns as well.

i know this topic gets asked all the time on this board, but was hoping for some fresh tips. i've been to ferry st in newark's ironbound district many times and have been to most of the usual suspects (iberia, brasilia, tony da caneca, casa vasca, fornos of spain, seabra's marrisquiera, etc.) and have been increasingly dissatisfied with these options. i feel there has to be better out there, but haven't had a chance to go back to newark in months. hopefully some of you eat there regularly and can help me out.

i've asked around and done some internet research (including on this board) and come across a few places. i was wondering if any of you have been to the following, and if so, what was your experience and which dishes do you recommend, if any:

-poeta (portuguese--97 lang st, newark; reviewed by robert sietsema in the village voice)
http://www.villagevoice.com/nyclife/0...

-boi na brasa (brazilian riodizio--70 adams st, newark; received very favorable review in the voice
)http://villagevoice.com/nyclife/0611,...

-burnet (portuguese bbq chicken--2 locations in union): i realize that jim leff and others highly touted it back around 2000/2001, but i'm wondering if anyone has been here recently and can vouch for its quality nowadays

-solar do minho (either portuguese or brazilian, not sure--15 cleveland st, belleville

)

-torremolinos restaurant (portuguese--190 midland ave, kearny)

-beira mar of spain restaurant (spanish--18 downing st, newark)

also, about a year ago i went to tapajos river steak house, a brazilian riodizio on 28 wilson st toward the eastern end of the main portuguese/brazilian drag. i thought the food was mediocre at best but the village voice critic had given it a great review several years earlier, so it's either declined or i came on an off-night.

again, if you have any recommendations that i didn't already mention, please share. thanks.

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  1. oh, one more thing:

    i'm not only looking for classic sit-down establishments that serve a little bit of everything.

    i'd also love to find any take-out places and/or cafes that specialize in only 1 or 2 dishes, but do them well. you know, places that serve authentic, well-made chouri├žo assado (barbecued chorizo sausage), roast chicken, suckling pig, etc.

    i'm thinking that the best food in the newark area is at these smaller, more humble establishments. it takes a lot of money to open up a big restaurant, and a lot of times the more famous places americanize their food for those coming from outside the community.

    i'm also suspecting that there might be some good food at local portuguese and brazilian pubs, bars, taverns, and (semi?) private soccer clubs. does anyone have any info. about these kinds of places?

    finally, are there any noteworthy portuguese bakeries (bread or desserts) out there?

    thanks again.

    1. Burnett is under new owners and has become blah.

      IMO, Newark Iberian is generally so-so. I don't like any of the touted places. I have two standouts (and haven't been to either in a while, so I'm just hoping they're still good):

      Casa Vasca 141 Elm Street at prospect, (973) 465-1350. Sit at bar - ALWAYS sit at bar in Iberian restaurnats! - and get pitchers of incredible sangria (must try both red and white), razor clams, potato omelet, and cabrito. Place is Basque/Galician, fwiw.

      Coimbra Bar Restaurante 637 Market St at SOMME ST 973-491-9811. Ok, this is an exception, sorry. Do sit in restaurant. Everything's good and hugely authentic (and I've eaten a lot in Portugual). not much english, be nice to your waiter who expects to deal with paisanos, don't be too high maintanence or you'll ruin the place for other gringos.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jim Leff

        hey jim, thanks for the tips. it never occurred to me as a gringo to sit at the bar at these restaurants--i'd just assumed that the locals did that simply to avoid the gringos/out-of-towners in the dining room, LOL. but it makes sense - i'm guessing that the bar area serves as the locals' de facto "pub", and as a result comfort food specialities and other "non-gringo" foods are more likely to be offered to bar patrons. interesting, and good to know.

        i wasn't overly impressed with casa vasca on my last visit, which was 6 months ago. then again, i ordered the standard gringo dishes and sat in the dining room, so i'll be sure to go by your suggestions next time.

        coimbra's an intriguing recommendation - all this time, i'd never heard of it. can't wait to try it.

        that's really unfortunate about burnet. as mentioned, i'm really looking to find places that specialize in 1 or 2 dishes, and do them well, as burnet used to do.

        hopefully others can chime in on that last point.

        1. re: lebron

          I was really nonplussed with my first visit to casa vasca....in the dining room...ordering good dishes. Stick to bar, and stick tightly to my reccos. If you think you don't like sangria, prepare to change your mind. This IS a place that just does a few things well.

          Coimbra is (or was) the bomb. Nobody talks about it. Was actually a Jeremy Osner discovery.

      2. Here are the places recommended by a portuguese colleague of mine, which I havent yet been able to check out:
        #1 - Casa Vasca is her first choice I have a note here about caldo gallego think it relates to this spanish restaurant
        #2 - Seabras Marisquieira (actually Ive been to this - seemed sort of bland - seafood specialist huge servings
        #3 - Adega Grill
        #4 - Fornos , beginning of Ferry (she said this is a "heavier" cuisine)
        #5 - El Pastor, on Market Street

        There are a LOT of restaurants in this nabe, especially in the areas south of Ferry Street and especially Brazilian that could warrant exploration

        8 Replies
        1. re: jen kalb

          thanks for the list, jen. unfortunately i've been to the first 4 and wasn't overly impressed with them...tho i'm definitely going to go back to casa vasca, sit at the bar area, and order what jim leff has suggested. their "standard" dishes in the dining room, tho, were merely ok.

          i agree with you on seabra's--just ok, nothing special. sietsema of the village voice gave it a pretty good review a while back, i think.

          i'm pretty sure adega's the place on ferry st that's known for having a lot of attractive portuguese or brazilian female bartenders. my colleague specifically wanted to go there b/c of that fact. but as the bar was packed around 6pm (ENTIRELY with men, seemingly lawyers and other white collar, corporate types who probably work at the gateway center or thereabouts), we ate in the dining room. food was, again, ok but nothing remarkable. seemed like more of a "convenient" or "trendy" place for locals and visitors alike rather than a true food destination.

          i've never been a big fan of fornos, going back to when i was a kid...for whatever reason. i haven't eaten there in over 5 years, so i can't vouch for its current state.

          never heard of el pastor - i'll definitely make a note of it and report back once i make it out there.

          you know, i feel there are a lot of hidden gems in the area that simply haven't been discovered...hence, my post. i suspect that the portuguese culinary epicenter has been shifting along with their population to suburbs like kearny, harrison, east newark, and union, and thus i was hoping someone familiar with those towns might have an idea of some good portuguese and brazilian leads. incidentally, there are a lot of peruvians in kearny and harrison these days, so i'm suspecting there is some good ceviche and rotisserie chicken to be had in those nabes as well.

          what's also interesting is that people of a given ethnic background aren't always reliable sources for local/ethnic restaurants. a lot of times, even they will go to the same old "tried and true" standbys, even as those places have declined in quality. i know this for a fact, b/c my parents are korean and for years kept going to the same korean restaurant in englewood cliffs, years after its prime. it was only when the food there became totally inedible that they realized they needed to find a new place. in my parents' case, this was b/c they were comfortable w/the restaurant and didn't really want to "explore" new options, so long as their longtime standby was respectable. besides, they kind of assume no korean food here in the u.s. can be as good as in korea, and so have surprisingly lower standards (at times) than you'd expect for folks who grew up in korea eating the real deal. to top it off, they were friendly with the owner.

          that's why i'm not surprised that your portuguese colleague gave you 4 run-of-the-mill ironbound recommendations. hopefully one of us can find a brazilian or portuguese person who really knows the area well and can give us some under-the-radar chow tips. or maybe that person's lurking on this board (hopefully).

          1. re: lebron

            "what's also interesting is that people of a given ethnic background aren't always reliable sources for local/ethnic restaurants."

            The average American doesn't know where to find terrific American food, and often can't tell good from bad. Why should Portuguese or Ghanaians be any savvier? It's even hard for natives to pronounce on authenticity, since dishes are made differently in different areas.

            Trust chowhounds (I don't mean users of this site, I mean that type of person), regardless of ethnicity. Or, better, search out your own places and create your own opinions.

            1. re: Jim Leff

              i agree wholeheartedly. just to use the korean example again as a frame of reference for ethnic/immigrant communities in general and their opinions on local restaurants serving "their" cuisine:

              after living in nj for most of my life, i was totally "out of the loop" as far as korean restaurants in queens were concerned, so a few years ago i asked all of my korean friends from flushing, bayside, douglaston, little neck, etc. to give me their favorite places. each and every one them rattled off the same old same old...no hidden gems or unknown places at all. again, i feel this is b/c of ppl's unwillingness to explore anything outside of the familiar. it's only recently that i've been able to find a few new korean places in flushing on my accord, just by trial and error.

              that said, on the few occasions that my "koreanized" friends (even the somewhat non-chowhoundish ones) have recommended a *completely* under-the-radar place, they've usually been on target. in other words, the tips on "underground" places are rare but accurate, while the tips on the usual standbys are common but hit-or-miss.

              i'm not sure why this is, but i suspect that the ones who recommend the same old same old are unadventurous, couldn't care less, or have middling standards. some are probably more concerned with non-chowing aspects of the place (convenient parking, a good location, a clean dining room, etc.). some go to the same old b/c they find that jumping around and experimenting is annoying and a waste of time; my parents are like that. but you know, despite my parents' continued patronage of that mediocre korean restaurant in englewood cliffs for all those years, they can definitely tell what "real" and "good" korean food is; they just don't bother most of the time.

              i think most of the "hidden" ethnic gems that we've been seeking on this thread are patronized almost exclusively by a smallish pool of locals who might not speak english and probably spend most of their free time in their immediate neighborhood, leaving most of the rest of their community (esp. the ones who live outside the hood) in the dark as far as the best local eats. that's certainly the case in the korean community and might explain why most of the rest of the koreans in our area are "out of the loop". honestly, a lot of korean americans i know wouldn't think to go to these "random", humble places and might not even want to hang out with these "newcomers".

              i suspect the same dynamic might be going on in other ethnic/immigrant communities throughout the region, and partially explains why so many people in a given ethnic community can't provide really great chowing tips.

              1. re: lebron

                I really appreciate your feedback, but I am not inclined to dismiss by colleague's recommendations out of hand either, - she seems pretty darn picky about what she eats and knows her seafood - she offered some specific dish recommendations at Forno's (I believe she recommended dishes in garlic sauce here), Casa Vasca, etc.which might not have been dishes I would have ordered following my usual methods. For example, Im addicted to salt cod dishes (gomes sa, etc) and have had bad luck with these in the past in the ironbound - have gotten huge plates of food but bland and uninteresting. Any recs in this vein would be great - unfortunately those types of homey dishes are apparently not what my friend and her family go out to restuarants for, and maybe that is an answer in itself...

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Jen, OTOH, if she likes Seabras, I suspect (can't know fer sure) she's just floating on the tide of conventional wisdom. I've tried it several times and had only super mediocre experiences.

                  Again, go to Coimbra. That's your answer! ;)

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    hey jen, thanks again for the feedback. i'm sorry, i didn't mean to sound like i was outright dismissing you or your colleague's suggestions. i was just trying to say that my experiences at the first 4 places listed were mediocre, but i should've also clarified that i've only ordered a limited number of dishes (the "typical" stuff) at these places. i totally believe that there are some great dishes there; it's probably just that most of us gringos don't know what those dishes are, or don't think to order something different. as we all know, what you order at almost any restaurant can make a huge difference, and i'm sure the iberian places in the newark area are no exception. it could be that there are only 2-3 dishes that really stand out at these old standbys - dishes that most of us gringos never think to order, or (as jim has suggested) are only available at the bar.

                    thanks again. hopefully your colleague can give you a few specific tips re: what to order!

                    1. re: lebron

                      No offense taken - there is no substitute for real chowhound experience,

                      It could very well be that my friend and her family mainly go to Ironbound restaurants for celebratory or festive meals where the main criteria is other than food - they would not be the first, in any ethnic group to do that, whereas I would go there looking for great tastes. But she did get a glow in her eye over some of the dishes when she realized I was really interested, so I intend to give at least a couple of these a try.

                      What Id really like is some cooking advice for some of the great seafood (ex what looks like fresh salted cod, or prawns, over in the Seabras Mkt)

              2. re: lebron

                lebron, Id like to thank you for starting this thoughful thread. Since my Seabras Marr. mixed experience, have held a major party at Casa Vasco (high expectations rather disappointed by bland cuisine - the goat that one of my friend had being the major exception). Just this last weekend we went back to Ironbound again,with friends, one of whom likes only bland food - after reviewing the choices again I was actually dreading this trip - my appetite for large meals of middling quality food has waned recently. Also, I got a fix on the issue with my colleagues recommendations - I want home style cooking and 1st generation portuguese get that better AT HOME - they only go out to their restaurants for parties, where the amenities, not the food are the draw so thats what she was recommending.

                Anyway reading this thread I decided to try Coimbra, 637 Market St,, and we were very pleased, with the homey feel, price and above all the food. My bacalao lageira (sp) was broiled on top of grilled onions and green pepper strips with a lot of freshly cut garlic and oil and was extremely flavorful, as was husband's goat stew braised in wine. Companions salmon and suckling pig were very nicely cooked tho we were disappointed that the pig was served cold. We will defininitely be back there.

            2. I can't say enough good things about Solar do Minho. We "found" it about three years ago and have been back many times and have never been disappointed. One time there were 14 of us and everyone loved everything!
              I would just like to note that I love their rodizio because it is not that over the top salty meats. Their meats are delicious and you can eat and eat and eat and not have to stop because of too much salt!

              http://www.solardominho.com/

              2 Replies
              1. re: nizza

                hey nizza, thanks for chiming in about solar do minho. i've never been there, of course, but had gotten the tip from a portuguese lady who regularly shops at my mom's store in kearny. she'd talked about the riodizio so i'd assumed the place was brazilian, but after looking at the website and menu it appears to be portuguese with the brazilian riodizio added in for good measure.

                besides the riodizio, what else do you recommend? thanks again. and do you have any other restaurant recommendations?

                1. re: nizza

                  I had heard a lot of good things about Solar do Minho and finally went there a couple of weeks ago. My parents came through town and I took them there. The parents were late because they'd had a minor accident, so I called ahead to Solar do Minho, whose web site said they were open until 2 a.m. Well, what it really means is that the BAR is open until 2 a.m. The restaurant is only open until 10, at least on weekdays. But because I called ahead and said we'd be there around 10:15, the kitchen stayed open a little late for us. We had to sit in the "bar" room rather than the dining room, but there was one table in the bar room for us, and the bar wasn't particularly busy or loud that night. The waiter was very sweet, too. They were out of a lot of things, including the rodizio, but we were more in the mood for seafood anyway. (We're not huge red meat eaters.)

                  Though a bit expensive, I'd say Solar do Minho had some of the best Portuguese/Spanish food I've had. (However, I also have a much better opinion of Casa Vasca than y'all do, and I'd put it at about the same level... maybe not *quite* as good as Solar, but very close.) And the portions were gigantic. The three of us could really have just ordered two dishes. One of us got paella, one got a fish dish (grouper, if I recall correctly), and one got another fish (maybe swordfish) stuffed with crabmeat. Both fish dishes were excellent. The stuffed one was very rich as you would expect. I'd say the paella was merely good, perhaps very good, but not as good as the fish. I've had better paella.

                  I'd make some specific recommendations about what's excellent at Casa Vasca, but I haven't been there in about 8 or 10 months and my memory is a little scattered. I always love the shrimp in garlic sauce, though. Or is it green sauce? Actually I think they have both, and either one is very good. YMMV of course. Way back in the day, the NY Times raved about the razor clams (as eaten at the bar), but I haven't tried those.

                  I'll have to try Tony de Caneca some time. Note that it's on Elm ROAD and *not* on Elm STREET (i.e. it's not near Casa Vasca).

                  Sheesh... as a Newark resident, I certainly could get out more often and explore more things in my town. But my only real good discovery has been a good pupusa joint called the Crazy Taco: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  And that's not even technically in Newark. (Close, though. Right on the border.

                  )

                  One of these days I really have to explore the various African joints in the neighborhood. Or joint... Gold Coast may actually be the only one.

                2. Another good bet in Newark is Tony da Caneca at 72 Elm Rd. it's more of a residential neighborhood, but a good place. Eat at the bar or table. I was introduced there by a Galician friend, and have returned several times.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: njwinemaker

                    I've heard that's good, too. Not sure if I ever went...

                    1. re: njwinemaker

                      do you have any specific recommendations at tony da caneca? i've been there many times (tho not in the past year) and have always thought it was decent, but not truly outstanding. if, as you and jim have suggested, i were to sit at the bar, what dishes should i order? thanks.