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Sep 15, 2008 01:15 PM

Mid-Level Portuguese Restaurant with Pleasant, Comfortable Atmosphere?

Ever since I dined at Estoril in Fall River several weeks back, I have been yearning for a similar restaurant in the Boston area (casual, mid-priced Portuguese restaurant with comfortable seating, nice atmosphere, and a varied menu), but I can't seem to find anything even remotely similar. It seems that the choices are mostly tiny dining spots with limited menu options.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I'd be willing to drive anywhere within the I-495 belt....thanks!

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  1. The Sunset Cafe in Cambridge certainly has the largest Portuguese menu in Boston, larger than I remember Estoril and a similar kind of setting, although a bit cheesier. The service, though, has always left something to be desired and they have been trying just about anything in the past few years to see what might keep the balance sheet positive, so its hard to be really positive about them as you may never know what to find (for the most part it seems to be a daily buffet with the a la carte menu still available, but they have had tequila nights, brazilian fashion and comedy, etc). Its a bit of a gamble, but they certainly have selection. Carne Alentejana, Bife a Sunset, African Shrimp are strong offerings.

    Portugalia is certainly not tiny and is more consistent than Sunset, but you have to be in the mood for the seafood items as they don't measure up on many of the meat dishes.

    There are a couple of newcomers. Con Sol in Cambridge is certainly on the small side and their main menu is smaller than Estoril, but they have a lot of assorted appetizers (not all Portuguese) which gives them a good variety (I have only been once so have only tried the basics). I have done well with PB Restaurant, sort of a sibling rivalry theme of Portuguese vs Brazilian cooking (Brazilian owner, some kitchen staff, a portuguese chef) -- smallish-medium size. The Portuguese side brings up more of the seafood options, but does have some options that aren't available locally. I have chowed more on the Brazilian options, so like Con Sol, can't give it a full suggestion. Hudson Portuguese Club's Restaurant is about as far as you can get from some social clubs (closer to the New Brown Jug), but of all these options I think their menu is quite limited. They were offering an interesting Wednesday home cooked menu, but you had to commit to ordering that beforehand.

    Lowell has had some turnover and is right on your 495 limit, but does have some options. Cavaleiro's in Lowell might be a bit pricier than you are looking for, Friend's is a bit more moderately priced but I am not as familiar with it.

    7 Replies
    1. re: itaunas

      Thanks, itaunas. The menu at Cavaleiro's looks very nice, as does Portugalia's. So the steak dishes at Portugalia aren't as good as the seafood dishes? I guess I'd be looking for a sirloin or chicken dish, but if their specialty is seafood, perhaps I'll look elsewhere.

      1. re: hiddenboston

        Seafood is definitely their specialty. To be fairly specific, I go to Portugalia almost exclusively for their Salt Cod Dishes. I have never liked their carne alentejana and have been disappointed a lot with their Portuguese steak. The last time I had the steak (about 6 months ago) the meat itself was better than I remembered, but for the sauce you can do as well at the Snack Bar and J+J's, or better at Sunset and Cafe Portugual. I mentioned Con Sol in part because that was one plate I liked there on my visit. I haven't had the chicken dishes in ages, I don't really associate "chicken breast this, chicken breast that" with Portuguese cooking, but they have some decent light options with sauces (the vinho verde might be their specialty, porto more common).

        Portugalia goes the extra mile with some of their salt cod dishes, for instance fresh frying shredded potatoes for bacalhau a braz instead of using potato sticks. I do like their petiscos too, don't really like their soups that much (its nice that they offer canja, though). Avoid their Camarao Africano (the camarao a chico on the appetizers is camarao mozambique, a better option) -- its just sauted shelled shrimp with tomato, green pepper, etc -- again the Snack Bar or Courthouse especially are better bets for this. At Sunset, they only make that dish when they have large head-on shrimp and do a Portuguese sauce along the lines of a French sauce a la africaine. So not all the Portugalia seafood dishes are equal, but for something simple the sole stuffed with shrimp (basically baked stuffed sold with white sauce) is nicely done. If you don't like salt cod, they often offer another whitefish grilled and served in a similar fashion as the lagareiro.

        For Joanie, I really doubt that Sunset is doing Fado at all anymore (it was Friday and Saturday nights for many years). About 2 years ago they cut it back to one night a week and brought in Brazilian MPB singers the other, then both nights Brazilian... and since then tried a lot of other different ideas (under Brazilian front of the house) trying to bring in more Brazilians. The guitarrista was also fairly old and I haven't seen him around in well over a year (used to see him at J+J's). The Filarmonica Santo Antonio on Cambridge Street offers Fado at their banquets, and it continues at Sagres in Fall River (where I have had mixed experiences on recent visits). I would also expect Sunset to be pretty empty, except on weekends.

        Cavaliero's definitely reminds me of Estoril, but it is pricier and you asked for mid-priced, plus on the boundary of your geography. I love Casa Portugal as much for the service and having a better wine list than the others (good portuguese potatoes), but you were looking for a larger dining room.

        1. re: itaunas

          Hmmm, I just looked at the Casa Portugal Web site and the place looks rather nice inside (and not too cramped). Decisions, decisions....I guess at this point, I'm leaning toward Casa Portugal or Atasca.

          itaunas, if you had the choice to go to only one Portuguese restaurant mentioned here for steak or perhaps pork, which one would you choose?

          Thanks for all the great info, everyone!

          1. re: hiddenboston

            Hidden, if I get to choose I am headed to a newer restaurant to give them a chance: Trackside, Con Sol, PB Restaurant. And while I can still be dragged to Atasca Hampshire, I will never choose it due to service and food issues. I like Sunset's Steak and Pork, but they have lost my business as they have lost their focus. Casa Portugual isn't going to compare to South Coast food, but I do very much enjoy it. So choose Casa or Atasca for a maiden visit, but next time try a newer restaurant or hound Lowell a bit.

            1. re: itaunas

              Porco O Alentajana at Trackside... mmmmm.

            2. re: hiddenboston

              I used to go to Cafe Portugal frequently. Not quite sure why I stopped. The two stand out dishes for me were both seafood though - the grilled squid entree and this fish with bananas entree. The latter sounds odd, but it really worked. Probably because of all the butter.

              For apps, I used to love the clams and the chouricio..

        2. re: itaunas

          I like Portugalia, but then again, I like seafood. Atasca has also been strong the last few times I've been there.

        3. Have you dined Portuguese in Lowell yet? After winning a local soup contest, we finally made it to Cavelaro's and loved it. They have this one dish that I haven't had yet but want to - cook your own filet on a stone in front of you. I'm always more interested in flavors I haven't had but would like to try this. It's a nice ambiance (it's on Lawrence st.) Lowell also has a nice place called Friends Restaurant and Bar (on market st - downtown). Awesome, last time we were there - had a fantastic home made goat cheese. there is one more that I keep hearing great things - called IV Season's in downtown Lowell (central St)

          1. North Cambridge (near the Galleria) has a sizeable Portugese population, and a number of great Portugese restaurants. It's been a long time since I've been there, but check out Casa Portugal and Atasca (I think the latter is more upscale).

            2 Replies
            1. re: Chocolate Mousse

              I'll second Atasca, especially for variety. They have an excellent selection of Petiscos (small plates, tapas) in addition to their main-course menu. You could probably put together a full meal of petiscos, wine and desserts if you wanted to sample many flavors.

              1. re: Chocolate Mousse

                I've been quite happy with Casa Portugal in Inman Square for many years. They did change ownership along the way, but recent visits have proven no drop-off in quality.

              2. I was at Atasca on Fri. for the first time and it was nice. Certainly a comfortable room altho we sat at the bar (and with my back to the room, didn't even realize a friend was also there). We just split a pork loin dish w/ those fried potatoes (that were more chip like than other Portugese places I've gone) and a carrot/brussel sprout mix of veggies. It was decent, nothing mind blowing but a lot of food for about $17, served with good bread, olives and olive oil. The description of their "super bok" wasn't at all what my friend expected, more lager than dark but it served the purpose. Quite a long menu, entrees ranging from $15-22 pretty much. They've got a patio so maybe go while the weather is still nice.

                I also think Sunset is pretty comfy and you've got the Fado entertainment going on (is it only weekends?).

                1. Since we are making suggestions no where near the 495 belt I'll throw in for Con Sol. It is a new comer, "intimate" atmosphere, REALLY attentive staff.

                  I grew up in Fall River in a very Portuguese family so I know my portuguese food. They do it right. Comfortable seating? back rest and four legs? what more is there?
                  Nice atmosphere? Sure, it's not the oak room but it isn't a cafeteria either.
                  Varied Menu? It's portuguese food. That means you can have anything you want as long as its Cod, Steak, or Pork and Little Necks.

                  Wondering why you skipped Sagres on your trip to Fall River?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: DanInCambridge

                    We wanted a nice combination of atmosphere and food, and Estoril definitely delivered on both. I've heard great things about the food at Sagres, but I was thinking it didn't have the elegant, classy feel that the main dining room at Estoril had (but I could be wrong!). What is Sagres like inside?

                    1. re: hiddenboston

                      Sagres is more busy, a bit more rustic, and in three different levels, but the dress and demeanor of the waiters is quite classy. You get the addition of live music on weekends, but it will also have more larger tables eating family style. However, while I would normally go to Sagres over Estoril, you may have done better. My issue with recent visits is cutting corners with the food, for instance using frozen chinese bay scallops in a dish and omitting some of the fish which should be there. Portuguese steak also wasn't that great. It didn't go quite as far as O Dinis in East Providence, but I would rather see an increase in prices rather than wholesale substitution of ingredients.

                      1. re: itaunas

                        Just a quick note: When I typed in "O Dinis" into Google, the link takes me to Galito in Pawtucket. Is that a mistake on Google's part, or are they connected?

                        All right, I think I'm sold on either Casa Portugal or Con Sol at this point. Both seem to have nice, cozy digs, so although they are small, they both look like they would be pleasant enough places to dine in.