O DINIS, EAST PROVIDENCE
My wife likes to say I’m stuck in my ways, especially when it comes to food. But I like what I like. And I like carne de porco à alentejana. Nothing beats potatoes, pork, and clams. And in my opinion, there is no better place for it on this side of the Atlantic than O Dinis in East Providence.
At seemingly every great Portuguese restaurant where I’ve ordered carne de porco à alentejana, there have been some dinner plates hung up on the walls as decorations. And there are some here at O Dinis. The tables are elbow-to-elbow, Sagres-to-Sagres. And the food! Oh, the food: I suppose I’d recommend the carne de porco à alentejana, but I hear good things about the littlenecks in a white wine and garlic sauce, the bacalhau na brasa, and the venerable bife a casa. Natalia Paiva-Neves, who runs the family-owned restaurant, says O Dinis sticks to its Portuguese roots: People can get burgers just about anywhere. But they might get grilled sardines on the specials menu at O Dinis. If eating an oyster is like kissing the sea on the lips, then eating a grilled sardine is like kissing the sea at low tide. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then you’ve probably never looked at a dinner plate and thought, “I should nail this to the wall, right next to the ceramic andorinhas and the rooster of Barcelos.”
O Dinis is the only place around here where I feel saudade — the supposedly Portuguese inclination toward nostalgia and longing — for the Casa Portugal, the restaurant in Cambridge that my grandfather opened in the early 1970s. There’s an added bonus at O Dinis, which is that they do live music, often fado. (Dinis Paiva, the owner, is also a fado singer.) It’s been tough to do live music for the last two years because of, well, you know. Everything. But when my wife and I got takeout from O Dinis recently, I put some fado on Spotify to go with our meal — I ended up going with the carne de porco à alentejana — and felt saudade. Saudade for the good days we’ve had, and saudade for the better days ahead.
O Dinis, 579 Warren Ave, East Providence. 401-438-3769, www.odinisrestaurant.com. Appetizers $6-$12, entrees $12-$22.
THE BANGKOK, MELROSE
I’m usually skeptical when a restaurant claims two cuisines equally, but The Bangkok: Thai — Pho truly makes good on both. They deliver on all the Thai classics, while also properly serving up Vietnamese pho and vermicelli noodles.
A few steps from the Wyoming stop, this tiny restaurant more than met what I call my “green curry test,” which is my standard measurement for good Thai food. It is my favorite and I order it spicy, with tofu and sticky rice. And if it’s done right, with a medley of crisp — not soggy and disintegrating! — veggies and a creamy coconut milk sauce worth sipping on its own, I may never order anything else. But The Bangkok has me putting my old standby aside to branch out and conquer their menu.
First I got hooked on their drunken noodle with shrimp. I found comfort in the chewy, flat noodles with just the right amount of spicy basil sauce. I continued my noodle tour with goong opb woon sen, perfectly cooked stir-fried king prawns and glass noodles decked out with roughly chopped chunks of fresh ginger and lovage, an herb that tastes like celery but looks like flat-leaf parsley. The noodles are deeply flavored from being cooked in prawn broth.
While you can’t go wrong with their tom kha soup, try the chicken xa lach xoong, a delicate and aromatic broth with fresh watercress and garlic oil. My toddler was very into this one, slurping it to the end (yes, including the watercress), and pulling apart the shredded chicken. She was also content with nibbling on the chicken satay, served on skewers with peanut sauce, and the flaky curry puff, a pan-fried pastry of glutinous rice flour, stuffed with chicken.
The chicken larb is spicy and flecked with red onion, dried chilis, and zesty sprigs of fresh mint. Wrapped up in a pocket of iceberg lettuce, it’s even better the next day when the fresh lime juice and cilantro have fermented. Pile it atop one of their many inventive fried rices; we went with the mango fried rice for its sweet and savory kick.
The crispy skinned tamarind duck will satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth and a hankering for fried food. We dunked crisp green beans into the tamarind sauce like they were crudite.
Takeout is the move, but it’s absolutely worth dining inside for a luscious bowl of khao soi, a velvety curry chicken broth with red onion, cilantro, pickle, and egg noodles two ways — steeped in the broth and crispy fried on top. My husband has been on a quest to re-create this one. We’ve googled around and ordered what we think are the right chiles. But then we remember that we can go down the street for a $12 bowl of pure comfort and the choice seems obvious.
The Bangkok, 57 W. Wyoming Ave., Melrose. 781-662-0888, www.thebangkokmelrose.com. Appetizers $6-$8, entrees $11-$17.
Forget New Year’s resolutions. We’re in the second pandemic winter and there is no better time to lean into the things that bring you comfort and joy. For me, it’s the pista coconut naan at Sher-A-Punjab.
Sitting at the heart of Quincy Center on Hancock Street, you’ll find Sher-A-Punjab running a takeout-only operation, a practice co-owners Mandeep Singh and chef Kashmir Singh have kept throughout much of the pandemic. (They also offer delivery.) The restaurant opened in 2012 and serves a “modern interpretation of classic dishes” — though my Indian neighbors affectionately refer to the food as a sweeter, Americanized version of their native cuisine. I love spicy foods, but I’d lay over hot coals for Sher-A-Punjab’s sweet mango lassi. I have a regular craving for their pista-coconut or the peshawari naan — so that tracks.
The chef’s creations are unlike dishes I’ve experienced at other Indian restaurants. For those looking to go beyond their go-to palaak paneer order (guilty), try the paneer korma. The cheese paneer cubes swim in a homemade cream sauce with the added texture of nuts and raisins. As someone who doesn’t eat meat, my favorite order might be one that sounds the most unassuming on the menu. The gobhi achari is a flavor-packed cauliflower and potato dish cooked in Indian spices with ginger and garlic. A delightful discovery in the pandemic was my love for their malai kofta, giant vegetable balls cooked in a flavorful creamy nut sauce. I’m eggplant-averse, but when it comes to their baigan bhartha, a fire-cooked eggplant mash, I happily go along with my husband who loves the stuff, and use it as a dip for their buttery garlic naan.
If you’re actually trying to fulfill a resolution by eating more vegetables, make it the chicken subz panchmael, for a crunchy panch phoron stir fry of peppers, artichokes, asparagus, and bean sprouts (I ordered mine sans chicken).
A bonus for any order from Sher-A-Punjab? You’ll always have leftovers.
Sher-A-Punjab, 1237 Hancock St., Quincy. 617-786-1010, sherapunjabboston.com. Appetizers $5-$14, entrees $15-$25