Although many around the East Bay might consider Portuguese food as common as Italian or New American cuisine, I find myself coming across far too many people who have never really sat down and enjoyed a delicious, rich Portuguese feast. If you find yourself in this camp, I urge – nay, demand – that you find your way to O Dinis and thoroughly experience the varied food of Portuguese culture.
O Dinis has created a family aesthetic by way of authenticity. When you walk in for the first time, you will notice dozens of framed photographs along the wall, filled with pictures of owner Dinis Paiva celebrating with family, friends, and celebrities who’ve visited the restaurant over the years – including a photo capturing the time Paiva appeared in the 1988 movie Mystic Pizza. Friendly faces, vintage radios, Portuguese statues and knick-knacks give you the feeling of home. After all, O Dinis translates to “Dennis’ Place.”
I was greeted warmly by manager and chef Natalia Paiva-Neves, daughter of Paiva. She made sure I was served plate after plate of flavorful delicacies and was happy to detail each one with genuine passion. She explained how the recipes were a part of her Portuguese heritage and that O Dinis is dedicated to communicating their culture through food.
The Bife à Casa ($14.95) is the kind of dish that made me fall in love with this cuisine. A thick steak smothered with a dark beer and garlic sauce, served with a fried egg and french fries. Disc-shaped and just lightly fried (think of a thick, soft, potato chip), they are perfect to soak up the sauce with each bite. I also enjoyed both of the menu’s steamed littleneck dishes: the Amêijoas à Bulhão de Pato (in white wine and garlic sauce) and the Amêijoas à Espanhola (in tomato and onion sauce). Both flavor profiles are bold, which perfectly fit the very specific texture of littlenecks.
The Polvo a Lagareiro ($19.95) is the star of the show. Only available on Fridays (and usually selling out during lunch) this is a dish of grilled octopus with sauteed onions, garlic, and olive oil with fire-roasted green peppers. O Dinis served me the most perfectly grilled, meaty octopus tentacles I’ve ever eaten. This octopus held its own against their steak when it comes to providing a satisfying, hearty, succulent bite.
Dessert provided a final course for adventure, with the Pudim de Feijão, their bean tart ($5). This is a dessert made mostly from cannellini beans (plus sugar, eggs, and vanilla) that provided a texture I’ve never before experienced as a sweet. Almost a cross between a creamy pudding and a pie filling, this is a dessert that needs to be experienced to be believed (which is why I ordered another to-go for a friend, and drove directly to her from the restaurant).
The O Dinis team has thrived for over two decades by focusing on two things: serving authentic Portuguese dishes that represent their family, and making each customer feel like a part of it. I know this writer did.
O Dinis • 579 Warren Avenue, East Providence • 401-438-3769