Pay attention to two key signals: if a restaurant is packed with people—that's telling you something; if the people in a restaurant are smiling, laughing and look like there's no place they'd rather be—that's telling you something. If you find a place giving off both these signals—go in.
I have to believe that for everyone, there are parts of your home town that you know really well, and other areas that you basically just travel through on your way somewhere else. South Main Street in the "south end" of Fall River is one of those places. The traffic and narrow two-lane street never afford me the chance to really take in what I was driving by. There's a two block section that is always sort of vague in my mind.
So, when I heard about Marisqueira Azores—I just couldn't picture it in my mind. I got the address and headed over to meet my friend for dinner and I drove right past it. I knew I went to far when I hit Tiverton and back tracked. I looked and looked, and then finally realized that what I was writing off as a fish market, was actually Marisqueira Azores. Sure, the print is certainly big enough on the awning, but it was night and it wasn't lit—it just doesn't didn't look like a restaurant to me. The fish tank colors and the lobster on the awning just looked cold, like a a seafood store, not a seafood restaurant. OK, branding, graphic design... whatever. Let's talk food.
Inside, you can see it's a lively place, but not noisy and crazy. Seems like it was once a pizza parlor (noun: /ˈpētsə ˈpärlər/; a place were you would buy and eat pizza in pre-1990s Fall River) and it even has a large brick oven visible in the open kitchen toward the back. There are some couples, but mostly groups of 4+ people. It's kid- or family-friendly and small enough that even if they wandered around, you can pretty much have your eye on them the whole time—however, don't let tem wander around, please. The atmosphere is casual, and the place is simply decorated, but not kitschy and certain is nicer than what the pizza parlor may have been like "back in the day."
amêijoas à valter
The menu is a manageable size and strictly traditional Portuguese, or Azorean Portuguese. (What is Azores?) We shared the Amêijoas à Valter, which is similar to any Amêijoas à Espanhola you may have had-little neck clams cooked in a tomato-based broth with onions, green peppers, chouriço and here, bacon and garlic - which must be what makes it à Valter—who is the chef. The clams were served in the usual pot and served pretty hot. The broth was simmering and there were thick slices of chouriço nesting inside the clams making it look like the clams were big mouths eating chouriço. The bacon did add some flavor, but it was really all about the smoky spiciness of the chouriço playing in the broth, and the briny, sweet, plump and juicy clams. Get some bread for that broth!
caldeirada à chefe
In Portuguese cuisine, there are a number of variations of what is basically a seafood stew. The name can change depending on whether or not it contains just shellfish, or just fish or both, and if you add rice, it's got another name—and if the there is a lot of broth, it's something else. Caldeirada—shellfish and fish, no rice, some broth. More precisely, there was fresh cod, some salt cod, New Bedford bay scallops, lulas (calamari), shrimp, little neck clams, that imitation crab stuff and boiled potatoes in a wine-/tomato-based broth flavored with onions, red peppers and olive oil. Light, fresh, delicious. In Portugal, they would likely mix in a little or a lot of cilantro, but in Fall River, you're more likely to get flat leaf parsley—my preference.
bife à portuguesa
When your really hungry, it's hard to pass up a bife à casa. At Marisqueira Azores it's served with rice, french fries, a fried egg, a thick slice of ham with a brown garlic sauce all over. All of it good, the meat tender with a nice grilled flavor, the sauce a little spicy and the fries crispy and light, not greasy. Bife à Casa is the kind of dish that needs to meet everyone's expectations. Every body knows what is should taste like. You can't do fancy things to it—gotta be straight forward and simple and just get it right. And Valter did.