Where To Go While You’re Waiting For a Reservation to Adega

San Jose's Little Portugal has seen better days.
San Jose's Little Portugal has seen better days.

Greetings, fellow Bay Area foodies. By now, you’ve heard that San Jose got it it’s first Michelin-starred restaurant: Little Portugal’s Adega. You’re probably dying to get a reservation, right? Yeah, you and everyone else—including yours truly, who’s been putting off going for nearly a year.

If I’m stuck waiting for my reservation with the rest of you, then let me tell you where you should be eating while you’re waiting for your reservation at Adega.

Bacalhau Grill/Trade Rite Market:

Translation: Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for codfish, the Portuguese national dish. It used to be that a woman wasn’t allowed to get married until she knew how to make bacalhau 365 ways: one for each day of the year. You can’t have Portuguese Christmas Eve dinner without bacalhau on the table. However, it’s not the fresh cod you’re used to having in your fish and chips. Instead, it’s preserved in salt and canned.

What you should order: Treat this place as your homework before you go to the Adega and you’ll see why they earned that star. Bacalhau and Bife à Portuguesa (think Portuguese style steak frites) are always on the menu, while Carne de Porco Alentejana (Pork Alentejo style) is a rotating special. These dishes are elevated into something special on Adega’s menu, but it’s important to know the classics first.

From Trade Rite Market, I can’t recommend São Jorge cheese enough. Cheese from Topo is fine, but grab the cheese from Beira if it’s there. I probably know and just might be related to the owner of the cow it came from.

Trade Rite Market dates back to 1945.

Trade Rite Market dates back to 1945.

Padaria Popular:

Translation: This bakery didn’t win a popularity contest. Or did it, because it’s the last one standing in Little Portugal?

What you should order: Queijadas, or Portuguese tarts. One of each flavor. Seriously.

If you must choose just one, definitely get the classic pastel de nata, or custard. The best ones are found in the Belem neighborhood of Lisbon, but these are cheaper than a trans-Atlantic flight. But who says you have to choose? My favorite flavor of queijada is orange, but if you’re feeling adventurous, the bean flavored queijada is for you.

So many flavors, so little time.

So many flavors, so little time.

Cafe do Canto:

Translation: This cafe is on the corner of 33rd and Alum Rock, giving it its name: the Cafe on the Corner. It definitely takes me back to the neighborhood cafes you’ll find all over Portugal, whether it’s my family’s village in the Azores or tucked into a side street in Lisbon. Keep in mind that this place is as old school as it gets, so bring cash.

What you should order:  As someone who drinks more than her share of Starbucks sugar-bombs (all hail the Salted Caramel Mocha!), I surprise people when I order just a shot of espresso. That’s what you get when you order um cafezinho in Portugal, and Portuguese coffee doesn’t need fancy syrups to cover up bitter beans. If you’re hungry, grab a queijada as a snack or a linguiça sandwich.

This blog post is brought to you by the only coffee I ever drink black.

This blog is brought to you by passion fruit soda, Portuguese pastries, and the only coffee I ever drink black.

Why Little Portugal?

You might be surprised to hear that San Jose has a Little Portugal. You probably remember when Little Saigon was in the news, but Little Portugal? Whenever I mention the community to other San Jose natives, I usually get a blank stare. Maybe if I bring up Five Wounds Church, its white and red bell towers a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sight along US 101 as you approach the 280/680 interchange, I’ll get a few vague nods.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a neighborhood that feels more Little than like Portugal got lost in a city of over a million people; there aren’t even that many Portuguese there anymore. The changes have come in that slow and steady way that makes the end feel inevitable.

Growing up in the 90s, there were four Portuguese bakeries on Alum Rock Avenue: Five Star Bakery was across the street from Fast Bicycle, Faial Bakery was on Alum Rock and Jose Figueres, and Padaria Açoreana, along with all the other businesses in the building across the street from the Mexican Heritage Plaza, was kicked out for renovations. (The newly renovated and repainted building currently stands empty and covered by graffiti.) Only Padaria Popular remains, just a few doors down from Adega.

In my Portuguese classes this year, I have about a dozen 7 to 11-year olds in one class. It’s a decent uptick from last year’s seven or so kids per week. We expanded to a second class for younger children this school year; that teacher has a handful of students. It’s a far cry from when I was one of dozens of children in three or four classrooms at Five Wounds.

The purple banners that used to line the streets, covered in grapes and reading Little Portugal in gold have long since faded and been replaced with new banners in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese urging you to Shop Alum Rock. Of course, that’s only happening because VTA has torn up Alum Rock Avenue, leaving a gash running down the heart of a neighborhood that’s already dying a death of a thousand cuts.

In the face of this slow decline, seeing Adega literally become a star in a neighborhood I thought was fading fast made me more proud that I had any right to be. I’ve never been there. I probably won’t be able to go there for a while.

However, I have been in and out of Little Portugal for over thirty years. My childhood was spent in Portuguese classes on Monday and Wednesday nights, Mass every Sunday, catechism on Saturday mornings, and dance practice at Grupo de Carnaval more nights than I can count. I know what Little Portugal has been.

Adega offers a glimpse of what Little Portugal can be. I’ll end with some words Content Magazine shared from Carlos Carreira, one of Adega’s owners:

“We looked at other options, other locations,” Carlos recalls. “Ultimately this made the most sense. For years this area was known—and still is—as Little Portugal. So it made the most sense to have an authentic Portuguese restaurant in what for so many people is—and hopefully will be again—Little Portugal. I think that’s actually been one of the keys to our success. We are meeting everyone’s expectations, in part because no one is expecting such a nice place here.”

I’m one of those people hoping for what Little Portugal can be again. Don’t just come for one meal—come explore our community.

Everything’s Coming Up Barcelos!

I’m coming home from an unexpectedly amazing night at Portuguese school and I am finally finishing this blog post so it can get posted tomorrow. A lot of changes have been in the works and I am so stoked to say that I can now go public with them!

New job!

As I mentioned before, This Is My Life in Silicon Valley went beyond my usual audience of friends, friends of friends, and random quidditch people. It found some of the eyeballs I was looking for. They pointed me in the direction of a few writing jobs. I made it through the interview phase of a couple of them and this week I accepted an offer for an editorial internship with a better pay rate than my contract at Google. I start October 3rd and I am psyched to finally be taking what feels like my first steps toward a career, not just a job.

New (volunteer) job!

Speaking of editorial, The Quidditch Post was looking for a new CEO as I was applying for other jobs. I knew I would have to leave my position with USQ if I got it, and as much as I love my region, I couldn’t pass up the chance to have my quidditch life reflect my real one. I may not be West RC for that much longer, but I don’t need a title to tell me what my heart knows: I’ll be #WestTeamMom/Fangirl-in-Chief no matter what. I’ll still be doing NCQC since that is my quidditch labor of love.

New students!

Last year, I peaked at seven or eight students enrolled in my Portuguese class. However, I only really averaged about six kids in my class each week. It was demoralizing sometimes.

It made me remember when I was a kid in Portuguese school. We had four classes of about fifteen to twenty kids each, depending on skill level. I started in the second highest class and worked hard to get int the top class as fast as I could. I went two nights a week for two hours at a time. We used real classrooms at Five Wounds School.

Last year, I started the school year in an exercise room for seniors and ended it in an office since the adult Portuguese class needed the space more. I had to figure out how to teach with fewer resources and less time than I was used to, but I do think I made it work. I loved doing it. I loved the kids. I hated that I had to give it up because I started working at a startup.

It’s a new school year and that startup job is old news. (As much as I’d love to write about that experience, I signed an NDA so that is just not a possibility.) I was so grateful that POSSO wanted me back after my departure. Last week I had five students, one of them absent because they were at their Back to School Night. I planned my lesson for this week thinking that this year would be the same as the last.

Instead, I ended the day with twelve. (My class actually more than doubled, Twitter-self!) Two of them, brothers, are the sons of my catechism teachers that got married some time after I left their Confirmation class. Seeing them and realizing that I was being charged with the cultural education of the children of people my parents entrusted with my spiritual education confirmed (ha, see what I did there?) that no matter what else I do with my life, I should be teaching others and I should be working with the Portuguese community in San Jose. Those are two things that define me and I can never turn my back on that.

(Shameless plug: We’re still accepting new students.)

New domain!

Check it out, I finally ditched my initialslastname.wordpress.com domain name! I spent a good part of last week thinking about what the hell my personal #brand is before putting my money where my online mouth is. It turned into a mini-identity crisis that you’ll get to read about in a blog post later. After working on some projects that’ll need an online home soon, I decided to invest in myself and take the plunge.

After a summer of uncertainty, it feels good to have direction in my life again. Thanks for reading, and I’ll hope you keep reading as I continue heading towards to wherever it is that I’m going.


Liz’s Hot Takes: The Right Kind of Immigrant

I was typing fast, feeling furious, and trying to fit within Twitter’s 140 character limit, so go easy on the grammar of that tweet. I watched a bit of night one of the Republican National Convention tonight before heading to trivia. While I’m as aghast and appalled as the next leftie about the isolationist and ignorant rhetoric of the evening (not to mention the parade of corpses that crossed the stage as represented by grieving families turned political tools), Antonio Sabato Jr.’s speech stuck with me because of how close to home it hit me while still being absolute bullshit.

If you didn’t see it, take a gander. It’s not long:

His story is so close to mine and my family’s that I can tell you all about how absolutely wrong it is. Like my parents, Sabato Jr. is a “good” immigrant. He came from a European country and followed the rules, rules that were stacked in our favor. In my father’s case, he was sponsored by his sister, my Tia Ligia. Google and Wikipedia aren’t helping me much with how Sabato Jr.’s parents got here. This is a #LizsHotTake, not a #LizsWellResearchedTake, but I imagine that they immigrated legally because it wasn’t an undue burden on them.

The thing that really ground my gears was this quote at the 1:50ish minute mark:

There should be no shortcuts for those who don’t want to pay or wait. You know, my mother was born in a communist Prague, escaped the Czech Republic, and met my dad in Italy. I know what socialism looks like. I don’t want that for my children.

Let’s unpack this with a close reading, shall we? Put my English degree (which has still to arrive, goddamnit SJSU) to good use.

Point the first: “There should be no shortcuts for those who don’t want to pay or wait.” Last I checked, the Statue of Liberty asked for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I’m not saying that US immigration policy should be based on a poem, even one as moving as Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” but that sentiment is just so un-American to me. It’s easy for someone with an actor, a realtor, and aristocracy in their family tree to tell you to shut up and wait your turn.

I wish Sabato Jr. listened to the part of his ancestry that survived the Holocaust instead. If the huddled masses had time and money to spare on waiting their turn, would they still be huddled masses? For many illegal immigrants (a term that rankles me because people aren’t illegal even if the means of their arrival in the states might be), they couldn’t wait. More often that not, they’re fleeing poverty that would keep them from being able to pay or dangerous circumstances that leave them unable to wait their turn.

Point the second: I’m not here to lecture you on communism or socialism (other than to say they are not synonymous so kindly stop using them interchangeably to save yourself from looking ignorant, kthxbai). I don’t know how his mother managed to make it to Italy, but I do know that you don’t get to appropriate your parents’ story for political points.

My parents also grew up under an authoritarian regime: the Estado Novo dictatorship. Never once have I claimed to know what it is to live in a dictatorship because my parents did. In fact, I learned way more about it from studying Portuguese history and culture in college (hellooooooo attempted second major that I had to settle for making a minor) than I ever learned from my parents. It wasn’t something they wanted to pass down to us. It’s a completely alien idea to us because we were raised in San Jose, a fairly liberal and ethnically diverse bubble. What little hardships I faced by being the daughter of immigrants had nothing to do with a fallen regime. Considering that I grew up in East San Jose while Sabato Jr. managed to go to Beverly Hills High School, I’m going to make an educated guess and say that my immigrant family struggles were harder than his.

I will fight anyone who tries to dimish what my parents did to get where they are now, but I also recognize just how privileged we are to be European immigrants. Their accents are charming; they don’t inspire jeers of “Learn English, this is America!” My siblings and I speak accent-free English (and have I mentioned that I have a degree in it?) and have no trouble blending into white American culture. I also know that not too long ago, Southern Europeans like me and Sabato Jr. were the ones that didn’t deserve to call themselves American. The goalposts have moved since then and you no longer have to be a WASP to be white. Oops, I mean American. I am aware of both my parents’ struggles and my privilege because it is something I think about all the time.

If Antonio Sabato Jr. put just as much thought as I do into his immigrant story, he would not have appeared on that stage. He’s lucky. I’m lucky. His story is exceptional, but putting him on that stage makes it look like the rule. He’s the right kind of immigrant, the kind of immigrant the RNC wants you to see, the kind of immigrant Melania Trump is too, though I stopped watching long before she took the stage. By presenting his story as the norm, the RNC justifies the narrative that “illegals” (ugh, that word again) shouldn’t be here.

I hope being used as a token and a tool was worth a little under four minutes on stage, Antonio.


Dia de Portugal, Camões, e das Comunidades Portuguesas: Part 1

Once upon a time when I was attempting to blog about my summer studying in Portugal, I wrote about Dia de Portugal. Shoutout to my buddy Patrick for remembering my old blog and reminding me of that post and how much it means for me to share this day with people.

Unlike the Fourth of July, Dia de Portugal isn’t the anniversary of Portuguese independence. Portugal has a couple of days that you could call an independence day:

  • June 24, 1128: The Battle of São Mamede: Dom Alfonso Henriques beats his mother and her lover in battle, takes over the County of Portugal
  • July 26, 1139: Dom Alfonso Henriques acclaimed King of Portugal, because who wants to be a Count when you can be a King?
  • October 5, 1143: Kingdom of Castile and Leon (not Spain! Spain wouldn’t exist for a few hundred years!) recognize Portugal
  • May 13, 1179: Pope Alexander III recognizes Dom Alfonso Henriques as King of Portugal
  • December 1, 1640: Portugal, which had become part of the Spanish Hapsburg empire after the death of King Sebastian I, declares independence from Spain
  • April 25, 1974: Carnation Revolution, Estado Novo dictatorship overthrown

So, for those of you keeping score at home: Portugal is way older than Spain. It also is not part of Spain, though it was for eighty years that we don’t like to talk about. Now you know better, and you can never ask me if Portugal is a part of Spain again. Cool? Cool.

With all these choices, Portugal did something different. Portugal Day instead marks the death of Luis de Camões. He wrote Os Lusíadas, the Portuguese national epic. (Think the Portuguese version of Virgil’s Aeneid.) As if I wasn’t already proud of being Portuguese, the literature major part of me that will never die loves that Portugal celebrates itself not on the anniversary of a battle for independence, but in memory of a poet. For more about Camões, check out Part 2 of this post.

After 1974, the day was expanded to include the Portuguese communities abroad. As a Portuguese-American, this is my day, too! There are nearly 1.5 million Americans of Portuguese descent… which is only about 0.5% of the American population. I like to think we make up for it by being loud and proud of our immigrant heritage.

In spite of our small numbers, we impacted American culture more than you realize.  John Phillip Sousa? He might have written Stars and Stripes forever, but his father was Portuguese! Emeril Lagasse? BAM! His mom’s Portuguese. Steve Perry? Don’t Stop Believin’ that he’s one of my people, too. I could go on, but I’m starting to sound like the Wikipedia page on Portuguese-Americans. Yes, that’s a thing.