New York's Best Portuguese Restaurant is Back!

I remember one time when I made a reservation at Alfama and included an offhand comment, something like, “I can’t wait to taste that pork belly again.” I’d tried the succulent entrée on my previous visit and had not realized it was a seasonal special rather than a regular feature. Nonetheless, the chef had it ready for me. And it was great.

That attention to customer service is not the reason why Alfama is my favorite Portuguese restaurant in New York City, but it is one reason. The others are fair prices, great food, and an unrivalled list of Portuguese wines and port wines, all lovingly dispensed by co-owner and beverage director Tarcisio Costa. One other unique attraction: Alfama has always offered live Fado performances, often by big names straight from Lisbon, and this is not an easy music for fans to find in New York venues. It also does not hurt that they heated the chorizo appetizer tableside on a flaming, pig-shaped casserole of traditional Portuguese pottery. Using a fiery pig to heat sausage is a sure way to my heart.

When I was growing up in New York City my family would regularly make the haul out to Newark, New Jersey, where there was an actual Portuguese neighborhood, a real enclave of good restaurants, but until Alfama, I never found anything up to snuff in the city. True, it is more upscale than its Newark brethren I remember, but then again, It’s authentically upscale, like a fancier restaurant in Lisbon, rather than the typical hipster spin on ethnic cuisine that involves subbing in fancy but bogus ingredients and calling it “reinvented.” Nope, Alfama is the real deal, and that’s probably why it went uptown rather than to Brooklyn.

For 10 years it occupied a great corner location in the West Village, where you could sit outside in good weather and take in the street scene, but they lost their lease, and like so many once beloved New York institutions, Alfama was there one day, gone the next. But unlike most they got a second chance, and after a three-year absence, the restaurant reappeared in May on 52nd Street, between Second and Third.

The new Alfama looks more modern than the old, but otherwise is happily unchanged – same owners, same chef,  same great wine list – same live Fado nights – and best of all it still offers refreshingly modest menu prices for the city, with most apps under ten bucks, most entrees around twenty, and a $38 prix fixe dinner nightly. It is also open for lunch. Probably what has changed the most is that thanks to its higher profile setting and a generally renewed interest in all things food, Alfama is finally getting the attention it deserves. While it used to enjoy a loyal but quiet following, it has been attracting the positive attention of everyone from the New York Times to leading NYC food blogs to Esquire’s highly regarded food critic John Mariani, who had this to say just six weeks ago: “Finding good Portuguese restaurants in NYC is not as easy as one might think. Indeed, Alfama, which was much beloved for a decade when it sat on a tidy corner of the West Village, is the only Manhattan option I know of, now in sleeker midtown premises on East 52nd Street.” (For the full new Alfama review from Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet newsletter, click here).