Dining Review

Comfort Food Classics with a Playful Twist

This stylish eatery shows you how to "Rethink Your Food"

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In January, The Bay ran an article called “Dining in the Riv,” which was a great culinary tour of many Fall River gems. Unfortunately, those kinds of articles inspire know-it-all – and often biased – critics to tell you that you missed this place and that place. Those people are annoying. Fortunately, I’m not a know-it-all, but I do write the magazine’s monthly food column, so I feel it’s my journalistic duty to tell our loyal readers that we really did miss a place.

For any given style of restaurant, you can usually predict half the menu before you even walk in. The Italians have their parmigianas and marsalas (chicken or veal), the Portuguese have their bitoque (steak and egg) and alentejana (pork and littlenecks), and even the Irish – not exactly known for their cuisine – have their fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. Of course, all these dishes are staples for a reason, and great execution can elicit downright cravings. But once in awhile, you just crack open that menu and hopelessly sigh “this again?”

Viva Comida owners Alex Tavares and Louie Silva would agree with this, and that’s why their slogan is “Rethink Your Food.” Yes, the menu is dominated by burgers and burritos, and the world hardly needs more of those. But the descriptions on this menu are not the same old, same old. When most of a menu makes you say “they put that, in there? I need to try it” – you’ve found an inventive place to eat.

The restaurant opened in the fall and is located on Pleasant Street in the heart of the city’s gritty Flint neighborhood. For Tavares, it’s a return to his roots as several family members owned businesses up and down the street for nearly three decades. The restaurant space itself has the feel of a hipster diner, with an open kitchen, chalkboard menu, bold colors and artwork. But don’t misinterpret the whimsy and casual vibe – Tavares earned his chops in the serious kitchen of Newport’s luxurious The Chanler at Cliff Walk Hotel.

In my most recent experience at Viva Comida, I brought a small group of first-timers. We started with the Portuguese Steak & Cheese Empanadas ($6), which were light and flaky – almost croissant-like – and bursting with steak. How often do places make something similar with a terrible filling-to-dough ratio? I was even more impressed with the Clams Casino Stuffed Quahog Cakes ($5), a stuffed quahog re-thought and served out of shell with a side of onion relish that packed just enough kick to replace hot sauce.

Two folks opted for burritos – one a Chicken Mozambique Burrito ($9) filled with chicken Mozambique, Spanish rice, vinegar peppers, sour cream, cheddar jack and green onion and the other a Paella Burrito ($12), a similar concoction with the chicken swapped out for shrimp and chourico. The choice of side included curly fries, rice and a salad, but it’s not much of a choice because who doesn’t pick curly fries? Another diner opted for the Chicken Mozambique Bowl ($10), which comes with fries and rice. All were in agreement that the food was hearty and tasty, with the Mozambique sauce a highlight – slightly thicker than many other versions, avoiding the “greasy” without going so far as “creamy.”

I went with the American Dream Burger ($9.50) – a hamburger with bacon and American cheese on a malasada donut bun. For those who don’t know, a malasada is the Portuguese version of a dough- boy – basically fried dough coated in sugar. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to eat this, as I’m not a fan of overly-sugary food and the Chourico & Chip Burrito was shouting my name. But in the spirit of Viva Comida (translated as “live food”), I needed to leave my comfort zone.

I was pleasantly surprised. The malasada was not as sweet as I had feared, and the burger itself was excellent. I look forward to trying other versions of Viva Comida’s burgers that are served on sweet bread buns. While the American Dream Burger is not something I would eat regularly, it turns out it’s one of the most popular items on the menu.

We ended our meal with a plate of Fried Arroz Dolce (“sweet rice,” $4). Here, Portuguese sweet rice is made into balls, lightly fried (very lightly... “coated” may be a better description) and served with fudge and caramel dipping sauces. It was a unique spin on a very traditional Portuguese dessert, and it disappeared from the table in the blink of an eye.

1345 Pleasant Street Fall River. 508-617-8465.