Feature: From Spring Primavera in Tiverton to Eli Dunn’s New Eatery, Portuguese Dining is Alive and Well in the East Bay

A cultural dining tradition crosses the ocean to plant roots throughout the region


hode Island has a higher percentage of Portuguese people living within its borders than any other state in the country, and despite being the smallest state in the nation, has the third highest Portuguese population, behind California and Massachusetts. Historians owe this to a wave of immigration from Portugal that happened during the heyday of the whaling industry. Ship captains would leave New England for the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago, where they would pick up crew members before hunting for whales in the highly populated Atlantic Ocean. Those crew members would often sail back to New England on the whaling ships and as the whaling industry died down, many of them settled in the area to work in the textile mills. Attracted to the thriving community and employment opportunities, their friends and family from Portugal often followed them to New England.

The Portuguese community in Rhode Island remains thriving, and one of the ways it stays connected to its ancestral heritage is through food. The oldest Portuguese restaurant in the Ocean State is Spring Primavera in Tiverton, and the restaurant proudly holds a certificate from former Governor Gina Raimondo attesting to its important place in state history. Owner Goao Rodriguez was born in Portugal and worked as a chef in several different restaurants there before he moved to Rhode Island in 1976. Before the year was over, he and four partners opened Spring Primavera. After the restaurant’s first year in business, Rodriguez and his brother became the only two owners and they remained so for 22 years. Rodriguez is now the sole owner and at 84 years old, continues to not only run the business, but operate a kitchen that dishes up incredible food that draws people from miles away.

Joe Sousa is Rodriguez’s son-in-law and he and his wife help manage the restaurant. “People come to the restaurant from all over New England because they know us,” says Sousa, explaining that customers will happily drive for a taste of something from Rodriguez’s kitchen. “We have the best pork and littlenecks in New England,” he proudly claims of his family’s recipe.

Bacalhau, or dried salted cod, is a traditional Portuguese food that Spring Primavera incorporates into many of its dishes. “Portuguese are very big on the codfish, and we serve all different styles,” says Sousa. In fact, there are no fewer than six dishes on the menu that feature the traditional ingredient, many of which include potatoes on the side. “Adding sliced potatoes is the Portuguese style,” says Sousa, and notes that there’s a bit of a controversy about this custom. “Some restaurants serve steak with rice and call it Portuguese steak, but it’s not,” he insists. “For it to be Portuguese steak, it has to have fried sliced potatoes and a piece of ham on top. When we serve steak with rice, we call it a house steak.” That commitment to authenticity extends to the entertainment the venue regularly hosts on its stage. “We often have singers come over from Portugal to entertain people,” he says.

In terms of longevity, on the opposite side of the spectrum is a restaurant soon to enter the Portuguese food scene. Chef Eli Dunn, private chef, two times Food Network Chopped champion, and owner of the former Eli’s Kitchen in Bristol, is opening a spot in June called Folklore Provisions with his fiancee and business partner, Rachel Lopes-Almeida. Dunn says that although Folklore Provisions is not a Portuguese restaurant, it’s inspired by Portuguese food and culture, pulling influences from Lopes-Almeida’s family from the Azores. The restaurant will open in Bristol, shortly after the couple’s June wedding – Dunn joked that their timeline is “totally insane.”

Dunn’s uncle was a lobsterman and his mother owned a seafood restaurant in Seekonk, MA for 30 years. Dunn was born above that restaurant and grew up in coastal New England. Lopes-Almeida was born in the United States, but her parents are from São Miguel and she lived in Lisbon for four years. “Rachel and I draw inspiration from her past and from my past, so it’s really a blending of cultures. This restaurant is a delicious intersection of our lives,” says Dunn.

He shares that the restaurant’s Folklore Chowder is a perfect example of how the couple’s separate histories join at the dinner table. For example, Rhode Island-style clear chowder has all of the classic ingredients, but Dunn adds chourico, an anise liqueur, and finishes it with brown butter and dill. “It’s a fusion dish, but the flavors make sense together,” says Dunn. He says that’s true of all the traditional flavors of New England and Portugal. “Portuguese food is Mediterranean food, which is seafood, garlic, hot peppers, and wine. That plays really well with the seafood of coastal New England.”     

But the restaurant is about much more than a merging of cultures. “Folklore as a concept is about telling a story,” says Dunn in describing how the duo chose the name of their restaurant. “We are telling our love story through food.”



More to Explore

The East Bay is the home of too many Portuguese restaurants to count here, each with a range of authentic dishes on the menu. Here are five to start your tour of Portugal in the East Bay:


Cafe Central

This family-owned restaurant offers daily specials and Portuguese favorites like goat stew and quail. Check the restaurant’s Facebook page for a list of their daily specials. 173 Bradford Street, Bristol



Lucy and Humberto, the husband-and-wife team behind Campino’s, have long been serving up authentic Portuguese recipes like wood-grilled chicken and octopus at this neighborhood eatery. 218 Warren Avenue, East Providence


Madeira Restaurant

Since 987, Madeira has been cooking up delicious meals, with rotating lunch specials ranging from Polvo Grelhado of grilled octopus to flaky cod comfort dish Bacalhau Bras, plus holiday take-out options. 288 Warren Avenue, East Providence


O Dinis Restaurant

In addition to a menu packed with beloved Portuguese dishes, the restaurant hosts weekly Music Mondays. Portuguese musicians and singers entertain diners with popular bands and Fado music. 579 Warren Avenue, East Providence


Taunton Avenue Bakery

The oldest Portuguese bakery in the area, find custard tart pastries, pastel de nata, in the bakeshop case, along with other seasonal treats and custom cakes. 217 Taunton Avenue, East Providence



Spring Primavera

118 Main Road, Tiverton

Visit their website and social media pages for live music and events.


Folklore Provisions

301 Hope Street, Bristol

Opening soon; follow social pages for updates.



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