What to order at Cesaria in Dorchester

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Restaurants

Owner Tony Barros shares his recommendations of what to eat and drink at this popular Cape Verdean restaurant.

View outside of Cesaria on Bowdoin Street in Dorchester. Cesaria/Courtesy

In the heart of Boston’s Cape Verdean community is Cesaria, a colorful and intricately-decorated restaurant serving up Cape Verdean dishes, handcrafted cocktails, and live music.

Located on Bowdoin Street in Dorchester, Tony Barros opened the restaurant in 2002 with John Barros, Kaz Barros, and José Fonseca-Brandao. It was intended to be a place for Dorchester’s Cape Verdean community to enjoy the food, music and art of their home country. Over two decades later, Cesaria continues to be a cornerstone in the community. Mayor Wu recently named it one of the city’s Legacy Business Award winners.

“Our legacy businesses are anchors in our communities. They connect residents with resources, and expand access to opportunity for families across Boston,” Wu said in a statement.

“When we started the restaurant, there was nothing really like it in the community,” Barros said. “If Cape Verdean musicians wanted to perform in the U.S., you would have to go see them at a bigger venue. We wanted something more intimate.”

Barros, originally from Cape Verde, is a musician and an artist himself. He had previously worked in the music industry as a DJ for several years before he decided to start recording and releasing his own music, something he continues to do today.

The restaurant is named in honor of Cesária Évora, who was one of Cape Verde’s most popular and beloved singers.

“I always had a dream that if I was ever to ever open a restaurant, I would name it Cesaria,” Barros said.

According to Barros, Cesaria is the only Cape Verdean restaurant in Boston offering full sit-down service, a bar, and live music.

“I believe there was only one other [Cape Verdean] restaurant when we started,” Barros said. “But it didn’t have live music. I wanted to open a place that really represented our culture.”

Barros explained that since opening Cesaria, it transcended from just a restaurant to place for social gathering among the Cape Verdean community in Dorchester.

“I feel we’ve become a focal point and a meeting point [for the community],” Barros said. “We host pretty much all types of events, fundraisers, international artists, and local musicians.” There’s live music on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and DJ nights on Thursdays.

An island country located off the western coast of Africa, Cape Verde has a unique culture, language and cuisine shaped by its geography and history. You’ll find dishes influenced by the Portuguese on the restaurant’s menu, Barros said, along with cuisine found in other African countries.

Below, Barros highlights what to order at Cesaria in Dorchester.

Katchupa

The katchupa at Cesaria<i> CesariaCourtesy<i>

This dish is made from hominy, or dried corn kernals, and can be prepared in many different ways — with vegetables, meat, or seafood often added to the dish. According to Barros, the only rule is that every katchupa must start with the hominy base. “Katchupa is our national staple dish, and I am proud of the way we serve [ours],” Barros said. “We cook our katchupa with pinto beans, baby lima beans, collard greens, pork and chouriço.” Barros recommends trying the katchupa first, then experimenting with other dishes.

Bacalhau Grelhado

The bacalhau grelhado at Cesaria<i> CesariaCourtesy<i>

“One of the dishes we got from the Portuguese is bacalhau,” Barros said. Pretty much every Cape Verdean restaurant serves the dish, according to Barros. Cesaria serves their version of the salted and dried codfish grilled, or “grelhado,” and it comes drizzled with sweet garlic olive oil with a side of potatoes, legumes, and rice.

Steak Tip Moçambique

The steak tip Moçambique at Cesaria<i> CesariaCourtesy<i>

In addition to its Cape Verdean and Portuguese cuisine, Barros said Cesaria also serves a few dishes from other countries in Africa. “We have a little twist to the classic shrimp Moçambique,” Barros said. “We serve a steak tip Moçambique as well, which is pretty popular.” This dish is made from grilled steak tips, shrimp, mussels, eggs, fried sliced potatoes, and rice in the spicy Moçambique style sauce.

Ponche Martini

The ponche martini at Cesaria<i> Courtesy<i>

“I would say around 60% of our cocktails are signature cocktails,” Barros said. “One example would be the ponche martini.” The ponche martini uses a mixture of grogu, which is Cape Verdean rum, and ponche, a liqueur from Cape Verde.

Presidio

The Presidio at Cesaria<i> Courtesy<i>

Another cocktail which Barros said is popular on the menu is the Presidio, named after a plaza in Fogo where Barros was born. “They do a big festival there every year,” he said. The drink is made from gin, ginger liqueur, pomegranate liqueur and muddled lemons and limes. “It’s nice and refreshing,” Barros said.

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