A Bit Of Portugal In Downtown

Trigo da Silva at Adega. Jo McGarry photo

When Adega restaurant owner Trigo da Silva came to Hawaii five years ago, he thought he might be reporting on the news, not making it.

A journalist in Portugal, Trigo moved first to New Jersey, working as a reporter on Portuguese television, before he made the decision to come to Hawaii.

“I came here to continue my work as a journalist,” he says, “but once I got here I found that there were many people who wanted to explore their Portuguese heritage.”

Meeting with people of Portuguese descent who expressed interest in visiting Portugal gave Trigo the idea of opening a restaurant with a cultural mission.

“It was never a dream of mine to open a restaurant,” he says, “but there are so many people here who want to speak Portuguese and learn more about their culture. It seemed like a good idea.”

Adega now occupies a prominent corner of Pauahi and Smith Streets, previously home to Mei Sum Dim Sum. The former Chinese restaurant is unrecognizable in its current incarnation, and it’s obvious that Trigo and his team have put an incredible amount of time, money and energy into their project.

The mission to promote Portuguese heritage, food and music is proving popular.

“We teach Portuguese here on Monday evenings, and we have dancing classes on Sundays,” says Trigo. “I teach the language, and then the local people who come on Sundays teach me about dance,” he adds. “People come in with tales of their grandparents and somehow they are looking for a connection to the past. Last week the granddaughter of Joao Fernandez, the man who is said to have brought the ukulele to Hawaii, came for lunch.”

Adega’s menu features Portuguese favorites that have become a part of Hawaii’s food culture – Couves com Feijao (bean soup) and Caldo Verde are amont some instantly recognizable dishes on the menu, alongside a steady supply of hot, sweet, doughy malasadas served from a cart by the window making the sweet treats easy to grab and go.

And there’s plenty of fish. There’s Bacalhau A Adega ($22), a boneless filet of cod topped with onions, red peppers and garlic, served with roasted red peppers, potatoes and sautéed mixed vegetables; Bacalhau A Braz ($22), cod topped with crispy potato strips, scrambled eggs, parsley, garlic and onion and served with warm bread and Pan Seared Salmon ($19) in a caper-and-white wine sauce served with rice and vegetables.

While it’s not the fresh sardines you might find on the harbor in Portugal, Trigo is trying to create something close.

“In Portugal, the fishermen sell fish, like sardines, right there on the beach,” he says. “You just buy as many as you need and make a barbecue right there on the beach. Oh my goodness, it’s really so good.

“You can’t get those kind of sardines here, of course,” he laments, “but our fish dishes are very popular.”

Also proving popular with regulars is the Vinho D’alhos ($19), pork loin marinated in a vinegar garlic sauce, and Adega even has its own version of a loco moco.

Bitoque ($19) is a New York strip steak topped with gravy and a fried egg and served in the Portuguese style with fried potatoes.

At the bar you’ll find sangria, beers, wine and a Portuguese version of the famous Caipirinha cocktail. A lunch buffet runs daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Adega’s happy hour is from 3 to 6 p.m.

With live music (jazz, fado, bossa nova and samba) every night, Brazilian days on Friday and Saturday, dancing on Sundays, language classes and the chance to talk story with Trigo, there’s more to Adega than your average neighborhood restaurant.

1138 Smith Street
11:30 am – 2 a.m daily.
566 5909