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Why the North End needs a Restaurant Week

I’m still waiting to get mugged.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been walking up and down Acushnet Avenue signing up restaurants and eateries for the LOVE THE AVE & NORTH END RESTAURANT WEEK happening from Saturday, Sept. 15 through Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.

The event is part of a larger effort – an outgrowth of my participation in the LOVE THE AVE committee. That’s the group dedicated to promoting all things Acushnet Avenue – a unique commercial corridor that forms the backbone of New Bedford’s north end.

I call it the city’s most relentlessly urban space – because it actually is. A SRTA study found that this area of the city is the most densely populated. But, most densely urban space sounds kind of dumb – while relentlessly urban has a plucky quality to it that signifies something.

Like, Acushnet Avenue won’t give up or give in. Sure, like other areas, it’s suffered from economic disinvestment over the years, and still has to welcome the full benefits of urban rediscovery common to many cities these days. Such as found downtown.

That will happen – but in the meantime, you have to face facts and tackle the most obvious problems first.

As far as The Ave goes, the biggest challenge is confronting the perception of the street as full of blight and crime-ridden.

It’s simply not the reality. In fact, a big story right now in the city that’s waiting to be reported on is the effective but humane way the New Bedford Police Department is operating everywhere under Chief Joseph Cordeiro.

As I wrote, I’m still waiting for my mugging. It hasn’t happened. Instead, I’ve been welcomed into the most interesting eateries from one end of The Ave to the other and found rooms full of people having fun – and eating well.

Acushnet Avenue and the surrounding area probably has the highest concentration of restaurants, bakeries and casual eateries in the City of New Bedford. These are small businesses driving the area forward in the best possible way.

The cultural diversity of the north end is found in these places. Alongside established and often beloved spots like Mimo’s Cafe, Cafe Portugal, and Europa Cafe, serving traditional Portuguese food, you now find Sara’s Bakery, La Razza and Elizabeth’s offering Central American or Hispanic fare.

It’s a reflection of the changing streetscape here – and a good one. Walking The Ave these past few weeks, I’ve discovered it’s a place that many cultures feel as if they want to invest in. That’s why it’s known as the “International Marketplace.”

That’s the safe, city-sanctioned label for Acushnet Avenue – and it ain’t bad. But, I prefer relentlessly urban and will always call it that. Because that tells you something true.

La Raza – authentic tacos for $2.50 on Acushnet Avenue!

It’s when you step inside terrific joints like Sara’s, Lydia’s,  Lorenzo’s,  Top Shelf or Girassol Restaurant that you really feel the vitality of a relentlessly urban space. There’s life happening here all day long and into the night.

That doesn’t make headlines – but it should. And that’s what the LOVE THE AVE & NORTH END RESTAURANT WEEK in September is all about: making news for all the right reasons, not the wrong ones.

Sure, there will be special deals, signature dishes and menu additions during the week. But the love works both ways and restaurant week is an opportunity to give some to the hard-working people who have kept the lights on all these years or chosen to invest their time in making Acushnet Avenue and the entire north end a better place to live, work, shop and dine today.

It’s an exciting project, and I’ve been enjoying myself pounding the pavement up on The Ave. Girassol Restaurant was a great discovery; I had never been in before. But Joslyn Feliciano at the Community Economic Development Center told me they had the best steak in town.

She was right – and we enjoyed a couple on a beautiful summer Friday evening after strolling up The Ave from her office. The street was alive with people and sounds and fun.

Sharing that experience with new people is what restaurant week is all about. Follow all the news and updates about Restaurant Week from the Love The Ave Facebook page here.

Acushnet Avenue and the north end need a restaurant week because it deserves one. It’s a reflection of New Bedford now – a fully-functioning city that’s capable of embracing and supporting all of its neighborhoods from one end of the city to another.

Now that’s relentlessly urban.

Steven Froias