Keep Muqueca in your back pocket. If you don’t have any pockets, store it in your purse, messenger bag, or that cheap drawstring backpack filled with an empty pack of mints, a pair of sunglasses you thought you lost last summer, and some gnarly earbuds that should probably be put in a petri dish to see if they can create new lifeforms.
That way, whenever you’re sick of being asked to order two-to-three small plates per person, don’t have it in you to wait two hours for a table, or can’t figure out where to go on a Tuesday, you’ll pull this Brazilian seafood restaurant out of your pocket like one of those magical loose ten-dollar bills. You’ll head to Cambridge, and you’ll eat big plates of food that are more colorful than Will Smith’s closet circa 1991. And you’ll be happy, because Muqueca is one of those casual neighborhood places that never gets too crowded, never empties your wallet, and never feels like a fallback.
This tiny, colorful spot in Inman Square is homey. Not in the sense that it will actually feel like your home, because unless you’re a South American artist who gets her inspiration from the docks of Sao Paulo, it won’t. But it’s homey in the sense that it’s obviously filled with regulars (some of whom may be speaking to the wait staff in Portuguese) and serves hearty stews, rice casseroles, and grilled meats that will feel like comfort food, even if you’ve never had them before.
The first time you come here, you’ll probably decide to start with the namesake moqueca. This is a good decision, congratulate yourself by drinking a caipirinha. The moqueca is a giant stone bowl filled with seafood that simmers in a rich, sweet orange broth that’s so good it should be ranked ahead of oil and just slightly below water on the UN index of liquid natural resources. But the menu here is huge, and tough as it may be to pry yourself away from their signature dish once you’ve tried it, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t explore their deep fried whole fishes, grilled pork, and plantain lasagna - the last of which you should try for no other reason than that you may not see it in any other restaurant in America. (Seriously, do a Google search for “lasagna de banana” - Muqueca is the entire first page of results.)
You’ll probably never make it through the whole menu here, but in a few years time you might find that you’ve come close. Because after you’ve come here once and stored it away, you’ll find yourself pulling it out for all sorts of situations: lunch on a rainy day when you work from home, dinner with anyone who’s up for eating tripe, or a date when you want to impress someone by showing them you know about good restaurants that weren’t conceived by suits in a boardroom. You need to hold onto Muqueca just like you hold onto your wallet and keys. And, unlike that pack of gum you forgot about that’s now exploded all over your jeans, remembering that Muqueca is in your back pocket will always make you happy.
It’s kind of a hybrid between a Maryland style crab cake and a stuffed quahog, as the crab is baked with breadcrumbs, cheese, peppers, and tomatoes. You’d be wise to start your night with this.
It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of pieces of fried yucca and some chunks of meat. Don’t be fooled by the word “dried” - the beef is actually pretty fatty and moist, and it’s the yucca that’s a little dry here.
They named themselves after this dish for a reason. Think of it as Brazil’s version of a New England seafood chowder and, just like the Brazilian version of anything Boston does would be more colorful and more fun, that’s the case here too.
It’s shrimp simmering in a curry of coconut milk, tomato, yucca cream, onions, and cilantro, and it’s way better that shrimp dunked in cocktail sauce.
There’s something cathartic about ripping a piece of fish right of its skeleton. But you’re not here to release pent up anger, you’re here to eat good food, and this dish qualifies.
Muqueca claims to be the inventor of this dish. It’s basically a plantain casserole. We’re not going to search every beachside cafe in Brazil to see if they deserve that title, but we will tell you that, if they did invent this, they invented something pretty good.