Sign up with email


Already a member? Log in.

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

The name O Lavrador, which literally means “the farmer,” conjures up a much more rustic experience than what you’ll have at this Portuguese outpost in Jamaica, Queens. Many of the restaurant’s most loyal patrons drive in from Long Island, have their cars parked by a valet, sip a cocktail in the white tablecloth dining room and feast on platters of delicately seasoned seafood.

The word lavrador comes from the Latin root laborator – laborer – and seems more apt for the restaurant’s bar, found next door to the tiny dining room. On a Friday evening, construction workers, repairmen and the rest of the after-work crowd of Jamaica were picking from the same menu and receiving service just as welcoming, if a little more casual. As the demographics of Jamaica have changed, the bar has remained a popular neighborhood watering hole, though most of the happy hour conversation now takes place in Spanish and English rather than Portuguese. Along with your beer at the bar, you’ll get some bread and briny olives to snack on.

After dinner back in the dining room, the waiter might offer up a glass of Port wine as a thanks for coming in, especially for regulars. “A lot of our customer base is almost family,” co-owner Edgar Ferreira explains. “I have families in my dining room that I saw dating, and now they have two or three kids.”

“A lot of our customer base is almost family,” co-owner Edgar Ferreira explains. “I have families in my dining room that I saw dating, and now they have two or three kids.”

Edgar grew up in nearby Elmont, New York, spending his weekends working at his parents’ restaurant and attending Portuguese school in the old neighborhood. Much of Jamaica’s once fairly large Portuguese community has slowly moved out to suburbs like Mineola over the years, and O Lavrador is one of the handful of places still dishing out bacalhau and paelha in the area. The Ferreiras opened the place in 1981 after immigrating to the United States from northern Portugal, where they were farmers. So the restaurant’s name is really a tribute to their life before entering the restaurant business – and to Portugal’s earthy cooking.

In O Lavrador’s dining room, the classic dish is bacalhau, a Portuguese specialty of salt cod, which has its own section of the menu. Edgar says that in Portugal “we have a recipe for bacalhau for each day of the year.” The fish, which is traditionally kept packed in salt, is perfect when prepared simply, bacalhau assado: grilled and served with boiled potatoes and a garlicky olive oil. “The biggest trick with the codfish is not actually in the cooking,” Edgar explains, “it’s in the de-salting. It’ll never taste the same if you take too much salt out.” Another delicious preparation, bacalhau à marialva, is a hefty filet topped with vinegared onions and tomatoes and accompanied by dainty dollops of mashed potato.

Perhaps better as bar food is camarão piri-piri, shrimp cooked in the piri-piri chile sauce popular in Portugal and its former colonies of Mozambique and Angola. Innumerable renditions of piri-piri seasoning have made their way around the world over the years, but the sauce at O Lavrador is an ideal version, with the addictive zing of garlic and lemon. The cuisine at O Lavrador is subtle, uncomplicated, and evokes a home kitchen. “My parents were never chefs before,” Edgar says, “but my mom is, to me, the best chef.”

The bar and the dining room may cater to different clienteles, but Edgar says that many of his oldest customers also start off the night in the dining room, eventually moving into the bar to have a few drinks after dinner. They feel at home at O Lavrador, and mingle with the newer crowd for drinks. “The reason we’re still open is because we still get return business from customers from 30 years ago,” says Edgar. “We’re going on the third generation of people who are coming here, and they’ll probably be here when I’m ready to go!”

This article was originally published on August 29, 2019.

Ike AllenJulius Motal

Published on March 18, 2022

Related stories

August 19, 2022

Tabernáculo by Hernâni Miguel: Local Legend

Lisbon | By Margo Gabriel
LisbonDespite its name, Tabernáculo by Hernâni Miguel is not a church. It is a sanctuary and haven of sorts, though, a place where the local community gathers weekly for African and Portuguese food, wine and live music. Ministering to this congregation is Hernâni Miguel himself, one of the vibrant Bica neighborhood’s best-known characters. “Estás boa?”…
May 4, 2022

Super Heroes: Our Favorite Italian Sandwich Shops in Queens

Queens | By Dave Cook
QueensJust about anyone raised in or around New York City – and who loves eating – can tell you about Italian sandwiches. Not long ago, when we raised the subject with some of our dining buddies, in person and online, we were overwhelmed with recommendations. Our list of a few favorite sandwich shops quickly grew…
Gregory's Taverna, photo by Ike Allen
September 27, 2021

Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna: The Greek Side of the Tracks

Queens | By Ike Allen
QueensOn a corner in Astoria, across the street from a bright blue-domed Orthodox church and in the shadow of the towering viaduct that carries Amtrak trains out of New York and towards New England, Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna has been quietly recreating Greece for 13 years. At lunchtime in the outdoor patio, you mostly hear…
Select your currency
USD United States (US) dollar
EUR Euro