I moved to Rhode Island a little over five years ago from New York City. While there were plenty of other reasons for culture shock, in my small coastal town there seemed to be a gaping hole where the NYC food scene used to be. Enter Providence. Since I’m not a local, the twenty-five-minute drive doesn’t phase me, and to be honest, this little city gives me the hustle and bustle I need from time to time. As an added bonus, over the last few years, I’ve completely fallen in love with their restaurants. Way more laid back than NYC, it’s not impossible to get reservations and the service always feels enthusiastic and personal. Locals, here are some spots you should absolutely check out and for Rhode Island visitors, definitely don’t miss out on what Providence has to offer:
My favorite spot for date night or a special occasion, it doesn’t get much better than Oberlin. Voted one of the best new restaurants in the US by Bon Appetit, the menu rotates seasonally. What you can always expect? Amazing service and delicious food. They don’t take reservations, so on the weekend, it’s a great idea to slip in a little early if you’re a larger party. You can’t go wrong with any of their homemade pasta, bread, or creatively prepared veggie dishes. Ok, yeah that’s basically the whole menu…
Nestled next to The Dean hotel, I tried North for the first time during restaurant week so I got to have a little bit of everything. I was blown away. This is one of those places where you can close your eyes and point to just about anything on the menu and it will be good. Rich with Asian influences and flavors, their combinations are untraditional but delicious. They also give back to the community, twenty-five cents of every dish sold goes to Amos House or the RI Food Bank.
Try: Anything they put in front of you. Also, the tiny ham biscuits, the Dan Dan noodles, and the sesame noodles.
A Rhode Island legend, most people know about Al Forno. But I’m here to tell you that it lives up to all the hype. Anytime we want to go we do the early bird circuit and show up there at 4 PM on a Saturday—and it’s usually already packed. For fresh, multifaceted Italian food, this is the best place I’ve been outside of NYC. Their waitstaff is also very knowledgable and professional, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.
Try: You can’t go wrong with any other pizzas, but I really love the complexity of the calamari pizza. It’s salty, spicy, and citrusy all at once. The baked pasta with tomato, cream, and five cheeses is so good it has copycat recipes floating around on the internet!
Since they offer small plates it makes it especially fun to share at Persimmon. Another rotating menu, you’re always getting the best of the season. Every dish is impeccably prepared and presented. Housed in an old building in Providence, I love the ambiance here. Beautiful lighting, colorful artwork, and cozy paint colors, it’s a great date spot. The owner is incredibly gracious as well, she’s come to my table and asked how my meal was each time I’ve been here.
It wasn’t until Rebelle opened that this New York bagel snob finally found a place that holds up to NYC. That’s a tall order I know, but I love their homemade cream cheese selection—they rotate the flavors and I swear it’s heartbreaking when they change. Right now my favorites are the spicy veggie and Mexican street corn. The bagels are hand-rolled, aren’t overly doughy, and have a crunchy outside that’s just perfect. Plus, the team there is awesome. They’re all super friendly, kind, and patient.
Try: Their everything or pumpernickel everything bagel, their homemade lox, their homemade pop tarts—or honestly anything in the bakery case, and the tomato jam.
Sometimes you just need a sandwich—it took me forever to find a great deli-style sandwich in Rhode Island. Great bread, freshly sliced deli meats, and homemade condiments all make the choices at The Sandwich Hut equally appealing. Plus, they’ve been in business since 1963 and are family-owned.
A great spot for a casual date night or group meet-up, there’s maybe only one or two individual tables. The rest are communal. But don’t worry, somehow the people you end up sharing a table are always super nice. Not sure how this works, but I’ve never had a bad experience. It’s a great spot for families with younger kids. A twist on classic bar food, they do it so much better. Local ingredients, portions sized to share, and a great beer menu all make this a fun night out. They’re also open for brunch!
I’ve loved Hometown Poke since they were just a food truck. Their physical location is as charming as you’d expect it to be. Lots of great natural light, cute benches, and island-inspired artwork all make your meal feel a little more special. Their poké is like deconstructed sushi, you can choose from their signature bowls or make your own. Oh, and they serve wine too!
Try: The build-your-own bowl, I love their salmon. Plus, their toasts—south and west are so tasty. They catered my mom’s birthday too and did a fantastic job!