Rhode Islanders love to brag about the state’s incredible culinary scene, which far outweighs its weight for the smallest state in the union. The “official state opener,” Rhode Island-style calamari, even stole the show during a virtual call at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
The state capital has plenty to enjoy: easy access to high-quality produce and seafood from nearby farms and waterways; world-class culinary school in Johnson & Wales; and tons of unique regional specialties such as coffee milk, fillings (stuffed clams), clam cakes, and Del’s Lemonade. Plus, restaurant space rent tends to be less expensive than in nearby Boston, attracting talented chefs looking to venture into first-time ownership. Home to the Rhode Island School of Design and many working artists, Providence also has an indie, artsy feel, which has permeated the ethos of its many restaurants.
November, 2022 update:
Providence’s food scene was booming before the pandemic wreaked havoc on restaurants, closing many kitchens for months in 2022 and others for good. In recent months, restaurants have had to deal with rising grocery prices, staff shortages and supply chain disruptions. Despite the challenges, many owners have found ways to make it work by offering takeout (some for the first time) or setting up outdoor tables year-round on streets, sidewalks, and patios. Some businesses also now require a negative PCR test or proof of vaccination for indoor dining, so be prepared to eat.
Still, not even the pandemic can suppress the city’s bubbling culinary energy and hometown pride, which is evident in every bite at Providence’s 33 best restaurants.
Olneyville New York System Restaurant
This place serves up the classic Rhode Island treat known as the hot wiener (also known as the “New York system” because of its Coney Island origin). Order one “full” and you’ll get a pork and veal hot dog wrapped in a steamed bun and smothered in beef, mustard, and onion sauce, plus a sprinkle of celery salt. Pair your wieners with coffee with milk for the ultimate savory-sweet combo.
If you can turn a block party into a restaurant, you’ll end up with Troop. Inspired by hip-hop, skateboarding and street food cultures from around the world, this colorful graffiti restaurant is run by a group of partners, including chef Jason Timothy and Revival Brewing owner Sean Larkin (whose beer is available). The menu features several vegan options, such as wok-grilled sweet and spicy cauliflower and deep-fried banh mi tofu. For carnivores, there are oversized cheeseburgers and jerk chicken off the bone. Drinks include the tequila-based BLM Cocktail, with $4 from each sale benefiting a local nonprofit dedicated to diversity and inclusion.
Los Andes serves Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine in a vibrant setting filled with plants and clanking live acoustic guitars. Always packed, it’s jointly owned by brothers Omar Curi and executive chef Cesin Curi. Crowd favorites include the ceviche clasico, lomo saltado and lobster paella. The bartender makes well made pisco sours and caipirinhas to wash it all down.
When his first restaurant, North, outsized its original location and moved downtown, the chef-owner kept the space alive and created something special in its place. Named for the chef’s grandmother, Sakura Restaurant offers an ever-changing six-course set menu in https://www.sakuraprovidence.com/ website which Mark personally handwrites each day—which incorporates produce, fish, shellfish, and poultry from, as the chef explains, “people we know. Many dishes use Japanese techniques or ingredients, including excellent tempura and nigiri, and you can choose your sake pairing.