The Best Food and Drink in Rhode Island for 2019
December 20, 2018
Some big flavors comes from the smallest state
The Best Food and Drink in Rhode Island
In just 1,500 square miles of land, Rhode Island has packed tons of iconic food and refreshing drinks. It’s got the crispiest calamari and the creamiest coffee milk, and features a surprising number of impressive restaurants for harboring so little space. We’ve rounded up the best of the state’s eats as part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Like much of New England, Rhode Island is famous for its seafood. It’s called the Ocean State for a reason — featuring 400 miles of coastline, Rhode Island attracts fishermen and seafood chefs from far and wide. Its vibrant foodie scene has transformed Little Rhody into a big personality. Nicknames for food such as Awful Awfuls, Del's lemonade, stuffies, cabinets, johnnycakes, doughboys, and clam cakes are all part of the local vernacular. Never heard of them? You must not be from New England.
The many food traditions of Rhode Island have baffled many with their ability to thrive there and stay there — despite the limited room for expansion. Few foods invented and perfected in Rhode Island have stretched past the state’s borders, instead concentrating into a vibrant food culture that’s filled with pride.
Rhode Island certainly has a lot to be proud of. Their many methods of cooking clams, hot wieners (a food they refuse to call by to the more popular term “hot dog”), and unexpected delicacies like stuffed quahogs are all alarmingly underrated parts of the American food scene.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Rhode Island gallery ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Providence Oyster Bar (Theodore Francis Green State Airport)
Enjoy an authentic taste of Rhode Island at Providence Oyster Bar, an airport restaurant with an oyster and shellfish bar full of fresh offerings. If you’re not in the mood for raw mollusks or shellfish, however, you can still have a delicious Rhode Island crispy cod, the POB Burger, or their chicken Alfredo.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: he Nordic Lodge (Charlestown)
Lindsay B./ Yelp
Five words: All-you-can-eat lobster. Seriously, how many places on earth offer all you can eat lobster? This charming lakeside eatery keeps the steamed lobsters coming, and they’re joined on the buffet by Alaskan crab, fried shrimp, bacon-wrapped scallops, steamed crabs, shrimp scampi, fresh local oysters, New England clam chowder, lobster bisque, lobster mac and cheese, barbecue pork ribs, filet mignon, prime rib (!), and plenty more entrées, salads, sides, and dessert (including a Häagen-Dazs sundae bar). The price may be steep at $98 per person, but with a little bit of planning you can easily get more than your money’s worth.
Best Bar: Cook & Brown Public House (Providence)
Cook and Brown Public House is a modern New England-inspired take on a European gastropub. The bar, which has a separate restaurant area, is well known for its extensive selection of spirits with a predominant focus on whiskeys. The back bar is crammed with 200 bottles of spirits, liqueurs, and bitters. The seasonally changing drink menu is populated with a rotating punch, a hot drink, and a barrel-aged cocktail along with 10 cleverly named concoctions along the lines of Port-Tea Like It’s 1999 (Mellow Corn, Six Grapes port, Meletti amaro, lemon, and black tea) and the Vieux From the Flor (Tequila Ocho Reposado, Lustau Palo Cortado sherry, St. George NOLA Coffee liqueur, Cardamaro, and orange bitters). The seasonally changing food menu, curated by proprietor and head chef Nemo Bolin (who previously worked at L’Etoile on Martha’s Vineyard), pairs well with the drinks. One of the most popular dishes is the chicken liver pâté built up with beef bone marrow and served with a rotating selection of mustard, house-made jam, house-made pickles, and crusty country toast.
Best Beach Bar: The Coast Guard House (Narragansett)
Coast Guard House/Yelp
It’s difficult to decide which is better at the Coast Guard House: the food, the drinks, or the view. Originally built as a Life Saving Service Station, the restaurant has been in operation since 1940, with the dining room and lounge recently receiving an update, thanks to Super Storm Sandy. Out on the deck, sample the extensive raw bar or one of the many cocktails made with New England spirits. Pull up a chair on the patio and enjoy a cold beer while taking in panoramic views of Narragansett Bay.
Best Beer: Captain's Daughter, Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island (Westerly)
Head to Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island in Westerly any time of the year and order the Captain’s Daughter. This imperial IPA is the perfect shade of hazy orange, and the taste reflects this beer’s signature IPA look. It’s hoppy, with plenty of layers of pine, citrus, and even a little bit of grassiness. It’s a crisp brew, perfect for any time of year and any occasion.
Best Brunch: Nick’s on Broadway (Providence)
This New American bistro focuses on seasonal, local ingredients, and has forged relationships with plenty of local producers, like the Johnston, Rhode Island-based Baffoni’s Poultry Farm, where they source all of their eggs and chicken. The brunch menu here changes weekly, and is divided into five categories: savory small plates, sides and snacks, brunch entrées, classics, and sweets and pastries. Expect to find dishes like chicken-chili rillettes; rutabaga, white bean, and onion soup; house-made pickled vegetables; barbecue pulled Blackbird Farm pork with fried eggs, buttermilk biscuits, greens, and Vermont Cheddar; roasted local mushroom caked with poached eggs and herb hollandaise; heirloom cornmeal with Vermont Cheddar, fried eggs, local tomatoes, pea greens, and Narragansett ricotta; and buttermilk hotcakes with Vermont maple syrup and seasonal toppings. One visit to this place and you’ll fall in love.
Best Burger: Mission (Newport)
This laid-back, no-frills restaurant is the go-to spot in Newport for hot dogs, hand-cut fries, seasonal popsicles made in-house, and, of course, burgers. The ones served here start with a custom blend of beef ground in-house and formed into thick, smallish patties; the toppings on offer don’t veer too far outside of the box, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: Some American cheese, a couple slices of high-quality crispy bacon, and a smear of Mission Sauce — mayo, ketchup, cornichons, capers, fines herbes, and a hit of brandy — is all you need.
Best Chinese Restaurant: New Wing Kee Barbecue and Poultry (Providence)
Photo by Jack C. via Yelp
Hidden in a quiet residential neighborhood of Providence, New Wing Kee is the place for real-deal Chinese-style roast meat. Duck, chicken, pork, boneless ribs, and turkeys are roasted throughout the day, and one glimpse of them hanging on display will let you know you’ve come to the right place. They also sell stewed pork and beef as well as dumplings, pork and beef meatballs, and even duck tongues.
Best Chocolate Shop: Sweenor’s Chocolates (Cranston)
New England B./Yelp
Unlike many places on this list, Sweenor’s Chocolates is shockingly affordable; a 1-pound box of assorted chocolates will only cost you $22.50. But don’t take their low prices as and indication of low quality! Their versions of classic treats (chocolate-covered raisins, malted milk balls) blow your concession stand snacks out of the water.
Best Coffee Shop: The Shop (Providence)
In addition to direct trade coffee and grass-fed dairy, The Shop sells handmade pastries made by local bakeries. The baristas here are both skillful and passionate, ready to serve you any of their single-origin and blended coffees, espressos, or the nitro cold brew that's available, in addition to loose-leaf tea, lemonade, and hot cocoa.
Best Cupcake: Cupcake Charlie's (Newport)
Photo by Brian S. via Yelp
With its loveable mascot and company motto (“Life is short... Eat a cupcake”), Cupcake Charlie’s delivers fresh, frosted cupcakes that will make your day. The Grammy’s Carrot Cake and Charlie’s Chocolate Chip are both shining examples of a perfect cupcake. Make sure you pop by to check out the cupcake of the day, chosen from more than 137 varieties, in addition to the decadent daily flavor specials. For more chocolate chip inspiration read Beyond the Cookie: 21 Irresistible Chocolate Chip Desserts.
Best Dive Bar: Nick-A-Nees (Providence)
With a laid-back ambiance and dog-friendly atmosphere, Nick-A-Nees is a charming dive bar in the middle of Providence. On any given night, you’ll find a local band playing some tunes, a good selection of draft beers, and communal tables that help strangers to become friends throughout the course of an evening.
Best Doughnut: Allie’s Donuts (North Kingstown)
People often drive over from Connecticut or Massachusetts to get a taste of one of Allie’s doughnuts or to pick up a doughnut cake for an upcoming party. If you like your doughnuts to be bright, colorful, and sugar-filled, then these sprinkle doughnuts will be your idea of heaven; and if you’re more of a traditionalist, then make sure you sample one of the renowned Boston creams.
Best Farmers Market: South Kingstown Farmers Market (Kingstown)
Best Food Truck: Rocket Fine Street Food (Providence)
Who knew such a small state had so many fantastic food trucks? (Well, actually, we did; this article about the scene in Providence was penned almost three years ago.) Maybe we’re a sucker for the sci-fi theme, but we love Rocket Fine Street Food. Using 100 percent natural Black Angus beef with no hormones or antibiotics, Rocket offers “out of this world burgers” ranging from standard options to the double-sized Gemini, to crew favorites like the Ron Swanson (with grilled onions, a fried egg, and extra bacon) or Roswell (with green chile sauce, onions, pickles, lettuce, and cheese), to specials like the boar sausage or pork belly sandwiches, the food is simply stellar. Rocket also has hot dogs (with Star Wars-themed specials), egg sandwiches, and a couple vegetarian options too!
Best Fish and Chips: Ye Olde English Fish and Chips (Woonsocket)
This spacious downtown Woonsocket institution has been going strong since 1922, when Yorkshire natives Harry and Ethel Sowden opened this waterfront eatery, and today it’s still in the family, with the fifth generation in training. The unique English-style batter recipe, which results in a slightly heavier crust around the fresh-caught pollock or cod, hasn’t changed since the day they opened, and the fries are hand-cut and pair perfectly with a shake of malt vinegar.
Best Fried Chicken: Bucktown (Providence)
This small, counter-service restaurant looks to have been transplanted lock, stock, and barrel from the South, and it’s got a menu of tried-and-true Southern classics, like po’boys, fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese, and banana pudding to boot. But everyone comes here for one thing: the fried chicken. Order the bucket o’ chicken and you’ll get just that — 12 wings, legs, and thighs fried to golden brown perfection. (It’s also available in a biscuit or served atop a Belgian waffle.) To make this chicken, chef/owner Ashley Faulkner brines her chicken and tosses it in all-purpose flour mixed with a little bit of the brine (to create those crunchy bits), before deep-frying it, a recipe that’s been in her family for generations. Make sure you wash it all down with a tall boy of Narragansett.
Best Fudge Shop: Blocks of Fudge (Block Island)
Family run for more than 25 years, this tiny family-run fudge shop is turning out some incredibly unique flavors, including peach cobbler fudge with fresh peaches and Nilla wafers. All fudge is made on-premises, and the huge variety of flavors include peanut butter chocolate, penuche (brown sugar and vanilla), chocolate-coconut, and Snickers.
Best Grocery Store: Eastside Marketplace
Best Hot Dog: Olneyville N.Y. System (Providence)
Olneyville N.Y. System, with two locations in Providence, Rhode Island, claims to serve "Rhode Island’s Best Hot Wieners," and while that will always remain a point of contention, they’re certainly the most legendary. The New York System dog is a regional specialty: Small franks (in this case, from Little Rhody) are steamed, placed atop a steamed bun, and topped with a cumin-heavy meat sauce, yellow mustard, diced onions, and celery salt. You’re going to want to order a few of these, because they’re little and addictive (see how many of them the counterman can balance on his arm). The "wiener sauce" is so popular that people have been requesting the recipe for years; you can purchase a packet of seasoning online and make it yourself at home.
Best Hotel Restaurant: The Dining Room at Castle Hill Inn (Newport)
The exclusive Rhode Island enclave of Newport is home to countless beautiful inns and mansions, and the Castle Hill Inn has been one of its loveliest hotels since it opened in 1875. Its main dining room (called, appropriately, The Dining Room), is a stately and elegant chamber offering stunning views of the ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows. The remaining décor is primarily made of light wood paneling and understated and elegant fixtures. Opt for the tasting menu and you’ll be treated to dishes including Angus beef tartare with caperberries, pommes maxim, and goat cheese; sliced Angus beef tenderloin and braised beef rillettes with fingerling potatoes and foie gras nage; and passionfruit soufflé with Sichuan pepper shortbread and banana sorbet.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Brickley’s Homemade Ice Cream (Naragansett)
“This is the best ice cream I’ve had in my lifetime. It’s very simple, but delicious flavors are addicting! Every time I visit I like to try a new flavor and they never disappoint. My favorites are Coffee Oreo, Salted Caramel, and plain Oreo,” raved one reviewer.
Best Lobster Roll: Champlin’s (Narragansett)
Yelp/ Amy I.
Since 1944, Champlin’s bas been serving astoundingly simple and delicious lobster rolls from their dockside restaurant. Lobsters come right off the day boat and into the sandwiches, which contain a heaping portion of claw, knuckle, and tail meat, tossed with a little celery and mayo, with a lettuce leaf separating meat from bun. Take a seat on the charmingly ramshackle deck overlooking the water, take in the sea air as you eat your roll, and buy a few live lobsters for dinner on your way out.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Tallulah’s Taqueria (Providence)
A breath of fresh air in the Providence culinary scene, Tallulah’s is serving classic Mexican fare prepared with a deft hand in a trendy space. Tacos, burritos, tortas, bowls, and quesadillas can be filled with your choice of 11 fillings (as well as breakfast ingredients), and though you can’t go wrong with al pastor, barbacoa, chipotle braised potato, or grilled shrimp or fish, don’t miss the carnitas: slow-braised pork belly and shoulder, served (like all the tacos) in a corn tortilla with guacamole, onions, cilantro, salsa, radishes, and lime.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Mill’s Tavern (Providence)
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: The UMac, UMelt (Providence)
UMelt specializes in indulgent grilled cheese sandwiches, and their signature sandwich tops the rest. Made on thick-cut sourdough bread, it consists of cheddar cheese, macaroni and cheese, and barbecue pulled pork.
Best Pancakes: Brickway on Wickenden (Providence)
Pancakes are the star of the show at Brickway on Wickenden, which is one of the most popular breakfast spots in the city of Providence. The batter is made fresh throughout the morning, and the resulting pancakes are ethereally light and fluffy. Whether classic buttermilk or filled with blueberries, bananas, chocolate chips, or a combination thereof, these are a great way to start the day.
Best Pasta Dish: Pasta Ceci, Enoteca Umberto (Providence)
Yelp/ Alexa D.
At Enoteca Umberto, you’ll feel like you’re dining in the home of owners Lia and Umberto Bellini, because with only 18 seats in the restaurant you might as well be. The cuisine at Umberto’s is rustic, homestyle, and prepared with nuance and a lot of love, which is most evident in their most popular dish, pasta ceci. It’s a simple combination of chewy house-made pasta with creamy chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes, and it’s homey, humble, and supremely comforting.
Best Pizza: Al Forno (Providence)
Photo by Victoria K. via Yelp
On South Main Street in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island, Al Forno offers quintessential Italian dining for those who can’t afford the flight. Husband-and-wife owner-chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen received the Insegna del Ristorante Italiano from the Italian government, a rare honor for Americans, attributable to their informed passion for pasta along with their invention of the grilled pizza.
George passed away a few years back, but chef David Reynoso carries on Al Forno’s tradition. It’s a style that celebrity chefs have been noting on TV for a while now, and that’s spawning its own offshoots. The restaurant bakes six pies in wood-burning ovens and on grills over hardwood charcoal fire. Their most notable grilled pizza? The Margarita [sic]. It’s served with fresh herbs, pomodoro, two cheeses, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Laura’s Pleasant View Diner (Smithfield)
Open daily at 6 a.m., this cozy and homey restaurant serves breakfast all day and makes nearly everything on the menu from scratch using top-quality ingredients. The menu isn’t especially fancy or groundbreaking — they offer breakfast platters, omelettes, breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, Belgian waffles, and French toast — but it’s all so soulful and satisfying that after one visit it’ll be your favorite breakfast place. The made-to-order Belgian waffles and three-egg omelettes are especially noteworthy.
Best Sandwich: Italian Grinder at Dee’s Deli (Cranston)
Photo by Jeff M. via Yelp
This tiny, no-frills deli is a lunchtime favorite in Cranston, the state’s third-largest city. It’s most famous for its Italian grinder, loaded with salami, capicola, turkey, hot peppers, lettuce, tomato, and oil and vinegar. It’s the bread that really sets this place apart: It’s baked fresh daily so it’s soft and perfect for a hefty sandwich, and the loaves are so long that half is usually more than enough for one person. A word to the wise: Get there early, because when they run out of bread, they close.
Best Soup: Scallop Chowder, The Mooring (Newport)
Yelp/ Nadia B.
Clam chowder may get all the fame, but scallop chowder, especially the one served by The Mooring in tony Newport, definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. Loaded with scallops and kicked up with white wine, plenty of fresh dill, and corn, this creamy soup has kept the crowds coming back since debuting in 1981.
Best Steakhouse: Ten Prime Steak & Sushi (Providence)
Swanky and sexy, Ten Prime isn’t just Rhode Island’s best steakhouse, it’s also one of Providence’s best restaurants and date spots. Prime corn-fed Certified Angus steaks are complemented by creative sushi rolls and steak toppers including roasted bone marrow with foie gras butter, melted Roquefort with rosemary demi-glace, and grilled lobster tail. Wagyu flat-iron steaks are a welcome option, as is a 40-ounce double porterhouse; it’s slightly out of character for a classy joint like this, but if you eat the whole thing, you get your name on a plaque.
Best Taco: Tallulah’s Taqueria (Providence)
Joseph X. via Yelp
A breath of fresh air in the Providence culinary scene, Tallulah’s is serving classic Mexican fare prepared with a deft hand in a trendy space. Tacos, burritos, tortas, bowls, and quesadillas can be filled with your choice of 11 fillings (as well as breakfast ingredients), and though you can’t go wrong with al pastor, barbacoa, chipotle braised potato, or grilled shrimp or fish, don’t miss the carnitas: slow-braised pork belly and shoulder, served (like all the tacos) in a corn tortilla with guacamole, onions, cilantro, salsa, radishes, and lime. To learn about the best eats in other states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.