It’s easy to eat well in Providence. The city, just 20 square miles, offers everything from casual sandwich shops to James Beard nominated chefs cooking up locally produced eats. Yes grilled pizza was said to be introduced to the US here, and yes, you’ll find a little, Little Italy on Federal Hill, but the city which was founded by religious rebels, and remains a bit politically dysfunctional, provides some of the best bites in New England with much less pretense and formality than nearby cities. The presence of Johnson & Wales, one of the country’s best culinary schools, ensures there’s never a shortage of new and inventive restaurants.
Having called Providence home for nearly ten years before moving back to Boston, here are personal favorites, many of which never make the guide books.
Carbs are king, and the abundance of both casual neighborhood and upscale bakeries and pastry shops means you don’t need to go far for crusty bread, flaky croissants or sweet treats.
- Ellie’s – 61 Washington St. – The city’s best macarons, as well as pastries, cookies, and breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Try the egg and cheese made with homemade British style muffins. You’ll never be able to go back to the standard deli breakfast sandwich.
- Olga’s Cup and Saucer – 103 Point St. – This Providence institution is a full cafe serving breakfast, brunch and light lunches. In the warmer months you can eat in the garden patio. Take a fresh baked loaf of bread or pastry to-go.
- Pastiche – 92 Spruce St. – Cafe and pastry shop that can get quite busy with the Federal Hill crowd for dessert post pasta dinner. The chocolate mousse tart and cheesecake are a highlight.
- Seven Stars – 820 Hope St. / 342 Broadway – Popular bakery and coffee shop with all kinds of artisan breads and pastries. The croissants are the kind of flaky that are rarely seen outside of France and the olive bread is easy to eat in a single sitting.
- Silver Star Bakery – 150 Ives St. – Old school, no frills Portuguese bakery for eggy sweet bread, egg tarts, milk tarts and plenty of fresh bread and other desserts.
Wieners, Wursts and Hot Dogs
While New York City has its hot dog street carts, Providence has elevated the art of ground meat in casings to new levels. Bite into handcrafted German-style wursts, wieners with all the fixings, and range of vegetarian and gourmet hot dogs.
- Chez Pascal Wurst Kitchen – 960 Hope St. – Chez Pascal is an upscale French bistro that also boasts a casual wurst kitchen next door. Sit inside at the communal table or take your dog to go and eat at the park across the street. Handmade weisswurst, bratwurst sausages and hot links make for one of the best lunches in the city.
- Olneyville NY System – 18 Plainfield St. – Opened in the ‘50s, this unfussy diner made a name for itself with a distinctive hot dog topped with ground beef hot sauce and mounds of chopped onions, mustard and celery salt — these are definitely not subtle flavors.
- Spike’s Junkyard Dogs – 485 Branch Ave. – All beef hot dogs or veggie dogs in a super casual, fast food environment.
New England summers are short, but there is a long list of locally crafted frozen treats to keep you cool on hot days. Keep in mind the definition of ‘hot’ for a New Englander is anything over 60 degrees. Dig into homemade ice cream, vegan soft serve, and all varieties of frozen ices.
- Cool Licks – 1808 Smith St, North Providence – The soft serve watermelon sherbet is addictive, and ensures I keep coming back to this seasonal stand a few miles west of Providence. They also offer plenty of ice cream and Dole Whip flavors. Cash only.
- Del’s Lemonade – Frozen, lemonade (and other flavors, too) served in a big paper cup, without straw or spoon. The trucks are all over the city and beaches during the summer.
- Like No Udder – Vegan ice cream truck making the rounds around the city.
- New England Frozen Lemonade – The state’s other lemon slushy truck — which I personally think has a much better lemon flavor.
- Three Sisters – 1074 Hope St. – Casual spot for brunch or lunch, they also offer homemade ice cream. Try the kulfi (cardamon, cinnamon & pistachios).
Providence has a sizeable Latin American community, and that community has influenced the dining scene in the city. While most of these restaurants are casual, the level of authentic flavors is pretty impressive for the East Coast.
- Los Andes – 903 Chalkstone Ave. – A cozy neighborhood restaurant serving Peruvian and Bolivian, that has become quite the popular destination for folks from all over the city.
- Rincon – 1019 Chalkstone Ave. – A small Salvadoran joint in a strip mall serving up pupusas, tamales and horchata, to name a few of the items.
- Tallulah’s Taqueria – 146 Ives St. – Tiny establishment serving cantina style tacos, burritos, enchiladas and more using locally sourced ingredients.
Vegetarian & Vegan
Non meat eaters don’t need to settle for a side of veggies, instead there are several restaurants that cater to vegetarians and vegans, and plenty of others where carnivores and vegetarians can happily dine side by side.
- Garden Grille – 727 East Ave. – Casual vegetarian restaurant in a strip mall just north of Providence. You’ll find college students, vegans, health conscious eaters — really most of the city dines here from time to time.
- The Grange – 166 Broadway – Bistro style restaurant serving up modern vegetarian dishes and craft cocktails.
- Julians – 318 Broadway – American favorites with a long list of beers on tap, serving up plenty of options for carnivores and vegans alike.
- Wildflour Vegan Bakery – 727 East Ave. – Owned by the same folks as the Garden Grille and situated next door, you’ll find bakery items you’d never know were vegan if no one told you. There’s also a coffee and juice bar.