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The Woonasquatucket River in downtown Providence, RI is pictured on April 25, 2019.
Downtown Providence, Rhode Island.
Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

15 Essential Restaurants in Providence, Rhode Island

From a historic diner to a Syrian bakeshop, to a retro pizzeria, and a popular Uyghur restaurant, here’s where to eat and drink in Providence

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Downtown Providence, Rhode Island.
| Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Rhode Islanders love to brag about the state’s great food scene, which punches well above its weight for the smallest state in the union. The “official state appetizer,” Rhode Island-style calamari, even stole the show during the virtual roll call at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

The state’s capital city has a lot going for it culinarily: easy access to top-quality produce and seafood from nearby farms and waterways; a world-class culinary school in Johnson & Wales; and tons of quirky regional specialties like coffee milk, stuffies (stuffed clams), clam cakes, and Del’s Lemonade. Plus, rents on restaurant spaces tend to be cheaper than in nearby Boston, drawing talented chefs who want 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 to it, which has trickled into the ethos of many of its restaurants.

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Los Andes

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Lively Los Andes serves Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine in a festive setting filled with plants and the thrum of live acoustic guitar. Perpetually packed, it’s co-owned by brothers Diego Curi and executive chef Cesin Curi. Crowd favorites include the ceviche clasico, lomo saltado, and lobster paella. Bartenders craft well-made pisco sours and caipirinhas to wash it all down.

Oberlin

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Chef-owner Benjamin Sukle made a name for himself at his first restaurant, Birch, where he served thoughtful, labor-intensive, New England-by-way-of-Noma dishes. That restaurant closed during the pandemic, but the chef is still at work with Rhode Island seafood and produce at his more casual second restaurant (as well as his new raw bar, Gift Horse). Oberlin’s menu centers around hand-crafted pasta and just-caught local fish, such as fluke and scup. They’re sliced raw and garnished minimally with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, or served whole, grilled or roasted. Sukle’s dishes are designed for sharing, so you’ll want to round out your order with a veg (try the Tokyo turnip Caesar) and a seasonal pasta, like summertime’s lumache with sweet corn, lonza, shishitos, and mint. Oberlin recently moved to a new location a stone’s throw away from its original spot, and Sukle teamed up with co-owner and wine pro Bethany Caliaro to open Gift Horse next door. 

Persimmon

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Fancy without being fussy, chef Champe Speidel’s elegant New American bistro stands out among the area’s many chef-driven restaurants. Speidel, who owns and operates the space with his wife, Lisa, focuses on shareable dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Try the standout pasta such as chestnut agnolotti, and seafood dishes like pan-seared local scallops with apple. The drinks are also top-notch; ask sommelier Steffen Rasch to recommend the perfect pour or try one of bar manager Kevin O’Connor’s exemplary zero-proof creations.

Dolores

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Chef Maria Meza arrived in the U.S. in 1992 with a dream to open her own restaurant. Today, locals wait patiently for tables to get a taste of her authentic dishes from the Mixteca region of Mexico. Members of the Meza family cook meals inspired by Maria’s childhood in Oaxaca and Puebla: complex, long-simmered moles; hand-ground heirloom corn tortillas folded into pockets and filled with cheese to make tetelas; and an array of tamales that are also available frozen to take home. Maria’s son Joaquin runs the bar, which is stocked with artisanal mezcal and other enticing regional spirits.

Gracie's

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Since Ellen Gracyalny opened Gracie’s in 1998, her romantic and refined restaurant has been one of Providence’s top spots for a special occasion meal. Try executive chef Matthew Varga’s seasonal five- or seven-course tasting menus, which often include produce grown in the restaurant’s rooftop garden. The evening’s menu might include foie gras with carrot bread and golden raisin confit or Rhode Island-harvested sea scallops with peas, leeks, and pork belly. Gracie’s “teamshare” model, with a service charge added to each bill, ensures that staff are compensated fairly. 

Aleppo Sweets

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Youssef Akhtarini learned to bake as a teenager growing up in Aleppo, Syria. After fleeing the war-torn city and moving to Providence, Akhtarini opened Aleppo Sweets in 2019 with help from his wife, Reem. At this bakery and cafe, you’ll find nearly a dozen different varieties of light and crunchy Syrian-style baklava, from a version with whole pistachios wrapped in purses of phyllo dough to one that is rolled ladyfinger-style with crushed nuts. Don’t overlook the savory side of the menu, which includes meze like smoky baba ghanoush and za’atar-dusted labneh, chicken and lamb kebabs, and red lentil soup. The cafe employs several other Syrian refugees who have made new homes in Providence.

Broadway Bistro

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Cozy and dimly lit, Broadway Bistro feels like the perfect neighborhood spot — but with food that’s worth traveling for. Now in its fifteenth year, it’s the kind of place you can rely on for a laid-back yet special-feeling date night. While much of the menu changes often, some staples, including the must-try app ribs and grits with orange soy marinade, are always available. Rotating entree options range from crispy lamb belly with sweet corn risotto to swordfish with summer succotash and roasted duck leg with braised kale and creamy polenta. 

Plant City

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Created by globetrotting California-based chef Matthew Kenney in collaboration with local owner Kim Anderson, this vegan village packs four restaurant concepts, plus a cafe and a market section, under one roof. At Mexican-leaning Besina, choose between jackfruit pastor tacos or nachos slathered with cashew crema and vegan queso, or try Kenney’s signature raw lasagna paired with a truffle pizza at Double Zero. The buzzy spot is filled with other treats, including plant-based burgers, vegan macarons, and nitro cold brew made by a local favorite, the Nitro Cart.

Aguardente

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The homey, bright yellow exterior of the restaurant sets the stage for what you’ll discover inside — joy delivered through food and drink. Owner Victor Pereira teamed up with partners Magda León and Natalia Neves to celebrate their upbringings in Portugal, Guatemala, and the Azores through the menu and León’s art, which is prominently featured on interior walls. Options on the tapas-style menu include baked goat cheese in a tomato garlic sauce; tacos stuffed with fillings like pork chorizo and nopal (a type of cactus); tinned fish; and littlenecks steamed with white wine and cilantro. Pair your feast with a caipirinha, glass of Azorean red wine, or a flight of the restaurant’s namesake Portuguese brandy.  

Pizza Marvin

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Bartender Jesse Hedberg has put together many of the state’s top-rated cocktail programs over the last decade. So, naturally his latest project, the retro-styled Pizza Marvin — owned and operated with James Beard Award-nominated chef Robert Andreozzi — serves drinks that you won’t find anywhere else in town. Enjoy Hedberg’s bottled pizza Negroni with one of Andreozzi’s excellent thin-crust pizzas and plenty of sides. The menu includes a delightful mix of high- and low-brow options, from raw oysters with mignonette, or burrata with charred eggplant, to curly fries and taco wings.  

Dune Brothers Seafood

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Imagine a classic seafood shack by the beach, update it, and bring it to the city. That’s essentially what chef Nicholas Gillespie and his wife, Monica, have achieved at Dune Brothers, which operates as a long-term pop-up out of an adorable red shack on wheels. Their menu is built around sustainable seafood and includes indulgent options like buttery New England clam chowder with deep-fried clam cakes, two types of fish sandwiches, and both lobster and crab rolls. There’s outdoor seating, or you can take your briny bounty to go. Note: Dune Brothers is open March through November.

Jahunger

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Steaming bowls of bold flavors are constantly flowing out of Jahunger’s kitchen, where cooks spend hours pulling noodles and filling dumplings before the restaurant opens. The restaurant is owned by Johnson & Wales grad Subat Dilmurat; it serves Uyghur cuisine, from the (mostly Muslim) Turkic ethnic minority group in the Xingjiang autonomous region of northwestern China. Try the Jahunger noodles, topped with stir-fried beef and Sichuan peppercorns, or, if you’re a big fan of extra-spicy food, go for the chicken stew. Made with 15 different spices, the labor-intensive dish is made in limited quantities each day and typically sells out.

If you could turn a block party into a restaurant, you’d end up with Troop. Inspired by hip-hop culture, skateboarding, and street food from around the world, this colorful, graffitied restaurant is run by a group of partners, including chef Jason Timothy and Revival Brewing owner Sean Larkin (whose beers are on tap). On the ever-changing food menu you’ll typically find several vegan options, such as spicy-sweet wok-charred cauliflower and a fried tofu banh mi. For carnivores, there’s an oversized cheeseburger and fall-off-the-bone jerk chicken. Drinks include the tequila-based BLM Cocktail, with $4 from each sale benefiting a local nonprofit dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

Nicks on Broadway

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Don’t let the name Nick confuse you; chef-owner Derek Wagner is at the helm here. Roughly 20 years ago, fresh out of Johnson & Wales culinary school, then 24-year-old Wagner bought the diner from its former owner. He kept the name but freshened up the kitchen with a modern menu and hyper-local sourcing. Nicks has been one of the busiest restaurants in the city ever since, so expect to wait for a table or make a reservation, especially for weekend brunch. Nab a counter seat to get a front-row view into the open kitchen where you can watch Wagner and his crew crank out everything from eggs Benedict to house-made chicken pate to cornmeal-fried Rhode Island scup. 

Al Forno Restaurant

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Perhaps no Rhode Island restaurant is as beloved as Al Forno, opened by chef Johanne Killeen and her late husband chef George Germon in 1980. From the menu to the decor, it’s a study in rustic Italian elegance. You can’t go wrong with the grilled pizza, which the couple is widely credited with inventing (it helped earn them a James Beard Award in 1993), though the bubbly baked pasta with tomato, cream, and five cheeses is also worth an order. For something sweet try the made-to-order fruit tarts. Since the pandemic, takeout and reservations for parties under six people have become available.

Los Andes

Lively Los Andes serves Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine in a festive setting filled with plants and the thrum of live acoustic guitar. Perpetually packed, it’s co-owned by brothers Diego Curi and executive chef Cesin Curi. Crowd favorites include the ceviche clasico, lomo saltado, and lobster paella. Bartenders craft well-made pisco sours and caipirinhas to wash it all down.

Oberlin

Chef-owner Benjamin Sukle made a name for himself at his first restaurant, Birch, where he served thoughtful, labor-intensive, New England-by-way-of-Noma dishes. That restaurant closed during the pandemic, but the chef is still at work with Rhode Island seafood and produce at his more casual second restaurant (as well as his new raw bar, Gift Horse). Oberlin’s menu centers around hand-crafted pasta and just-caught local fish, such as fluke and scup. They’re sliced raw and garnished minimally with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, or served whole, grilled or roasted. Sukle’s dishes are designed for sharing, so you’ll want to round out your order with a veg (try the Tokyo turnip Caesar) and a seasonal pasta, like summertime’s lumache with sweet corn, lonza, shishitos, and mint. Oberlin recently moved to a new location a stone’s throw away from its original spot, and Sukle teamed up with co-owner and wine pro Bethany Caliaro to open Gift Horse next door. 

Persimmon

Fancy without being fussy, chef Champe Speidel’s elegant New American bistro stands out among the area’s many chef-driven restaurants. Speidel, who owns and operates the space with his wife, Lisa, focuses on shareable dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Try the standout pasta such as chestnut agnolotti, and seafood dishes like pan-seared local scallops with apple. The drinks are also top-notch; ask sommelier Steffen Rasch to recommend the perfect pour or try one of bar manager Kevin O’Connor’s exemplary zero-proof creations.

Dolores

Chef Maria Meza arrived in the U.S. in 1992 with a dream to open her own restaurant. Today, locals wait patiently for tables to get a taste of her authentic dishes from the Mixteca region of Mexico. Members of the Meza family cook meals inspired by Maria’s childhood in Oaxaca and Puebla: complex, long-simmered moles; hand-ground heirloom corn tortillas folded into pockets and filled with cheese to make tetelas; and an array of tamales that are also available frozen to take home. Maria’s son Joaquin runs the bar, which is stocked with artisanal mezcal and other enticing regional spirits.

Gracie's

Since Ellen Gracyalny opened Gracie’s in 1998, her romantic and refined restaurant has been one of Providence’s top spots for a special occasion meal. Try executive chef Matthew Varga’s seasonal five- or seven-course tasting menus, which often include produce grown in the restaurant’s rooftop garden. The evening’s menu might include foie gras with carrot bread and golden raisin confit or Rhode Island-harvested sea scallops with peas, leeks, and pork belly. Gracie’s “teamshare” model, with a service charge added to each bill, ensures that staff are compensated fairly. 

Aleppo Sweets

Youssef Akhtarini learned to bake as a teenager growing up in Aleppo, Syria. After fleeing the war-torn city and moving to Providence, Akhtarini opened Aleppo Sweets in 2019 with help from his wife, Reem. At this bakery and cafe, you’ll find nearly a dozen different varieties of light and crunchy Syrian-style baklava, from a version with whole pistachios wrapped in purses of phyllo dough to one that is rolled ladyfinger-style with crushed nuts. Don’t overlook the savory side of the menu, which includes meze like smoky baba ghanoush and za’atar-dusted labneh, chicken and lamb kebabs, and red lentil soup. The cafe employs several other Syrian refugees who have made new homes in Providence.

Broadway Bistro

Cozy and dimly lit, Broadway Bistro feels like the perfect neighborhood spot — but with food that’s worth traveling for. Now in its fifteenth year, it’s the kind of place you can rely on for a laid-back yet special-feeling date night. While much of the menu changes often, some staples, including the must-try app ribs and grits with orange soy marinade, are always available. Rotating entree options range from crispy lamb belly with sweet corn risotto to swordfish with summer succotash and roasted duck leg with braised kale and creamy polenta. 

Plant City

Created by globetrotting California-based chef Matthew Kenney in collaboration with local owner Kim Anderson, this vegan village packs four restaurant concepts, plus a cafe and a market section, under one roof. At Mexican-leaning Besina, choose between jackfruit pastor tacos or nachos slathered with cashew crema and vegan queso, or try Kenney’s signature raw lasagna paired with a truffle pizza at Double Zero. The buzzy spot is filled with other treats, including plant-based burgers, vegan macarons, and nitro cold brew made by a local favorite, the Nitro Cart.

Aguardente

The homey, bright yellow exterior of the restaurant sets the stage for what you’ll discover inside — joy delivered through food and drink. Owner Victor Pereira teamed up with partners Magda León and Natalia Neves to celebrate their upbringings in Portugal, Guatemala, and the Azores through the menu and León’s art, which is prominently featured on interior walls. Options on the tapas-style menu include baked goat cheese in a tomato garlic sauce; tacos stuffed with fillings like pork chorizo and nopal (a type of cactus); tinned fish; and littlenecks steamed with white wine and cilantro. Pair your feast with a caipirinha, glass of Azorean red wine, or a flight of the restaurant’s namesake Portuguese brandy.  

Pizza Marvin

Bartender Jesse Hedberg has put together many of the state’s top-rated cocktail programs over the last decade. So, naturally his latest project, the retro-styled Pizza Marvin — owned and operated with James Beard Award-nominated chef Robert Andreozzi — serves drinks that you won’t find anywhere else in town. Enjoy Hedberg’s bottled pizza Negroni with one of Andreozzi’s excellent thin-crust pizzas and plenty of sides. The menu includes a delightful mix of high- and low-brow options, from raw oysters with mignonette, or burrata with charred eggplant, to curly fries and taco wings.  

Dune Brothers Seafood

Imagine a classic seafood shack by the beach, update it, and bring it to the city. That’s essentially what chef Nicholas Gillespie and his wife, Monica, have achieved at Dune Brothers, which operates as a long-term pop-up out of an adorable red shack on wheels. Their menu is built around sustainable seafood and includes indulgent options like buttery New England clam chowder with deep-fried clam cakes, two types of fish sandwiches, and both lobster and crab rolls. There’s outdoor seating, or you can take your briny bounty to go. Note: Dune Brothers is open March through November.

Jahunger

Steaming bowls of bold flavors are constantly flowing out of Jahunger’s kitchen, where cooks spend hours pulling noodles and filling dumplings before the restaurant opens. The restaurant is owned by Johnson & Wales grad Subat Dilmurat; it serves Uyghur cuisine, from the (mostly Muslim) Turkic ethnic minority group in the Xingjiang autonomous region of northwestern China. Try the Jahunger noodles, topped with stir-fried beef and Sichuan peppercorns, or, if you’re a big fan of extra-spicy food, go for the chicken stew. Made with 15 different spices, the labor-intensive dish is made in limited quantities each day and typically sells out.

Troop

If you could turn a block party into a restaurant, you’d end up with Troop. Inspired by hip-hop culture, skateboarding, and street food from around the world, this colorful, graffitied restaurant is run by a group of partners, including chef Jason Timothy and Revival Brewing owner Sean Larkin (whose beers are on tap). On the ever-changing food menu you’ll typically find several vegan options, such as spicy-sweet wok-charred cauliflower and a fried tofu banh mi. For carnivores, there’s an oversized cheeseburger and fall-off-the-bone jerk chicken. Drinks include the tequila-based BLM Cocktail, with $4 from each sale benefiting a local nonprofit dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

Nicks on Broadway

Don’t let the name Nick confuse you; chef-owner Derek Wagner is at the helm here. Roughly 20 years ago, fresh out of Johnson & Wales culinary school, then 24-year-old Wagner bought the diner from its former owner. He kept the name but freshened up the kitchen with a modern menu and hyper-local sourcing. Nicks has been one of the busiest restaurants in the city ever since, so expect to wait for a table or make a reservation, especially for weekend brunch. Nab a counter seat to get a front-row view into the open kitchen where you can watch Wagner and his crew crank out everything from eggs Benedict to house-made chicken pate to cornmeal-fried Rhode Island scup. 

Al Forno Restaurant

Perhaps no Rhode Island restaurant is as beloved as Al Forno, opened by chef Johanne Killeen and her late husband chef George Germon in 1980. From the menu to the decor, it’s a study in rustic Italian elegance. You can’t go wrong with the grilled pizza, which the couple is widely credited with inventing (it helped earn them a James Beard Award in 1993), though the bubbly baked pasta with tomato, cream, and five cheeses is also worth an order. For something sweet try the made-to-order fruit tarts. Since the pandemic, takeout and reservations for parties under six people have become available.

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