The 2018 Best of Rhode Island Winners!
Editors and readers name their picks for the state's best spots for food, shopping, fun and beauty.
Hello from our little slice of heaven on Earth. It is quite the job — as you might guess — to choose the very best things our state has to offer. Our annual Best of Rhode Island issue celebrates the newcomers to our beloved Ocean State, along with tried and true hometown faves. Each year, we comb through Rhody’s food, health and wellness, shopping and entertainment scenes. This year, we indulged in everything from outrageous milkshakes to bungee cord fitness, with a little bit of everything else in between. Plus, the votes are in: We invited our readers in on the fun. The readers’ poll offers your picks on the best spots for family-friendly dinners, local coffee houses for your favorite cold brew and more. There is a lot to love in Rhode Island (387 reasons to be exact) and it’s all right outside your front door.
Contributors: Courtney Coelho, Jamie Coelho, Karen Deutsch, Sarah Francis, samantha labrecque, Casey Nilsson, Lou Papineau, Jennifer Steffy Swanson
Photography: Michael Cevoli, James Jones, Angel Tucker, Chris Vaccaro
EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY IN RHODE ISLAND’S HAPPENING FOOD AND BEVERAGE SCENE.
The East End
244 Wickenden St., Providence, 433-9770, theeastendpvd.com
Forget nachos. The East End is a bar for grownups in every sense of the word: Its dim, romantic lighting and shelves of whiskey speak to a more mature crowd who care what goes down the gullet. So while you’re sipping your bourbon or letting the bartenders concoct a Call and Response cocktail, order the snack tasting. The platter has everything from candied nuts and crostini to herbed hummus, but you can also feast on group-sized steak frites and DIY lobster rolls or shellfish.
122 Fountain St., Providence, foodbynorth.com
Three cheers for a hotel restaurant that refuses to pander to the masses. James Mark is as independent as he ever was, even after moving north into the downtown Dean Hotel. The space can get crowded — sometimes chaotic — but whatever ends up on your plate is worth the time it took to get there. The ever changing menu has Asian roots but Mark is a student of the world and offers surprises on every plate. If you have any sense of adventure, grab a table and order up spicy noodles, almost boneless sea robin or scup or crispy confit chicken with coconut milk.
Meal with Music
60 Valley St., Providence, 473-2900, trooppvd.com
Troop’s got its groove on. With its massive murals, skateboard seats and disco lights, there’s not a happier slice of the 1980s than in this restaurant. Diners can barely sit still as early rap and R-and-B pipe through the speakers while people drink Revival drafts and eat an international array of street-style foods. You might not have realized how much you missed the era until you can look back at it from thirty-plus years ahead — but Run-D.M.C. still rules.
Bayberry Beer Hall
381 West Fountain St., Providence, 383-9487, bayberrybeerhall.com
It’s obvious to declare that drinking is fun, but Bayberry is a whole different sort of entertainment. Walk through the door and you’re immediately a member of the family where everyone sits at communal tables to eat Bavarian pretzels and burgers and to study the nuances of American craft beers. It’s a laboratory of sorts but it’s as much about good will as it is about what comes out of the tap.
45 Weybosset St., Providence, 808-6569, waffleprovidence.com
You can load up these waffles with anything from eggs to ice cream to salted caramel, but you should eat one plain at least once. The caramelized sugar exterior gives way to the brioche dough of your dreams, so rich and yeasty that you’d trade a year’s worth of cereal for just one of Waffle’s superlative confections. You can also buy minis in a six-pack to get you through the commute home.
1785 Cranston St., Cranston, 437-6572, benvenutorestaurant.wixsite.com/benvenuto
Benvenuto is love, Italian style. You can gorge yourself on pasta every evening for a month but set aside one night for the rest: stuffed peppers with sausage and ricotta, arancini with beef and green peas and a panoply of Parmesan dishes that will make you weep. There’s a reason we never tire of eating the way mama wanted us to.
370 Richmond St., Providence, 228-8286, xacotacori.com
True, you can have a delicious, simple beef taco. But Xaco brings Mexico’s best street food to gleeful vegetarians too. Pork with pineapple is delish but the scrispy avocado tacos with pico de gallo are irresistible. If you’re looking for added protein, you can add crispy grasshoppers to any taco for a buck. (No joke.)
Burger and Beer
Craft Burgers and Beer
342 East Ave., Pawtucket, 723-5600, craftbandb.com
It may have taken awhile to get the old Doherty’s sign down, but Craft Burgers and Beer totally owns the Pawtucket location. The fact that they’ve got one of the best draft menus in the state (fifty-seven lines!) is enough to make us love this local joint, but add on a build-your-own-burger bar and we’re committed. All in on the double beef with beer cheese sauce and a fried egg.
31 High St., Westerly, 348-8586; Gramma’s Gelato Cafe, 12 Fort Rd., Watch Hill, 315-0446, pompelmogelateria.com
If someone blindfolded you and plopped you down in front of the colorful gelato case filled with eighteen-plus icy, creamy creations at Pompelmo, you’d never guess you were in Westerly. The shop uses traditional Italian methods for making gelato in flavors from classic pistachio and strawberry to coconut key lime cheesecake and Cake by the Ocean (birthday cake). Elaborate gelato cakes are often bedecked with ice cream cones, making for very happy birthdays indeed.
250 Westminster St., Providence, 443-4083, facebook.com/kleospvd
There are already a thousand reasons to love cheese, but Kleos adds one more definitive excuse to hoard dairy. A brick of feta is roasted until it just breaks free of its borders and, drizzled with honey, it’s the best sweet and salty dish we’ve ever eaten. No, we won’t share.
99 Hope St., Providence, 432-7422, persimmonri.com
The best of the elite offerings, Persimmon offers brunch on the first Sunday of every month and it’s the perfect amalgam of familiar and French. You can get a stellar Gruyere omelet but the smoked salmon smorrebrod with caper vinaigrette is Sunday’s best sandwich and, for those who dream big, this is your chance to eat Speidel’s spaghetti Bolognese for breakfast. The perfect start to the month.
461 Main St., Pawtucket, 724-1241, theguildri.com
The whole state rejoiced when the Guild finally brought the brewing of Narragansett beer back to Rhode Island, and it sweetened the pot by adding contract brewing from regionally known craft breweries including Devil’s Purse, Newburyport Brewing, Night Shift, Wash Ashore and more. Check out the courtyard for cornhole, visits from food trucks, Dogs on the Deck, live music from bands like The Naticks (pictured) and other reasons to get out of the house.
Blackie’s Bull Dog Tavern
181 George Washington Hwy., Smithfield, 231-4777, blackiesbulldogtavern.com
Welcome to the age of gluttony. Chef Angie Armenise treats every brunch as if it was your last meal: breakfast pigs in a blanket; bacon, egg and cheese calzone; burgers served between two buttermilk pancakes; Paleo huevos rancheros; or bacon-fat brisket and spuds poutine with cheddar sauce. Who honestly cares if you make it to Monday when Sunday tastes like this.
Cityside Clam Shack
239 Dyer St., Providence, 648-2598, dunebrothers.com
The search for good clam cakes and chowder in Providence is over. This little red clam shack may be cityside, but its specialties are fresh off the bay. Chefs Jason Hegedus and Nicholas Gillespie make a point to put sustainable seafood on the menu, and that includes Cape shark (aka dogfish), a light, white fish turned into fish and chips, and a market fish of the day. The chowder is the best around, made with Rhode Island littlenecks, salt pork, potatoes and herbs.
223 Thayer St., Providence, 213-8798, eatbychloe.com
There’s usually no reason to call attention to a chain restaurant but here’s one exception. The vegan crowd finally came into its own when by Chloe. opened its doors, offering fast food for a healthier world. The only surprise might be how many carnivores line up for the quinoa taco salad, guacamole veg burger and faux-fried, air-baked french fries with beet ketchup. Bonus: brunch is served until 4 p.m. on weekends and the smoothie bowls lull even cranky toddlers into submission.
Feel-Good Food Products
Harvest Kitchen Cafe
2 Bayley St., Pawtucket, 335-3766, farmfreshri.org/hk
Fuel up with breakfast and lunch at the Harvest Kitchen Cafe with made-to-order dishes featuring locally grown ingredients, served Monday through Friday. Back in the kitchen, the on-site culinary training program mentors youth involved with DCYF, who create a line of preserved foods, including applesauce, pickles, apple chips and more, using local farm produce while gaining hands-on retail experience in the cafe and at farmers markets.
Local Pantry Products
The Pantry at Avenue N
20 Newman Ave., Rumford, 228-6691, avenuenamericankitchen.com
Stock up on local products from farms, makers and producers at this rustic industrial market. The shelves, counters and refrigerators are filled with a variety of items including Gastros meats, Knead doughnuts, bagels from Providence Bagel, fresh produce and much more. It is a one-stop shop that offers options that make dinner easy. Plus, shoppers can order the daily toast or sandwich special to enjoy on the spot.
Feast and Fettle
Slaving away in the kitchen is the last thing busy families, seniors and working professionals want to do on a hectic weeknight. Feast and Fettle delivers fresh chef-prepared meals right to your door. Place an order on the website and select your meal plan options for delivery on Mondays or Wednesdays and soon you’ll be spending your valuable time doing things other than cooking.
485 Angell St., Providence, 443-5249, mercersdeli.com
For those who have to pay to ship their pastrami in from NYC, your lunch just got a whole lot cheaper. Salted Slate’s Ben Lloyd embraces the old school with this homage to his grandmother: homemade corned beef, pastrami, tongue and roast chicken nestle irresistibly in rye bread with a schmear of mustard. Add a knish and some vinegar coleslaw on the side and it’s a trip down our favorite culinary lane.
28 Washington Sq., Newport, 619-7810, stoneacrebrasserie.com
The space may be cavernous, but the ambience is intimate in every corner of Stoneacre. Stop in for coffee and avocado toast before work or sidle up to the bar at midnight for poutine and pork belly. If you grab a table in between those hours, ask for the pre-fixe Good Times, a menu made just for you in Newport’s friendliest every-hour hangout.
1908 Public House
8 West Marlborough St., Newport, 619-0800, 1908publichouse.com
Home of the old Mudville Pub, 1908 Public House is our new favorite hangout spot. We often whittle away the hours with nothing more than a cold draft beer (looking at you, Lunch IPA) but it’s next to impossible to pass up the BLT with roasted garlic aioli or the Harpoon IPA fish fry. Maybe we’ll give up our barstool when the weather gets cold, but it’s doubtful.
Chomp Kitchen and Drinks
440 Child St., Warren, 289-2324, chompri.com
We might call it overkill but Chomp is just too good to do something for shock value alone. The Stack is meant to be shared, or to kill you, but what a way to go. One benign burger is topped with bacon and American cheese. No big deal. But then it’s also loaded down with a slab of fried chicken, onions, tomato jam and Swiss cheese, and yet another smoked burger topped with a handful of pickled jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, lettuce and tomato. Welcome to the jungle.
4 Anoka Ave., Barrington, 337-5830, tableri.com
There’s nothing more romantic than a French bistro and Table’s small dining room delivers in spades. The rustic furniture, superb wine list and rotating menu ought to set the stage for a proposal but, even on a weeknight, it casts an enchanting hue on an ordinary schedule. If you’re dining alone, you can still find love with a hanger steak and a good glass of red. Love should always be this reliable.
The Nitro Bar
228 Broadway, Providence, thenitrocart.com/the-nitro-bar
Rich, smooth and creamy with a frothy top: Believe it or not, we’re writing about coffee, not beer. The Nitro Bar’s (and Nitro Cart’s) cold brew coffee is stored in a keg, infused with nitrogen — which gives it a creamy, stout-like head — and served on tap at businesses across the state, at coffee carts and, this year, at its permanent coffee shop inside Dash Bicycle that boasts comfy couches, espresso drinks and snacks.
51 Courtland St., Providence, 227-9300, courtlandclub.com
The drinks here are a little extra — in a good way. The ingredients are thoughtfully curated, including freshly squeezed citrus and made-in-house syrups and juices with oddball flavor profiles like sweet potato, beet and pine nut, that surprisingly work well in cocktails. They might be served in fancy vintage glassware or a silver cup on top of a golden doily. The kitchen turns out some great plates, too, such as bar-friendly stuffed littlenecks, crudite and pizzas of the week, and don’t miss the cast-iron cookie.
Crepes and Tea
2170 Broad St., Cranston, 461-2170; 300 Broadway, Providence, 432-7202, schastea.com
Sometimes a spot of tea and a sweet crepe can cure what ails you. At Schastea, chill servers brew more than fifty loose-leaf teas from all over the world in beautiful personalized tea pots, served with a side of candied ginger. The crepes — whether you prefer sweet or savory versions — arrive as whisper-thin eggy blankets with delightful ingredients snugly wrapped up inside.
751 Hartford Ave., Johnston, 919-5489; 100 Washington St., Providence, 228-2660, facebook.com/friskiefries
True, you could eat a plain french fry dunked in ketchup, but why? Friskie Fries piles theirs high with a host of things from pulled pork and slaw, chicken parm, chili and cheese or the Rhode Kill: New York System wieners with meat sauce and celery salt. It’s time you expected more out of your potato.
New Indian Restaurant
12 Canal St., Westerly, 315-0843, adrak2ri.com
We’ve delighted in Adrak 2’s spiced-to-our-liking dishes (most are available in mild, medium and hot) since the restaurant opened in November. Our go-tos: Vegetable samosas, rogan josh and saag paneer. And while parking downtown can be challenging, here it’s a breeze: Adrak has its own lot (a detail as sweet and surprising as the pineapple in the malai kofta).
It was love at first bowl when we tried Hawaiian-style raw fish from this food cart parked in Providence and at events around the state. The surfer-style trailer serves up raw salmon and tuna and cooked chicken, shrimp and tofu on a bed of white or brown rice with a choice of toppings, ranging from edamame and cucumbers to seaweed salad and avocado.
The Burgundian Coffee and Waffles
Shane Matlock — the Burgundian — makes the rounds at local breweries and markets, crimping crisp liege waffles to soak up our beer-soaked afternoons. Sweet versions feature local companies like Borealis Coffee Roasters espresso-infused chocolate sauce and Bellicchi’s Best biscotti cookie crumbles, while the savory winner is the Waffacado topped with avocado, bacon and whipped maple creme fraiche.
Craft Ice Cream
Fountain and Co.
Here’s the scoop: Taste small-batch gourmet ice cream as Fountain and Co. pops up at different locations throughout the state. The craft ice cream comes in unusual, seasonal flavors that change frequently, including cinnamon streusel coffee cake, matcha, strawberry apple sorbet and many more. Ice cream fanatics can try this sweet treat this summer at a window installed at Stock in Providence.
The Happy Snail Tea House
398 Main St., Warren, 245-5555, thehappysnailteahouse.com
Blink and you might miss this tiny teahouse tucked back from Warren’s busy Main Street. But once inside, you’ll find a selection of dozens of teas of the world — both hot and iced — and a knowledgeable staff that can point you in the right direction, whether you’re looking for something energizing or aromatic. Pair a cup or pot with a few bite-sized snacks, including finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and lemon curd and Greek shortbread cookies, and the chaos of life seems to magically slip away.
359 Thames St., Newport, 722-0922
If you’re looking for a delicious, decadent and over-the-top milkshake (hello: frozen s’mores, fruity pebbles topped with cotton candy and a pop tart or caramel salted pretzel), this is your place. Satisfy your sweet tooth at this trendy Newport hotspot with an outrageous milkshake, but only after you snap a pic of this true work of art! Plus, snack on other sweet treats including nitro coffee ice cream floats and ice cream-stuffed doughnuts or opt for a more savory selection including sandwiches and flatbreads.
695 North Main St., Providence, 421-2222, providencebagel.com
The holy grail of breakfast: the perfect balance of toppings, including poppy and sesame seeds, sea salt, minced onion and garlic (too much garlic and you’re dead in the water) along with a fluffy dough that makes it ideal to toast with a shmear but never too tough, even if it’s eaten as is.
Hash Brown Sandwich
259 County Rd., Barrington, 247-1213, bagelsetcbarrington.com
You probably thought a bagel sandwich took hash browns off the table. Think again. This neighborhood favorite will load your crisp potato patty with melted cheese and bacon onto a toasted bagel, proving that eggs just ain’t that special.
Bagelz The Bagel Bakery
90 Pershing Ave., Wakefield, 783-9700; 99 Fortin Rd., Kingston, 782-2295, bagelzri.com
Take eggs, bacon and cheese off the list and what’s a vegan to eat for breakfast? Bagelz offers dairy-free Tofutti cream cheese, red pepper hummus and veggie burgers at all hours. You can love your animals and your first meal of the day.
Bagel with Cream Cheese
Rebelle Artisan Bagels
110 Doyle Ave., Providence, 349-1263, rebelleartisanbagels.com
Aficionados will wrap themselves around the block for one of Rebelle’s hand-rolled and boiled bagels, but the cream cheese is the cherry on top. Try the ever-changing bright pink beet or tahini versions, the honey gorgonzola or — our favorite — the caramelized banana on a Sunday cinnamon raisin bagel.
Bagel Gourmet Ole
288 Thayer St., Providence, 331-1311
You can guess the demographic of Bagel Gourmet Ole by looking at the menu: customers will order an egg and cheese to eat while they’re waiting for a quesadilla to go. If you want to mash breakfast and lunch together, opt for the jalapeño cream cheese or a cold cut-stuffed bagel sandwich.
Bristol Bagel Works
420 Hope St., Bristol, 254-1390, bristolbagelworks.com
When other bakers were just getting the feel of the dough, the Brownes were well established. They make a mean lox sandwich but we can’t deviate too far from our fave: tomato-basil cream cheese on a salt bagel — toasted, of course.