2021 Best of Rhode Island: Editors’ Picks

Our editors scoured the state for the best food, shopping, fun and beauty businesses in Rhode Island.

If the last year and a half taught us anything about ourselves, it’s that we’re resilient, supportive and know how to have a good time while staying safe.

Local businesses have gotten a couple of bruises along the way, but our annual Best of Rhode Island awards proves it: They came back stronger than ever. From mouth-watering meals to exhilarating entertainment and soothing health products, we’ve pinpointed 377 winners that make life in the Ocean State a whole lot better.

Go on: Escape reality for a bit and explore these award-winning spots. They, and you, deserve it.

Photography: Wolf Matthewson and Angel Tucker
Contributors: Edelinda Baptista, Jamie Coelho, Karen Deutsch, Sarah Francis, Serena Gaitskell, Nicole Mineau, Casey Nilsson, Lou Papineau, Annie Sherman, Diane Sterrett

Best of Rhode Island: Food
Even in the middle of a pandemic, Rhode Island’s food and drink game was strong.

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Photograph courtesy of Little Sister.

Latin Cafe
Little Sister
Milena Pagán’s second venture plays off her Puerto Rican roots. Her homeland influences the treats that put a tropical twist on sweet pastries, savory empanadas, soups and sandwiches. Quesitos are made with puff pastry and filled with sweet cheese and tropical fruit jam, breakfast egg and cheese sandwiches can come with spicy chorizo and avocado, and powdered sugar-dusted buns called mallorcas fly off the shelves along with galettes with fruity centers and guava-filled cruffins. 737 Hope St., Providence, 642-9464, littlesisterpvd.com

Old School Steak Sandwich
Kay’s
Kay’s is the world’s best time-warp. Its diminutive menu is still printed on paper napkins and, yes, you can still get a Budweiser and roast beef sandwich for lunch. But the bite that beats it all is the original steak sandwich, served on a soft white roll and slathered in cheese. There is no shaved steak at Kay’s; this is a mouthful of meat and, simple though it is, there’s nothing more deserving of praise. Take one to go because you’ll want another an hour later. 1013 Cass Ave., Woonsocket, 762-9675, kaysrestaurant.com

Live Music Brunch
Centerdale Revival Company
It’s not just the Centredale skillet of cinnamon bun nuggets that make a perfect Sunday brunch. This neighborhood restaurant knows Monday is just around the corner and manages to make Saturday night linger by filling the place with local live music. You can go savory (steak sandwiches, avocado toast, smashed potatoes with fried eggs and cheese) or sweet (french toast or Fruity Pebbles pancakes) as either option tastes better with a side order of Harry Chapin. 2025 Smith St., North Providence, 232-8696, thecentredale.com

 

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Linnette Lopez Torres, owner of Helado Taiyaki.

 

Creative Ice Cream Cones
Helado Taiyaki
These fish-shaped ice cream cones combine Japanese influence with Latin flavor. Helado means ice cream in Spanish, and taiyaki is a Japanese dessert that involves a fish-shaped cake filled with red bean paste or custard. Business owner Linnette Lopez Torres tapped into her Latin culture to create the cones stuffed with custard, cheeses and fruit and topped with colorful soft-serve spirals in tropical fruit, Asian and American ice cream flavors sprinkled with fun toppings like Teddy Grahams, Maria cookies, Fruity Pebbles, Oreos and Pocky. 102 Dean St., Providence, instagram.com/helado_taiyaki

 

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Shrimp biryani , tzatziki, mixed Mediterranean Pickle and Pita at Prince Ali’s Kebab.

 

Middle Eastern Food
Prince Ali’s Kebab
Formerly Sowams Market, this unexpected Middle Eastern mecca turns any weeknight dinner into something celebratory. Gyros, lamb kebabs, grilled halloumi and falafel bring the Middle East to New England — though they offer chicken tenders and fries if your kids are still clinging to an American diet. As for us, we’ll take the shrimp biryani anytime. 305 Sowams Rd., Barrington, 246-4096, prince-alis-kebab.com

Date Night
Res American Bistro
Though Res has a smoky, European-style bar downstairs, it’s the small sofas overlooking Washington Street from the second floor that make for a perfect date. Throw in some sparkling wine and decadent steaks, as well as caramel corn and cotton candy-topped desserts, and you’ll have a night full of food porn to post online. You might be too full for romance but there’s always tomorrow. 123 Empire St., Providence, 272-3965, respvd.com

Barbecue
Durk’s Bar-B-Q
Durk’s has smoke and attitude running through its veins. With a thick inventory of whiskey and a willingness to transform smoked meat into stellar sandwiches, pierogi, poutine and corn dogs, the menu appeals to barbecue connoisseurs of all ages. Don’t pass up a draft beer as you listen to a classic rock and country soundtrack for as long as possible, because smoke never smelled so good. 33 Aborn St., Providence, 563-8622, durksbbq.com

 

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Julia Broome, owner of Kin Southern Table and Bar.

 

Southern Food
Kin Southern Table and Bar
Julia Broome has extended an invitation to her family dinner — to all of Rhode Island. Everything is celebratory in this Washington Street restaurant, from the biscuits and honey butter to the fried chicken sandwich topped with thick slabs of bacon and Old Bay aioli. Drink down a Stoli and Kool Aid and you’ll think you’re back at the backyard barbecue with the relatives you miss most. 71 Washington St., Providence, 537-7470, kinpvd.com

Outdoor Beer Garden
Moniker Brewery
The outdoor atmosphere is as hip as the indoor setting at Moniker Brewery, where garage doors open wide in warm weather. Guests gather at al fresco picnic tables at the dog- and family-friendly spot and order takeout for delivery from Bucktown and other area restaurants. The communal atmosphere continues with fire pits and friendly service; indoors, there’s a large corner booth for mingling and the walls are decked out like an art gallery with portraits of local hospitality folks. 432 West Fountain St., Providence, monikerbrewery.com

Bakery Comeback
Scialo Bros. Bakery
Back from the brink of extinction and operating under a new owner, Scialo Bros. Bakery made a swift return this spring to the community’s collective sigh of relief. The founder’s daughter, Carol Gaeta, continues to run the show giving the people the same sfogliatella, cannoli, jimmy cake, rum cake and more that they always remembered and thought they’d have to try not to forget. The recipes have remained the same for the 105-year-old bakery and the fires in the brick ovens burn once again. 257 Atwells Ave., Providence, 421-0986, instagram.com/scialobrosbakery

 

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Diego’s serves Mexican food with a modern twist. Photograph courtesy of Diego’s / Jessica Gabeler Desforges.

 

New Mexican
Diego’s
Everything about Diego’s is innovative, from the kaleidoscopic decor to the fruit-infused cocktails to the vegetable-focused menu. Sure, there’s an enchilada and a platter of nachos to tide you over, but the real draw in this Wayland Square off-shoot is the way the kitchen turns local food into a homage to Mexico. Try the poblano goat cheese grits or the smoky carrots served on top of parsnip puree and you’ll realize that Mexican cuisine has never stopped evolving. It’s also one of the coolest places to spend a summer evening, so make a reservation. 192 Wayland Ave., Providence, 865-6222, diegosprovidence.com

Waffle Ice Cream Cones
Kow Kow
Even when social distancing is no longer necessary, the lines at Kow Kow will probably still wrap around the block. The new Fox Point ice cream shop’s specialty is freshly pressed bubble waffle cones stuffed with ice cream and decked out with over-the-top treats. Ice cream comes from Warwick Ice Cream and OddFellows, while the vegan version is from NadaMoo. Owner Vilada Khammahavong started out with a food truck and the name Kow Kow incorporates her Lao culture into the business along with some Asian and mainstream ice cream flavors. 120 Ives St., Providence, kowkowfood.com

Cocktail Collab
Rhode Island Iced Tea
Two women-owned Rhode Island businesses teamed up to create the Ocean State cocktail of the summer: the Rhode Island Iced Tea. Granny Squibb’s Organic Iced Tea Company’s Charlie’s Cranberry flavor and Rhode Island Spirits’ Rhodium vodka are mixed with limoncello for a drink that perfectly toasts a post-pandemic summer. Get it at Rhode Island Spirits’ tasting room, the Hot Club, Trinity Beer Garden, the University Club and Eddie’s Coffee and Cocktail Bar, and a portion of the proceeds go to Save the Bay. Granny Squibb’s, grannysquibb.com; Rhode Island Spirits, 59 Blackstone Ave., Pawtucket, 856-4111, rhodeislandspirits.com

 

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The house cheese pizza, spicy greens salad and weenie fries served with Pizza Marvin’s specialty cocktails.

 

Rad Pizza Spot
Pizza Marvin
Step back in time at Pizza Marvin in Fox Point’s food-centric neighborhood. Throwback rock pumps through the speakers and gingham-printed tabletops recall your neighborhood hangout decked out in ’80s and ’90s nostalgia. Order takeout or nosh on blackened-edged, New-Haven-style-inspired pies and thick-cut Sicilian slices topped with pepperoni cups that curl. Try twists on local clams both as apps and as a pizza topping. Dessert is a riff on Pennsylvania water ice combined with custard in funky flavors like tangerine granita and chocolate sea salt custard. 468 Wickenden St., Providence, 262-3336, pizzamarvin.com

 

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Dine under the lights on Chez Pascal’s patio.

 

Pandemic Pivots
The pandemic brought out the best and worst in us, but at local restaurants, it sparked a new wave of creative ingenuity. We embraced outdoor dining in translucent igloos made by Ocean State Shields, luxurious yurts at the Chanler and a heated tent with built-in chandeliers and romantic lighting at Tiny Bar. Then there was “apres ski” and patio dining in Adirondack chairs surrounded by twinkle lights and live music in a truck bed at Chez Pascal and drive-in-style carhops at Troop PVD and Chomp Kitchen and Drinks in Warren. Our local restaurants certainly pulled out all the stops to keep their kitchens running. The takeout game was strong, too. Persimmon put together picnic spreads with lobster rolls and complete clambakes and Nicks on Broadway and Coast Guard House packaged everything from soups, salads and appetizers to complete multi-course feasts with bubbles for fancy at-home celebrations. New Rivers made Fried Chicken Friday a thing, and the Red Dory came out with some of the best family-sized feasts and heat-at-home options

Ocean State Shields, oceanstateshields.com
The Chanler at Cliff Walk, 117 Memorial Blvd., Newport, 847-1300, thechanler.com
Tiny Bar, 377 Richmond St., Providence, instagram.com/tinybarpvd
Chez Pascal, 960 Hope St., Providence, 421-4422, chezpron.com
Troop PVD, 60 Valley St., Providence, 473-2900, trooppvd.com
Chomp Kitchen and Drinks, 440 Child St., Warren, 289-2324, chompri.com
Persimmon, 99 Hope St., Providence, 432-7422, persimmonri.com
Nicks on Broadway, 500 Broadway, Providence, 421-0286, nicksonbroadway.com
Coast Guard House, 40 Ocean Rd., Narragansett, 789-0700, thecoastguardhouse.com
New Rivers, 7 Steeple St., Providence, 751-0350, newriversrestaurant.com
The Red Dory, 1848 Main Rd., Tiverton, 816-5001, reddoryrestaurant.com

 

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Indian
Chaska
Classic Indian fare with a splash of American modernity makes Chaska some of the most appealing and authentic cuisine in the state. With an interior that celebrates color almost as much as it rejoices in good taste, every meal is a revelation. Do not miss the avocado sweet potato chaat, okra masala or the kasundi salmon tikka, and make sure to order the chocolate banana bread pudding, which is a masterpiece in any culture. 16 Midway Rd., Cranston, 537-7900, chaska-usa.com

New Italian
Giusto
Kevin O’Donnell’s Giusto is as much of a draw as the Newport coastline on a summer day. With a Scandinavian-style interior and a view of the setting sun, Giusto proves (every night) that nothing is more intoxicating than a plate of perfectly executed handmade pasta. Round out the meal with pork belly served with apricot, kale and almonds and a bottle of Montepulciano, because even the hills of Tuscany are envious of this dinner. 4 Commercial Wharf, Newport, 324-7400, giustonewport.com

Authentic Mexican
Dolores
If the history of Mexico can be told in a single bite, it’s definitely in the mole. Made with an amalgamation of peppers, chiles, tomatillos, nuts, chocolate and an encyclopedia of native spices and best served with housemade corn tortillas, Dolores’s mole manifests Mexico and its European incursion in every rich bite. And with a menu that includes everything from pork loin to octopus to tripe, you can be sure to find both familiar fare as well as something unusual to pair with your mezcal. 100 Hope St., Providence, 409-2075, dolorespvd.com

Italian
Iannuccilli Restaurant
Everything as it was, but better. Iannuccilli Restaurant pays homage to old school Italian with huge portions of marsala, Milanese, parmigiana as well as calamari, meatball salad and pasta that will make you proud to be Italian (or pretend that you are). Owner Nick Iannuccilli brings inspiration from trattorias across the motherland and the pride shows in every last bite of marinara. 1791 Cranston St., Cranston, 865-6820, iannuccillicranston.com

 

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Dive into these savory snacks and sammies from Dips Dips.

 

Our Small Food and Drink Businesses
Our food and drink small businesses helped us escape the daily grind with unexpected meals and memorable treats. Butterbang ditched the bike cart for a socially distant croissant window and Dips Dips got an online marketplace rolling for provisions like pimento cheese and onion dip with housemade chips for all our late-night Netflix bingeing needs, in addition to hosting popups with French dip and grinder sandwiches at local bars and breweries. The Mosaic Table and Bites By Bre both came up with elaborate multi-course meals delivered directly to our homes to mark any kind of celebration or feat. Even at-home bartending got easier with MXR Cocktails and Little Bitte’s DIY Cocktail Kits, which made getting a good drink possible even when bars were closed.

Butterbang, 11 Aleppo St., Providence, butterbang.com
Dips Dips, dipsdipspvd.com
The Mosaic Table, 691 Main St., Warren, 617-312-8915, themosaic table.com
Bites by Bre, 11-17 Aleppo St., Providence, 829-9313, bitesbybre.com
MXR Cocktails, mxrcocktails.com
Little Bitte, littlebitte.com

 

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Drinks and Apps
Stoneacre Garden
Sure you could spend a night in Newport trying to catch a breeze on the beach. But the best way to soak up a late summer evening is with some chili-infused tequila and a plate of hand-pleated dumplings in Stoneacre’s city garden. Make sure to order the Bang Bang Crispy Lobster, which might just be the state’s best version of tempura. 151 Swinburne Row, Newport, 619-8400, stoneacregarden.com