Mangia! The Ultimate Guide to Federal Hill

Follow the red, white and green stripes to authentic Italian restaurants, bakeries and butchers, plus a host of multicultural newcomers.
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The Korean barbecue beef at Lekker BBQ is cooked tableside by diners in a bamboo steamer basket and served with three dipping sauces. Photography by Angel Tucker.

Multicultural Mainstays

The hill is not all-Italian, all the time. Here are some of the multicultural newcomers.

Lekker BBQ
You may think you know Japanese food, but unless you’ve visited the country itself, you probably don’t know seiro-mushi, a traditional Japanese cooking technique that involves a wood steamer box that steams meats and vegetables in bamboo baskets. Lekker BBQ, the Hill’s newest eatery, claims to be the only restaurant in America serving tableside seiro-mushi. Choose from the highest quality prime beef, from brisket and short ribs to splurge-worthy A5 Wagyu beef, along with eggs, tofu and up to fifteen seasonal vegetables, to go into your tabletop steamer that cooks on a timer. When the buzzer goes off, it’s time to dig in by wrapping meat and veggies in lettuce and adding up to three spicy dipping sauces. The best part is that if you order the combo, the experience involves two courses: After you eat your steamed meat and veggies, the server adds noodles to the boiling broth under the steamer for a tasty ramen dish. Must-try: Start with appetizers like yakitori chicken skewers and scallion and kimchi pancakes, then go for the seiro-mushi with the best quality meat you’re willing to pay for. 210 Atwells Ave., Providence, 285-9999, lekker-seiromushi.com

Don Jose Tequilas
One glimpse at the wall of rare tequilas is enough to tell you that this is not an ordinary Mexican restaurant. Don Jose Tequilas offers upscale Mexican cuisine and one of the best tequila selections in the state, which can be sampled in signature margaritas or straight, in flights of three. Chef Raquel Diaz claims to be the first to serve la cochinita pibil to Providence, which is Yucatan-style steamed and roasted pork, slowly cooked in plantain leaves and served with achiote sauce. Chef Maria Hernandez, with her family recipes from Veracruz, created the restaurant’s signature molacajete Azteca, which features sirloin, chicken, shrimp, cactus, chorizo and viajero cheese served in a hot stone bowl with chipotle sauce. Must-try: The molacajete can be ordered for one or two. Pair it with some of the restaurant’s fresh guacamole, prepared tableside, and an order of ceviche de camarones, which is a shrimp and lime ceviche. 351 Atwells Ave., Providence, 454-8951, donjosetequilas.com

Harry’s Bar and Burger
It’s double your pleasure, double your fun at Harry’s on the Hill. The burger mainstay sends out its sliders two by two (add a third for a “threesome”) with creative variations on the classic or cheese. Fresh, never frozen, Hereford beef patties are piled high with toppings like fried onion strings, hickory smoked bacon, portobello mushrooms and spicy housemade chili, served on toasted potato rolls and slathered with special sauce. Order a side of regular fries, sweet potato fries or fried onion strings to complete the meal, and always add on a hard milkshake that plays off Rhode Island’s famous coffee milk: Harry’s Morning Coffee with Jameson whiskey, Autocrat coffee syrup and vanilla ice cream. Must-try: The. M.O.A.B., mother of all burgers, topped with cheese, hickory smoked bacon, portobello mushrooms and fried onion strings. Don’t forget: Half-priced burgers are served every day from 3 to 5 p.m. 301 Atwells Ave., Providence, 228-3336, harrysbarburger.com/providence/on-the-hill

Nami
A Providence restaurant with a New York attitude, Nami describes itself as “Japanese fine dining” with an extensive steakhouse and sushi menu. The husband-and-wife owners met while working in restaurants in New York in the ’80s, and brought those flavors with them when they relocated to Providence. Sushi is the star of the menu with more than eighty types of sashimi and rolls to taste, plus meat lover options like rib eyes, filets and New York strip steaks. Save room for the Nami salmon, which is salmon topped with crab meat, baked with spicy aioli and served with avocado salsa. Must-try: The omakase platter, a chef’s sampling of small sushi plates that’s meant to be shared, is an excellent way to get out of your comfort zone and think beyond the California roll. 198 Atwells Ave., Providence, 383-6559, namiprov.com

Opa the Phoenician
A Federal Hill mainstay for sixteen years, Opa is a restaurant and hookah bar that serves Mediterranean cuisine with a Lebanese focus. The menu has the usual suspects — like house-made hummus and baba gannough — but with a quality of execution hard to find in Providence for Mediterranean food. For an introduction to Middle Eastern cuisine, order the fried kibbi bites, which are small mounds of ground beef with onion and pine nuts, or the mixed grill, with grilled lamb, filet mignon, chicken breast, souvlaki and kafta. For a true Lebanese experience, though, opt for chef Joe Karam’s Lebanese dinner, which is the chef’s choice of twelve small mezze plates. Must-try: You’ve had calamari fried before, but not like Opa’s grilled version with balsamic vinegar, oregano and olive oil marinade served with pita bread. 230 Atwells Ave., Providence, 351-8282, opaprovidence.com

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Al fresco dining at Providence Oyster Bar. Photograph: Joanne DiBona.

Providence Oyster Bar
Honest-to-goodness seafood restaurants — the kind where you can pick your own live lobster for your dinner — are surprisingly hard to come by in Providence. While you can choose from the tank at Providence Oyster Bar, and also eat your fill of fresh, local seafood like Block Island swordfish and Georges Bank cod, the restaurant is so much more than that. It also serves good fusion sushi and an Appy Hour menu, all seven days of the week (Tuesday through Sunday from 3 to 6:30 p.m. and Mondays from 4 to 6:30 p.m.) with dollar raw bar and inexpensive small plates of some of the restaurant’s greatest hits, like wasabi calamari with pickled ginger and cucumber, and classics like clams casino. Must-try: To eat like royalty, start with the Oceanus raw bar platter with oysters, littlenecks, shrimp and Alaskan king crab, and follow up with a POB baked stuffed lobster with scallops, shrimp and crab stuffing. 283 Atwells Ave., Providence, 272-8866, provoysterbar.com

Thailand Modern Eatery
Quite possibly Rhode Island’s greenest restaurant, Thailand Modern Eatery encourages its guests to bring in reusable bags and cups for takeout orders; it also avoids plastic and recycles all cans and paper goods. Even the decor is upcycled, from the sculptural displays to succulents nesting in repurposed jars and containers. The menu highlights local ingredients and traditional Thai flavors rather than altering dishes to American tastes. Expect the full “mouth-on-fire” effect from housemade Thai chili paste paired with curry, noodle and rice dishes — we recommend drunken noodles with beef, wide rice noodles, egg and vegetables — and if you really want a scorching experience, ask for off-menu items including special sauces and dishes that aren’t listed on the regular. Any meal can also be made vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free. Must-try: Ask for the secret menu, which may or may not have the laab on it, a minced chicken salad of lemongrass, cilantro, galangal and red onions dressed with lime juice, ground rice powder and red chilies. 292 Atwells Ave., Providence, 272-0882, thailandpvd.com

SAVE THE DATE!
The three-day Columbus Day Festival is held on Federal Hill every year during Columbus Day weekend. Visitors enjoy live entertainment, food from the Hill’s famous restaurants and the Sunday parade. More info at federalhillprov.com.

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