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Jul 29, 2010 10:32 AM

Short trip to Providence, what can't be missed?

I'm traveling to Providence (from LA) for a conference the first week of August and looking for some good food while there. I will be traveling with other co-workers, though I'm the foodie in the group and not adverse to eating alone if the cuisine is can't miss. I'm interested in the local "you must try this" places and "you can't get this anywhere else" dishes.
Love good martinis and wine bars.
Open to all styles of cookery, though I hear there is some great Italian to be had in Federal Hill. Also a great fan of seafood, but anything interesting will do.
Suggestions for evening activities would be appreciated too.
I will be staying downtown and limited to walking and/or public transit.

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  1. How many nights?

    I think the consensus here is that the two best restaurants in town are Gracie's, which you can walk to, and Chez Pascal, which will require a cab (there is no public transit to speak of in PVD.) Both are high-end white tablecloth places, but ultimately not the sort of food you can't find in other cities. Seafood, oddly enough, is not well-represented in Providence -- for good seafood you need a car. Italian is certainly well-represented on Federal Hill -- Angelo's, Pane e Vino, Siena, Mediterraneo all have their fans, so search the board. The nice thing about eating on the Hill is that you can walk over to Pastiche for dessert, which is certainly among the "don't miss if you're here" crowd.

    The foods which really say "Rhode Island" are smaller, more off-beat things, which are either acquired tastes (clear chowder, coffee milk, stuffies, deep-fried calamari with "vinegar peppers") or disgusting (pizza strips, "NY System" weiners.)

    Oh, and I don't know what your hours will be, but if you're downtown and out *late*, the RI thing to do is to go to Haven Bros. (a portable diner by City Hall.)

    Won't get into evening activities because the mods will probably point out this is Chowhound and not Musichound.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Gin n Tonic

      Thanks. All my evening activities revolve around food anyway ;). Thanks for the suggestion about Pastiche.
      I'll be there very briefly with time for about two dinners out (in Tuesday night--out Friday morning).
      Cab distance is fine; wish I had more time to venture around.

      1. re: Gin n Tonic

        You recommend Haven Bros and call pizza strips and weiners disgusting? LOL

        I ate at Chez Pascal last Thursday. It is not a "white-tablecloth" place at least as I think of what that connotes (stuffy). Plenty of diners were in shorts. But the food is very high-end and relies strongly on local ingredients. This is modern dining at its best. And if you're looking for seafood, the swordfish I had was outstanding.

        I will second Pastiche for dessert and Haven Bros for post-nightlife al fresco eats.

        PS I'm sure the Hope 42 RIPTA bus will let you off right across the street from Chez Pascal 8<D

        Chez Pascal Restaurant
        960 Hope St, Providence, RI 02906

        1. re: Bob W

          Well, I wasn't really "recommending" Haven Bros, I said it was the RI thing to do. Although after enough drinks, I might recommend it.

          As to weiners, there's a reason the alternate term "gaggers" is so apt.

          1. re: Bob W

            Seriously. Find a schedule for the #42 and plan your visit to Chez Pascal accordingly. The bus is far more likely than a taxi to arrive at its appointed time and will be no grubbier.


            Don't miss Pastiche.

            Chez Pascal Restaurant
            960 Hope St, Providence, RI 02906

        2. Agree with the Bob's comments above re Chez Pascal and the rec for Gracies from Gin.

          If you want a lower price point in the downtown area, I love the Red Fez. Restaurant downstairs and hipsterish bar upstairs both serving solid food and good drinks. Current menu items include clam fritters and a take on poutine featuring chorizo. They also have the best griled cheese in the city.

          For RI-only "delicacies":

          Weiners are a RI institution. NY System Weiners on Smith Hill is an option for late night eats, but I wouldn't make it one of my two dinners. Smith Hill is a short cab ride or a decent walk from downtown or take the 57 or 56 bus. Depending on your and your companion's comfort level in urban areas, Smith Hill may feel dangerous/sketchy as the hour grows later.

          I happen to love pizza strips. You're not going to find any downtown, but one of the bakeries or markets on Federal Hill must offer them.

          If you want seafood and don't mind a cab ride, Horton's in East Providence does excellent clam shack fare, though it is nowhere near the water. Rhode Island clam shack can't miss items would include stuffies, clam cakes and clear chowder. For my money, their lobster roll is the best in the state.

 is an excellent resource for uniquely Rhode Island food-ways.

          Red Fez
          49 Peck St, Providence, RI 02903

          Chez Pascal Restaurant
          960 Hope St, Providence, RI 02906

            1. re: Bluebird

              drinks at the hot club,dinner at al fornos......thumbs up to hortons,among the best fried seafood anywhere,and its not all fried there.hemenways for fancy seafood.for drinks check lili marlenes,the avery,or ama right across the street,all very short cab from federal hill,walkable really..

              1. re: im hungry

                Sorry, but I don't think an out-of-towner could or should walk from one of the downtown hotels to the Avery/Ama. It's a bit far, and much of it is pretty deserted late at night. I'm also not sure I'd recommend walking to the Hot Club.

                1. re: Gin n Tonic

                  Yeah, agreed.

                  im hungry's rec's here are sketchy in general. None of them are Chowhound favorites, or close to it.

                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                    i heart the hot club, but i don't know that an unescorted out of towner would understand it. i'd skip a sit down dinner on federal hill (my hood) and opt for pizza strips and spinach pies at palmieri's in depasquale square and DEFINITELY sweets at pastiche. and for heaven's sake if it's expense accountable order the seven course tasting at gracie's, for me?

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      I find your comment to I'm Hungry rather harsh. Have you ever been to Lili Marlene, The Avery, or Ama? I think Hungry suggested them all for drinks (as the OP was looking for as well) and I find them unique to Providence. They are really interesting spaces, particularly the latter two. When I travel I'm less interested in hearing about Chowhound favorites than in spiritied indie joints (albeit these might coincide). Are we supposed to write only about obvious crowd pleasers? How boring would that be?!

                      Lili Marlene's
                      422 Atwells Ave, Providence, RI 02909

                      1. re: digga


                        LM and Avery are bars. I don't find anything special about either or them, and the cocktails at neither are particularly interesting, nor well-made.

                        Ama is kind of funky.

                        I was more talking about Al Forno and Hemenways as representatives of the PVD food scene. They're both blah, and, in my opinion, way past any prime they may have had.

                  2. re: im hungry

                    What about The Providence Oyster Bar for seafood. We went there recently and it was great!

                    Providence Oyster Bar
                    283 Atwells Ave, Providence, RI 02903

                2. La Laiterie in Wayland Square. You would need a cab, but it is definitely worth it. Not only one of the best in Providence, but really one of the best in the state!

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: LMWW

                    Al Forno is sketchy???not chowhound worthy,please....inv..seriously??

                    1. re: im hungry

                      Plenty of people like Al Forno, but there is a cadre of dislikers and George and Joann can fight their own battles so most of the posts are negative. Still, coming from downtown there are probably better choices for someone with limited time in Providence and no car (this being 2010 and not 1987).

                      1. re: Bob W

                        Al Forno was the shizz twenty years ago. Now it's just a dinosaur, with subpar, overpriced food. It's a sweet spot for people in their forties and fifties+ to hang out, not for interesting, well-prepared food.
                        Most of the people who like Al Forno are tourists.

                      2. re: im hungry

                        I've never walked out of Al Forno happy, I finally smartened up and stopped going. The food is merely OK, and they charge a fortune for it. Pizza is good, I'll give them that, and the patio is gorgeous. But I'd pick Bacaro or Siena over Al Forno any day.

                        Bacaro Restaurant
                        262 S Water St, Providence, RI 02903

                        1. re: JaneRI

                          Hmm. Truthfully I've never walked out of Al Forno unhappy. I've walked out of there thinking the service is a little spotty, but I've never been let down by a meal. The desserts in particular are awesome! I will eat their banana-mascarpone tart daily if my waist line would allow it. Also, I just feel like Bacaro is Al Forno Lite. Same dishes (identical in some cases), same prices, same kinda spotty service. Jane, I do value your opinion though. I usually find myself nodding at whatever rec you make!

                          Bacaro Restaurant
                          262 S Water St, Providence, RI 02903

                          1. re: thegreenfish

                            Ok, my two cents.

                            Skip Al Forno. Yes, it's been written up in Bon Appetit, Gourmet, blah blah blah. It's not all that, even though my niece waitressed there and loads of celebs came in, including Hillary Clinton. They are resting on their laurels and I have a tough time justifying $29 for a pork chop.

                            Also skip Gracie's. I have boycotted this ever since I got a cheese plate to share with 4 people for $15 and each piece of cheese (5 in all) was the size of a quarter.

                            Yes, have a weiner and if you want to sound like a local, order it "all the way" (it'll come with onions, mustard, meat sauce and celery salt). Have a Del's frozen lemonade too, while you're at it.

                            Ok, restaurants that fit your bill.. RiRa is a fun, upscale Irish pub. 10 Prime Steak and Sushi is a great steak place, as is Prime (which Bill Clinton happens to like). On Federal Hill, which you can walk to, I very much like Meditteraneo and Pane e Vino. Angelo's is no frills and serves ravioli homemade across the street (this was Dustin Hoffman's favorite restaurant when he was filming in RI). Pastiche is cozy for dessert and Cafe Dolce Vita is sleek - different but both good. For fun casual, I love Cuban Revolution.

                            Cafe Dolce
                            5 Coggswell St, Pawcatuck, CT 06379

                            Bon Appetit Cafe
                            5 River Rd, Wilton, CT 06897

                            1. re: PaulaK

                              While Ri Ra is what it is (a chain, at that), I don't think it fits into the "can't be missed" group.

                              Angelo's, however, is dope.

                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                Wow guys thanks for all the suggestion and directions. Any lunch places down around Public Street? Can't wander too far, but might have a chance to escape for an hour during the day.

                                1. re: profpotts

                                  Did not think Asian is what someone from LA comes to RI for, but if I had to eat lunch on Public Street there is only one place: Apsara near Elmwood Ave, a Cambodian/Thai institution. The yellow noodle soup is one of my favorite lunches.

                                  Apsara Restaurant
                                  716 Public St, Providence, RI 02907