Old-school chowhound fare in Providence
I'm going to be in Providence at dinnertime on Thursday and possibly Friday nights, and I've got a hankering for old-school chowhound food. That's "chowhound" as distinct from "foodie" - I mean places that don't advertise fresh locally sourced ingredients, don't serve upscale twists on comfort-food classics, don't have a creative cocktail menu, aren't full of beautiful people. Nothing wrong with those things, but I get a lot of them these days where I live. I'm thinking more of the little hole in the wall where the lights might be fluorescent and the tablecloths might be plastic and the waiter might barely speak English but you get a really delicious meal, with none of the flavours watered down, that tastes spectacular and is really memorable in its deliciousness. A place that is just about the taste of the food, not about the "total experience". Could be something unusual and exotic and immigrant-run, or just a solid old local place that's been doing its greasy thing for decades.
I will be staying at the Biltmore downtown and am not quite sure what sort of time I'll have to venture further afield, so something walkable downtown is preferable; but depending on the situation I might be able to head a bit further out, so will take note if there's something away from downtown as well.
I did a preliminary searching and one place that seems like it might fit the bill is Flan y Ajo: http://flanyajo.com/ (Tapas made by someone with a Basque name, claiming "Flan y Ajo only has four stools. We do not take reservations. BYOB.") Other suggestions? I've been to Olneyville New York System and liked it, but looking to try something new.
"solid old local place that's been doing its greasy thing for decades" - so you want Haven Bros., then? A late-night diner in a trailer next to City Hall. When you're drunk and hungry after midnight, it's great.
Flan y Ajo has more than four stools, and has certain technical limitations. I wrote a lengthy post about it last year. It may be more what you're looking for. Tini may also fit your bill, but both will be more toward the foodie side of the spectrum. If you want to stay in the downtown core, you won't get the immigrant-run fluorescent-light kinds of places, though, as the rents are too high. You need to get down Broad St. a bit, where you'll find a mix of Asian and Hispanic places. Not really walkable from the Biltmore.
You could walk across the highway to the Federal Hill area, mostly places with tablecloths, though. But something like Bob & Timmy's Grilled Pizza might hit the spot.
Hard to think of many places downtown that fit that bill. As in most cities, the downtown/center city of Providence caters to office workers at lunch and high-ish end dining at night, with the ethnic restaurants located in the surrounding neighborhoods.
So while there a few hole in the wall spots Downcity (Eddie & Son Diners, Tommy's), they are breakfast/lunch places. At dinner, you find "foodie", as you've defined it, type places or taverns/bars.
Given your criteria the best I can think of is Bienvenida's Latin Grill in the Jewelry District. You can walk there from the Biltmore, but its not a short stroll. Or you could walk up to Federal Hill for red sauce Italian or get a grilled pizza from Bob & Timmy's.
If you'll have a car or are willing to get a taxi then there is plenty to choose from. Portuguese in East Providence, several Mexican spots throughout the city, a clam shack, etc.
Thanks, all. This gives me a better sense of the scene. I'll see what my situation is come dinnertime - whether I have time to get out of downtown - but your posts give me a good idea of what's out there. If I do have time to get away, I might drive out to Broad Street - what part of the street should I be looking on for Asian/Latino food?
re: Displaced Hoser
Just past Classical High School's football field as you're heading out of town there'll be Mekong Market on one side (groceries, fish, etc.) with Asian Bakery next door - reportedly good banh mi, but irregular hours, and I've not had much luck; Pho Paradise is across the street and is good. The Latino area is another mile or two south, but I don't get there very much.
But this reminded me of another option, Los Andes on Chalkstone Ave just past the VA hospital -- a very nice family-run Bolivian restaurant. There are also numerous taquerias on Valley St in Olneyville, but I don't have a good rec. There have been some Mexican-knowledgeable people posting here, so a search of the board may turn those up.