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Jun 25, 2013 10:51 AM

Visiting Downtown Providence--restaurant/grocery store recs?

I will be at a convention in the RI Convention Center (staying at the Omni) the first weekend of August. I would like restaurant and grocery store recommendations. I like local food I can't get anywhere else. I know that RI is known for clam cakes & stuffies & other things made with clams, snail salad, coffee milk/cabinets, Del's Frozen Lemonade, & probably a few other things. I am a very adventurous eater (who doesn't drink coffee, but I might want to buy some Morning Glory coffee syrup & similar grocery souvenirs to take home to DH & the kids). Breakfast isn't included in the convention, so recs for a place to buy breakfast supplies (particularly milk & bread) would also be appreciated since I probably won't have time in the morning to hit a restaurant--not a morning person!

My preferences: no national chains (local fast food is fine), not too expensive, near the convention center or near a bus stop that connects to downtown. Also, I may have others tagging along with me who have mobility issues (wheelchairs) & allergy/gluten issues; you don't need to take that into consideration in your recs, though if you have experience in that arena your thoughts would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance.


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  1. Federal Hill, specifically Atwells Ave, is the "Little Italy" of Providence. Constantine's Venda Ravioli is one of the best Italian markets I've been to. They have a cheese section, olive section, prepared foods section, meats, etc, breads, their raviolis in many many varieties, sauces, imported groceries etc. There are also a few very good pastry shops within steps of it. I always stop there when I'm driving back to Boston from CT or NY. I think it's walking distance from the convention center.

    1. Hi Christina,
      If you are looking for breakfast basics (such as the milk and bread you mentioned,) your best bet downtown is probably Gourmet Heaven on Weybosset Street. This is a chain, but a pretty good one, and for staples it's your downtown option. There is also a Whole Foods market (an even larger chain) on North Main Street on the opposite side of the river. It's a longer walk, but probably do-able. A less corporate option, but likewise outside of the immediate downtown, is the Fertile Underground on Westminster Street. This is a local food co-op, and they have a great selection of local products, including some local dairy. The staff is really friendly too! As catsmeow mentioned, Venda Ravioli is a local landmark, and an experience unto itself. They do have some staple items, like bread, but it's most well known for its incredible selction of prepared foods, cheeses, meats, and delish homemade pastas.

      For carry-away breakfast items, such as baked goods and breads, I recommend Tazza on Westminster which has oatmeal and baked goods. Small Point Cafe, also on Westminster, also caries breakfast items. Ellie's Bakery on Washington is excellent, and usually jam-packed with folks stocking up on some of the best baked treats Providence has to offer. It's only steps away from the Convention Center.

      For your gluten sensitive friends, I would recommend dining at The Grange on Broadway. This is a vegetarian restaurant, and it seems to cater to folks with all kinds of dietary restrictions. The food is an absolute delight, and the ambiance is incredible as well. This meat-eater recommends it highly! It would be a very short cab ride from the convention center for those with mobility issues. In general, though, I see lots of gluten free options all over town, and I think most places would be able accomodate such diets.
      In terms of downtown restaurants, if you are looking for something with a local angle, I'd recommend The Dorrance on (duh) Dorrance Street, and Local 121 on Washington. The Dorrance, in particular, has gotten a lot of buzz, but unfortunately I've found it underwhelming, especially since the food comes with a steep price tag. Maybe you'd have better luck? Local 121 is a solid A-/B+, but it's got great atmosphere, both in the dining room and in the bar. It's menu stresses the local, and I think they usual have at least a few gluten-free options. Both The Dorrance and Local 121 are walking distance to the Convention Center. An even better option in a similar vein is Gracie's on Washington. Pricy, but I've always found it more consistently satisfying than The Dorrance.
      Full disclosure--I've yet to try Birch, which is a buzzy, brand-spankin-new restaurant in a tiny old space. Word is, this place is fabulous, but it's definitely not a good option for those with mobility issues.
      For old-school New England seafood, the old (non-chain) standby is Heminways just across the river on South Main Street. Pricy, cleanly-presented seafood. A solid option.
      For more casual dining in a nice environment, Providence Coal Fire Pizza on Westminster is good option.
      For my money, a truly delicious and unusual option is the teeny tiny Flan y Ajo on Westminster. BYOB tapas bar, often standing-room-only, it's a miracle they turn out such high-quality cuisine with nothing but a toaster and a hot plate (you have to see it to believe it.) Wine store conveniently located next door at Eno, not for those with mobility issues or dietary restrictions, because the daily menu is limited.
      For a local brew, your downtown options are Trinity Brewhouse on the corner of Empire and Washington, and Union Station on Union Square. The beers are ok, but I wouldn't recommend either establishment for their fine dining.
      Another way to sample some local cuisine are the food trucks which are often found downtown. Most of them dish up good food at reasonable prices.
      For Asian, Jacky's Galaxy is the PVD outpost of a very small local chain. The ambiance is nice overlooking Waterplace Park, and the food is usually solid. For something even less "fancy," I've always enjoyed Sura on Westminster (Japanese) and Teryaki House (Korean) across the street. Neither are anything way out of the ordinary, but they're both pleasant and conveniently located near the Convention Center.
      Have fun in RI and happy eating,

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