Real Food Travel Destination
Providence, Rhode Island is a little city with lots of character. A vibrant art scene, quaint neighborhoods full of unique shops, and several renowned colleges bring an energetic vibe to the city. The path along the river is a beautiful place for a walk, and the atmosphere becomes magical a dozen evenings each year when the city hosts WaterFire. This one-of-a-kind experience features bonfires along the river with a dramatic selection of music filling the air. Outdoor vendors adjacent to the Rhode Island School of Design sell beautiful works of art, from hand-blown glass pieces to gorgeous paintings. Waterfire showcases Providence at its best: warm, hospitable, beautiful, creative, and unique.
In recent years Providence has become a destination for foodies from around the world. Named the best food city in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2012, Providence is full of wonderful restaurants and markets that focus on locally sourced food. Area farms are thriving as chefs at different restaurants in the city support one another in their efforts to provide local fare to regulars and travelers alike. We live just an hour away from Providence, and we recently took a day trip to enjoy the city. I loved the architecture and the pedestrian-friendly layout, and my kids had a great time at the children’s museum. But most of all, we were wowed by the food. There are great choices everywhere you turn.
Providence has so many restaurants that focus on locally sourced ingredients that I couldn’t possibly list them all. Local food is becoming the norm here, and you’ll find a place for any budget or type of food you might want. If you’re visiting Providence for a few days, this list will get you started as you plan your food itinerary.
Tazza Caffe: Located in Providence’s Arts and Entertainment district on Westminster Street, Tazza Caffe serves modern American cuisine with a farm to table focus. They believe that great food starts with great farming. We had a delicious brunch here, and I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Providence. My family enjoyed the crepes, French toast, and huevos rancheros, but I don’t think you could go wrong with anything on their menu. (Update: Tazza closed its doors in late 2013.)
The Grange: One of New England’s premier vegetarian restaurants, the Grange emphasizes seasonal, organic produce from local farms. In addition to the restaurant, the Grange also includes a chicory coffee and juice bar as well as a vegan bakery.
Local 121: As its name suggests, Local 121 is committed to local food and sustainability. Their suppliers are small-scale New England farmers, cheese makers, and other food artisans, and they actively avoid GMO ingredients in their menu offerings. Their commitment to local products extends to the décor of the restaurant as they support local artists as well.
Bacaro: Overlooking the Providence River, Bacaro boasts a beautiful location and offers a menu based on seasonal, indigenous ingredients. They travel daily to local farms to pick up whatever produce is plentiful, so the menu changes regularly.
New Rivers: New Rivers has been serving locally sourced food in Providence for over 20 years. Located on Steeple Street, the menu is built around carefully sourced local ingredients. Artisan breads, homemade pasta, and house-butchered meat are served in this historically significant Providence building.
Figidini: This restaurant’s unique menu consists of traditional Neapolitian style pizza, small plates, seasonally inspired salads, and craft cocktails. They are the only restaurant in Rhode Island that solely cooks using one source, wood fire. The menu utilizes fresh ingredients sourced from local farms to regions of Italy.
Gracie’s: Located in the heart of the theater district, Gracie’s is Providence’s only AAA Four-Diamond Awarded Restaurant and a winner of Open Table Diner’s Choice Award for 2012. They use the freshest available ingredients to build a seasonal menu that reflects the flavors found at each time of the year. In addition to using produce from local farms, Gracie’s also has a rooftop garden.
Al Forno: In business since 1980, this riverfront restaurant serves an Italian menu that reflects the products of New England’s farms and waters cooked in wood-burning ovens and on grills over hardwood charcoal fires.
Chez Pascal: Located on Hope Street in Providence’s east side, Chez Pascal is a French restaurant with an ever-changing menu inspired by local, seasonal produce. They take their cues from the amazing area farmers who inspire them to create classic food.
Nick’s on Broadway: This contemporary American restaurant located in the West End of Providence specializes in seasonally inspired local food. Their four-course tasting menu looks like a great spread for a special occasion.
When we travel, my family tends to eat one restaurant meal each day, and we depend on markets and counter service meals for the rest of our food. Providence offers several markets where you can find all the ingredients for a wonderful picnic or meal on the go. If you’re on a tight budget, you can focus on this section to get lots of great local food.
Hope Street Farmers Market: Dozens of farmers and local food producers come together at Lippitt Park on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. This festive environment offers all kinds of local food and locally made products, including vegetables, honey, flowers, cheese, and baked goods. Farm Fresh Rhode Island helps connect low-income families to fresh produce, facilitating their SNAP benefits at the market. Complete with live music and a big playground, this farmers’ market is truly a community event.
Armory Farmers Market: On Thursday afternoons, over a dozen local farmers and food producers come together in downtown Providence to bring real food to the heart of the city. In addition to fresh produce, you can stop by this market to pick up local coffee, homemade bread, and locally crafted cheese.
Farmstead: Chefs Matt and Kate Jennings have been pioneers in the Providence local food movement, and Farmstead is a restaurant and specialty shop where they showcase their locavore creations. Artisan cheeses, freshly baked goods, and house-made salami are a few of the goodies you can pick up at Farmstead. (Update: Farmstead is moving to Boston.)
Ellie’s Bakery: Ellie’s neighborhood bakery is a great place to stop for breakfast, a sandwich, or an afternoon snack. After a long walk through Providence, we came to Ellie’s for a snack break. There were many beautiful pastries in the case, but I told the woman at the counter that we were looking for something more “healthy snack” than “dessert.” She pointed us toward delicious bars made from homemade granola and homemade fig jam, and they were exactly what we wanted. Ellie’s is associated with Gracie’s restaurant, and they depend on local farms and producers for their wonderful menu offerings.
Eastside Marketplace: This healthy food market offers a wide variety of whole food items, including a bulk section, deli, prepared foods, grocery, and produce. They even have a weekly sales flyer posted on their website, so you can take a look at what’s on sale and plan ahead.
You won’t have any trouble finding things to do between meals in Providence. Nicknamed the “Creative Capital,” Providence has a thriving art and music scene. There are also many unique shops throughout the city that your family will enjoy. Providence is a pedestrian-friendly city, but parking is also readily available if you need it.
Westminster Street: A stroll down Westminster Street offers lots of great window shopping in the heart of downtown Providence. This pretty neighborhood is a perfect spot for an afternoon stroll.
Benefit Street: I love the beautiful architecture on Benefit Street. This impressive collection of original colonial homes is an inspiring site any time of year, but it’s especially beautiful at Christmas time. The Rhode Island School of Design is located here, and they have a wonderful art museum that’s worth a visit.
Providence Children’s Museum: My 8-year-old and 10-year-old loved visiting the Providence Children’s Museum. They never get too old for building pipelines at a water table or laughing at their reflections in a warped mirror. The museum is much smaller than the Boston Children’s Museum, and it was a welcome change to explore a less crowded museum with ample parking right outside.
Roger Williams Zoo: My family has visited this zoo many times since my children were little, and they never get tired of it. During October, the zoo hosts an amazing jack-o-lantern spectacular, with 5,000 illuminated jack-o-lanterns on display. This is a great time of year to visit the zoo because the animals tend to be more active in the cooler weather.
WaterFire: I’ve heard about WaterFire a lot over the years, but until this recent visit I had never attended the event. It’s a spectacular display of bonfires along the rivers, complete with a cozy fireplace smell and an extraordinary soundtrack drifting through speakers all along the path. WaterFire is a free event that you need to experience to understand, and I highly recommend you plan a visit to Providence on a WaterFire night.
I’d love to hear your suggestions about other places you enjoy in Providence, so please share them in the comments!
If this post has given you the bug for New England travel, check out my other posts outlining real food travel destinations in this part of the country:
Disclosure: The Providence and Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted us on our recent visit, covering the costs of some of our food and entertainment. All opinions expressed here are my own, and I can’t wait to get back to Providence at mealtime in the near future.