Looking for an Italian restaurant in Rhode Island? Do you want red sauce, homestyle, freestyle, inexpensive or fine dining? Should it be a ristorante or a pizzeria? Is Federal Hill the only place to find the best?
When it comes to Italian dining, there are so many questions. But there shouldn’t be. Rhode Island is blessed with many and all told, they suit every taste. Some bring you back to a long-ago era. Others push you into a more modern way to eat. A special one can transport you to another world.
Favorite restaurants are a very personal thing. For some, the choices can be tied up in location. A neighborhood place always has a leg up against the competition. For others, it’s the nostalgia that draws them back time and time again. The right price and portion size are vital to some. It’s their hard-earned money after all.
But if I’m being dispassionate to fairly compile a list, I need to consider all those things.
In the end, when I remember these 11 Italian restaurants, they offered not just a delicious meal, but a sense of place.
The best of Italian-American dishes are on the menu at Vanda Cucina, 1 Centerville Rd, Warwick, (401) 921-3144, vandacucina.com. Executive chef Gina Pezza’s excellent menu was built from owner Dino Passaretta’s memory of his mother’s cooking. You’ll find fusilli, caramelized onions and tender braised duck inspired by game stews. Creamy polenta is served as an appetizer with wild mushrooms and arugula and with a perfect pork chop. Olive oil cake is the perfect ending.
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When you crave tripe and fried smelts
If you grew up loving baccala, fried smelts and tripe, chances are you still crave them. But those who cooked them for you may be gone.
Mike’s Kitchen in the Tabor-Franchi VFW Post 2396, 170 Randall St., Cranston, (401) 946-5320, on Facebook, serves the foods that people of a certain age grew up with. You’ll find lots of Italian favorites made from family recipes that people no longer make at home. But there are also comfort dishes including meatball grinders and pastas including gnocchi. Chef Mike Lepizzera is gone but his family keeps the cuisine alive.
Creative Italian with a Rhode Island touch
Downtown Providence’s Rosalina, 50 Aborn St., (401) 270-7330, eatatrosalina.com, is an intimate spot that blends the most modern of Italian dishes with a taste of Rhode Island. Owner Lauren Lynch’s signature appetizer, the Pizzette Fritte, is a homage to doughboys with a piece of perfectly fried dough topped with pomodoro sauce, pecorino romano cheese, scallions and olive oil. Veal and Sweet Peas updates a classic. Beautiful Branzino is on the menu for seafood lovers as is squid ink spaghetti.
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Homestyle dining or to go
Angelo’s Civita Farnese Restaurant, 141 Atwells Ave., Providence, (401) 621-8171, angelosri.com, is the place you can bring a good size group to dine in one of their very large booths, cozy up with a friend, pick up takeout or get your dinner delivered. No matter the style of dining, you will find foods that taste like Mom made, if she was a great cook. All the classic sauces are here for your favorite macaroni as is veal and peppers (a classic) and all your Parm sandwiches. This is a people pleasing menu. Anyplace where they have been serving meatball and fries for nearly a century, is fine by me.
Consistently classic in Providence
They can change chefs and redecorate, but Camille’s Restaurant, 71 Bradford St., Providence, (401) 751-4812, camillesonthehill.com, stays the same with some of the best of classic Italian dishes. You’d think that after more than 100 years, Camille’s would let its guard down — but the great ones never do. And they still open for lunch and dinner at a time many restaurants have cut their hours. From the lineup of Frutti di Mare seafood dishes, veal and chicken entrees and the Rhode Island official appetizer Calamari Fritti, the food delivers a perfectly, satisfying meal.
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A modern take in Newport
It took a bit to warm up to Giusto, 4 Commercial Wharf, Newport, (401) 324-7400, giustonewport.com. But now I’m all in when it comes to the self-titled “freestyle Italian” restaurant from Kevin O’Donnell, a local who returned to open the restaurant in Hammetts Hotel. This is next-generation Italian food with some homage to classic dishes, like arancini and the Rhode Island Johnny Cake (served here with shrimp and n’duja, the spicy salami spread). The setting is also lovely, with an expansive patio for 100 alongside indoor dining for another 78. Don’t pass on the affogato dessert.
History is on the menu
There’s something about Twin Oaks, 100 Sabra St., Cranston, (401) 781-9693, twinoaksrest.com, that keeps calling me back. Maybe it’s the great views of Spectacle Pond, the hospitality of the DeAngelus family or the wonderful food coming out of chef Ryan Mancini’s kitchen. Or maybe it is because Twin Oaks is one of the last of its kind, a 650-seat restaurant. While smaller restaurants are the rule now, Twin Oaks harkens to a nostalgic time when everybody gathered there for the most important times of their lives. They still are and enjoying new and classic dishes.
When you want something special
If you want to impress a visitor, take them to Bacaro, 262 Water St., Providence, (401) 751-3700, bacarorestaurant.net. From the excellent rustic Italian fare, to the special wine choices, you will savor every bite and sip. But that isn’t enough to impress people these days so having the great river view, especially from the second-floor dining room, seals the deal. But you’ll want to start with drinks and charcuterie on the first floor where the atmosphere is so charming. Then move upstairs for grilled pizza, great seafood and memorable desserts. Chef Brian Kingsford and co-owner Jennifer Matta also own a Spanish restaurant Otra, that backs up to Bacaro.
New/old kid on the block
With dining on three levels on Federal Hill, you wouldn’t expect all the private dining nooks and crannies at Cassarino’s Restaurant, 177 Atwells Ave., Providence, (401) 751-3333, cassarinosri.com. They can accomodate a crowd or a dinner for two here. One of the often ignored items at Italian restaurants is steak. But when you find a good one, you don’t forget it. The Bistecca alla Mamma here is a wonderful dish with tender beef beautifully grilled. The restaurant has had new owners for nearly a year. They are Steven and Christine Anderson, alums of Johnson & Wales University, who had their first date at Cassarino’s in 2001 and have not come full circle.
It’s better with two
Anthony Tarro runs two Siena restaurants at 5600 Post Rd., East Greenwich, (401) 885-8850, and 400 Putnam Pike, Smithfield, (401) 349-4111, sienari.com. When the first Siena opened on Federal Hill, closed now, it was the new and shiny spot everyone wanted to try. They had most diners affection as soon as they served their huge Polpette Grande, a giant delicious meatball. It’s easy to forget restaurants as the next new one emerges, but Siena endures with stellar dinners that can be as simple as a pizza and wine or as elegant as Frutti di Mare, a dish of shrimp, scallops, littlenecks, and diced fish, sautéed in a choice of white or red clam sauce.
Don’t be put off that Locanda, 3009 Tower Hill Rd., Saunderstown, (401) 661-9380, locandari.com, is located in The Holiday Inn. This restaurant is the real deal as they make all their own pasta in house. It’s all very good. This is how grandmothers used to cook when they had the family over for Sunday dinner. They’d make all the pasta and dry it out on the kitchen table, and still make all the meat that complemented it. Try the tagliatelle in a veal and porcini ragu or the spaghetti with little neck clams.
News Source: https://www.providencejournal.com/story/entertainment/dining/2023/03/08/where-to-get-italian-food-providence-and-ri-vanda-mikes-kitchen-rosalina-camilles-giusto-twin-oaks/69971686007/