There’s a lot to be said about the dining scene in Providence. After a lull when it seemed like nothing was opening, new restaurants are popping up all over and creating a buzz among city foodies. But, there’s something to be said for appreciating the classics - and for getting out of your regular downtown routine. Check out these neighborhood institutions for a taste of local traditions.
When you think about the best Portuguese food around, unless your first thought is about your mother’s cooking, it’s probably about Madeira. The East Providence institution is so huge that it has its own lake out front (one day, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to have dinner on the boat in the middle of that lake) and still manages to have a wait on the week- ends. But a little further down Warren Avenue is O Dinis, which is tiny by comparison but just as delicious.
Owned by Dinis Paiva, the notable Portuguese musician, and run by his daughter Natalia Paiva-Neves, the restaurant manages to fly under the radar, but its fans are passionate about the delicious Portuguese classics served there. Order a bottle of Vinho Verde and be prepared to take your time and enjoy yourself. The wait staff is friendly, but also up front about the fact that dinner can take a little while. Don’t miss the Améijoas a Bulhao de Pato: littlenecks steamed with garlic and white wine that magically combine into the best thing you’ve ever tasted. An impressive nightly selection of specials changes often, and is heavy on fresh, local fish. But if it’s your first visit, you can’t not order the Bitoque, the classic garlicky, egg-topped sirloin, served with rice and Portuguese fries. It’s that good. Just don’t tell anyone I sent you there. I think the local Portuguese population likes keeping this one a secret. 579 Warren Avenue, East Providence. 438-3769
The sandwich is a universal concept. Think about it: whether it’s a burrito, a pork bun or a panini, every cuisine has a kind of carb-wrapped street food that’s easy to eat on the go. In Venezuela, it’s called an arepa. In it, a protien of your choice is sandwiched between two crispy, buttery corn cakes. Try one (or several) locally at La Arepa in Pawtucket. The restaurant serves “typical Venezuelan food,” like the Pabellon Criollo (pictured above), which is stew-shredded beef or chicken served with rice, black beans and plantains, but the stars of the show are the arepas. While you can have one with shrimp, pork, chicken salad or a variety of other fillings, try the stew-shredded chicken or beef, both of which are slow cooked and incredibly flavorful. Add queso fresco and avocado for good measure. If you prefer sweet to savory, choose a cachapa instead of an arepa, which swaps out the buttered corn cakes for a sweeter cornbread that’s just as delicious, but isn’t as easy to eat on the run. Besides the fact that there’s never a wait, the best part about La Arepa is the price: order an arepa, add plantains and rice to round out the meal, and you’ll still only spend about $10. 574 Smithfield Avenue, Pawtucket. 335-3711
While L’Antica Trattoria is technically in Providence, it’s about as far from the trendy downtown dining scene as you’re going to get. Housed in St. Bart’s Social Club, on a side street in Silver Lake, L’Antica Trattoria serves up classic preparations of old school Italian favorites. Walk into the club, and you’re welcomed like family – which is no surprise, considering that husband and wife duo Lidia and Rino Maselli own and operate the place, Lidia in the back and Rino in the front. Lidia’s father bought St. Bartholomew’s Social Club in 1978, and she started helping out in the kitchen back then. The menu grew from cooking for the men playing cards on Saturday afternoons (the kitchen is still open all day on weekends, but just for dinner during the week) to a full-fledged restaurant, which got so big that they moved out of the club’s basement into the entire building in 1995.
Monthly “basement dinners” hearken back to that tradition, but dinner is available nightly. While Lidia and Rino call the menu “peasant food” from Naples, where Lidia was born, that’s really just code for simply prepared, incredibly delicious cuisine. When you sit down, order a carafe of the house wine and Rino’s Antipasto, a plate of prosciutto, sopressata, house-cured pork loin, house-pick- led eggplant, roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella. From there, choose fresh fish – the Filetto Di Pesce Con Pomodori, baked scrod with a fresh tomato sauce, is simple and elegant – or poultry, like the Grilled Chicken Napoletana, which is marinated in balsamic and topped with provo- lone and red peppers. Linger over an espresso and some gelato, and chat with Rino, who will stop by your table more than once to check on
things. 66 Sophia Street, Providence. 942-0640
SUN AND MOON KOREAN
Just over the bridge in East Providence is Sun and Moon Korean. The unassuming storefront is easy to miss, but once you’re inside, you know you’re in the right place. The front room is mostly occupied by a diner counter, generally packed with in the know foodies. Head to the back and sit in the larger dining room. Order a sake (the restaurant serves beer and wine only) and some Fried Vegetable Dumplings with spicy sauce and vegetables. They’re hands down the best dumplings in the greater Providence area. Then, delve into Korean classics. The Bulgogi, marinated rib eye with vegetables over rice, is a solid choice, and better than at a lot of other Asian restaurants around here. If you’re feeling crazy, add Bulgogi to a stone pot BiBimBap, which is a rice bowl with six kinds of vegetables in it. You can’t cook the Korean BBQ yourself on your table like you can at Sura in Johnston, but it comes on a sizzling platter. It’s not as interactive, but let’s face it, the chefs at Sun and Moon are better cooks than you. Let them do the heavy lifting. While the restaurant is open for dinner nightly, it’s only open for lunch during the week. Plan your first visit accordingly. The cravings you’re going to get afterwards? Well, those you aren’t going to be able to plan around. 95 Warren Avenue, East Providence. 435-0214
FOUR SEASONS RESTAURANT
You’ve heard the conversation before. Hell, you’ve had the conversation before: “I don’t really like Chinese food, but (whatever place that delivers near your house) isn’t so bad.” Drop the General Tso’s Chicken, because Four Seasons Restaurant is going to be your new secret Asian food spot. A well-appointed restaurant located in an unglamorous strip mall on the Cranston/Providence line, Four Seasons serves Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai food. Start with the Nime Chow, a steamed Cambodian spring roll stuffed with cellophane noodles, basil and shrimp. Sure, it’s on every menu, but theirs is the best around. Then order the Delicate Beef Soup, made with lemongrass, celery and baby eggplant. The Cantonese Noodles are worth a taste, but make sure to add an extra deep fried egg on top. It’s a must. It will be a tough choice between Vietnamese Bee Bong, which is a version of a coconut curry with mint, noodles and peanut sauce, or Banh Chiaew, a pork and shrimp crepe with fish sauce and bean sprouts – so just order both. Pictured above: Four Seasons lettuce wrap. 361 Reservoir Avenue, Providence. 461-5651
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