College Town Tours: The Best of Providence

The steps of Faunce House on Brown University‘s Quad

Providence is an underrated city. Overshadowed by its bigger neighbor, Boston, people always forget all of the great things that Providence has to offer. Of course, there are the colleges and universities in the area, but there is also an amazing art scene, delicious restaurants, and a million things to do in the area. Since Providence is mostly a college town, here is a basic guide to all of our favorites the city has to offer (and a few great spots outside). There are countless other places to go, but this best of list pretty much summarizes all the necessary places that a college student in Providences needs to know about.

–Melissa Tovin and Rebecca McGoldrick, Small Kitchen College Ambassadors

**SKC Picks**

Best early morning breakfast (after a night of going out)
Louis
286 Brook Street, Providence // (401)861-5225

Louis is not just a breakfast place. Louis’ is an experience. Open from 5am to 3pm every day, the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner at all hours, in typical diner fashion (unfortunately due to Rhode Island law, Louis’ does not serve alcohol until 6am). Louis’ is often packed right when it opens at 5am, not because college students are early risers, but because you’re either pulling an all-nighter or you’re in need of some breakfast before going to bed.  Of course there are the locals who actually are up at 5am for their jobs, but Sunday mornings at 5am the crowd will be Brown and RISD students looking for some (very) late night snacks. If you go often and order crazy enough concoctions, you could even get one named after you!
Must Order: Poached Passion, Pruit’s Pleasure, Pumpkin- Chocolate Chip Pancakes, any of the grilled muffins

Best late night breakfast (after a night of going out)
Dugout Grille
272 Thayer Street, Providence // (401) 282-6888

If it’s after 3pm and you’re craving a little (or big) omelet, or any breakfast food for that matter, Dugout Grille is the perfect place to go. Dugout serves breakfast and greek food all day. We love to go there to get pancakes bigger than our faces, gyros, and of course the omelets. Although the history and tradition of Louis’ doesn’t apply to Dugout since it opened less than a year ago on Thayer street, Dugout is a welcome addition to our late night dining and a cheaper alternative to the pricier Mediterranean restaurants in the providence area.
Must Order:  Pancakes (any kind or combination)

Best Place to Get a Bagel Sandwich
White Electric
711 Westminster Street, Providence // (401) 453-3007

When we get sick of college hill and are craving some good coffee and a bagel sandwich, White Electric is the first place that comes to our minds. The atmosphere is cool and artsy, with a little bit of a family vibe, and better yet, it’s not crowded like the coffee shops on the hill. The wall decor adds to the atmosphere, with a black and red themed mural, and the space lends perfectly to the occasional musical performances that they have. Although we always go there for the intense bagel sandwiches with the best fresh veggie combinations on them (who doesn’t love pesto tomato and chedder with sprouts?) and amazing frozen coffee drinks, they also offer great lunch combinations and of course delicious baked goods. Whether just going for breakfast or to hang out and study, White electric is definitely on our list of favorites.
Must Order: Cheddar pesto sandwich on a bagel, Humus sandwich (also on a bagel), Frozen Lattes

Best Coffee Shop
Coffee Exchange
207 Wickenden Street, Providence // (401)273-1198

Just by the name we knew that this was a good coffee shop, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. When you walk in the smell of coffee is overwhelming (in a good way of course) and the cafe is bustling with a combination of locals, students and professors either studying, chatting or just drinking their coffee. The coffee is not only amazing, and some say the best in providence, but it is also all fair-trade. The baked goods, soups and non-coffee drinks are delicious too, but the real draw is the cool and relaxed atmosphere. On a sunny day in providence be mindful of heading down to this coffee shop on Wickenden street because it will probably be swamped without any free tables as people like to sit and enjoy their coffee there rather than take it to go.
Must Order: Coffee (no brainer), Dirty Chai (chai tea latte with a shot of espresso)

Best Diner
Modern Diner
364 East Avenue, Pawtucket // (401) 726-8390

Although not technically in providence (the address says Pawtucket), this diner is good enough to make it onto our list. Think classic diner feel with a twist of gourmet food, plus diner portion sizes. They don’t take reservations so be prepared to wait on line at peak breakfast hours. But it is definitely worth it, especially if you get to sit in the authentic diner car. A little tip for if you are with a small party: if you enter through the car you can walk in and sit at the counter without waiting since they only seat the tables. Modern diner may be a drive away from college hill but it is most definitely worth the trip.
Must Order: Eggs and Polenta, any type of omelet

Best Boutique
Clover
233 Westminster Street, Providence // (401) 490-4626

Providence is not a city that is known for it’s shopping. However, Clover boutique on Westminster Street is a shopping gem hidden amongst coffee shops and restaurants. Clover provides shoppers with brands like Elizabeth and James, Jbrand, and seven as well as lesser-known brands. Besides the pricey clothing, the boutique also carries surprisingly low priced jewelry and accessories.  Clover brings a little bit of New York to Providence. Also be sure to stop by Farmstead’s sandwich shop a couple of doors down to beat the post-shopping fatigue.

Best Parent’s Weekend Restaurant
Baccaro
262 South Water Street, Providence // (401)751-3700

It is always a debate every time our parents come to visit, where do we go out to dinner? When our parents are footing the bill we want to make sure to choose somewhere special, especially when dining hall food really isn’t cutting it. Many people say that Al Forno is the ultimate for parent’s weekend, but their no reservations policy can make it less desirable. For this reason, we chose its sister restaurant, Baccaro, for our parent’s weekend pick. Sitting right by the river close to downtown providence, Baccaro is our all time favorite modern Italian restaurant in Providence. With their seasonal menu, delicious tapas, salumi and cheese menu, and very long wine list, choosing a different restaurant to show off Providence dining to our parents is simply unacceptable. Definitely come here on an empty stomach because you will find countless dishes to devour.
Must Order: Depends on the menu since it changes seasonally!
Other parent’s weekend recommendations: Mill’s Tavern, Red Stripe, Broadway Bistro and Siena

Liquor Store
Standard Liquors
829 Eddy St, Providence // (401) 941-9605

For any college student, a go-to liquor store is definitely a necessity, and Providence does not have a shortage of liquor stores to choose from. However, finding the place with the best selection, best prices, availability of kegs and more can be a challenge. That is where Standard comes in. The people who work there are friendly, they are willing to order items that they don’t normally carry, and its cheap! The only downside to Standard liquors is that it is driving distance from college hill. If you have a car or can borrow a friend’s for the afternoon it is definitely worth the savings to check out Standard.

Best Two in One
Farmstead and La laiterie
184-188 Wayland Avenue, Providence // (401)274-7177

This is not just one of our favorites, but actually two of them under one roof. La Laiterie cheese shop and Farmstead restaurant both top our list. La Laiterie is an intimate french restaurant that does not take reservations, but is worth the wait, and perfect for a date or even a place to bring your parents. Not only is the environment great and the food delicious but the prices are not something to complain about! Walk through the door to Farmstead, the cheese shop connected to La Laiterie, and you will find gourmet cheeses and food, at slightly steeper prices. These cheeses and delicacies may be expensive, but the people who work the counter know more than a thing or two about cheeses. And of course, don’t forget to stop by farmstead’s sandwich shop location downtown on westminster street!
Must order:  mac’n brie; grilled cheese

Best Local Entertainment (and food!)
AS220
115 Empire Street, Providence // (401)831-3663

Restaurant, bar, concert venue and art space all describe AS220. A hidden gem in the downtown Providence area with a cool scene, we absolutely love AS220. First we will start with the food. With all items on the menu being less than $10, it’s an affordable bet for dinner with vegan-friendly, and a relaxed atmosphere. The bar, that is in the same room as the “restaurant,” has killer sangria, delicious drinks and a very casual hipster feel. The restaurant and bar are really secondary to the rest of AS220, a non profit community art space that provides an “unjuried and uncensored forum for the arts.” This makes it so that all artists have an opportunity to perform in their space, which can make for performances ranging from really strange to really amazing. Either way there is always something exciting and very fun to see at AS220.

Best Movie Theatre
Cable Car
204 South Main Street, Providence // (401)-272-3970

The cable car is a movie theatre and cafe that shows independent films in a cozy setting. We don’t go there to see the big box office hits. Two person “love-seat” couches are present in the place of movie theatre seats, which lends perfectly to a fun date or a casual night out with friends. The cafe in the cable car is also a great place to grab a coffee or get some work done. The cable car is often host to various film festivals that are sponsored by the nearby universities.

Best Bar Downtown
The Red Fez
49 Peck Street, Providence // (401) 272-1212

Hands down the coolest bar in downtown Providence, the Red Fez is definitely a must visit if heading to Providence. The first step is actually finding it. The bar does not have a sign with its name on it, rather one with a picture of a red fez. The scene inside the bar is just as understated as the outside, very casual and cool, with awesome drinks and great comfort food. We would recommend this either for a casual dinner or late night drinks, either way you will not be disappointed!
Must Order: Any and all of their delicious drinks, Mac n’ cheese

Best Concert Venue
Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel
79 Washington Street, Providence // (401)331-LUPO

Although Boston usually gets all the big name acts and concerts, Providence doesn’t do too badly with the lesser-known bands. This is mostly due to Lupo’s, a concert venue downtown that brings in all sorts of performers. If you don’t want to wait for Brown University’s spring weekend for a great concert, simply check out what’s going on down at Lupo’s and you will definitely find someone you are excited about seeing live. Lupo’s is standing room only, so don’t worry about getting good seats–all shows are general admission and there are three full bars at the back of the venue.

Best Classic Italian Bakery
Pastiche
92 Spruce Street, Providence // (401)861-5190

We could not talk about food and Providence without talking about the Italian cuisine on Federal Hill. And of course how can you talk about Italian food without talking about delicious desserts. Pastiche is the place to go for classic Italian pastries in Providence. The cakes are amazing and can be purchased by the slice for a little treat or an entire cake for a celebration.
Must order: Everything!

Best Bar on College Hill
The Alehouse
165 Angell Street,  Providence // (401) 454-3434

Another new addition to college hill, just off the bustling Thayer Street, the alehouse has certainly been a welcome one. When you enter down the stairs, you walk into a cavernous space with spacious booths and tables, exactly the environment of an English pub. The alehouse continues to impress with its beer menu that is pages long, categorized into different types, and rotates through the taps throughout the year. Traditional pub food is also served, but who has room with so many beer choices to try. If you really become a regular you can be dubbed a “cellar dweller” and have all of the beers that you try recorded for you so that you don’t mistakenly order the same one twice.
Must order: any beer on tap, waiter and bartender recommendations

Best Thai Food
Sawadee
93 Hope Street, Providence //(401)831-1122

Thai food is a staple for any college student, and our favorite place for our Pad Thai fix is Sawadee. Although a few avenues away from Thayer street, and not quite as convenient as its sub-par competitor, Spice, it is definitely worth the walk to Sawadee. The restaurant is tiny, so sometimes takeout is the better option, but the cute atmosphere and the fast service makes us want to stay and eat there too, not to mention that Sawadee is also BYOB which makes it more  affordable (and a little more fun!). The menu has a lot of variety, everything form curries, to dumplings and noodles. Also be sure to check out the specials that aren’t on the menu–those are some of our favorite things to order!
Must Order: Mango Curry, Pad Thai, Tom ka soup

Best College Bar on a Weeknight
The Fish Company
515 South Water Street, Providence // (401) 421-5796

Formally known as The Fish Company, Fischo is one of those places we all go- and then complain about how gross it is afterwards. At the end of the night, Wednesdays for Brown, Thursdays for Providence College, and the local crowd on the weekends, you are usually glad you came. Fischo is that place where we see things you know people will be embarrassed about (if they remember) the next day. Far and away our favorite Fishco night is Halloween, costumes are always top tier and the line is so long people get turned away. Somehow, the bar down by the water, near the on-ramp to I-95, consistently attracts a solid crowd; with of course the exception of holidays when students are home, or during finals.  What we love about Fishco is the even ratio of guys to girls, the packed dance floor, and the mingling at the bar. The music is always exceptional thanks to DJ Meatball, and sometimes, if you are lucky, you might catch a guest appearance by Pauly D.

Best Italian Dining Experience
Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen
120 Atwells Avenue, Providence // (401) 751-5544

Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen is not one of those restaurants where the ambiance takes your breath away. Rather, we tend to feel like we are on the set of The Sopranos. Everything is pink- faded, but still pink. Its impossible to miss the Old Canteen while travelling down Atwells Avenue because of it’s giant light-up neon sign hanging over the sidewalk. Despite the unique decor, Old Canteen offers some of the most authentic Italian food, as well as modern specials. The full course meal includes soup, salad, appetizers, an entree and dessert and all portions are fit for uncle Tony. The combination of the impeccable service and the delicious food always has us convinced we are right in heart of Italy- or at least Little Italy.
Must Order: Listen to the specials, Homestyle Italian Cheese Pie with Strawberry Topping

Best Museum
RISD Museum of Art
224 Benefit Street or 20 North Main Street, Providence // (401) 454-6500

When we have a free afternoon and are in the mood for some culture, we often head over to the RISD museum. Its a great place to peruse on your own, or with family and friends. Open Tuesday through Sunday, the museum admits Brown and RISD students for free, while other college students are $3 with the exception of Sundays, when there is a pay-as-you-wish policy between 10am and 1pm. Admission is free every Gallery night (the third Tuesday of every month from 5-9pm, except in December). Admission is also free the last Saturday of every month (again with the exception of December). The entire museum is closed for the month of August so don’t forget- showing up to closed doors is always a bummer.
Must Check out: RISD Works (North Main Street)

Best Grocery Store
Eastside Marketplace
165 Pitman Street, Providence // (401) 831-7771

Eastside Market has the benefits of a regular grocery store and an organic market. It carries all of those inorganic foods we want to buy in bulk, and the organic foods we crave. Between produce and baking essentials, Eastside has a Health Food/ Organic section mirroring Whole Foods thus, we usually find everything we want there. Additionally, the brown rice prepared sushi is shockingly delicious for a grocery store and never do we make it home without breaking into a pack. Eastside also has a very friendly florist who has quite the selection of flowers. Because Eastside is located right behind a small Whole Foods on Waterman street, if there is ever something we can’t find at Eastside, all we have to do is walk across the street.
Must buy: Brown Rice Sushi

Most Accommodating Pizza Place
Nice Slice
267 Thayer Street, Providence // (401) 453-6423

Another Thayer Street delight, Nice Slice, stands out for a number of reasons. Not only does this delicious whole wheat crust pizza not make you feel the guilt of just eating pizza, but there are also gluten-free options and an entire vegan menu. Available from 11am-2am by the pie or by the slice, the pizza comes in so many varieties its hard to pick one-or two or three. From White pizza to Greek to BBQ Chicken and Bacon there is really a flavor for everyone.  Nice Slice is also an experience. Starting with the hand-shaking ceramic door handle (it still freaks us out every time we go inside), to the wall-to-wall, table-to-table art ,and the crowd that is usually hanging out there, you really feel like you are in Providence. When it’s warm enough, we love people watching while eating our pizza at the bar outside.
Must order: Greek, Cranberry Picnic, BBQ Chicken

Best Sushi
Tokyo
388 Wickenden Street, Providence // (401) 331-5330

It  took us a little while to find Tokyo, as it’s located right at the top of Wickenden Street, but never do we go anywhere else. While we cant say the service is excellent, it’s better than the competitors, and after our meal of sushi served in a giant boat platter or huge servings of tempura we always leave satisfied. This BYOB location is great for birthday dinners, dates or just a meal with friends. The menu has everything from items for the die-hard sushi lovers to simple teriyaki and fried rice dishes for those who don’t embrace all of the raw fish. Tokyo offers floor seating as well as tables and a small sushi bar. At peak dinner hours tables can be a long wait but sitting on the floor can be uncomfortable, especially depending on what you are wearing. We suggest sitting at a table to best enjoy your meal, especially considering when the restaurant is busy service can be slow.
Must order: Anything off of the “Special Rolls” menu

Best Middle Eastern
Eastside Pockets
278 Thayer Street, Providence // (401) 453-1100

Thayer Street seems to attract all sorts of Middle Easter/ Medeteranian Cuisine so we have a lot to choose from. Despite the variety, or lack thereof, Eastside Pockets is always our favorite. The little shop is always busy, the service friendly and the ingredients couldn’t be fresher. The portions are huge and the prices are more than reasonable. Even though at the halfway mark of our grilled chicken pockets we are already stuffed, we can’t manage to leave the rest for leftovers; they are just that delicious. With bar seating and five or so booths, eating at Eastside pockets is possible. However, we usually get our meals to go and if it’s nice, eat outside on one of the campus greens close-by. We used to be embarrassed those weeks we would go everyday and the staff would start to recognize us, but then we started getting free falafel and baklava and its probably the best $7 we spend on Thayer.
Must order: Grilled Chicken Pocket

Best Sandwiches
Geoff’s
163 Benefit Street, Providence // (401) 751-2248

Its almost easy to feel overwhelmed at the sight of wall-to-wall chalkboards describing dozens and dozens of sandwiches, but it only takes a couple minutes to find the perfect one. Our favorite parts are the free pickles, the student discount after 3pm, and two for one Tuesdays. We tend to think sandwiches can be kind of dull, but Geoff’s manages to prove us wrong every time. We usually follow our sandwich and free pickles with VanWaffles, Dutch waffle cookies made by a Brown grad. The hardest part is definitely deciding which sandwich to pick from.
Must Order: Providence Monthly, Jen and Berry

Best Cookies
Meeting Street Cafe
220 Meeting Street, Providence(401) 273-1066

We usually like to think we can’t finish a cookie the size of our faces in one sitting, however, meeting street cookies never make it home in to-go containers. Flavors include Chocolate Chip, Sugar, Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Butter, Ginger, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut and Garbage (a combination of most flavors). The family who owns Meeting Street Café work everyday, and it’s the same cook every night (we aren’t sure we have ever been there when he is not in the kitchen). That means that the same person is always making our food, thus, there is no room for disappointment. Usually we start with one of Meeting Streets gigantic sandwiches, or homemade soups but sometimes we go straight to the cookies.
Must order: Chocolate Chip Cookie, Ginger Cookie; Tomato Soup

Best Bakery
Seven Stars Bakery
820 Hope Street, 342 Broadway, Providence and 20 Newman Avenue, East Providence // 401.521.2200

Everyone loves to support local foods- especially us. The best part is when that food is so good we can’t get enough. Seven Stars Bakery makes the best bread we have EVER eaten. Even though Seven Stars bread is available at Eastside grocery store and a few other local shops, going to one of their three locations is completely worth it. Each bakery maintains that quaint local Rhode Island atmosphere, thus making them great places to study, especially because this way you can get an almond croissant, a granola-nut scone, and any of the other treats baked daily. All of the pastries at Seven Stars are in that perfectly sweet-enough-but-not-too-sweet-zone; simply delicious.
Must Order: Multigrain bread with sunflower seeds, granola nut scone, almost croissant, iced coffee with coffee ice cubes

Best Back to Basics With A Twist
Mad Ernie’s
485 Angell Street, Providence // (401) 331-1031

We thought we had outgrown the peanut butter and jelly sandwich fascination at age 7. Clearly we were wrong. In no way are these sandwiches generic. Peanut butter ranges in variety from good old plain creamy to dark chocolate to apples and maple syrup to flax, pumpkin seeds and almonds. Don’t worry peanut butter haters, there is food for you too. Mad Ernie’s prides themselves in their lobster roll, homemade soups and sandwiches. Then, for dessert, Mad Ernie’s homemade ice cream will not disappoint. Seasonally, the pumpkin and peppermint ice cream are delicious but so are all the regulars. Mad Ernie’s is the perfect place- not too far from College Hill, to grab that lunch your mom used to make you, without feeling childish.
Must Order: PB&J (any combination)

Best 3 Meals A Day Restaurant
Nick’s on Broadway
500 Broadway, Providence // (401) 421-0286

Rarely can one restaurant pull off all three meals of the day, but Nick’s on Broadway does more than just pull off breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No matter what you order or when, Nick’s on Broadway will excite your senses with every little twist on each meal. The food is a wonderful combination of modern and traditional, while the atmosphere is somewhere between cozy and chic. It is always busy and the tables can be a little close together, but Nick’s is always a great experience.
Must Order: French Toast, Black Beans and Avocado with Eggs

Best Gift Store
Pleasant Surprise
297 Thayer Street, Providence // (401) 273-1202

When we just can’t find a gift for that person that has everything, or likes nothing, we go to Pleasant Surprise. We have to admit half the reason we go is because we like looking at all of the merchandise, and more often than not leave with some for ourselves. Inventory ranges from clever coffee table books to witty post-its, to wine-glasses. Pleasant surprise is exactly that- a pleasant surprise. Located at the top of Thayer street, Pleasant Surprise turns gifts for secret santa’s, roommates and impossible family members into an enjoyable experience.
Runner-Up: The Curatorium on Wickenden

Best Running Trail
Blackstone Boulevard
Blackstone Boulevard and Butler Avenue, Providence

Whether you are in the mood to walk your dog, go for a run, stroll or sprint, Blackstone Boulevard is the perfect place. The path runs about 4 miles up and  back and is a nice 5.5 mile loop from Thayer street. The various benches staggered along the path are great places to sit and enjoy the scenery (or to take a break from exercising). Apart from one small section of concrete, the ground is soft and very forgiving on the joints–not that college students worry too much about that. Additionally, at the end of the path is Three Sisters Cafe, a great place to stop and refuel. The variety of homemade soups, sandwiches, smoothies, and ice cream that Three Sisters offers is a great way to compliment a morning or afternoon on Blackstone.

Originally posted on Monday, March 21st, 2011

3 Responses to “College Town Tours: The Best of Providence”

  1. AC

    March 31st, 2011

    No doubt Eastside Pockets is the best, probably in all of Providence.
    Couldn’t possibly agree more with most of this list, well done!

  2. Small Kitchen College: Sweet Dreamin’: A Fruit Tart Fit for Valentine’s Day | Breaking News | Headlines

    February 1st, 2012

    [...] myself dreaming up various excuses to retreat from College Hill to the cutest little pastry shop in Providence, just a trolley ride away. The bakery is called Pastiche and they make the most amazing fruit tarts [...]

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    October 17th, 2013

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