Looking for things to do in Providence, Rhode Island? The capital city is known for its rich culinary heritage and thriving foodie scene, so why not treat your sweetie to a date night at one of its many exceptional restaurants?
After all, Providence is home to Johnson & Wales University, which churns out creative chefs at a hearty clip. It also boasts Julia Child’s favorite restaurant and is where the world’s first diner set up shop in 1872.
When you’re going on a trip, sometimes the best thing to do is to follow your stomach. In recent years, food tourism has become more and more popular.
So explore the Renaissance City one of the best ways – via your taste buds – with our picks for charming date night restaurants. Bon appetit!
194 Washington St.
Prepare to be pampered at Gracie’s. The food, service and ambiance at this AAA Four Diamond Rated restaurant are sublime. The farm-to-table menu changes with the seasons, with five-, seven- and nine-course tasting menus, a prix fixe menu and an a la carte menu available. On a recent visit, my boyfriend enjoyed the herb-marinated swordfish, while I had a tasting plate of winter vegetables. Executive chef Matthew Varga’s work was delectable: I devoured the roasted Brussels sprouts, sauteed bok choy and roasted carrots with tabbouleh with relish. There’s even a three-course dessert menu that should not be missed – executive pastry chef Melissa Denmark makes all the desserts in-house. At the end of our meal, my boyfriend and I departed, wistfully, to the car brought round by the valet. I smiled as I slipped into the driver’s seat and saw one last surprise from the wonderful staff – a wrapped cookie tucked into the cup holder.
577 South Water St.
In a city filled with legendary restaurants, this is perhaps one of the most well-known, gracing the banks of the Providence River since 1980. Perhaps you’ve heard of grilled pizza? The toothsome treat was said to be invented at this stalwart eatery, where you can now get one topped with crispy calamari, pea green pesto, mushrooms, pepperoni or margarita-style with pomodoro sauce, cheese, fresh herbs and olive oil. The restaurant is also known for its twist on Italian favorites like veal cutlets, short ribs, chicken and baked pasta dishes. In warmer weather, sit outside in the airy courtyard for an al fresco treat. But be forewarned: Al Forno only takes reservations for parties of six or more, so be prepared to wait if you go on a weekend night or on a special night like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. Oh, and did I mention dessert? All of the desserts at Al Forno are made to order. Try the grand cookie finale for two; you won’t be disappointed!
99 Hope St.
Impress your date with a trip to Persimmon, where cutting-edge cuisine and friendly, top-notch service are the order of the day. (In true Rhode Island speak, it’s located where Rue de l’Espoir used to be, with an updated decor that’s fresh, airy and bright.) James Beard-nominated chef Champe Speidel serves up smaller plates of veggies, fish, meat, chicken and game, as well as homemade pastas, so diners can sample a little of everything. Recent offerings include warm greens beignets with grilled scallion aioli, Maine lamb chops served three ways, and casonsei pasta with burratta cheese, basil and heirloom cherry tomatoes. An amazing wine list curated by sommelier Steffan Rasch rounds out the menu. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the dark chocolate semi freddo with Valrhona chocolate and hazelnuts.
Pot au Feu
44 Custom House St.
Pot au Feu has been serving up classic French cuisine in the city’s financial district since 1972. There’s a fancy “salon” dining room upstairs, but it’s the downstairs brick-lined bistro that warms my heart. It’s cozy, unassuming and elegant, with muted lighting, linen tablecloths and bottles of wine lining the walls. Just like something you’d find on the streets of Paris. It was said to be a favorite of Julia Child, and really, if you’re a French restaurant, does an endorsement get any better than that? It’s known for its pot au feu – a French Sunday dinner dish of beef and chicken braised with fresh onions, carrots and potatoes, with plenty of fresh, warm bread for sopping up the rich broth. The French onion soup is divine, as are the daily crepe specials. Feeling fancy? Try the garlicky escargots and finish with some of the best crème brulee you’ll find this side of the Seine.
7 Steeple St.
Another Providence classic, New Rivers has been under the helm of chef Beau Vestal since 2012, when he purchased it from longtime owner (and mentor) Bruce Tillinghast, who originally opened the restaurant in 1990. I’ve eaten here under both ownerships and have nothing but praise for both iterations. (Tillinghast himself tried to accommodate me and a friend when we walked in trying to find a table. His earnest friendliness – and spectacular food – won my heart.) Vestal offers up a fresh menu brimming with house-cut meats, a spectacular charcuterie and cheese selection and a raw bar featuring Walrus and Carpenter oysters from Narragansett. Dinner selections will satisfy vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, with entrees such as a crostata with Swiss chard, shallots and goat cheese and cassoulet with duck, sausage, white beans and duck fat breadcrumbs. For dessert, try the homemade cookies served with Pawtucket’s New Harvest coffee.
Pane e Vino
365 Atwell Ave.
Don’t worry – I didn’t forget Federal Hill! The Atwells Avenue area is known for its many Italian restaurants, but Pane e Vino has always been my favorite. It’s warm and rustic inside, with fare that’s both classic (lasagna al forno) and inspired (duck confit served with truffle honey and fig and walnut ravioli). The bread is served with olives and olive oil, and it’s hard not to fill up. I can’t say enough about the simple, yet delicious, pasta fagioli. And don’t miss the gnocchi quattro formaggi, baked in a clay pot and bubbling with cheese and a simple pomodoro sauce. Heaven.
Bonus Federal Hill restaurants, because who can choose just one? Cassarino’s and Costantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante are my other favorite Italian eateries; Cassarino’s for both for the food and the great view of the bustling streetscape from the second-floor window tables, and Costantino’s for its fresh pasta dishes and homemade ravioli stuffed with cheese, mushrooms or – for the truly decadent – lobster.
What are you favorite date night restaurants in Providence? Did we miss yours? Let us know in the comments!
Hungry for more? Click here to find AAA Diamond Rated restaurants near you.