It’s not every day that a city guide pulls me in enough to make me want to move there, but Christine Chitnis‘s guide to Providence, RI is definitely one of them. Christine originally grew up in Torch Lake in Northern Michigan, but has called Providence home for over seven years. This charming, unpretentious city is finally having its well-deserved moment in the limelight due to its affordability, beautiful architecture, awesome food and easy-to-love culture. And though Christine is thrilled it’s finally being recognized, she’s left wondering: “what took you so long?!”
In the past few years, dozens of publications (Architectural Digest, Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure and New York Times, to name a few) have been showering praise upon this city, and countless other newspapers and magazines keep writing about it, which Christine knows a thing or two about. Having written three books, including Little Bites (Roost, 2015) which will hit bookshelves in July 2015, she’s now helping people get published through her online workshop, Pitch Perfect. More than five years ago, Christine wrote the original Providence guide for us, and today she’s back with her updated and exhaustive guide, which is overwhelmingly awesome! –Sabrina
I wrote the first guide to Providence back in 2008. I had only lived in Providence for a year, but I spent that first year exploring every nook and cranny. Now, seven years later, I am even more in love with this city (we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re in a good place now!).
I’ve settled into a routine when it comes to eating/shopping/adventuring; a steady rotation of favorites, if you will. I’m still always up for checking out the hot new restaurants and cafes, and indeed, this past year has seen several of these newbies quickly make their way onto my favorites list. However, instead of aiming for an overwhelmingly comprehensive guide, I thought I would share a handful of my favorite spots in each category. This guide could easily carry you through a weekend visit, or better yet, an entire week.
I’d love to hear your favorites in the comment section; together I bet we can build quite a list!
With a large student population, it’s no wonder that Providence is a city that craves its caffeine. You can find incredible independent coffee shops in every part of town, from White Electric on the West Side to Blue State on College Hill. This past year saw three exciting additions to the coffee scene: The Shop, Bolt Coffee (inside The Dean Hotel) and a Providence outpost of Dave’s Coffee.
Bolt Coffee, 122 Fountain St., 401-455-DEAN; Located inside The Dean Hotel, Bolt Coffee brews up artisanal coffee and offers a small selection of locally made baked goods.
The Shop, 460 Wickenden St., 401-684-1140; A small but impeccably designed coffee shop serving a selection of locally made baked goods along with top-notch coffee. The staff is super friendly, and every last detail is gorgeous, from the bread boards hanging on the wall, to the tile decorating the floor. This has quickly become my favorite morning stop.
White Electric, 711 Westminster St., 401-457-3007; I’m probably a bit biased when it comes to this coffee shop. I just love the laid-back vibe, the owners are a super sweet couple, and the food is healthy. I wrote my second and third books here — I order a latte, White Electric salad and Hungry Boy cookie and write for hours. I really love this place.
Blue State Coffee, 300 Thayer St., 401-383-8393; Organic, fair-trade coffee served in a politically charged environment. There’s also a Blue State located within the Brown Bookstore, also on Thayer Street.
I dare say brunch is one of the most popular meals in Providence. At some of these local favorites, such as Julians and Kitchen, you’ll find lines out the door every weekend. The food is always well worth the wait.
Kitchen, 94 Carpenter St.; With only a handful of booths at this teeny, tiny place, you will be waiting, but it will be worth it. Hearty, home-cooked-style breakfast; exceptional muffins, omelets, bacon and sweetbread french toast. NOTE: Cash only.
Julians, 318 Broadway, 401-861-1770; It’s hard to choose a favorite dish when visiting this well-loved brunch spot: the Monster French Toast is amazing, as are their creative Egg Benediction options, and their Pulled Lamb Hash. And you certainly won’t go hungry, thanks to the generous portions.
The Grange, 166 Broadway, 401-831-0600; We love The Grange for date night as well as brunch, which is served only on the weekend. The menu offers creative vegetarian fare, smoothies, and exquisitely crafted cocktails. Don’t miss the Pretzel Bread French Toast — insanely delicious.
Providence is home to Johnson and Wales, a college renowned for its culinary program. Many of our most lauded chefs got their start there and decided to stay in town after school, which may account for the staggering number of amazing restaurants in our small city. These tend to be special occasion/ date night / high-end places, where the food is astounding and the atmosphere a bit upscale.
Bacaro, 262 S. Water St., 401-751-3700; Hearty, upscale Italian food — Baccaro is our favorite place to take visiting friends and family. Sit upstairs where you’ll have a nice view of the river and the city. Save room for their made-to-order desserts; especially the in-season, rustic fruit tarts.
Gracie’s, 194 Washington St., 401-272-7811; Impeccable service and an ever-changing menu built around local ingredients, Gracie’s is our go-to for special occasions; birthdays, celebrations and anniversaries. Across the street from Gracie’s is their bakery, Ellie’s — serving breakfast and lunch, along with coffee and baked goods.
North, 3 Luongo Memorial Square. 401-421-1100; A relatively new kid on the block, North quickly became the talk of the town with its creative, upscale, ever-changing, mostly Asian menu (plus chef James Mark is a Momofuku vet, which equals instant street cred). Seating is very limited (30 people max), and they don’t take reservations, but you can grab a drink at The Avery, which is right across the street, while you wait for your table. North has great cocktails, but the bar area is tiny and it can be hard to get a spot. During the day check out North Bakery — great for a chocolate chip cookie and coffee.
birch, 200 Washington St. 401-272-3105; An entirely unique and interactive dining concept — guests are seated at a communal table with a small kitchen/ chef’s counter in the middle. Watch as your meal is prepared using the fresh, local ingredients.
While I wouldn’t dare call these fine establishments “cheap eats,” they do offer more affordable eats than what you’ll find at the high-end restaurants. For true cheap eats, you can always grab a slice of pizza from Nice Slice or a sandwich from Geoff’s. Or track down one of the many great food trucks that circle the city. These restaurants are casual, but the food is exceptional.
DenDen, 161 Benefit St., 401-270-5269; Newly opened and already immensly popular, DenDen is serving up the best Korean and Japanese food in town. With exposed brick walls and high ceilings, the atmosphere is cozy, yet modern. We love grabbing a bite here before catching a movie at Avon Cinema over on Thayer Street — it makes for the perfect casual date night.
Garden Grille, 727 East Ave., Pawtucket, 401-726-2826; Right over the Providence city line, Garden Grille technically falls in Pawtucket, but I had to include this vegetarian and vegan restaurant for its creative and hearty dishes. Be sure not to miss Wildflour, the vegan bakery (by the same owners) just a few doors down.
Ken’s Ramen, 69 Washington St.; Elevating a simple bowl of ramen to a whole new level; think homemade, whole chicken paitan broth that is simmered for over 30 hours. Cash only and no reservations accepted; be prepared to wait, both for lunch and dinner. It’s always packed.
Three Sisters, 1074 Hope St., 401-273-7230; Homemade ice cream that attracts lines out the door on hot summer nights. Try the Dirty Garden Mint, or Coffee Heath Oreo Crunch. Also serves breakfast and lunch.
Bars and Nightlife:
With two young kids at home, I’m certainly no expert on the Providence nightlife scene, but here are a few of my favorite places to grab a well-made cocktail.
Avery, 18 Luongo Memorial Square; A chic bar raising the nightlife scene in Providence. Located on the younger and hipper West Side.
The Dorrance, 60 Dorrance St., 401-521-6000; I love taking out-of-town visitors to The Dorrance for drinks, simply because the building itself, formerly a Federal Reserve, is breathtaking. Soaring ornate ceilings and a long, elegant bar make for a unique and upscale setting. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable and there’s live jazz on Friday nights.
The Eddy, 95 Eddy St., 401-831-3339; A dark and sexy jewel-box of a bar, grab a perfectly crafted cocktail and an upscale snack. Don’t miss the Bavarian soft pretzels with sweet maple butter, and farm fresh deviled eggs.
Shops and Bookstores:
The shopping scene in Providence is a bit spread out. There are small pockets of great shops here and there, but in order to hit all of my favorite shops, a bit of driving or biking is required. Instead of running all over town, I often visit my favorite shops when I’m in that part of town for coffee or a bite to eat; for example The Grange is just down the way from Cluck and Jephry Floral Studio. Seven Stars Bakery shares a street with Frog and Toad, as well as Studio Hop, Olive del Mondo and Kreatelier.
Arcade Providence, 65 Weybosset St., 401-454-4568; The nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall recently received a full renovation that brought it back to its former glory. Inside you’ll find coffee shops, cafes and shops on the first floor, while the second and third floor house 48 residential micro-lofts.
Studio Hop, 810 Hope St., 401-621-2262; A great art studio featuring the work of over 40 Rhode Island artists, also offers a selection of vintage home decor (amazing Danish / mid-century modern finds).
Stock, 756 Hope St., 401-521-0101; Impeccably sourced and curated kitchen tools and cooking resources for food lovers and avid home cooks. The aesthetics of this store are top-notch; modern and colorful.
Kreatelier, 804 Hope St.; All handmade goods, crafty workshops for kids and adults.
Olive del Mondo, 815 Hope St., 401-383- 5733; As an avid home cook who loves to use the freshest ingredients possible, I couldn’t be a bigger fan of this shop, which offers fresh, extra virgin olive oils and vinegars on tap.
cluck!, 399 Broadway, 401-274-1160; Probably my favorite shop in Providence; an urban farm and garden supply store housed in a former auto repair shop. Outside the shop you’ll find beehives, a chicken coop and gardens, while inside you’ll find a host of beautifully curated gifts and goods, as well as the down-and-dirty stuff you need to feed your chickens and grow your veggies. Drake, the owner, is super knowledgeable and always eager to help aspiring growers. Don’t miss their calender of urban farming and gardening classes.
Piñata Center, 300 Broadway St., 888-974-6282; This store is my secret weapon for my kids’ birthday parties — handcrafted piñata in every size, shape and color you can imagine. But there’s more than just piñatas; it also has some beautiful, globally-sourced goods from South America, such as textiles, purses and leather goods. Just a funky, interesting little place.
Things to Do:
Besides shopping, eating and drinking coffee, Providence offers much to see and do. Architecture buffs will enjoy the many historical buildings around town. Art enthusiasts will enjoy the RISD Museum and campus, as well as the many arts organizations and galleries throughout the city. Foodies will enjoy the farmers’ market scene, while those looking for some outdoor activity will find it on the East Bay Bike Path. There really is something for everyone.
Brown University: This Ivy League university draws a diverse crowd of students. The campus rambles through the East Side; beautiful buildings, green spaces and glimpses of student life are all part of its charm.
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD): A renowned school of design, RISD’s museums and galleries are all worth a visit! A few of my favorite stops:
Blackstone Boulevard, Historic East Side Providence neighborhood with beautiful homes and a greenway with a 1.6 mile bike path and running trail.
East Bay Bike Path; A 14.5-mile bike path running from India Point Park in Providence to Independence Park in Bristol.
AS220, 115 Empire Street; A nonprofit community arts space in downtown Providence, the gallery space and classes are definitely worth checking out. Be sure to check out the restaurant, Food at AS220, for healthy, creative, affordable eats.
The Steel Yard, 27 Sims Ave., 401-237-7101; A one-of-a-kind arts organization located at the historic Providence Steel and Iron site, their 10,000-square-foot industrial shop includes everything from welding and blacksmithing space to a ceramics residency. They offer a packed calender of events and classes for artists, community members and tradespeople.
WaterFire; Providence is famous for this art installation, which consists of fires burning all down the river in downtown. Music, food and beer gardens makes this a crowded, lively event. Waterfire occurs on select Saturday nights, see website for the calender.
Southside Community Land Trust; SCLT is an amazing, nonprofit organization committed to providing Providence residents access to the land and resources necessary to grow their own food. Visit their City Farm, which grows two tons of food in its 3/4 acre space — it’s such a great example of a thriving urban farm. Once a year they host a rare and unusual plant sale that is every gardener’s dream!
Farmers’ Markets: Providence has a number of wonderful farmers’ markets. There’s one almost every day of the week, though my favorite is Saturday’s Hope Street Market in Lippitt Park. In the winter, this market moves indoors to the Hope Artiste Village — which is definitely worth a visit.
Federal Hill: This is the Italian section of town, our very own “Little Italy.” The food, art galleries and atmosphere make it a must-see while in Providence. There are so many restaurants on Federal Hill that it would take an entire guide just to name them all…but don’t miss Pastiche, an incredible little dessert place, and Tony’s Colonial, an Italian market.
Theaters, Music and Dance:
I hope by now you are getting the sense of Providence’s robust, creative energy. This includes a vibrant theater, music and dance scene.
Movies on the Block, Corner of Westminster and Union; Different movie every Thursday night at dusk, all outdoors and FREE.
Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St., 401-351-4242; Founded in 1963, one of the last long-standing resident acting companies in the country.
Columbus Theater, 270 Broadway; This gorgeously restored theater, with a packed roster of everything from films to live music, opened its doors again in 2012, after a much needed renovation.
Festival Ballet, 825 Hope St, 401-353-1129.; Rhode Island’s premiere professional ballet company, also offering lessons for young, aspiring ballerinas.
Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, 79 Washington St.; Popular live music venue featuring big name acts. In existence since 1975, Lupo’s has a rich history including past live performances by James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Iggy Pop, Willie Nelson, Green Day, Radiohead, The White Stripes and even Justin Bieber, to name a few.
Where to Stay:
The Dean Hotel, 122 Fountain Street, 401-455-DEAN; Finally, a boutique hotel in downtown Providence that offers a hip, clean, modern aesthetic. You’d never guess it was housed in a former brothel…but then again, this is Providence!
Children’s Shops and Activities
I’ve been at home with my kids for the past five years, so I feel as though I am something of an expert on the kid scene here in Providence. Our typical haunts include the various playgrounds and parks, the Saturday farmers’ market and the many fabulous public libraries around town. RISD Museum also has children’s activities, and a walk through Brown’s campus can be fun for the kids (there are always students throwing around the Frisbee and kicking around soccer balls, which my boys love to watch). We also love cheering on the various Brown sports teams throughout the year — in particular, hockey and soccer. Here are a few other additions to that list:
KidOInfo Blog; The best blog for kids activities in Providence!
Rock-a-Baby; Why suffer through precious, humorless music classes with your baby when you can rock out with the talented and often hilarious musicians that put on this weekly music class (by registration only)?