Even as the nation’s smallest state, Rhode Island’s culinary scene is mighty. Summering in the Ocean State guarantees you lobster rolls, stuffies, and waterfront views. But where can you get an experience unlike any other? From pop-ups at local breweries to farm-to-picnic dining on Block Island, these places to eat — spread across various parts of the state — are worth a visit.
1. THE SNACK BAR AT GOOSEBERRY BEACH
With gently lapping waves, a relaxed vibe, and million dollar view — or more accurately, a multi-million dollar view (Jay Leno’s Newport mansion, Seafair, which he purchased in 2017 for $13.5 million, is just down the road), Gooseberry Beach has all the hallmarks of a generational New England beach club, and it is, but it holds the unique distinction of being a private beach that is available to the public. Daily parking passes can be obtained for $30, cash only, but be sure to arrive via car, scooter, or bike, as walk-on access is prohibited (no rideshare drop-offs). Advance daily passes are available online for Monday through Thursday; Friday through Sunday only in-person and there are capacity limitations, so arrive early to ensure entry.
While its sandy expanse and a refreshing dip is its main attraction, Gooseberry’s snack bar is legendary. It offers quintessential beach eats: burgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches paired with the perfect après saltwater swim refreshments including cold strawberry lemonade and ginger ice tea, but the specials menu has included everything from chicken salad with watermelon radishes, homemade gazpacho, quinoa salad, and even Cuban sandwiches. “I literally get a Gooseberry seasonal parking sticker for the snack bar,” said Amy Harrelson, a Newport resident. Pro tip: As with any Rhode Island beach, check to make sure there aren’t any Department of Health closures, especially after rainstorms, by calling RIDOH’s beaches telephone line at 401-222-2751. — Andrea E. McHugh
Location: 130 Ocean Ave., Newport, gooseberrybeach.com.
2. FARMSTEAD REFRESHMENTS AT THE 1661 FARM AND GARDENS
After spending a few winters in Hawaii, Kelly Walsh returned to Block Island and started selling poké and and açai bowls when they were still considered “exotic” foods to most New Englanders. Come 2020, she decided to open a food truck — which she admits began as more of a pilot project — right on the property of the 1661 Farm and Gardens.
Her truck, Farmstead Refreshments, is situated in between the very garden plots she spends her days in, working in the dirt and growing produce to fuel her menu of farm-inspired boards with fresh fruit, smoked meats, and cheeses. She still makes poké bowls with fresh ahi tuna, alongside items like freshly-squeezed and blended lemonade slush, sandwiches, homemade smoothies, and this delicious snack of sweet and spicy tortilla chips with a smoked bluefish dip that hits your craving for something salty just right. While snacking through the items Walsh serves on her truck, take a walk through the farm (for free), which is home to all sorts of exotic animals like camels, llamas, fainting goats, lemurs, and red kangaroos. — Alexa Gagosz
Location: 5 Spring St., New Shoreham, R.I., farmsteadrefreshments.com.
3. DETROIT-STYLE PIZZA AT CROOKED CURRENT’S MILL
The parking lot of an old, renovated Pawtucket mill might not sound like your ideal setting for a meal. But the combination of Crooked Current brewery’s bold-flavored craft beers, and the neighboring Detroit-style pan pizza place, A Guy And His Pie, is great for a weekday summer night. Order pizza ahead of time (the buffalo chicken pie is a personal favorite), and eat on the outdoor picnic tables outside of Crooked Current, pairing the pizza with one of their rotating selections of beer. Crooked Current usually offers just a few craft beers on draft, a similarly limited offering to the varieties of pizzas sold next door, but the care and creativity both places put into their flavors is instantly and impressively apparent. It’s perfect for a small group of friends on a weekday evening after work, or the first stop on a night out in the city. — Colin Howarth
Location: 560 Mineral Spring Ave., Pawtucket, R.I., 401-473-8312, crookedcurrentbreweryri.com.
4. BRUNCH BY THE BOAT YARD AT THE COOKED GOOSE
I still maintain that the best time to go to a beach town is in the winter. Smaller crowds, less sunscreen, no traffic. But when I go to Westerly in the summer, I’m going to hit up The Cooked Goose, a delightful breakfast and lunch spot on Watch Hill Road. My standard move is to get some lunch and then grab a to-go brownie for later (i.e., as soon as I get back in the car). It’s enough to make someone who hates traffic and gets bad sunburns love the summer on the shore. — Brian Amaral
Location: 92 Watch Hill Road, Westerly, R.I., 401-348-9888, thecookedgoose.com.
5. A FARM-COAST FRENCH BISTRO AT PLOUF PLOUF
If dining in Paris is on your summer vacation vision board but not in your budget, drop a pin in Tiverton, where you’ll find Plouf Plouf Gastronomie, which should be open the second week of June following a renovation. This little French bistro nestled on the Farm Coast not far from Nanaquaket Pond is the real deal, as French Master Chef Mario Molliere and his wife, Anik Palulian, offer French cooking with a rustic touch. Plouf Plouf started as a food truck business, which still caters private events, more than 10 years ago, and later opened their brick and mortar, luring diners from near and far. French classics including the chef’s house-made pâté, garlicky escargots à la bourguignonne, steak frites à l’èchallotte, duck magret au poivre, and of course, oignon soupe au granitėe featuring perfectly stretchy melted gruyère, are summer menu staples, but weekly specials are often too tempting to pass up.
Pro tip: Leave room for dessert, as they are simply magnifique (gelato, mousse au chocolat, and crème brûlée are just a few examples), or grab a scoop next door at Helger’s Ice Cream Shoppe. — Andrea E. McHugh
Location: 2490 Main Road, Tiverton, R.I., 401-236-1937, ploufploufgastronomie.com.
6. SIDEWALK WINE AND MUSIC AT O’DINIS
O’Dinis presents such a warm and stimulating atmosphere, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, that a good time can be guaranteed with just about any group of people you’re dining with: friends, co-workers, grandparents, the random couple sitting next to you. On hot summer nights, as patrons wait for tables with glasses of wine on the sidewalk, inside the weathered brick facade, this East Providence Portuguese spot is in full swing: Servers carry pitchers of red sangria while busboys collect the empties. Diners pass plates of steamed littlenecks (either soaked in a white wine and garlic sauce, or a tomato and onion sauce) and smoky charred chouriço, before diving into individual entrees. Some of the favorites include: sirloin steak in a beer and garlic sauce with fries, rice, and an egg; salted cod with garlic and onions laid on top; shrimp in a spicy garlic and lemon sauce; along with a long list of rotating specials. And just as you think you’ve eaten as much as you can, dessert trays appear, as do cups of late night espresso. — Colin Howarth
Location: 579 Warren Ave., East Providence, R.I., 401-438-3769, odinisrestaurant.com.
7. THE PATIO BY THE PIER AT MONAHAN’S
It was under the sea green umbrellas in front of Narragansett’s State Pier No. 5 when I first saw it: the largest lobster roll I may have ever eaten in my life under $25, handed to me in a cardboard tray. That buttery bun was lightly toasted, and the lobster tasted as if Monahan’s cook had just fished the trap out of the ocean water directly behind me.
The ordering window at Monahan’s Clam Shack sits along the main drag of Ocean Avenue, but behind the clam shack is a patio overlooking a state pier where waves are rolling into the rocky barricade. While using two hands (which is necessary, not just preferred) to devour your lobster roll, you might catch a glimpse of a fishermen casting his line out by the edge. — Alexa Gagosz
Location: 190 Ocean Road, Narragansett, R.I., 401-782-2524, monahansri.com.
8. VOLLEYBALL LEAGUES WITH A SIDE OF FRIES AT GATOR’S PUB
“Remember, there are no strangers at the pub, only friends we haven’t met yet!” That’s the slogan for the beloved Gator’s Pub in North Smithfield, where you’ll find good food, good drinks, and… volleyball leagues. Bump, set, spike, beer, burgers: It’s a combination we didn’t know we needed until Gator’s Pub crawled into our lives. — Brian Amaral
Location: 1402 Victory Highway, North Smithfield, R.I., 401-769-2220 for Gator’s, 401-769-7437 for Lumber Jack’s Pizza, gatorspubri.com.
9. A BEER GARDEN ON THE RIVER IN THE CITY
For a brew on a bright day and small bites to eat, The Guild’s PVD Beer Garden is the perfect stop. Located in the Providence Innovation District Park next to the Van Leesten Memorial Pedestrian Bridge, the brewery has set up a trailer of draft beer, which is usually paired with a local food truck. The taps start pouring a variety of brews starting at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays; 2 p.m. on Fridays; and noon on the weekends. The beer garden lasts through October and The Guild announces its food truck lineup monthly on Facebook. — Carlos Muñoz
Location: 200 Dyer St., Providence, R.I., theguildri.com.
10. WHERE THE FISHERMEN ARE THE CHEFS AT ANTHONY’S SEAFOOD
As tens of thousands of visitors descend on seafood-driven restaurants throughout the City by the Sea this summer, few know that one of the best places to find the freshest catch is on a busy road in neighboring Middletown. Anthony’s Seafood has been an Aquidneck Island institution for 25 years with roots from this fishing family going back decades. Part retail market, part restaurant (self-described as “clam shack-style dining”) with both tables and a robust take-out business, Anthony’s stays busy year-round as diners seek out the highly-touted lobster rolls, clam cakes, stuffies, fish tacos and fried seafood classics. But one of their most unique dishes is the Kung Pao calamari, a New England fisherman’s take on the iconic Chinese dish. If you can resist the urge not to devour this tasty twist on the official Rhode Island appetizer with hot peppers, sweet plum chili sauce and peanuts on site, get it to-go and enjoy it just a few minutes down the road at Second Beach with the sand between your toes. — Andrea E. McHugh
Location: 963 Aquidneck Ave., Middletown, R.I., 401-846-9620, anthonysseafood.net.
11. THE GARDEN PATIO AT THE VANDERBILT MANSION
The hustle and bustle of Newport in the summer, where travelers come from every corner of the world, is truly something to see. But last July, on a day where I spent walking in and out of boutiques and antique stores off the beaten path, I stopped by the garden at The Vanderbilt hotel and found something special. There were water fountains, periwinkle hydrangeas bushes that surrounded tiny bistro tables, walls of ivy, verdant topiaries, and an infused water station by their pool. Even during the height of the city’s tourism season, you can sit in the garden on sky-blue cushions beneath whimsical umbrellas, hearing nothing but the water dripping down over stone baths and birds singing in the trees. It really makes you feel like you’re not in the busiest tourist town in the region.
I usually gravitate toward a light spritzer or chilled glass of wine while lounging in the garden with my nose in a novel. But the mansion’s Dining Room menu is available to order from outside. If you’re staying for dinner, the Roof Deck is another one of the local’s best kept secrets. Look out over Newport Harbor while slurping local oysters and a sparkling wine or classic cocktail. — Alexa Gagosz
Location: 41 Mary St. Newport, R.I., 401-846-6200, aubergeresorts.com/vanderbilt.
12. A PICNIC BY THE VINES AT VERDE VINEYARDS
Verde Vineyards is almost easy to miss. It’s situated down a long driveway along a residential road by Moswansicut Lake. When the brush opens up to the vineyard, you’re likely to see Giacomo “Jim” Verde, the owner, touring around the vines and inspecting the grapes. A retired biology professor, Verde first opened the vineyard in 2004 when he was in Wisconsin learning about a new Rhone-style grape developed by a viticulturist who said the grape could withstand frost-bitten temperatures. He took a clipping home, and since then, has added a number of European grapes to his crop. The entire vineyard is powered by clean energy projects.
Verde does not sell food, but you can bring snacks to the grounds and purchase a bottle of St. Croix to make your own picnic. — Alexa Gagosz
Location: 50 Hopkins Ave., Johnston, R.I., 401-934-2317, verdevineyardsri.com.