Chef Yelson Perez at Haruki East. [Photo by Richard McCaffrey]
BEST RESTAURANT, CHINESE: PHOENIX DRAGON
256 Broadway, Providence | 401.831.7555 | phoenixdragon-restaurant.com | Big portions, cheap prices, friendly service — oh yeah, and good food. They serve northern and southern Chinese dishes, from Peking duck to spicy Cantonese salted-baked duck tongue, and there are lots of dim sum choices daily from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. They also offer an extensive Japanese menu, in case you’re in the mood for one of their four dozen sushi or maki rolls.
BEST RESTAURANT, EAST BAY: AVENUE N AMERICAN KITCHEN
20 Newman Ave, Rumford | 401.270.2836 | avenuenamericankitchen.com | This sophisticated contemporary bistro with a meticulously curated wine list is run by Nick and Tracy Rabar. Thoughtful menu touches abound: citrus butter on the fried calamari, grilled Vidalia onion on the signature burger, a sherry ale broth on the Georges Bank cod. Chef Nick hosts the Emmy-nominated cooking show Chef 2 Go and is author of the novel The Cold Side of the Grill.
BEST RESTAURANT, FRENCH: CHEZ PASCAL
960 Hope St, Providence, 401.421.4422 | chez-pascal.com | Cherchez la brioche. Their menus “follow closely in the French tradition,” as well as the locavore one. You can start out with baked escargot à la bourguignonne and move on to roasted skate wing from nearby waters. But there’s nothing la-di-da about owners Kristin and Matthew Gennuso, their lack of pretension indicated by having a lunchtime “Wurst Window,” where they serve house-made hot dogs and sausages.
BEST RESTAURANT, INDIAN: RASOI
727 East Ave, Pawtucket | 401.728.5500 | indianrestaurantsri.com/rasoi | The particularly appealing feature of Rasoi — which is Hindi for kitchen — is that chef Sanjiv Dhar, who also owns Kabob and Curry and Rasa, offers dishes from various regions of India. You can get the Bombay fast food papri chaat or the southern breakfast snack idli sambar, a savory cake; chicken korma from Hyderabad or pepper tofu from Chettinad. Tour India sitting down.
BEST RESTAURANT, IRISH PUB: DOHERTY’S EAST AVENUE IRISH PUB
342 East Ave, Pawtucket | 401.725.9520 | dohertys.com | Offering 84 draft beers — that’s not a typo: eight, four — is quite a distinction, but people come here to eat, as well. Having plenty of bar food is an obligation, so there are more than 20 appetizers, including char-grilled wings in nine different preparations. A sincere nod to ol’ Éire is represented by comfort food like corned beef & cabbage and bangers & mash.
BEST RESTAURANT, ITALIAN: SIENA
238 Atwells Ave, Providence | 401.521.3311 + 5600 Post Rd, East Greenwich | 401.885.8850 + 400 Putnam Pike, Smithfield | 401.349.4111 | sienari.com | It says a lot that they brag about offering “Tuscan Soul Food.” As you know, northern Italian food is quite distinctive from tomato sauce-centric southern dishes. Think beige, but hardly bland: zuppa di vongole bianco, with little necks sautéed in white wine and garlic; gnocchi d’autunno, little ricotta pillows are tossed with a brown-butter cream sauce. Mangiare con gusto.
BEST RESTAURANT, JAPANESE: HARUKI EAST
172 Wayland Ave, Providence | 401.223.0332 | harukisushi.com | Just as a signature dish is a declaration of pride, so too is a signature eatery. Twenty-eight years ago restaurateur Haruki Kibe opened his namesake place in Cranston, but nowadays his Wayland Square restaurant is also carrying on, along with Haruki Express on Waterman Street. Try their caviar “nigiri style;” salmon, smelt, or flying fish roe, with or without an added quail egg.
BEST RESTAURANT, KOREAN: SUN & MOON
95 Warren Ave, East Providence | 401.435.0214 | sunandmoonkorean.com | Since it’s a family restaurant under the maternal eye of Chef Lee, you might want to try the chef’s specials: roasted pork belly with spicy squid or, on a hot summer day, cold buckwheat noodles in beef broth. You can have the usual bulgogi and Korean BBQ, but there is also the less common soon dae sausage and a traditional pancake with your choice of seafood combo, veggies, or (go for it) garlicky kim chi.
BEST RESTAURANT, MEXICAN: EL RANCHO GRANDE
311 Plainfield St, Providence | 401.275.0808 | elranchogranderestaurant.com | It’s only been around for seven years, opening in a little hole in the wall, but word quickly got out, and now their digs provide more elbow room. Chef Maria Meza features dishes from her native Puebla — the home of molé sauce, spicy but chocolate-based. Try Doña Maria’s cazuela poblana spread for two, from grilled steak, chicken, and shrimp, plus fried cheese to grilled cactus.
BEST RESTAURANT, MIDDLE EASTERN: EAST SIDE POCKETS
278 Thayer St, Providence | 401.453.1100 | eastsidepocket.com | Fast food doesn’t have to be junk to be speedy. Such as a Syrian lahamajeen, a meat “pie” on a round of dough, a kind of Mediterranean pizza. There are the falafel and the gyros you’d expect, but you probably haven’t had jedra, which is rice, lentils, and sautéed onions, smelling richly of olive oil. Don’t eat it fast. Savor.