Robert Antignano at Angelo’s
Everyone loves a bargain, especially living-on-a-shoestring college students and those just-moved-to-Rhody residents who eat out a lot while getting settled. Rhode Island’s official state cuisine is Italian-American, and it can almost always be counted on for large portions at low prices. Other down-home “ethnic restaurants,” such as those based on Portuguese, Asian or Latin American cooking, are also well-known for generous amounts at great prices.
Such eateries share with the Italian-American ones the immigrant tradition of stretching the protein (meat, poultry, beans, cheese, or tofu) in a meal with plenty of starch (pasta, rice, tortillas) and lots of veggies — chunky tomato sauce could qualify, especially with mushrooms, peppers, or eggplant thrown in.
The recommendations that follow are roughly regional, aimed at student, faculty, and other newcomers who may be relocating to Rhode Island. My suggestions are drawn from many cultures, but the food is guaranteed tasty and inexpensive.
Let’s begin with Providence, where there’s a wide range of ethnic restaurants, dominated by Italian-American eateries. Federal Hill is Providence’s “Little Italy,” with restaurants of every stripe and price range. But the longest-lasting and still one of the most popular is ANGELO’S CIVITA FARNESE (141 Atwells Avenue, Providence, 401.621.8171). Favorites are broccoli with cavatelli; the meatball-sausage combo; and “greens and beans” soup.
Another down-home Italian-American place to check out — SPIRITO’S — now has two locations: in the Sons of Italy lodge (99 Hicks Street, East Providence, 401.434.4435) and in the Rosario Society (17 Rosario Drive, Providence, 401.464.4435). Spirito’s has some of the yummiest marinara sauce and the largest, tastiest meatballs around. Italian-grandmother portions mean you’ll bring home enough for another meal or two.
Bargains in the same vein are found at PAT ORLANDO’S (175 Putnam Pike, Johnston, 401.231.6053), MIKE’S KITCHEN (170 Randall Street, Cranston, 401.946-5320); and GUIDO’S (100 Hope Street, Providence, 401.273-5812). Award-winning pizzas are the specialty at PIZZA PIE-ER (374 Wickenden Street, Providence, 401.351-3663); and NEO PIZZA (2244 Plainfield Pike, Cranston, 401.942.4636). O DINIS (579 Warren Avenue, East Providence, 401.438.3769) offers tasty and authentic Portuguese home cooking.
Highly recommended Asian eateries in Providence and Cranston start off with the Indian spots RASOI (727 East Avenue, Pawtucket, 401.728.5500), whose terrific menu touches on many regions of India; and NOT JUST SNACKS (833 Hope Street, Providence, 401.831.1150), more modest, but quite good. For a wonderful span of Chinese food, check out LUCKY GARDEN (1852 Smith Street, North Providence, 401.231.5626), and for intriguing Korean dishes, pop over to SUN AND MOON (95 Warren Avenue, East Providence, 401.435-0214).
HONS (790 Reservoir Avenue, Cranston, 401.946.2188) and HONS II (50 Ann Mary Street, Pawtucket, 401.365.6278) and PHO PARADISE (337 Broad Street, Providence, 401.369.7990) have extensive Vietnamese noodle offerings, but MINH HAI (1096 Park Avenue, Cranston, 401.383.8071) offers a much broader and very memorable take on Vietnamese cuisine. SIAM SQUARE (1050 Willett Avenue, Riverside, 401.433.0123 and 238 East Main Road, Middletown, 401.851.7988) and THAI STAR (1058 Chalkstone Boulevard, Providence, 401.421.5840) are long-standing and still-delicious Thai spots.
The original four-cuisine APSARA (716 Public Street, Providence, 401.785.1490) was quickly followed by FOUR SEASONS (361 Reservoir Avenue, Providence, 401.467.1760), and more recently by APSARA PALACE (783 Hope Street, Providence, 401.831.4722). Hop all over the Southeast Asian map at these places, sampling to your heart’s content, and it will never strain your budget.
Providence’s other broad ethnic category of cheap restaurants is Latin-American, including Mexican, Bolivian, Guatemalan, Bolivian, Columbian, and Dominican. MEXICO (948 Atwells Avenue, Providence, 401.331.4985) was one of the first to arrive. Try the fried beef tongue, seasoned goat meat, or spicy shredded pork, plus the cold almondy drink horchata. CHILANGO’S (447 Manton Avenue, Providence, 401.383.4877) is popular for its pambazos (fried bread and sausage sandwiches) and its tequila. LA LUPITA (1950 Westminster Street, Providence, 401.331.2444) is a tiny taqueria, but everything is fresh and flavorful.
Other south-of-the-border cuisines are nicely represented by BOLIVIAN RESTAURANT (1040 Chalkstone Avenue, Providence, 401.521.1000) — try their chicken rice soup (bone-in) and intriguing drinks (from corn, dried peaches or ground peanuts). At EL PAISA (598 Dexter Street, Central Falls, 401.726.8864), we dig those Colombian hush puppies called arepa; EL CHAPINCITO (486 Broadway, Providence, 401.273.2320) has a great Guatemalan chicken soup; RINCON SALVADORENO (1019 Chalkstone Avenue, Providence, 401.274.6266) features yummy pupusas, thick cornmeal tortillas with meat or veggie fillings; CHOUKOUN BISTRO (977 Manton Avenue, Providence, 401.432.7200) offers savory Haitian dishes. LA GRAN PARADA (937 Broad Street, Providence, 401.941.4610) and CAROLINA (864 Broad Street, Providence, 401.941.1333) have $3 and $4 Dominican rice-beans-and-meat plates that are delicious and filling.