Serious Eats

Providence, Rhode Island: Where to Eat on College Hill

Our soon-to-be-summer-intern Leah Douglas (aka teenagefoodie in these parts) had a big assignment before she started. We asked the current Brown University student to round up some of her favorite eats on College Hill. Take it away, Leah! —The Mgmt.

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[Flickr: Providence Public Library]

The area surrounding Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design in downtown Providence is dubbed "College Hill." The name primarily references Thayer Street, a main hang-out for local college and high school students. However, good eats can be found in the surrounding areas as well. I've found that students on the Hill are willing to cast their nets far and wide to seek out some good food.

Here's just a small selection of some of the best places to eat in this fun college town.

Best Breakfast: Louis Restaurant

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[Photographs: Leah Douglas]

A Providence landmark, Louis Restaurant has been featured on the Food Network and in countless Rhode Island publications. The facade is as eclectic as the staff and menu. The diner's walls are covered in memorabilia, newspaper clippings, and various inexplicable artifacts. The tables are small and right on top of each other; service is begrudgingly hospitable. And the food—perfect diner grub, it's a little greasy and totally satisfying at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Notable Dish: Grilled muffins. The "grilled" option is not printed on the menu, but opt for it (they're somewhat legendary). Smothered in butter, crispy on the outside and fluffy, moist muffin-y goodness on the inside. A revelation.

Louis Restaurant

286 Brook Street, Providence RI 02906 (map)
401-861-5225
louisrestaurant.org

Best Coffeeshop: Blue State Coffee

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There is of course a Starbucks on College Hill, but luckily we have other non-chain options. One of my favorites is Blue State Coffee. Delicious coffee brewed from locally-roasted beans, delivered with a liberal-leaning political message. This shop donates 5% of their profits each month to a local charity (determined by customers via a token system). There are two outposts on the Hill, one stand-alone shop and one inside the Brown Bookstore. Both are home to meetings, studying, and relaxation at all hours of the day.

Notable Drink: During the warm months, go for the Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee. Highly caffeinated without the bitterness of the traditional brewed-then-cooled approach, this coffee goes down smooth. Adding soy milk makes for an even tastier experience.

Blue State Coffee

300 Thayer Street, Providence RI 02906 (map)
401-383-8393
bluestatecoffee.com

Best Date Night: Red Stripe Restaurant

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This may be my favorite and most frequented restaurant in the area. Red Stripe is a French bistro-style on Wayland Square, about half a mile from the center of the Hill. Their menu has something for everyone: a delicious hamburger, excellent spare ribs, and my favorite, the Everything But the Kitchen Sink salad. And the highlight of the meal? Fresh sourdough bread, from nearby Bristol Bakery, hot out of the oven. It comes in giant hunks, with soft butter on the side. Just thinking about it makes me drool.

Notable Dish: Red Stripe's trademark is their Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese. Sure it sounds simple, but this old-school pairing is executed to perfection.

Red Stripe Restaurant

465 Angell Street, Providence RI 02906 (map)
401-437-6950
redstriperestaurants.com

Best Late-Night: Baja Tex Mex

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After a late night of studying (or other college activities), sometimes you just feel the need for some good, greasy late-night eats. For that, the best place near campus is Baja Tex Mex. A quasi-Mexican joint that also serves Philly Cheesesteaks and fries, Bajas is busy until closing every night (unfortunately, this means 2 a.m. on weekends—Rhode Island state law). The staff is friendly and always remembers their regulars. One of my favorite quirks about this place is they also have soft serve ice cream surreptitiously placed beside the register. They give out little cups of the airy stuff to each customer, and it turns out that vanilla soft serve is the perfect antidote to hot pepper-filled burritos. Ingenious!

Notable Dish: My friends and I always go for the nachos. Though the chips are too salty and straight out of a bag, and the cheese is the dreaded supermarket-shredded variety, who's looking for high quality at 2 a.m.? You can get just about anything on top of the nachos, including grilled veggies, surprising fresh guacamole, and great pico.

Baja Fresh:

273 Thayer Street, Providence RI 02906 (map)
401-383-7079

Best After-Work Hang-Out: Tortilla Flats

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The appeal of Tortilla Flats may lie in the fact that it's not really part of the College Hill scene. Drawing mainly from the local family and young professional populations, this relaxed restaurant has an eclectic menu spanning Mexican, Cajun, and Southwestern cuisine. The chef admits he's not too attached to pursuing "authentic" Mexican cuisine. Rather, he's looking for crowd-pleasing, delicious dishes that keep the locals coming back for more. The restaurant does, however, emphasize their Mexican beverages—they stock a full range of Mexican beers and over 40 types of tequila.

Notable Dish: The whole menu is delicious, but the quesadillas are never a wrong turn. I also often go for the Harvest Burrito, a grilled burrito filled with cheese and roasted veggies. And I know it's not original to recommend nachos twice in one post, but really, the Flats' nachos are excellent.

Tortilla Flats

355 Hope Street, Providence RI 02906 (map)
401-751-6777
tortillaflatsri.com

Best Place to Go With Gal Friends: The Duck and Bunny

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Sorry, but I just couldn't come up with a better category name. Perhaps that's because The Duck and Bunny: a Snuggery is one of a kind. My friend and I first stumbled into this cute, pink storefront during what happened to be their opening week. It reminds me of Alice's Tea Cup in Manhattan, but a bit more refined. They have a delicious selection of cupcakes and crepes, as well as an extensive tea menu and beer on tap.

The walls are pink, the seats are cushiony, and the china is dainty—what more could you ask for a brunch with the ladies? Plus, it's called a "snuggery." Try to resist. Just try.

Notable Dish: I absolutely love their cupcakes, and I'm not a cupcake fan. The last time I went, I had a chocolate cheesecake cupcake, which was delicious. They also have flavors like date-nut spice and brownie mint surprise. Mmmmm.

The Duck and Bunny

312 Wickenden St, Providence RI 02903 (map)
401-270-3300
theduckandbunny.blogspot.com

Notable Mentions

There are a ton of places to eat on College Hill. The above are just a few of my favorites.

In the mood for Indian? Try Taste of India for a cheap lunch buffet and some authentic South Asian cuisine. A credible source reports that there's no "special menu"—customer and staff receive the same spicy, delicious food served family style.

For Chinese, try the newly relocated Chinese Iron Wok. This restaurant originated as a food truck that parked outside one of Brown's main libraries, serving hungry students every weeknight. The brick-and-mortar place just opened to generally excellent reviews.

And for another great cup of coffee, try Coffee Exchange. This shop suits the needs of casual coffee drinkers and specialists alike—they have dozens of varieties of beans available for fresh grinding, as well as specialty drinks like a delicious Matcha Latte.

Taste of India

230 Wickenden Street, Providence, RI (map)
401-421-4355
tasteofindiari.com

Chinese Iron Wok

83+85 Benevolent Street, Providence, RI (map)
401-831-8888
chineseironwok.com

Coffee Exchange

207 Wickenden Street, Providence RI 02903 (map)
877-263-3334
sustainablecoffee.com

I will say it one more time—College Hill is full of a delicious variety of places to eat. Anyone out there familiar with the area? If so, please share your recommendations!

About the author: Leah Douglas is a college student in Providence, Rhode Island. She's thinking of studying public policy, or ideally creating her own major related to food policy and studies. She's currently enjoying the challenge of mapping foodie destinations in Providence!

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