Say all you want about Rhode Island being the country's smallest state, and that food-wise it exists in Boston's—and arguably Portland, Maine's—shadow, but this is an underrated community with a lot to show for itself. The content is just crammed into a smaller space.
Flay Y Ajo is a perfect example. Downcity Providence's year-old tapas joint is as pint-sized as Rhode Island itself, but shows off big flavors through its rotating menu of simple, well-executed small plates. Its prices are also very reasonable (comparable dishes are more generously portioned and often a couple bucks cheaper than Boston's famed Toro); it's BYOB ($5 corkage fee)—and shares a wall with a terrific wine and craft beer store called Eno; and the place is downright charming—everything from the window-front banquettes, to the psychedelic pinball machine, to the slim bar that surrounds the open kitchen, where you can plunk down your glass and chat with the chefs as they prepare your dinner. (Note: You're also welcome to hand your bottle of wine over to the staff, who will turn it into sangria.)
If scheduling permits, go early; the limited bar space becomes even more precious as the night ticks on (and with an endless supply of affordable wine next door, there's really no reason to leave).
Flan Y Ajo
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.