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Rhode Island’s Best Restaurants of 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012


What an amazing year it's been to be a restaurant patron in Rhode Island. Our small state is bursting with culinary excellence and it grows almost daily. This year saw the rise of food trucks and other "quick-serve" options, social media continuing to bring the top chefs and food lovers together and local chefs preparing more and more local food. The coming year promises to be even better with the recently opened North and Circe leading an exciting slate of newcomers that promise to push the establishment. We thought about the best restaurants we visited in 2012 and came up with these 5...


The Dorrance, Providence

Our top spot goes to this relative newcomer--in Rhode Island terms--that seems to get better as fast as they can print new menus. When the Lester family took over this historic spot, we were hopeful. When they snagged an incredible, talented chef, we were even more so. Little did we know the amazing things to come. It starts when you walk through the door. The word "wow" is the most often heard adjective. It really is one of the most beautiful settings in all of Rhode Island. Stop by the bar and let Vito mix up one of the incredible craft cocktails they are famous for before dinner and then be prepared to think. Chef Ben Sukle and his staff prepare food that is not only delicious, it's well thought out. Dining with a newcomer, recently, we blew his mind by making him realize that everything on the pork dish could've been eaten by the pig if it was loose in the woods. Mushrooms, grains, wild herbs...they were all perectly matched with the pork. Thinking man's food. 60 Dorrance St. 521-6000, http://www.thedorrance.com

La Laterie, Providence

It's not easy being the New England Patriots. When you have achieved amazing heights, everyone is gunning for you and success is harder to quantify. Well, our culinary "Patriot" is Matt Jennings. For longer than most have been trying, he has been the best and 2012 was one of his best years ever. His opinion is touted in national magazines, he represents Rhode Island by cooking from coast to coast and he brings national credibility to our food scene. He was one of the first to forge relationships with local farmers and fishermen that helped bring back local species long forgotten by area chefs. We love him because he is all about meat and cheese. Our favorite pastrami of the year was had here with perfect sauerkraut. We are addicted to his bread and butter pickles. Something so old-school as pickling, taken to new heights, is the kind of attention to the little things that keep the masses coming back year after year. We look forward to what the next year holds...a James Beard award, perhaps? 188 Wayland Ave. 274-7177, www.farmsteadinc.com


Nick's on Broadway, Providence

Leave it to Nick's and chef Derek Wagner to put a breakfast on the best meals list. The venerable Nick's on Broadway has been rocking the West Side since before it was cool to be West Side. We first ventured over for the incredible breakfast and later fell in love with the dinner options. Chef Wagner has grown from those splendid beginnings to the top of the food chain, so to speak. We love Nick's because this is food you crave. Everything from the home fries to the highest quality cuts of local beef or pork are handled with respect and care. No stone is left unturned at Nick's. An in-house bakery project has turned out bread that would be worthy of our best bakeries list. Chef Wagner is one of the most socially conscious chefs we know. His work with many state groups like Trace and Trust is well documented. We are lucky to have many active chefs in our food community, they push the envelope and each other to new heights, and Wagner is near the top of that last year after year. 500 Broadway, 421-0286, www.nicksonbroadway.com 

XO Cafe, Providence

Providence food lovers rejoiced when XO Cafe returned to it's home on North Main Street. We all remembered cozy meals on warm banquettes and amazing aromas coming from the kitchen. Today, owner John Elkhay and Chef Martin Lyons have helped bring XO back to the top. This is the Chow Fun Food Group's "farm to table" restaurant. Chef Lyons cut his teeth with some of the city's best chefs--see the previous chef and restaurant--and he brings an incredible array of dishes and foods to the tables at XO. He not only works seasonally, but also within the seasons. If a product is only at its peak for two weeks, it only stays on the menu two weeks. His food is well thought-out and well executed. We also love XO because they don't take themselves too seriously. They like to have fun and it's reflected in the daily deals. Sunday's pajama brunch--free mimosa or bloody if you show up in p.j.s--is legendary. Wednesday's complimentary tasting menu for ladies is mind boggling. A FREE 3 course tasting menu with the purchase of a cocktail? Yup. All small portions but did we mention free? And it is Chef Lyons' amazing food. 125 North Main St. 273-9090, www.xocafe.com

Flan y Ajo, Providence

Our last great meal came from a tiny tapas spot in Providence. This was a social media find...we follow most of the top chefs in the city on Twitter because it's a great way of keeping up on what they're doing. You can always count on the food professionals to be the first to a new spot. They are the most adventurous eaters and they're always looking for the new "best" restaurant. In the last year or so we began to see a stream of tweets talking about incredible bites at Flan y Ajo. This tiny spot serves some of the most authentic Spanish flavors you will come across. The location--like the plates--is small but inviting. Most patrons stand and enjoy the tapas. It seems to increase the conversation and socializing among different groups. The "bring your own" policy only makes this spot even better. You will need a cursory knowledge of the Spanish language for the chalkboard of goodies. If they have any version the croquettas, grab 'em. You won't be disappointed. They're always perfectly crisp and well seasoned. 225 Westminster St. 432-6656, www.flanyajo.com 


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