The Italian food scene is strong in Rhode Island: a state that, like the Mediterranean nation, is blessed with fertile fields and waters. Whether you're craving rustic, authentic home cooking or fresh twists on classic dishes — or just an extraordinary slice of pizza — the best Italian restaurants in Rhode Island offer transportive dining experiences. Start your culinary journey in capital city Providence, where the Federal Hill Italian neighborhood offers an array of restaurants and looks the part, with cafe tables surrounding the fountain in DePasquale Square. But don't overlook other Italian standouts as you roam Rhode Island. Here are eight delicious options.
This upscale destination for Italian fare with a decidedly down-home specialty — grilled pizza — has been the standard by which other Italian restaurants are compared for nearly four decades. Located in Providence's riverside Fox Point neighborhood, Al Forno's rise to popularity was propelled by its creative owners' playful approach to traditional Italian cuisine and their reliance on New England's bounty, like wood-grilled George’s Bank scallops with parsnip pureé and roasted asparagus. You'll regret it if you don't save room for the grand cookie finale for two.
You might just find yourself teary-eyed when you taste the painstakingly cooked, Old-World comfort food this family-owned restaurant has been known for since 1924. Here on Providence's Federal Hill, there's only one restaurant that's been serving some of the same beloved dishes for 95 years and the recipes, and the prices, have changed little in those years. If you've never tried tripe, this is the place to be adventurous, particularly since this is one of the house favorites available in a half-sized portion.
THE place for pizza in Providence's Federal Hill Italian neighborhood is this unassuming red-black-and-white cafeteria, where you can feed yourself remarkably well for under 10 bucks. In business for more than 60 years, Caserta's best invention is the Wimpy Skippy: a spinach pie folded calzone-style and stuffed with cheese, black olives and spicy pepperoni. You can't go wrong here, though, with a simple Sicilian slice, all chewy and cheesy and too heavy, really, for the paper plate it's served on (don't transport it without a tray). Thin-crust pies with your choice of toppings come in sizes for sharing or for hogging all to yourself.
With no website and a Facebook page that hasn't been updated in years, Enoteca Umberto is something of a secret in Providence, and you won't even know what's for dinner until you sit down at one of only 18 seats (with a few patio tables added in the warm-weather months) because there are no menus. You can be certain, though, that you're off on a culinary odyssey that will take your tastebuds to Southern Italy. The chef, Lia Bellini, takes inspiration from her market forays and composes extraordinary meals in the tiniest of kitchens. Her husband, Umberto, is your tour guide for an evening of food and wine you'll rave about. Call 401-272-8466 far in advance to make reservations, which are a must.
When you've worked up an appetite from beach strolls and bodysurfing, head to Maria's Seaside Cafe for heaping plates of homemade pasta, lemony grilled calamari and fresh-caught fish, and pair it with a bellini or glass of Italian wine. Rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy's devastation, this bright, airy, cafe overlooking beach dunes operates seasonally. It's worth the trip for Sunday brunch, too, when irresistible dishes like lemon ricotta pancakes and Nutella Italian toast are generously accompanied by bottomless mimosas or bellinis.
A relative newcomer on Providence's Federal Hill, Massimo isn't just an Italian standout: It's one of the best restaurants in all of Rhode Island. To truly know its breadth, you need to visit several times. The three-hour weekday happy hour specials, including $5 meatball sliders or calamari fritti, are an excellent introduction. Three-course "presto! lunch" deals will leave you happy and satisfied. Dinner, however, is your opportunity for a deep dive: a chance to sample multi-regional Italian dishes handcrafted with a focus on seasonal, local ingredients. And brunch, while always a treat, becomes a bawdy delight when drag queens perform the first Sunday of each month.
Move over, Connecticut, Little Rhody is a new contender in the pizza wars. Some Rhode Islanders will tell you Naples native Pasquale Illiano's hidden gem has the best pies of all. Tucked away in the South County Commons plaza in South Kingstown, Pasquale's thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizzas are baked at 900 degrees Fahrenheit in a wood-burning oven built by a Neopolitan artisan. That's not where the authenticity stops. These quick-cooking pies are topped with fresh mozzarella made by Italian cheese makers and ingredients imported from the mother country. They're so true to the ideal, they're certified by the international Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana. Two cuisines collide in the pie topped with smoked mozzarella, cured olives, arugula and fresh-fried calamari, aptly named "The Rhode Island." Appetizers, salads and sandwiches round out the menu.
Known for its glitzy locations in Las Vegas, NYC and Miami and its bold fare, the Newport, Rhode Island, incarnation of Scarpetta—housed inside Gurney's Newport Resort & Marina out on Goat Island—is your place to experience the exquisite marriage of handmade pasta and New England seafood in dishes like lobster tagliatelle. Score a table on the marina deck, surrounded by sharp boats and the soothing ripple of saltwater; sip a Margarita Italiana or local craft beer; and embrace the yacht life vibe of Newport in the summertime.