Fishing and shellfish farming are thriving industries in Rhode Island, and that means when you belly up to a raw bar or settle in to a table at one of these popular restaurants, you'll be eating some of the freshest seafood you've ever tasted. The best seafood restaurants in the tiny Ocean State all seem to have their own angle on how to prep and serve the gifts of the sea, so if you live close enough to visit Rhode Island again and again, make a point of trying to dine at all 10.
In capital city Providence, Hemenway's has been the go-to place for seafood for what seems like forever. In this high-ceilinged, glass-walled space with its swirling ceiling fans, a feast of sea delicacies awaits, and it's all presented with eye-popping flair. Order just four oysters from the raw bar? They'll arrive as beautifully arranged on a bed of ice as if you'd ordered the wow-factor raw shellfish platter. And lobsters, whether cooked or baked and stuffed, are real showstoppers. Order the lobster mac and cheese, and it overflows from the shell. Even the breadcrumbs that give it a touch of crunch are perfection.
Located less than a mile from the rollicking waves at East Matunuck State Beach, this much-acclaimed restaurant known for cultivating its own oysters is a Rhode Island success story. You'll dine pondside on oysters fresh from the waters below, as well as on other locally grown and harvested shellfish and produce. Owner Perry Raso studied aquaculture at URI and was an oyster farmer first, a restaurateur second. Book an oyster farm tour, and you'll appreciate the labor that goes into raising these crisp, salty morsels of deliciousness. The only downside here is the restaurant's popularity makes scoring a table tough.
It's worth the trip to out-of-the-way Warren, Rhode Island, to visit the "home of the giant lobster roll." How giant is it? We're talking about a half-pound of lobster meat on a torpedo-shaped roll, dressed in your choice of melted butter or dill mayo. Claim an umbrella table or Adirondack chairs overlooking the water, and kick back with a tray-load of other favorites, too, including the unique clambake chowder and some of the best fried clam strips Rhode Island has to offer. When the outdoor dining season is over, you can still enjoy a taste of the sea year-round at the Clam Shack Market across the street.
In a desirable spot on Narragansett Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island, Quito's is the place for seafood lovers who are fond of large portions and reasonable prices. Here, seafood is prepared in a variety of ways—fried, grilled, baked—as well as in dishes with Italian flair like spaghetti with littlenecks or a medley of clams, shrimp, and scallops in white wine scampi sauce. The atmosphere is casual, and diners on the covered deck sometimes get to eavesdrop on concerts in neighboring Independence Park. Quito's is open seasonally, from March through November, and in the colder weather months, a fireplace keeps the indoor dining room toasty.
Seated waterside at The Mooring in Newport, Rhode Island, you could be content ordering nothing more than a bowl of chowder and a bag of doughnuts. The New England clam chowder here is decadently creamy, paprika-seasoned, and loaded with tender morsels of clam. The restaurant's signature chowder, made with Georges Bank scallops and sweet corn, is even more decadent and more filling. And the "Bag of Doughnuts" isn't what it sounds like: These are fried, savory fritters studded with shrimp, lobster, and crab. Of course, this long-established restaurant offers so much more for seafood fans, from raw bar delights to local fish and calamari to seafood ravioli.
On Federal Hill in Providence, best known for its Italian restaurants, make this your destination if you want to pre-game with a plate of oysters before pasta or make sea fare your main event. Providence Oyster Bar is the rare restaurant that does all types of seafood justice. Love oysters? The raw bar always features a fresh selection of five to eight varieties from regional waters, and you can also savor Oysters Rockefeller or an oyster po'boy if you prefer your bivalves cooked. Lobster rolls are served two ways: Splurge on the hot-buttered version. All of your favorite finfish and shellfish are on the menu, too, from ahi tuna to Atlantic-caught cod, Prince Edward Island mussels to fried whole belly clams. Even hand-rolled sushi selections are expertly prepared: The Surf & Turf Roll mixes tuna, shrimp tempura, and filet mignon for a best-of-all-worlds treat.
The thing to love about George's is options. You can walk up to the takeout window in-season, and enjoy your seafood outside on neighboring Salty Brine Beach or on the breakwater, where it's fun to sit and watch the fishing boats sail in and out of the port of Galilee. You can also feast on an abundant variety of seafood in the interior's spacious dining rooms, which seat 500, making this Rhode Island's largest seafood restaurant. If you're feeling overwhelmed by a deep-dive of a menu that features soups, sushi, raw shellfish, and fish and lobster cooked a multitude of ways, consider a hyperlocal experience and try the calamari and whole roasted local fish, particularly if unusual, sustainable options like scup or tautog are available. All were likely swimming in ocean waters off Rhode Island last night.
If you fancy the idea of drinking your shellfish, this Newport seafood restaurant will tempt you with its menu of four different alcoholic oyster shooters. And this is just your warm-up, of course. Known for its raw bar with ringside seating, plus spacious dining rooms and an outdoor rooftop deck, this Newport seafood emporium serves a creative menu that works sea-harvested ingredients into comfort food dishes like juicy burgers topped with fried oysters and remoulade or the BLT with blackened salmon. This is also an excellent spot to try stuffies: Rhode Island quahog clams stuffed with chourico and sweet peppers.
On the island of Jamestown in the heart of the walkable village, Simpatico serves up a lively variety of sea fare. This is the place to try calamari, which was designated Rhode Island's official state appetizer in 2014 to honor the bounty of squid harvested from the tiny state's waters. This multilevel island hangout puts a distinctive twist on traditional Rhode Island-style calamari, serving lightly breaded, gently fried calamari rings in a zesty antipasto punctuated with salami, capicola, hot peppers, red onion, Kalamata olives, baby spinach, and bell peppers. Hungry for more? The menu is strong on fresh fish, and the Lobsta' Roll is made Maine-style with five ounces of knuckle and claw meat and a side of tasty fries.
Founded in 1920, this family-owned seafood shack in Narragansett, Rhode Island, has a story that's sustained it for a century. Ulysses and Carrie Cooper opened the restaurant to keep up with the growing demand for her invention—clam cakes—which had earned a loyal following among local fishermen and seaside campers. These deep-fried, crispy, dough, and clam balls are still a hot seller, and you can order as many or as few as your appetite commands. Better yet: Try them as part of a complete Shore Dinner that includes clam chowder, steamer clams with melted butter, fried Point Judith flounder, a whole lobster, and homemade dessert.