10 Must Try Foods When Visiting Rhode Island

Can you call a visit to Philadelphia complete without trying a cheese steak or a soft pretzel? Can you go to Maryland and not eat crab cakes? What about New Orleans? If you go to New Orleans without having beignets at Cafe du Monde, you are missing a vital piece of the experience. Trying local or regional foods is a big part of traveling.

Since trying local foods is such an essential part of a travel experience, I’m starting a new feature on the blog with “Must Try Foods” from the cities or regions where we travel, starting with my local state of Rhode Island foods. This is certainly not a complete list of Rhode Island native foods, but a few highlights. Also see my suggestions on planning a family weekend getaway to Providence or my favorite Rhode Island restaurants.

10 Must Try Rhode Island Foods

  • Calamari – Unlike other parts of the country, RI calamari is very lightly battered, then fried or sauteed and served with a mix of garlic butter and hot cherry peppers; and it is delicious. In fact, it was recently proposed to make RI-style calamari the state appetizer. I rarely have a bad plate of calamari so you really can’t go wrong at any of the fine restaurants around Rhode Island; but if you want a stand out serving, try ordering it at Pane e Vino in Providence.
Calamari from Pane e Vino | 10 Must Try RI Foods

Photo credit: Pane e Vino Restaurant

  • Del’s Lemonade – Based on Italian lemon ices, Del’s offers frozen lemonade (like a lemon slushy) and is ubiquitous in Rhode Island during the summer from permanent stands to roadside carts at popular attractions. Del’s is now available in a variety of flavors including mango/peach and watermelon.
10 Must Try Foods when Visiting RI #2 Del's Lemonade
Photo credit: FabulousFabs on Flickr Creative Commons, click photo for link
  • Lobster ravioli – While many restaurants serve it, most of them source lobster ravioli from the masters – Venda Ravioli. Located in Depasquale Square in Providence’s Federal Hill district, Venda Ravioli is a gourmet Italian market, complete with a sidewalk cafe. If you can’t get a table there, try their sister restaurant Constantino’s just across the square.
  • Clamcakes – Clamcakes are one of those foods that people swear by one vendor’s versus another; but if you want to try two great examples, head down to Narragansett to try Iggy’s and Aunt Carrie’s. A clamcake is a egg-sized  mixture of fried dough with small pieces of clams inside.
  • Doughboys – While you are down at Iggy’s, you should also pick up some doughboys. Every region seems to have its own version of fried dough (funnel cakes, NJ-style zeppolis…), and doughboys are Rhode Island’s. Doughboys are flat, plate sized pieces of fried dough. Served hot out of the fryer, you can get them plain, with powdered sugar or regular sugar.
Iggy's Doughboys -- 10 Must Try Foods when Visiting Rhode Island
Photo Credit: Iggy’s Doughboys
  • Pizza strips (aka Party Pizza) – These are one of those Rhode Island specialties that seem to show up at every party. Basically they are strips of focaccia-like dough topped with a thick tomato sauce. Pizza strips are served at room temperature and are available at most local bakeries and markets.
RI Pizza Strips | 10 Must Try RI Foods
Pizza strips from Dave’s Market
  • Zeppole – When I was talking about doughboys, I mentioned NJ-style zeppolis, which are small balls of fried dough (strangely enough, about the size of a clamcake), sold by the dozen or half-dozen, and topped with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. It was a favorite treat of mine when visiting the boardwalk at the Jersey shore. So when I moved to RI, I heard about this holiday called St. Joseph’s Day, which was celebrated by eating zeppole. I was excited until I went to the bakery and found that the zeppole sold in RI are actually a creampuff-like pastry filled with a custard-type cream or other option, and topped with cream and usually a cherry. Yummy, just not what I was expecting. Unfortunately, zeppole are mostly found around St. Joseph’s Day in March so if you are visiting at another time, you might miss out, but if you are lucky enough to be in town at the right time, I’d recommend stopping by LaSalle Bakery in Providence (also pick up a red velvet cupcake while you are there.)
10 Must Try RI Foods - Zeppole from LaSalle Bakery
Photo Credit: LaSalle Bakery
  • Cabinets and Coffee Milk – In RI, a cabinet is not just a place to store things, it is coffee beverage made of coffee ice cream, coffee syrup and milk. You don’t see them too often anymore. Coffee milk is something you still see around, or at least can buy coffee syrup in the market, it is a drink made by adding a sweetened coffee concentrate called coffee syrup to milk, the same way you make chocolate milk.
10 Must Try Foods when Visiting Rhode Island - Autocrat Coffee milk
Photo Credit: Spablab on Flickr Creative Commons, click photo for link
  •  Stuffies (aka Stuffed Quahogs) – Stuffies are stuffed with a breading that includes chopped quahogs (the RI state mollusc), herbs, and possibly bits of peppers and chourico sausage. Stuffies are another thing that you can get just about anywhere and my favorites are actually from my local Dave’s Market; but if you would rather eat them out, try Finn’s Harbourside in East Greenwich.
Stuffies (aka Stuffed Quahogs) | 10 Must Try RI Foods
Stuffie from Dave’s Market
  • New York System Hot Weiners – I had to put this one last because after 11 years in RI, I still don’t understand why locals tout a food that was named after another state. I also lived in NY and I don’t get the connection (I guess it goes back to Coney Island style hot dogs.) But, that said, it is a classic RI food so if you want to try it, head over to one of Olneyville N.Y. System’s locations. The traditional wiener is made with a small, thin frankfurter made of veal and pork, giving it a different taste from a traditional beef hot dog, served in a steamed bun, and topped with celery salt, yellow mustard, chopped onions, and a seasoned meat sauce.
10 Must Try Foods when Visiting Rhode Island #10 Hot "NY System" style weiners
Hot weiners from New York System

I will give you one more bonus must try food. I have two words for you…Donut Cake. Yup, that is a must try food that I’ve only seen in RI and you can only get them at Allie’s Donuts in North Kingstown, but you better order in advance.

There are more I left off the list, like johnnycakes (a cornmeal pancake), RI-style clam chowder (unlike New England clam chowder, RI has a clear broth), and dynamites (hamburgers with peppers, onions and tomato sauce – sort of like a sloppy joe) because you don’t actually see them on menus very often despite their RI claim to fame.

For a small state, Rhode Island has more than its share of unique foods, like Del's Frozen lemonade, coffee syrup, clam cakes, pizza strips, doughboys and more. They also have the BEST calamari in the world and delicious treats like zeppoles and donut cakes. I love this list of must try foods from We3Travel.com.

(Featured photo credit: Taber Andrew Bain using a Flickr Creative Commons License. Allie’s Donuts photo credit: Marc Choquette using a Flickr Creative Common License.]

150 Comments on “10 Must Try Foods When Visiting Rhode Island

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  1. I can’t believe nothing was mentioned about our steak grinders and pizza 🙁 I was away from RI for almost 15 years and I really have to tell you RI food is great. And the funny thing is that in such a small state there are such a variety of the same things. The only people that get more excited about there food then Rhode Islanders are those from Louisiana… and they definitely have reason to be

    Don’t forget wine biscuits from Palmeiri’s Bakery. I lived in RI for 35 years and i have lived in NJ for 23 i can not find wine biscuits any where outside of Providence.

    My partner grew up in RI and this was a trip down memory lane for him! He nearly cried when he saw the shelf of coffee syrup, though. You just can’t get it in Australia!

    Clams Casino! RI inpired!

    I grew up in Tiverton, RI near Grinnells Beach and the Stone Bridge. Being a Portuguese kid from a large family, ate lots of seafood (mostly fish and clams) as well as lots of Portuguese foods homemade by my Vavao Luciano and my mom. Always had a ready supply of Autocrat Coffee Syrup. However, I grew up a small part of my life downstairs from Evelyn and Patrick DuPont, who developed, owned and operated Evelyn’s Nanaquaket Drive-in. Those leftovers were the bomb! Especially the clam cakes and chowder (pronounced…CHOW-duh). Joined the Navy and never really got back, but the memories will always live in the depths of my mind and heart. I’m proud to be from “The Biggest Little State in the Union…RHODE ISLAND”!

      I love how Rhode Islanders are so passionate about food!

    Love your list! I miss the foods, the restaurants and the people! Planning a long visit next summer can’t wait. If you are passing through Indiana at some point on your travels you must have a breaded tenderloin. Found throughout the state, ask the locals where the best ones are found. A pork tenderloin, pounded thin, some are the size of a dinner plate, breaded and deep fried. Served on a bun that is almost always too small with toppings of your choice, I like mine with mayo and thin sliced onion. Enjoy!

      I was born and raised in RI. I now live in Brownsburg IN. While Im not very fond of tenderloins I believe the biggest and best are available at Big Daddys bar and grill in Indianapolis. As far as RI, when I get a chance to go home I HAVE TO eat at Wrights Farm and Walts or Millers Roast Beef. Staples of RI

    How can you talk about R.I. foods without mentioning either Awful-Awfuls from the Newport Creamery of Fish and Chips from George’s in Galilee!

    It might be because I moved out of Florida at a young age, but the pizza strips are amazing. Whenever I visit family, I always bring some home with me to Florida. I constantly rave about them and throw it into a conversation with anyone I know that is from Rhode island as well.

      And ironically, I was born on st joseph’s day, but never knew about the zeppole. I’ll have to go back up there for my birthday next year!

    Nice List! I’d like to add Crugnales Bakery’s spinach pie. It’s sort of like a calzone, but it is honestly in it’s own category. Actually anything at Crugnales is awesome! Nope, I don’t work there! LoL!

      I’m not a fan of spincach pie but you are right, it is different here than anywhere else I’ve had spinach rolls or calzones. Crugnales is definitely a good choice.

    What……no love for SPEZZI? Or the homemade “anchovies” Washington county pizzerias use on their pies? I love RI’s soupy…..which started out as an immigrants version of homemade sorpressata…..but it pales when compared to SPEZZI, chicken gizzards and hearts slowly simmered in tomato, hot pepper and herbs……eaten with a nice hunk of Italian bread to soak it all up….so, so incredibly good……a memory when times were tough and STILL, the Italian American immigrant came up with incredible dishes….

    […] This illustration depicts some spoofs on our visitors as well as favorite local beach foods. Here’s a link to a description of some quirky RI favorites:  10 Must Try Foods When Visiting RI […]

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