Southern Rhode Island is filled with the foods of the world, but where do we start? Instead of walking into any old place with an exotic name and pointing at #17 on their menu (which is probably pretty good in its own right), let’s structure our adventure with a trek through the globe’s culinary icons. All we need is a travel itinerary: noodles, sushi, curry, falafel, dumplings, meatballs and tacos.
As South Kingstowner and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri, wrote in her 2003 novel, The Namesake, “Pack a pillow and blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it.” This is good advice. We should probably bring along our appetites, too.
The noodle is a staple food throughout the world. So much so, that many cultures claim it as their own creation and have gone to great lengths to defend it. Dating back over 4,000 years, this sought after food is finally having an uprising of its own.
There’s plenty of cultural fusion at Noodle Revolution, which means that no matter what you order, it’s sure to have some basis in the familiar (there’s even calamari that can be added if you don’t want to stray too far from that Rhode Island standard). In their noodle bowls you get to pick the noodle shape and texture as well as one of three sauces: Drunken, which means you determine the level of spice; Black Noodle, which has a soy sauce base; and Bangkok Street Pad Thai, which features a beautiful peanut sauce. Don’t be shy about experimenting; the Beef Pho – a noodle soup with just the right amount of lime – is also front and center. And fear not, there’s also the Revolution Burger waiting on the menu just in case you need a little more comfort food while you decide on noodles for your next visit. 87 Oak Street, Westerly. 596-9559
When entering the small storefront noodle bar of Boru you immediately feel a sense of rebellion; maybe because it’s literally painted on the walls as noodle related riffs on the art of Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Chefs Casey Shea and Steve Lucier serve up as much style as flavor with their signature ramen bowls. That’s right. Ramen noodles, no longer confined to the brick-like packets of college dorms, have once again garnered culinary legitimacy. The Boru House Ramen is completed with pork belly, napa cabbage and a fried egg; perfect fare for lunch or to sustain a night out on “The Island.” 36 Broadway, Newport. 846-4200, BoruNoodlebar.com
Sushi isn’t raw fish. Well, it’s not exclusively raw fish; that’s sashimi. This definitive Japanese creation can have veggies or meats (cooked or uncooked) of almost any type. The key is really the vinegar rice that makes it just sticky enough to serve as a foundation for the whole thing. Note: The best thing about sushi is its fresh ingredients, which is why we do not buy it from gas stations on road trips.
One of Shogun Steak and Seafood House’s two locations can be found tucked away in South County Commons. Sure, there are great hibachi tables in the back, but up front is a marvelous sushi bar where you can watch the artistry that chefs put into each piece and roll. Aki rolls are affordable and a great way to mix, match and share with your travelling companions. 59 South County Commons Way, Wakefield. 284-1311; 76 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick. 270-3608, ShogunRI.com
Westerly’s Koi is elegant without the high price tag or stuffiness. If you’re the slightest bit hesitant about ordering a big dinner without knowing what you’re doing, try stopping in at lunch for a Bento Box (it’s the Japanese version of partitioned lunchbox); it’s a great chance to try small samples of a few different items without the big commitment. 65 High Street, Westerly. 348-8886, KoiJapaneseRestaurantRI.com
Over at Raku Sakura, both the atmosphere and the sushi are contemporary turns of classic styles. However, if you’re having one of those nights when you want the world to come to you, try their very popular (and prompt) delivery service that doesn’t skimp on the care or fresh ingredients. They even offer online ordering. 148 Main Street, East Greenwich. 885-0777, RakuSakuraEastGreenwich.com
The Meandering Meatball
We’ve all had bad meatballs, whether they be from an aluminum chafing tray at a work luncheon or from a buddy who brings them to every tailgate party and tells you his secret ingredient is actually ketchup. Those meat-based ping-pong balls should not be the standard bearer for this deceptively nuanced morsel. Instead, head to these Italian restaurants for the juiciest, most flavorful meatballs you can get your hands on.
At Pasquale’s Pizzeria Napoletana, owner and chef Pasquale Illiano takes his meatballs seriously. Whether they ride atop one of his hand-crafted pizzas or travel solo covered in ricotta and parmesan, Pasquale and his crew pride themselves on their attention to detail; like the fact that their cheeses are all artisan made. 60 South County Commons Way, Wakefield. 783-2900, PasqualesPizzeriaRI.com
It’s the best of both worlds at Chianti’s. The restaurant proper offers Rhode Island’s classic Italian dining atmosphere, while their adjacent The Trap is a casual pub. Both of which boast their signature Pulpettini (the formal Italian is “polpettini”), which are little pan-fried meatballs in a tomato-basil sauce and served with a kicker of cheese fondue for dunking. 195 Old Forge Road, East Greenwich. 885-4999,
If there were a hierarchy of street food, then falafel would definitely be up there with royalty. A long standing Mediterranean and Middle Eastern meal, falafel is a deep-fried ball of mashed and spiced chickpeas or fava beans. Generally served in a pita or on taboon flatbread for easy handling, this vegetarian charm goes great with sauces that have either tahini or yogurt as their base.
If you find yourself in South Kingstown for lunch, then swing by Pick Pockets Deli. There, find culinary bliss in the form of The Works. The Works is Pick Pockets’ fan-favored falafel along with hummus and tabbouleh in the pita. It travels well if you’re taking it on the road and the tahini has just enough tomato in it to make it distinct. 231 Old Tower Hill Road, Wakefield. 792-3360, PickPocketsDeli.com
Twenty miles away, interestingly enough, is Pick Pockets Deli – no relation to the Wakefield Pick Pockets or Smithfield Pick Pockets. Order The Works here and you’re in for another mouth full of paradise. Hummus and tabbouleh along with a sweet tahini that cools your palate. 160 Granite Street, Westerly. 637-7900, PickPocketsWesterly.com
Now, the Veggie Falafel Wrap at Markos Restaurant has the added bonus of stuffed grape leaves and fresh cucumbers inside it. It’s a labor of love at this comfortable diner a few blocks from the water. Take the time to relax and enjoy the home-style ambiance. 126 Boon Street, Narragansett. 783-9083, MarkosNarragansett.com
Don’t Fear the Curry
It is only natural that we are sometimes suspicious of what we do not understand. And, there’s a lot to understand about curries. But, as with any new experience, there’s a certain amount of trust intrinsic in the adventure. There are sweet curries, savory curries, hot curries, wet curries and dry curries. In addition, since curries are traditional fare throughout the Indian subcontinent, many can be prepared vegetarian. As first timers, we might want to stay away from the heat and look for flavor combinations that we like. Most Indian restaurants will have pretty extensive descriptions detailing what’s in their dishes listed on their menus. Take time to read those and ask questions for further clarification.
After finding great success with Kabob and Curry on Providence’s Thayer Street and Rasoi just across the border into Pawtucket, Chef Sanjiv Dhar decided to expand his reach about three years ago into southern Rhode Island. With Rasa, Chef Dhar continues to deliver regional flavors in a bright and inviting atmosphere. While technically not a strict curry, the Chicken Tikki Masala is a solid jumping on point. Masala is a spice used in many curries, so this meal has flavor throughout, both in the chicken and the tomato-cream sauce. 149 Main Street, East Greenwich. 398-2822, IndianRestaurantsRI.com/Rasa
If you’re in the mood to dine down by the beach, then try Maharaja inside the impressively appointed The Village Inn Hotel. The Vegetable Curry has a base of chickpeas in a spiced tomato and garlic sauce. Couple that with a side of garlic-cilantro Naan (a thin bread delicious on its own, but also helpful with the curry sauce) and those might just be the perfect things to warm you up after a winter afternoon spent wandering along the sea wall. 1 Beach Street, Narragansett. 363-9988, MaharajaRI.com
Much like the noodle, the dumpling seems to have questionable parentage, with almost every culture claiming responsibility for its conception. That makes sense, it’s meat or vegetable encased in either a dough or pasta wrapping; then boiled, steamed, fried or baked. That takes care of ravioli, matzo balls, knish, pierogi, as well as gnocchi. For our purposes let’s stick with the Asian versions of which, fortunately, there are plenty.
The Pork Ravioli appetizer at Tong-D is prepared either pan-fried in the Japanese gyoza style or steamed. The daily Happy Hour provides a terrific excuse to get a drink and sample the appetizer menu which is full of both classic Thai dishes and spins on standard fare from other Asian cultures. 50 South County Commons Way, South Kingstown. 783-4445, TongDSK.com
Not too far down the road, Sa-Tang offers traditional Thai Kamon Jeeb steamed dumplings on the menu with either chicken or shrimp. They really take pride in their diverse menu, so if it looks good, give it a shot. 402 A-B Main Street, Wakefield. 284-4220, Sa-Tang.com
Seven Moons offers us a Japanese menu as well as a Chinese one (the latter has a few Thai and Vietnamese items too). Use this opportunity to taste dumplings fully fried from the Chinese fare. They’re served with a thick oyster sauce that manages to penetrate that golden crust in the best way. 6900 Post Road, North Kingstown. 885-8383, SevenMoonsOnline.com
If it’s wonton you’re wanting, try the soups at Beijing Dumpling. They have a straight-up pork wonton soup or, for the more adventurous, a wonton egg-drop soup, in which an egg is beaten into the broth, cooking the egg and creating wonderful ribbons throughout the soup. The stand-alone pork dumplings also have quite the fanbase for their price, quantity and quality. Merchant Square, 55 Beach Street, Westerly. 348-8883
In the same complex is the Corner Thai Cafe. Their chicken Kamon Jeeb is topped with garlic and cilantro, adding even more flavor to this well prepared bundle of deliciousness. Merchant Square, 55 Beach Street, Westerly. 348-0009.
A Taco Worth Traveling For
The taco is a puzzle box; it seems simple, yet it can be deconstructed and reassembled in so many ways. Even in its original home of Mexico, the shape can change from the usual folded shell to more of an open-face bowl. The consistency may differ from a hard to a soft shell; a flour to a corn base. And the contents can slide from a simple bit of meat, a dash of cilantro and a squeeze of lime all the way over to steak tips, salsa and scoops of cheese. The important thing is to voyage outside of what you know. With an open mind, the result is sure to be an appetizing endeavor.
Amigos Taqueria y Tequila serves really good tequila. Plan accordingly. These friends will welcome you with their American Taco (meat of your choice with shredded cheese and sour cream); get you to come back with their Traditional Taco (your choice of meat with a little cilantro, lime and tomatillo); and surprise you with their Cabo San Lucas Taco (shrimp or scallops with mango papaya slaw). 2 Canal Street, Westerly. 315-5800, AmigosRI.com
Tortuga Restaurant has a variety of tacos that can really make you appreciate the importance of flavor combinations; the Carnitas (pork) is topped with pickled onions, while the Pollo (chicken) is seasoned with chipotle (a smoke-dried jalapeño sauce) and a corn salsa. The Pescado (Mahi) is finished with cilantro and lime, and the Carne Asada (steak) has queso fresco (a soft, white cheese). It’s the thoughtfulness that really distinguishes this menu. 21 Pier Market Place, Narragansett. 363-9930, TortugaRestaurantRI.com
Down at El Fuego they kind of do things their own way. For example, they make a taco with Caribbean jerk-seasoned codfish and put a chipotle aioli slaw on top of it; that’s tasty, outside-the-box thinking. Their Aguacate (avocado) is a taco layered with beans, cheese and the house guacamole. You can mix and match your order to sample these unexpected twists on what we often consider the simple taco. 344 Main Street, Wakefield. 284-3353, ElFuegoMexicanGrill.com