Italian immigrants and their descendants have been a major part of Rhode Island for more than a century. In the 1920s, Italian immigrants arriving in Providence began displacing the Irish establishing a tiny Little Italy neighborhood in Federal Hill.
The Italian immigrants in Rhode Island worked industrial and manufacturing jobs in the state, and their descendants eventually spread to nearby suburbs of Providence. The smallest state in the Union today has the second highest percentage of people claiming Italian American heritage, just below Connecticut and beating out New Jersey. Inevitably Italian American cuisine has become an important part of the state's culture.
Newport, Rhode Island, was once home to America's whitest of blue-blooded Yankees with the coast lined with gilded age mansions. The once exclusive summer resort has since become more of a regional tourist destination attracting families and beachgoers. The gilded age mansions are now landmarks attracting tourists themselves.
Luckily there are plenty of Italian restaurants in and around the city of Newport, RI.
This chic Italian restaurant not only features the namesake pasta, but also upscale pizza. The focus is on contemporary Italian cuisine with plenty of ingredients imported from Italy. This two-decade-old restaurant has since grown to include locations in Providence and Boston.
Lucia focuses on "Northern Italian" cuisine denoting this isn't an old-style red sauce joint. The restaurant opened in 1993 with the founders coming from Venice. The menu is filled with northern favorites like gnocchi and veal, but there are plenty of old-school Italian American favorites like Manicotti too. The restaurant has several types of bruschetta.
The former mayor of Newport, Richard Sardella, founded the restaurant in 1980. The menu was originally based on family recipes that continue to evolve and features a mix of classic Italian American dishes and modern Italian dishes. Sardello's also lays claim to being the oldest of the full-service Italian restaurants serving Newport.
A classic Italian American restaurant, Mama Luiusa is also known for its desserts, although the selection changes regularly.
Chef Luca Mignogna and his wife Christina opened the cheese-focused shop in 2022 after relocating to Newport during the pandemic. Mignogna is originally from the Molise region of Italy and built a following making cheese with his wife in Massachusetts on a farm they founded. The shop specializes in traditional buffalo mozzarella, as well as fior di latte–cow's milk mozzarella. But the shop has more than cheese– they also make bread, the perfect combination.
Just east of Easton Beach in Middletown, Bottega Bocconi is an Italian-style market stocked with local produce or imported goods from Italy. It also features piadina sandwiches, inspired by the flatbreads common along the northeastern coast of Italy. Chef Marco Minieri opened the first shop five years ago with his wife Allison Kimmel and now has a second location in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Minieri had been the head chef of Newport's Pasta Beach.
This small-scale pizza chain has a half-dozen locations. The first opened in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1991, and in addition to Newport has several more Rhode Island locations. The shop offers pizza by the slice and is regularly mentioned in Rhode Island's best-of lists.
Ian MacAllen is America Domani's Senior Correspondent and the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American. He is a writer, editor, and graphic designer living in Brooklyn. Connect with him at IanMacAllen.com or on Twitter @IanMacAllen.