About a decade ago in China, Annie Parisi was a tour leader, helping travelers from around the world discover her hometown of Tianjin near Beijing. She would lead travelers to parts of South Korea and Thailand, but dreamed of leading tours in America.
She was 28 and on a six-month visa in the United States when she first met Joe Parisi in Las Vegas. They fell in love and got married seven years ago and welcomed their daughter, Grace, in September 2021.
When Joe Parisi, then a table manager at Foxwoods Resort Casino, would bring her to Chinese restaurants in New England, she was shocked by their menus. Items like pu pu platters, crab rangoon, and orange chicken did not originate in China, but are American inventions, she explained.
She started diving into cookbooks, videos, and family recipes to teach herself how to make the authentic dishes she had growing up.
“She didn’t have a choice but to become a home chef,” Joe Parisi said in a recent interview. The couple realized there was a hole in southern New England’s food scene, and wanted to open a restaurant of their own. Annie Parisi went back to Tianjin for a month to take classes on how to make hand-pulled noodles and buns. And in the fall of 2019, they opened Jayd Bun in South Kingstown, R.I.
At Jayd Bun, everything is made from scratch daily: the savory pork buns with soft dough, their chili paste and sweet sauce, pan-fried dumplings, bao buns, and her homemade noodles that are the shining star of plates like the spicy tomato or peanut butter noodles. Their “Jin Jin” dumplings are stuffed with pork, egg, and chives.
On Oct. 11, almost three years after Jayd Bun opened its doors, the restaurant earned the No. 1 spot on Yelp’s “Best 100 Places to Eat in New England” list. Nine other Rhode Island eateries topped the list, which is based on volume and ratings of reviews, including Matunuck Oyster Bar, East Side Pockets, Los Andes, Hometown Cafe & Poké Bar, Root, Corner Cafe, Drift Cafe, Cafe Zara & Coffee House, Sophia’s Tuscan Grille. Many have been on the list before, but it was a first for Jayd Bun.
Joe Parisi said when they first received an e-mail alerting them they made the list, they thought it was spam. But when they were told they earned the top spot just a few days before it became public, it was “total shock.”
”When we first opened, it was really hard. People didn’t know our food, the winter of 2019 was dreadfully slow, and then COVID-19 started,” said Joe Parisi. “It wasn’t until after the pandemic began did we really start to get busy.”
Jayd Bun is a primarily takeout-only business with a few tables for outdoor seating available. Whaler’s Brewing Company, which is located next door, has customers pick up food from Jayd Bun to pair with their brews.
And the Parisis take pride in being a casual spot, leaving fine dining to others.
”This isn’t the kind of place where you’ll get pretty-plated food with table-side service,” Joe Parisi said. “This food is packed with flavor and you can eat it any way you want it.”
Jayd Bun might be expanding soon: Joe Parisi told me they’re in talks to open a small spot in Connecticut, potentially in the Groton or East Lyme area, to focus on dumplings and other simple menu items.
”We’ll keep it traditional, simple, and stick to the basics that are obviously working,” Joe Parisi said. “Why would we need to change that?”