Newport has it all: classic New England charm, century-old architectural behemoths that Gilded Age blue bloods dubbed their “summer cottages,” world class events including the Hall of Fame Open and the legendary folk and jazz festivals, and a vibrant dining scene that often makes a reservation the most coveted must-have in the City by the Sea.
Although some restaurants in this coastal enclave get substantial lines or wait times, the city is riddled with culinary gems, some tucked away in the most unexpected corners and others hidden in plain sight. Here are a few to try this summer.
Breakfast is a hot commodity in Newport, with some cafés commanding waits longer than 30 minutes or even an hour during peak times, which has made escaping to Belle’s a favorite diversion among locals for almost 20 years. Unassumedly tucked away deep inside Safe Harbor Newport Shipyard (still just ‘Newport Shipyard’ to longtime Newporters) at the base of the Goat Island causeway, the guardshack can give the impression this busy marina is for yacht owners, stews and shipwrights only. Belle’s is open to the public and well worth the visit. Serving breakfast and lunch daily, the café offers a cheerful space to dine indoors, but most folks opt to enjoy their meals dockside, shaded by umbrellas and canvas tents. Add blueberries, chocolate chips, bananas, or strawberries to your fluffy buttermilk pancakes or waffles, build your own omelet, or keep it simple with a Shipyard sandwich, which includes your requisite egg and cheese with choice of ham, bacon, sausage or turkey sausage or, in true Rhode Island style, chouriço. Pair your Belgian waffles with a mimosa if you’re feeling particularly fancy. The lunch menu is a pleaser for all with paninis, lobster rolls, a burger, a tuna melt and handful of salads, and a kid’s menu for both meals. Insider’s tip: like all breakfast spots in Newport, Belle’s is busiest on the weekends, but you can order online ahead of time and beat the crowd! 1 Washington St., newportshipyard.com/bellescafe.
The Annex at The Black Pearl
The Black Pearl can hardly be considered a hidden gem — it’s been parked on Bannister’s Wharf for the past 50 years. But the Annex just behind the outside patio serves the restaurant’s iconic, award-winning clam chowder, which is clam-packed, mildly thick and delightfully creamy with the perfect amount of dill. Your other options at the annex are meaty lobster rolls and hot dogs from the charming little service window. If you’d like to enjoy a Dark ‘n Stormy or mudslide first, the expanded, fairly newly renovated patio bar is just steps away. The best place to enjoy your grub is at the end of the wharf, where a gaggle of Adirondack chairs overlook 12-meter yachts sauntering through the harbor and boats bobbing along the 30-slip, deep-water marina. 82 Bannister’s Wharf, blackpearlnewport.com.
The Crow’s Nest at Benjamin’s
The perky red restaurant on bustling Thames Street is hard to miss with its wide open windows in the warmer months offering a cue to the perpetually jovial crowd belly up to the bar, typically slurping oysters, top necks (bigger than a littleneck, smaller than a cherrystone) and raw bar favorites. The exterior stairway on the side of the building will lead you to the second floor dining room and side deck, but if you proceed to the back of the deck, you’ll find one more flight of stairs. These lead to Crow’s Nest, the open air rooftop respite that’ll make you feel like you just stepped onboard a private vessel. Surrounded in gleaming varnished wood with porthole-style lights, there’s seating for about 30 or so, mostly via high tops, with about a half-dozen seats at the bar, where you’ll often find beloved bartender Jammin’ mixing drinks. Open Friday through Sunday evenings, and more days of the week if you’re lucky, you can get the full menu for this sky-high perch while taking in harbor views and a panorama of solid people watching. 254 Thames St., benjaminsrawbar.com.
Easton’s Beach Snack Bar
Twenty-five years ago, Barry Botelho thought he had a brilliant idea: stand out by selling extra long lobster rolls at his beach snack bar. And for a while, it worked. He was the only game in town selling the 9″ meaty monstrosities, until one day, he couldn’t get his hands on the special-order rolls. In a panic and wanting to make sure his customers continued to get the most bang for their buck, he just doubled up a standard 6″ top split roll, and the twin lobster rolls special was born. Fast forward a quarter decade, the duo is widely regarded as the best lobster roll deal — and in many people’s opinion, also the best tasting lobster roll — in Newport, all with an oceanfront view. Bothelo has never been shy about sharing his secret recipe of the New England staple. “Real butter, not margarine. The roll grilled, not toasted, the best lobster I can find, and real mayonnaise. Hellmann’s,” declared Bothelo. On evenings when there are live concerts, which are most Tuesdays in July and August, it’s not uncommon for there to be a line down the stairs to the beach, but the staff turns orders around in just minutes. The snack bar also offers beach blanket delivery, so patrons can place their order online from their smartphone and stay put. Insider’s tip: you’ll find a paid parking lot at Easton’s Beach, but the center lot, which is accessible via the second entrance on Memorial Boulevard, offers free parking for one hour for visitors going to the snack bar or the aquarium. 175 Memorial Blvd., eastonsbeach.com.
The wharf area in the heart of downtown Newport lures tens of thousands of visitors day and night throughout the summer season for its diverse collection of mostly mom-and-pop owned restaurants and shops, but ask any local early riser and they’ll agree: there’s a palpable magic there during the quiet early morning hours. Springline Coffee, tucked at the very end of Bannister’s Wharf, is a perfect spot to get your java jolt for the day in peace. The pint-size percolator serves up handcrafted, small-batch, micro-roasted coffee, a full menu of espresso drinks, and an assortment of freshly baked cookies, muffins and other pastry to enjoy on the covered deck or on the go. 33 Bannister’s Wharf, springlinecoffee.com.
The Lobster Shack
There’s “fresh off the boat” seafood, then there’s “I’m literally watching crew take the catch fresh off the boat” seafood, which is what you’ll get at The Lobster Shack. Housed inside a shiny red trailer on State Pier 9 along Washington Street, the shack is one part kitchen, where you can order prepared dishes including lobster rolls, lobster strips, stuffies, fried fish, lobster bisque, and basically, whichever the fisherman’s co-operative catches. The other part is a live market, where you can get fresh caught seafood that you can prepare at home. Fresh lobster meat is often available by the pound by pre-order, and the staff can also steam lobsters ‘to go.’ But if you can stay a while, choose a picnic table under the covered pavilion and dine dockside, where you see the fishing fleet at work and leisure boats sauntering by. Amazing sunsets are pretty standard here. Note: the kitchen is open Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the live market open an hour earlier. 150 Long Wharf, newportlobstershack.com/menu.
Cardines Field Snack Bar
We’ve come a long way from peanuts and Cracker Jacks! The dark green ballfield perched on America’s Cup Avenue resembling a mini-Fenway Park is one of the oldest existing ballparks in the country, which makes catching a game here all the more extraordinary. This time of year, Cardines is the home field of the Newport Gulls, a wooden-bat, summer baseball team part of the New England Collegiate Baseball League with a roster full of young talent from across the country who play on the same grounds as legends like Jimmie Foxx, Larry Doby, Lou Gorman, Satchel Paige, and if you believe local folklore, Babe Ruth. With 24 home games at Cardines through July, and into August if the Gulls make the playoffs, a night at the ballpark is exciting and affordable, with adult tickets only $5 (teen, seniors and military tickets are $2 and children 12 and under are just a buck). But the concessions can’t be overlooked. Sandwich selections include steak and cheese, sausage and peppers, or meatball, plus there’s hamburgers and cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pizza, chicken tenders, fries, all kinds of candy and ice cream, and, because it’s Newport, local clam chowder (but the chowder is only served on Fridays). Not a single menu item is over $10, which few eateries in Newport can boast. 20 America’s Cup Ave., newportgulls.com.