Cool, Raw, Quirky: Don’t miss Warren’s food scene

By Andrea E. McHugh

The place that dubs itself “the smallest town in the smallest state” is big on flavor

The Wharf patio in Warren; pictured at top, a food spread at The Wharf.

As the crow flies, the working waterfront town of Warren is 18 miles north of Newport, and yet, for all of its cozy coastal community similarity, it feels a world away.

Whereas Newport is the apple of the state’s tourism eye, Warren is decidedly subtle, seemingly flying under the radar with its cool sensibility — and raw, somewhat quirky and always authentic vibe. There are no tony avenues peppered with Gilded Age mansions. You will not find any places bedecked in tourist merch, with the town name emblazoned on sweatshirts or coffee mugs (unless you count the ‘Keep Warren Weird’ t-shirts at the funky music venue, the Galactic Theater).

But more and more people are discovering this 18th Century whaling port and ship building center, and there’s a good reason why — its flavor.

More than two dozen restaurants and eateries are sprinkled amongst Warren’s 8.6 square miles, a good many of which can be found on Main Street or Water Street. From critically acclaimed chef-driven hotspots and reservations-recommended restaurants to clam shacks, casual family joints and newer places, such as a creperie, fromagerie and even a “snackery,” Warren offers an enviable restaurant potpourri, making it a culinary destination worth exploring many times over.

We’ve put together this dining guide so you can follow the flavor, one meal at a time.

The Blount Clam Shack in Warren.

Along the Waterfront

While there’s no “right” place to start, Blount Clam Shack seems the most apropos to better acquaint oneself with Warren’s roots.

The Blount family name has been synonymous with seafood for more than five generations here, first starting as an eponymous oyster packing company in neighboring Barrington in 1880, then moving to the Warren waterfront following World War II, when the business traded the oysters for clams.

A century earlier, this part of Water Street was home to a whale oil warehouse, the Gardner-Brown Mill for whale processing, ropewalks and sail loft — part and parcel of Warren’s maritime industry prowess. The late architectural historian William H. Jordy described this area as “perhaps Rhode Island’s best-preserved row of seaport factory buildings dating from the age of sail and early steam.”

Today, the seasonal Blount Clam Shack is a taste of past and present, offering fish and chips, clam cakes and chowder, Rhode Island calamari (the official state appetizer!), lobster rolls and plenty for landlubbers as well.

Head one block north to find Trafford, also on the Warren River, where the contemporary-meets-coastal interior design feels fresh despite being one of the longest-lived restaurants here, with a dozen years under its belt. Although the dining rooms upstairs and down are an aesthetic dream, this time of year, one should make a beeline for the riverside back deck for dinner or drinks overlooking the town wharf, where boats bob gently in the sunset and the serenade of clanking sailboat rigging tapping masts is a summertime stalwart.

A dish at Bywater in Warren. | Janet Moscarello Photography

Though it technically fronts State Street, Bywater is under Water Street’s wing as its crushed oyster shell patio — illuminated by long strands of market lights come dusk — abuts the thoroughfare. Inside is evidence of proprietress Katie Dickson’s mastery for weaving together a seafood-centric seasonal menu with a thoughtful wine list full of lesser-known varietals (the restaurant even has a wine club), intriguing cocktails and the kind of desserts that are too interesting to pass up. Dickson is opening the Bywater Bakeshop across the street soon to offer sourdough breads, European-style pastries, and artisanal roasted coffee and espresso.

Across the street you’ll find one of Warren’s newest additions: Wedge. The cheese shop with a selection of fine specialty foods is owned by friends Sasha Goldman and Chelsea Morrissey — it’s a picture-perfect cedar-shingled cottage stocked with cheese from small producers based in the region and around the world.

Directly behind the fromagerie is the brand-new second location of Chomp Kitchen + Drinks, which moved across town to the property with maritime roots dating back to colonial days. Luring fans with their award-winning burgers, Chomp’s sleek new space, part of which is built on an old barge, has been two years in the making and features two outdoor dining areas: an idyllic waterfront terrace and a beer garden on the southside of the building.

Just up for a grab and go coffee or sweet treat? Refuel at Cafe Water Street. Dinner is served only a few steps away at Tav Vino, where Italian dishes dominate, while nearby The Wharf has been a fixture on the river since 1955, with different owners along the way. It also has a rare-to-find-in-Warren rooftop bar, where 360-degree views include the surrounding buildings, some of which date back to the mid-1700s, when they were used for rigging merchant and fishing boats.

The Revival in Warren.

The Revival Craft Kitchen and Bar and The Square Peg (the latter housed in a circa 1790 building) face one another on Miller Street perpendicular to Water Street, and you’re likely to find happy patrons at both. If there’s a wait at either, enjoy a drink at the other, or if you love a good dive bar, walk 10 seconds across the street to Jack’s Bar (est. 1941) and enjoy a bag of chips from the chip clip rack as a comical amuse-bouche.

Further north, you can’t miss the bright and bold Waterdog Kitchen and Bar, housed in a 228-year-old former sea captain’s home. Although there’s a twist on pub food favorites here, make time for brunch, where the brioche French toast and lobster benny with shrimp Mozambique hollandaise are crowd pleasers (bring your appetite as these portions are no joke).

And just around the corner is The Guild, a brewing cooperative that’s Warren’s first small batch brewery and beer hall serving sliders, flatbreads, snacks, charcuterie, and the quintessential brewery pairing: the Bavarian soft pretzel.

The Wharf in Warren.

Child Street and Market Street

The busy commercial hub surrounding Main Street is home to a number of fabulously unfancy, family-owned roadside eateries with decades of history. Amaral’s Fish & Chips serves Portuguese fare with a coastal influence, including three from-scratch chowders — even the Rhode Island clear broth version. You’ll find regulars at Crossroad Pub, Richardson’s Kitchen and Bar, Jack’s Family Restaurant and Lauren’s Restaurant, and further north, just a stone’s throw from the Massachusetts border, Palmer River Grille.

But it’s the Hunky Dory on Market Street that bills itself as “the smallest restaurant in the smallest town in the smallest state” (which takes a few liberties). A graduate of the town’s renowned food business incubator, Hope & Main, Hunky Dory’s unmatched Southern charm has built a loyal following despite opening mid-pandemic. There must be somethin’ about the country ham and buttermilk biscuits with all the fixin’s.

Then there’s Metacom Kitchen, which for the past near decade, has been wowing gastronomes from near and far. Chef-owner Richard Allaire was well known in Newport’s culinary circles, cooking at 22 Bowen’s, The Chanler’s former Spiced Pear restaurant, and the perpetually missed Tucker’s Bistro, but when ready for a place of his own, Warren was where he planted roots.

Sam and Joanna of Hunky Dory in Warren. | Adam Waz Photography

On and Around Main Street

It’s hard to imagine Warren without Rod’s Grill and the diner’s famous hot wiener sauce. A fixture since 1955 and still in the same family, the restaurant first opened on Main Street before moving to its current location in 1975. Here you’ll find iconic diner decor: black and white checkered floors, red vinyl stools at the counter and a stainless-steel kitchen with sizzling grills.

A few blocks away, the fiesta is at La Piñata, where the expansive sunken patio makes you forget you’re right on Main Street, though the margaritas and live mariachi music helps. In between, you’ll find Warren House of Pizza with its unmistakable catty-corner entry and nearby, Federal Hill Pizza, inspired by the Capital City.

Also: Uptown Food & Spirits, which is on the smaller side but with a Main Street patio in the heart of town, and if you need an instant mood booster, Happy Place Creperie delivers joy on a plate. The vision of Serbian-born Aleksander Janjic, choose a sweet Nutella crepe covered in berries or a savory lunch crepe stuffed with roasted turkey breast, organic spinach and brie with a Caesar dressing drizzle.

For gluten-free diners, nearby Rhody Roots is a dream as the small eatery declares everything on their menu can be made GF, plus there’s a robust selection of vegan options for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.

A table spread at The Wharf in Warren.

Bevvies and Light Bites

DIY chefs can get fresh pasta and gelato at Prica Farina, while juicery and smoothie joint Bevvies satisfies body and soul. Source top shelf olive oils and vinegars at Nectar de la Vida and locally roasted coffee at The Coffee Depot. Nestle into a corner with a used book or take in an art exhibit at the newish arc{hive} book + snackery, where small plates like smoked bluefish pate is served alongside a full spectrum of beer, wine and cocktails.

Lastly, there may not be a more iconic place in Warren than Delekta Pharmacy. An apothecary since 1858, walking through its Main Street doors is like stepping back in time. Though the pharmacy portion of the business closed in 2017, the soda fountain is what visitors still seek out for Delekta’s legendary coffee cabinets. For the uninitiated, a coffee cabinet is a frappe consisting of coffee syrup, milk and coffee ice cream blended together.