Coming to live in Providence RI after having grown up in the Bronx NY was a trip and a half. Not only did I feel as though I was now living in a post-apocalyptic city where no people existed on the street past 10pm, I also experienced some of the deepest food culture shock of my life. I was used to hispanic food on every corner, really convenient delivery service, my amazing Italian mother’s home cooking. I was having a hard time adjusting to life in RI. Little did I know at the time, Providence is a hidden gem when it comes to food. It is home to one of the best culinary institutes in the US, Johnson and Whales University. And as a result, many of the local eateries have either sprung out of the uni OR are featuring those cool-culinary-college-kids as apprentices in their kitchens.
This makes Providence an AMAZING foodie hot spot.
Where does this journey begin?
The first I encountered of Providence’s hidden wonders was DenDen, an asian-fusion café located just a block from where I was attending school. I was taken there very early into my student career and it has easily remained one of my go-to eateries whenever I have visitors from out of town. Here’s why:
Atmosphere: DenDen has that too-cool-for-this-world café vibe that inspires your inner writer/musician/artist to grab a beverage, fearlessly sit alone, and crank out your work. Alternatively, this is the kind of place that could easily accommodate your party of 8, (or your visiting family) let you all pay separately without hassle, and stay comfortably to enjoy your meal.
Service: The wait staff has consistently been prompt. At DenDen, when you first walk through their doors there is a path directly to the register. A trend in eateries these days, you could either reserve a table for your party , find your seating and then pay for your meal, or if you know what you want just head straight to the counter, ask for your order and take a number card to whatever table you choose. I have found that this is the best method for this college town and with all of us kids wanting to eat with each other, it was very convenient to pay separately right off the bat. A sigh of relief, honestly. Although DenDen does not deliver, they offer pick-up and many college kids in the area order this way. There is a convenient parking lot available behind the establishment for customers that need it, If and when that lot is full, DenDen also offers take away.
Expenses: There is no card minimum significant enough to affect your purchasing ability. On the tad pricey side for a budgeting college student to be eating every day, their food is delicious enough (more on this later) that I have been a loyal patron for a few years now. Meal prices range from $7.95 to $29.95 per dish. ($$)
Food: For the large asian community found in the nearby colleges, I’m surprised more places like this don’t exist. Not being of asian decent myself, nor having an asian community in my life, my views on good asian food have been pretty narrow for most of my life. After spending a few years getting to know, laugh, love and learn from the sudden varied asian populations I was surrounded in, I have received mixed reviews across the board as to what constitutes good asian food. From my experience, DenDen is it’s own thing. It’s asian fusion, so their dishes are unique. Everyone I know who is not of asian decent is in love with DenDen’s food, it is very easy to love DenDen. I think if ever there was someone who did not, it was always because they were expecting something like momma makes. Admittedly, I am the same way with Italian and Puerto Rican food, so I preface my review by saying perhaps DenDen isn’t “real (real?)” Korean and Japanese food, it is good food nonetheless. And good food is just good food.
Click Here for DenDen’s website. There is a downloadable .pdf of their full menu.
Must Try Items (Personal Favorites)
- Squid and BBQ pork belly
- Spicy! in the good way. This delectable meal is good for a cool night or a filling lunch served over a bed of white rice. It has very generous portions, and that BBQ sauce is to die for.
- Hot Pot Bulgogi Beef
- Beef made the right way, not recommended for pick up or take away, indulge yourself to have this meal at the table. The beef is oh so tender in the broth, this dish comes with a raw egg that is meant to cook in the hot broth as you sit. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it is worth a try! Sweet, hot broth with mushrooms, glass noodles, veggies, and beef. A filling meal for your soul.
- Chicken Karaage Bento Box
- Fried Chicken oh so crispy, drizzled with white and brown sauce (the sauce is key!) Although this can be ordered as an appetizer, the bento box is a rounder meal, giving you a bed of rice in addition to pickled raddish, pickles, ginger, and seaweed salad. The flavors combine into a fresh tasting, crispy delight.
- DenDen Monkey Balls
- An appetizer, and DenDen’s signature one, the Monkey Balls (serve 2) feature a large mushroom stuffed with spicy tuna, battered in egg and fried. The flavors and textures are wonderful in combination, salty, crispy, soft, and a little spicy. Highly recommended to try once.
- Yaki Soba
- Yaki Udon, noodles are good! Try all of the noodles! DenDen does them well!
- Maguro Tataki Bento
- If it’s your birthday, and you would like to treat yourself to some tuna tataki but also want a full meal, this is a great dish.
Thank you for reading! Enjoy!