Newport recaptured the imagination of audiences everywhere with many of the filming locations of The Gilded Age, the beloved television series set in the booming late 19th-century U.S. A summer playground for the rich and famous in the 1880s, Newport remains a magnet for today’s visitors. Visitors are entranced by the beautiful New England seaside town on Aquidneck Island where the ever-evolving culinary and sailing scenes are every bit as attractive as the elaborate mansions lining the Bellevue Avenue Historic Area.
Newport benefits greatly from its proximity to Rhode Island’s many farms and fisheries. Additionally, restaurants showcase the talents of newly minted chefs from the culinary arts program at nearby Johnson & Wales University.
The most traditional, and perhaps most popular, restaurants are those with direct water views or within walking distance to the town’s wharves and marina. Almost all offer a lobster roll and other New England standards, from a casual oyster bar to a more formal fine dining room.
1. The Dining Room At Castle Hill Inn
When you think of fine dining and Newport, the restaurant that tops the list is The Dining Room at gorgeous Castle Hill Inn. Originally the private Agassiz Mansion built in 1875 and now a member of Relais & Chateaux, the inn sits on a 40-acre peninsula overlooking Narragansett Bay. The curved indoor dining room is a town landmark with oversized windows offering views of fishing boats, sailboats, and yachts navigating the East Passage. In warmer months, diners enjoy the inn’s à la carte Lawn Restaurant, where an expansive clambake feels as at home as the seagulls hovering overhead.
Chef Lou Rossi creates dishes that are both timeless and updated. Book well ahead for his six-course prix fixe dinner, which features the flavors of coastal New England as well as influences from around the globe. Seasonally updated, the menu includes the likes of Rhode Island oysters, foie gras, lobster, and black truffles. An award-winning wine list with more than 800 selections is available.
Pro Tip: During regatta and race season, try to score a seat on the lawn. Newport’s well-known races include America’s Cup and the Newport to Bermuda Race.
2. Showfish Newport
Across the causeway on Goat Island and a perfect stop before returning to the Rhode Island mainland, Gurney’s Newport resort brings a taste of Montauk to Newport with seafood-centric Showfish. Set at the end of the expansive lobby, the stylish restaurant and lounge are popular among guests and locals looking for a getaway from the crowds. Sunsets are particularly dramatic here, with unobstructed views of the bay.
Meat-eaters are not left out, and steaks, chicken preparations, and vegetarian appetizers will keep everyone happy. But you’d be remiss if you didn’t try one of the lobster dishes: a lobster roll served plain or spicy, lobster and kimchi fried rice, or the signature Angry Lobster, fragranced with a healthy dose of sriracha and scallions. The restaurant takes particular pride in incorporating local proteins and vegetables into its seasonal menus.
Pro Tip: Gurney’s loves to spice things up seasonally. In winter you can book an igloo for a warming cocktail before or after dinner. Water-facing chaise lounges are the place to be in summer. Fall and spring are glorious, with outdoor seating around the fire pits.
3. The Living Room
The Living Room presents a new dining concept that might make you forget you’ve ever favored a three-course meal at a traditional dining table. “LR,” as it’s known among locals, is a small-plate destination in the Brenton Hotel — it’s a circular room with a bar, sofas, and armchairs surrounded by panoramic windows. Seats are scattered, as in a living room, in friendly clusters around small tables or in front of a fireplace.
Melding local and New England-sourced ingredients, Executive Chef Glaister Knight adds his own touch to what others might consider no-brainer lobster rolls or clam chowder. He serves a sake mignonette with local Blue Hill Cove oysters or Narragansett Bay littlenecks. Signature dishes include lamb chop lollipops, tofu fries with spicy honey, and a standout crab cake Scotch egg. The idea here is to create your own multi-dish mélange, an arrangement perfect for sharing and sampling.
Creativity at LR doesn’t end on the dinner plate. Maurice’s extensive multi-ingredient cocktails are sailing set favorites. Local beers and ciders also feature, along with nearly 20 wines by the glass. The Living Room also serves an enticing breakfast and brunch.
Pro Tip: While you wait for your meal or cocktail, look out the windows that face the bay. As the sun dips and lights come on, sailboat masts seem to glisten. If the weather allows, start your dining adventure with a cocktail on the rooftop.
4. The Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar
A favorite among Newport diners for more than 35 years, the waterfront Mooring is a seafood specialist. The restaurant offers both indoor seating as well as a sunset-facing patio set above the water. In warmer weather, The Mooring’s outdoor drink rail is a coveted spot for viewing the sailboats and yachts docked around the restaurant.
Guests love the extensive raw bar that draws from the restaurant’s long relationships with local fishermen, and hardly anyone skips the Mooring’s clam chowder, a Hall of Fame winner at the New England Great Chowder Cook-off. For something unusual (and unforgettable), try Executive Chef Jennifer Backman’s Bag of Doughnuts appetizer, a paper bag filled with lobster and shrimp fritters, accompanied by a side of chipotle maple aioli. The Mooring’s chilled lobster roll is served on a brioche bun with a tarragon dressing. For non-seafood eaters, chicken, beef, and duck are offered.
Pro Tip: It’s not advertised, but locals will tell you that if you dine at The Mooring on your birthday, you’ll receive a free entrée. Let your server know if it’s your birthday when you arrive.
5. The Black Pearl
A fixture on the waterfront, The Black Pearl was transformed starting in 1967 from a shanty to a fine dining restaurant with outdoor seating. Now, with its Waterside Patio covered and heated in colder months, the Pearl welcomes more guests than ever to enjoy its classic New England fare and raw bar.
The upscale Commodore’s Room and casual Tavern are traditional New England, nautical and convivial. Order the clam chowder with its hint of dill or you may never be allowed back. A bowl of New England steamers guarantees that you’ll get your hands dirty. The Black Pearl‘s version of a lobster roll comes warm on a croissant with a side of tangy purple slaw.
You’ll need to order some kind of cocktail if you plan to fit in with the local vibe. Try the Frozen Mudslide — it’s the drink of choice after a day sailing under the hot New England sun. If you’re seated outside, ask for a table along the railing where the yachts and tour boats tie up, and then ask your server to take your photo for the perfect Instagram shot.
Pro Tip: You can order a six-pack of the famous chowder online from The Black Pearl’s shop.
6. Midtown Oyster Bar
There’s clearly no shortage of places to slurp oysters in Newport, and Midtown Oyster Bar is rightfully named. Covering a full block right on Thames Street, the multi-floor, multi-room restaurant has the largest raw bar in town, with an extensive selection of wines and beer to accompany. This is the place for your seafood fix.
The crowd is as colorful as the boat flags hanging from the ceiling. Always lively, the first floor has an oyster bar setup with high-top tables. The so-called Burgee Bar on the second floor has three dining rooms plus water-view decks, usually filled with Newport sailors and visitors “in the know.”
I encourage you to come hungry. After a dozen oysters and littlenecks, you’ll want to try Midtown’s acclaimed char-grilled octopus and tuna tartare tacos. And don’t forget the poached lobster roll or the creamy cod chowder — these dishes are Midtown Oyster Bar rites of passage. If you happen to be around for Sunday brunch, the lobster Benedict pairs beautifully with a boozy oyster shooter or any of the 20 or so wines by the glass.
Pro Tip: Midtown Oyster Bar is first come, first served. Relax, have a cocktail, and enjoy the people-watching while you wait for a seat.
7. Scales & Shells
For 35 years, Scales & Shells has enticed seafood-searching visitors with down-home dining in a casual setting. Just outside of Newport’s busy downtown, the Emilia-Romagna–influenced restaurant has an open kitchen and extensive bar that invite conversation and diner interaction. Changing daily, the menu is written on a chalkboard that includes the oysters of the day as well as dinner specials. Presentation is important; a must-order is the beautiful lobster Fra Diavolo for two, a wondrous, red crustacean in a spicy marinara sauce with a mess of mussels, calamari, and littlenecks, all served in a giant pan.
For the full experience, start your evening in the 1/2 Shell, the restaurant’s oyster room, where shuckers work their magic with piles of bivalves. Then move on to the main dining room, where the open kitchen is the main attraction. Hopefully, you’ll have a bunch of friends with you because you’ll also want to order Rhode Island’s official state appetizer, fried calamari, or Sicilian mussels served family style. Save room for the perfect Italian finish to the feast: homemade tiramisu with a glass of housemade limoncello.
Not every restaurant is completely seafood-focused in Newport. Looking for a menu that’s a fun fusion of Italian and local seafood with vegetarian offerings as well? Giusto, the new “freestyle Italian” restaurant at Hammetts Hotel, is your go-to — a modern, airy space on Hammett’s Wharf with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Chef Kevin O’Donnell is a native Rhode Islander with a penchant for originality. Don’t expect to find red-sauce selections here. Instead, O’Donnell shows off his sense of place with lettuce wraps filled with crab, chowder-style littlenecks topped with a garlic doughboy, and a Rhode Island–influenced twist on Italian egg pasta: beet anolini with Aquidneck honey and orange. Veggie-forward Brussels sprouts, heirloom carrots, and Caesar of the Season are also offered. The bar features an unusual and heavily regional beer selection plus an extensive list of wines by the glass.
Pro Tip: If you can’t decide what to order, the Tasting Menu is a well-priced, curated option for family-style sharing.
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