Yes, we are posting another article about the exciting food and drink culture happening across the river in New Jersey. But Jersey City is not the shore or the suburbs—it's practically New York City. Condos are rising, Citibikes are installed, and exciting restaurant and bars continue to open in what many are now calling the sixth borough. We could be NYC snobs and choose to ignore the exciting culture out in JC, but then we'd miss out on a treasure trove of interesting dining and drinking options.
Jersey City is actually a large metropolis, so it's impossible to cover all the great food in the many neighborhoods in one article. So for this article we will concentrate on the best places to eat and drink in the downtown area of Jersey City. It's just a quick PATH train ride away and for those who work in NYC and actually live in Jersey City, here are some old and new discoveries to keep you well-fed.
THE KITCHEN STEP From the ashes (and in the space) of Jersey City's most notable and now-closed restaurant destination Thirty Acres rises a brand new restaurant that is aiming to be one of the area's best neighborhood spots. The funky and art-filled Kitchen Step does what Thirty Acres couldn't: provide an exciting and comfortable ambiance with food you could eat every day.
Chef Ryan DePersio from nearby Batello has created both approachable and interesting dishes with global influences and a seasonal ethic. A varied but manageable menu includes light and crisp fish tacos, a bold bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with sour cherries, and a hearty braised spiced Moroccan chicken with bulgur wheat and olives.
The bar scene is also something that can be embraced by everyone, whether you want a complex mezcal drink like We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat (mezcal, grapefruit, coconut syrup, and angostura) or a breezy brunch concoction called the Everlasting Mimosa (with ingenious fruit ice cubes).
The Kitchen Step is located at 500 Jersey Avenue between Mercer and Wayne Street (201-721-6115, kitchenstepjc.com)
RAZZA Jersey has its fair share of pizzerias, but Razza is pretty special. This cozy, industrial-esque space has been serving the neighborhood wood-fired pizzas since 2012. Chef, owner, and James Beard semi-finalist Dan Richer is a master when it comes to yeast. He turns out browned and crisp Neapolitan-style pies with interesting toppings and a perfect chew. They rival any made here in NYC.
To pair with the pizza, there are also exemplary fire-roasted meatballs blanketed with parmesan, local and seasonal salads, and a selection of house wine. Even though the main course might be bread, cheese, and sauce, definitely do not miss the chef's expert bread and handmade butter (which is so worth the $4 charge).
Razza is located at 275 Grove Street at the corner of Montgomery Street (201-356-9348, razzanj.com)
BROA If you thought Newark was the place to go for great authentic Portuguese food, you are only half right. Nestled in a subterranean locale on Grove Street, Broa is one of the best Portuguese restaurants I've visited in this country. Chef and owner Michael Casalinho has completely transformed this adorable cozy nook into a tasca somewhere in rural Portugal. If the dining room doesn't transport you, the food certainly will.
The menu changes daily and is announced on a handwritten blackboard. Hope for giant prawns cooked with lemon and garlic, tiny briny garden snails, and mini steak sandwiches. Always on the menu is a complimentary bread basket (including the namesake cornbread known as broa), a variety of custom-made sausages (do not miss the alheira, which is a link of chicken and pork decased and fried), and a classic pastel de nata garnished with coffee beans.
The food is perfect to pair with Portuguese drinks and even though Broa is a BYO establishment, the liquor store down the block is well stocked with vinho verde and Sagres beer.
Broa is located at 297 Grove Street between Mercer and Wayne Street (201-463-1467)
ME CASA One of the more undersung spots in Jersey City is a modest Latin American restaurant that is a bit further from the PATH train but certainly worth the walk. It'll help burn off the hearty gutbombs on offer. At this intimate space, Puerto Rican Chef Eddie Cotto Jr. provides a hospitable atmosphere and some of the best Latin American food in the Tristate area. Mofongo is the specialty of the house (and of his two food trucks) and features mashed green plantains topped with a variety of rich stews.
If you're not ready to commit to the bold flavor of a full order, you can also work your way into the food with a mofongo tasting (beef, chicken, shrimp) or go full hog with Eddie's fantastic pernil. Lunch specials are also a great deal featuring $10 sandwiches or $12 entress including a side like garlicky tostones or pigeon peas and yellow rice.
Me Casa has two food trucks and a restaurant that is located at 356 Varick Street between Christopher Columbus and Wayne Street (201-706-2242, mecasajc.com)
IBBY'S FALAFEL Just as Mamoun's has been frying up falafel for hungry and drunk passersby in the East Village for decades, Ibby's has been doing the same in Jersey City. Owned by Adnan Kwara, whose uncle founded Mamoun's, Ibby's has been the spot to get authentic and affordable Middle Eastern grub in JC since 1996. Kwara uses his mother's recipes to create falafel that is crunchy and tender with lots of aromatic Syrian spices. He also nails an exceptional shawarma pita overstuffed with shaved lamb perfectly crisped on the edges, along with tahini and plenty of pickled veggies.
Ibby's Falafel is located at 303 Grove Street between Wayne and Mercer Street (201-432-2400, ibbysfalafels.com)
THE ARCHER Just off pedestrian-friendly Newark Avenue there is a new, slightly hidden cocktail bar that transports you to another world. This world is a world of wild game and expertly composed cocktails from beverage director Natalie Jacob, who works at both Dutch Kills and previously at Flatiron Lounge and now-defunct PKNY. The small food menu showcases less popular proteins like elk meatballs, a wild boar sloppy joe and venison cheesesteak. There is also a rich and gamey duck burger which is balanced nicely with smoked gouda and a bing cherry compote.
But most people are here for the cocktails and a seasonal menu has something for everyone, from the tropical Flying Down to Rio (Cachaca, banana, pineapple, orange, coconut) to the sweet/spicy/boozy 40 Winks (Tequila, Mezcal, Campari, lime, grapefruit, strawberry jalapeno jam, soda).
The Archer is located at 176 Newark Avenue between Erie Street and Jersey Avenue (201-309-1090, archerbar.com)
THE WAREHOUSE CAFE Just like every major urban enclave across the country, Jersey City is drowning in specialty coffee. Warehouse Cafe is in a converted warehouse building, providing a gritty but comfortable setting for laptop workers or slackers looking for a caffeine fix. All of their coffee drinks are made with Intelligentsia beans and are some of the best you will find this side of the Hudson.
In addition to morning drinks, Warehouse offers a great reason to hang out into the afternoon, including local pastries plus messy and gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, like the Jamon (smoked ham, aged cheddar, and strawberry preserves).
The Warehouse Cafe is located at 140 Bay Street at the corner of Provost Street (thewarehousejc.com)
DEPARTED SOLES BREWING COMPANY Not only is there a brewery in Jersey City, it's also an award-winning one. Dedicated to a late friend and fellow home brewer who happened to have Celiac disease, Brian Kulbacki opened Departed Soles brewery earlier this year and has already won huge acclaim for both his gluten-free and non gluten-free beers.
The industrial, urban tasting room provides an opportunity to hang out on the weekends and sample barley-free concoctions like A Dark Knight, a hoppy and roasty black IPA (which recently placed in the World Beer Cup) or the floral and citrusy Four my Homie. If you need to have gluten in your life, the malty Red Headed Step Brewer ale or the double IPA Deuces are for you. Cans are available for take away and an in-house flight comes served on a custom-designed skateboard.
Departed Soles Brewing Company is located at 150 Bay Street between Marin and Provost Street 40 Bay Street at the corner of Provost Street (201-479-8578, departedsoles.com)
UNION REPUBLIC Perhaps the most cutting edge and ambitious cooking in Jersey City is happening at the spacious and modern Union Republic. Chef Noah Sexton is soon about to branch out into NYC by overseeing three hotel restaurants in Greenpoint. Until then, a trip to Newark Avenue is in order to taste some of the hyper-seasonal and local dishes and cocktails.
Start with a surprising Suntanama cocktail dramatically colored and balanced with mead, white rum, Contratto bitter, and charcoal. And then you could go the entree route here and devour the locally caught rainbow trout topped with seasonally foraged veggies like garlic mustard, ramps, and maitake mustard. It's topped with a smoky tomato compote and an Italian hot pepper puree.
Or, amazingly, there is also a selection of expertly prepared and creative ramens, like the unbelievable Thai Beef composed of springy Sun noodles, a peanutty chicken broth, and tender curried rare hanger steak. Whichever way you choose, you won't be disappointed.
Union Republic is located at 340 3rd Street at the corner of Newark Avenue (201-474-3288, unionrepublic.com)
PASTA DAL CUORE Elena Cartagena is a Jersey City native but spent time in Italy and New York before opening up her modest little pasta shop on Jersey Avenue. By day, this operates as both a pasta factory and shop where one can buy the freshest made pasta in variations like spinach linguini and butternut squash ravioli. But at night, the lights dim and her kitchen staff goes full-on al dente, with dishes like linguini with anchovies, olives, fresh tomatoes and seared tuna, and squid ink linguini with stuffed calamari, shrimp, and fresh tomatoes.
Pasta isn't the only option at the clandestine restaurant, she also serves Italian-influenced salads like a heaping plate of arugula, cheese, etc. and addictive appetizers like prosciutto and mortadella stuffed olives, breaded and fried.
Pasta dal Cuore is located at 527 Jersey Avenue between Christopher Columbus Drive and Newark Avenue (201-332-8505, pastadalcuorejc.com)
TORICO ICE CREAM There is no shortage of ice cream shops in Jersey City, but Torico has been here the longest and still gets the longest lines on a summer night. There is even a walk-up window for dogs and their owners. The Berrios family opened Torico in 1968 partly because they missed the tropical ice cream flavors from their native Puerto Rico.
Forty years later, their daughters are still churning out homemade birthday cakes and scoops like guava and tamarind sorbet and purple yam, avocado, and soursop ice cream. For kids and adults with a less adventurous ice cream palate, there are plenty of other flavors like banana peanut butter chunk and chocolate marshamllow.
Torico Ice Cream is located at 20 Erie Street at the corner of 1st Street (201-432-9458, toricoicecream.com)
SECOND STREET BAKERY Most people would very easily walk right by the tiny, dark Second Street Bakery. It looks like any other corner deli or bodega. But for those that do venture inside (or follow the often long line at lunchtime), they will be able to order some old-school Italian breads and sandwiches that will change the way you look at corner delis.
All the breads are made in the back and have been for the past nine decades. Anything with pork is a must-order, including their signature sausage bread or the pepperoni and mutz roll. As for sandwiches, they are all worth standing in line for, but especially the meatball parmigiana and the special roast pork with herbed gravy.
Second Street Bakery is located at 402 2nd Street between Brunswick and Colgate Street (201-420-1793)
TAQUERIA DOWNTOWN For the liveliest scene in this part of Jersey City, it's worth cramming into the compact Taqueria Downtown (or its outdoor garden). The place is packed every day with locals looking for a fun, kitschy bar scene and incredible Mexican food. Tacos are the thing here and they kill it with everything from fried fish, carnitas, and cactus, not to mention less popular (but even more delicious) proteins like lengua, cabeza, and buche. Wash it down with a margarita or a Mexican beer.
This has been such a home run for the last ten years that they've even expanded to a catering business and opened a second location in the East Village. So Manhattan is importing restaurants from Jersey City now. Imagine that.
Taqueria Downtown is located at 236 Grove Street at the corner of Grand Street (201-333-3220, taqueriadowntowncateringco.com)
DOLMA - A brand new Mediterranean-influenced bistro with a quality dinner and an excellent brunch
TALDE - Despite rumors of a closing, Talde's exciting Asian-fusion menu is vibrant, hip, and still going strong
DULLBOY - Another speakeasy-style, classic cocktail den from the team behind The Garret
BARCADE - Yes, there is another location of the city's favorite video game/craft beer bar combo out in JC
HAMILTON PORK - With the smells of smoking meat and serious craft beer options, this new barbecue joint would fit right in in the hippest neighborhood of Brooklyn
THIRD AND VINE - An intimate, attractive wine and cheese bar from the team behind Caselula
NEW THANH HOAI - One of the best old school Vietnamese spots for pho and banh mi
SATIS BISTRO - Mediterranean tapas and wine in a romantic, fashionable setting
BROWNSTONE DINER - An old school suburban diner with huge stacks of pancakes
SHORT GRAIN - Vitenamese sandwiches, bowls, and Counter Culture coffee=
Brian Hoffman searches for iconic New York dishes and makes comedy food videos on his site Eat This NY. He also writes for Midtown Lunch and gives food and drink walking tours around NY.