Finding the right place to eat in Jersey City can be a daunting task. In almost every neighborhood there’s a spot that showcases the best of flavor and preparation, a culinary gem. For me, a restaurant qualifies as a   “neighborhood” gem when it’s not widely known outside its environs; when, despite its modesty, its food and flavors can compete with anyone’s; and when you are made to feel welcome the minute you walk through the door. I consider these restaurants neighborhood gems:

15 Fox Place
Neighborhood: Journal Square
Cuisine: Italian

Perhaps no restaurant in Jersey City fits this bill better than 15 Fox Place. The Journal Square-based restaurant is located inside a residential house, so don’t be alarmed when you pull up and wonder if Apple maps has suddenly gone awry. Once inside, you’ll immediately think “dinner at grandma’s house,” which is exactly how owner Rich Budnich and his son, Chef Marc Budnich, want you to feel. Fair warning, this is not a place where you’ll be in and out in an hour. Prepare to be at 15 Fox Place for at least 2.5 hours as you enjoy a six-course prix-fixe menu at a family-style table. You’ll most likely spend a little over $100 a head, so think of this spot for a treat than a regular night out. Fifteen Fox Place requires reservations, so make sure you call ahead to book a seat for either Friday, Saturday or Sunday, 7pm to midnight. And if you’ve been there before, there’s reason to go back: There’s no set menu due to Chef Budnich’s desire for patrons to have a different experience every visit. (15 Fox Place)

Rizzo’s Bakery
Neighborhood: The Heights
Cuisine: Pizza and Italian

If you’ve ever been to Washington DC, you know the District’s culinary calling card is the jumbo slice. Now imagine taking this famous export, bringing it up I-95, and infusing the dough of those cheesey-tomatoey triangles with the New York area’s famous water. That’s exactly what you can expect when you grab a slice at Rizzo’s Bakery. The restaurant has all your classic Italian deli favorites (Italian bread, cured meats, specialty cheeses, butter cookies), but make no mistake: Its pizza is the reason locals keep coming back. At $2 a pop for a slice as big as your head, the trek to traffic-clogged Central Avenue is worth it. (208 Central Ave.)

Taqueria Viva Mexico
Neighborhood: Paulus Hook
Cuisine: Mexican

Tucked away on a side street in Paulus Hook, Taqueria Viva Mexico has outstanding tacos, a plethora of burritos and huaraches, succulent homemade tamales, and even Mexican-style breakfast specials.  While the postage-stamp-sized eatery lacks the bar and liquor license of its neighbor (and competitor) Taqueria Downtown, its selection of fourteen tacos gives you a huge choice and come with their own superb flavor combinations. Don’t miss the carne enchilada taco: Its peppery, slow-cooked saucy flavor coupled with the restaurant’s sides of salsa will make your mouth water. (133 Morris St.)

Samakmak Seafood
Neighborhood: West Side
Cuisine: Seafood

We all know how the story can go when it comes to seafood: One undercooked piece, and you might wind up clutching the toilet for days. But have no fear because Samakmak Seafood, located between McGinley Square and the West Side, is first rate. The menu is Mediterranean inspired and features a large range of fresh fish including tilapia, salmon, barbonia, orata, branzino, striped bass, and perch. While the ambiance of the restaurant evokes comparisons with your local diner more than a Michelin-star restaurant, you’ll sacrifice that for some of the best fish in Jersey City. Their prices are affordable, and they also offer a surplus of side dishes. (77 West Side Ave.)

Neighborhood: Greenville
Cuisine: Italian

Another destination for your inner Magellan, Laico’s has been a staple of Greenville since 1972 when owners Lou and Felice Laico opened the spot as a brick-oven pizzeria and bar for locals—in their aluminum-sided and decidedly unflashy, unyuppified house. The brick-oven pizza is still a staple, but for years now Laico’s has had a full menu featuring northern Italian specials as well as southern Italian stalwarts. Go for the complimentary salad with its homemade creamy, tangy dressing that comes with every entree; go for pork medallions with hot cherry peppers; go for tender fish cooked every-way-imaginable-and-if-you-don’t-see-the-preparation-you-want-just-ask-for-it; but most of all go for the huge portions, old-timey feel, convivial bar, and celebrity spotting (local pols love the place). Don’t worry too much about parking in a residential neighborhood: Laico’s offers valet parking daily from 5pm to closing; on Sundays valet park as early as 2pm. (77 Terhune Ave.)

Neighborhood: Van Vorst Park
Cuisine: Australian

A restaurant that finds itself smack-dab in the middle of Grove Street doesn’t really have any place to hide. However, Frankie is in the shadow of Cool Vines and does fly under the radar in comparison much-hyped neighbor Razza. And for no good reason: Its Australian beach house ambiance featuring brightly colored walls, wicker furniture, seashells, and surfboards is quirky and fun; its menu (“modern Australian”) blends British, Asian and Mediterranean influences to produce dishes like coconut green curry (with seafood), pea and chive dumplings, and tempura zucchini flowers; there’s a full bar featuring over 80 bottles of wine; and perhaps best of all, for an extra $4 at breakfast they’ll infuse any one of their many fresh-pressed juices with Rosebud CBD. Frankie ‘s style is unique and unlike what you might think of for your night out, but stop by when you can because it’s well worth it. (264 Grove St.)

Harry’s Daughter
Neighborhood: Bergen-Lafayette
Cuisine: Caribbean/West Indies

If you’re looking for authentic Caribbean cuisine served in a warm, mahogany-filled, botanically-inspired room, then Harry’s Daughter in Bergen-Lafayette is for you. Opened in 2017, the attractive spot boasts a wide range of Caribbean favorites like jerk chicken, curried goat Roti, stewed peas, and braised oxtail stew—along with whole red snapper and peri peri shrimp for those seeking lighter fare. For brunch, indulge in fried chicken and banana waffles, jelly pork belly bao egg and cheese, or poached egg avocado crush toast. Harry’s Daughter has a full bar—mahogany, remember?  During the summer, kick back at the restaurant’s pig roast for your fix of fresh pork. (339 Communipaw Ave.)

Julian is a writer, blogger and broadcaster who is a life long New Jersian and frequenter of Jersey City. His writing and reporting usually begins with food, drink or lifestyle pieces but he's never afraid...

Leave a comment