In my last If Your Friend... installment, I had remarked that the warm weather was coming! And the spring equinox was coming! And we were one step closer to day drinking on patios!
And then, winter came. Along with its snow and bitter cold. March was a rough month. But look, we got through it! And now we actually are one step closer to emerging from our winter hibernation and exploring. Spring in the city is one of my favorite times, and it reminds us why we put up with the harsh cold on the East Coast for those few long months. The blossoms are actually blooming, leaves are sprouting, and people have emerged from their homes and are out doing what they do best on weekends (or at least what I do best)….eating, drinking, and having a good time! The energy is contagious!!! And there are so many awesome new places opening in the warmer months ahead. But for now, a list of some of my current (and also classic) favorites. If your visiting friend, neighbor, (or just you!) want to go out in JC and explore, there are so many incredible places to see! Get out there and try some.
If your friend...wants to experience a real New York-style bagel, this side of the Hudson.
Go to: Wonder Bagels
Wonder Bagels. Where the orange juice is always fresh, and the line is always worth the wait. Walking by any weekend morning, you will see the line sometimes wrap around the corner. Luckily, the WB team is like clockwork, and they move through the line with precise efficiency. No matter how many random sandwiches and bagels and coffees and juices I am ordering, they always get my order 100% correct. The debate about which state has the best bagels will always continue, and this place will give any New York bagel a run for their money. They are that bagel you know and love, the kind that doesn't need to be toasted, made fresh that morning. Any meat, egg and cheese sandwich combo is amazing, and the loaded lox bagel with capers and tomato is always a go-to. But sometimes, just a whole wheat everything bagel slathered in chive cream cheese is all you want. And when you want that, Wonder Bagels also has you covered. And again, that fresh-squeezed OJ is unlike any other. Grab two....one for the walk home, and one to go with your champagne when you walk in the door, bagel sandwiches in hand. Now that is a good morning!
If your friend...is in the mood for the best. Burger. In Jersey City (I know, those are strong words).
Go to: Left Bank
Left Bank is probably the place we have been the most in Jersey City. Whenever we don't know where to go, we almost always end up at Left Bank. Sometimes just to snag a seat at the bar and have a few local brews, but usually a visit is accompanied with a make-your-own burger and more than likely some mac 'n' cheese with added fresh jalapeño. Their burgers are SO. GOOD. I literally crave Left Bank at least once a month, and sometimes I end up there a few weeks in a row. When I get that red meat, juicy burger craving, nothing will do until a visit to Left Bank has occurred. There are some really great burgers here in JC, but this one has topped my list forever. One day I will try the famous Ghostface Killer burger, but it is so hard to break from the make-your-own style you have perfected over time. Their bourbon 'shrooms may make for a sloppier burger, but they are 100% necessary. Their side salads are solid; both the regular mixed greens and chipotle Caesar are huge for a side, and in lieu of fries, help to save the extra calories in preparation for that gooey mac 'n' cheese you just ordered. Although, their fries in any form (classic, sweet potato, Chilltown-style, Jersey Devil-style, and more) are all tasty. Once I saw chef Michael Symon of Food Network fame rave about the place on Burgers, Brew, and 'Ques, we had to try it. And it still exceeded my expectations completely; I have been a loyal Left Banker ever since. Go here for a laid-back vibe and always consistent food.
If your friend...is craving homemade pasta. Really, really good homemade pasta.
Go to: Pasta Dal Cuore
This place is my go-to when I am looking to buy some fresh pasta. I don't make pasta dishes often, but when I do, I always stop in at Pasta Dal Cuore to get some freshly-made pasta to really elevate my meal. I love cooking, but one thing I hardly make from scratch myself is pasta (do you realize how long it takes to make perfectly-pillowy gnocchi?! Not to mention, the mess???). And why would I need to when the lovely people of Pasta Dal Cuore make it for you, daily, and at a great price? My first few experiences there were at the pasta counter, where everything from whole wheat linguini to short rib ravioli are fantastic, but when I finally went to dinner here? Hands down, my favorite Italian restaurant in JC (I know, more strong words). Their cuisine is so unique and special, and still basic Italian...where you just don't need a million ingredients. If you start with great ingredients, they should shine in their own without covering it up with a slathering of sauces and spices. The owner learned to cook in Italy, and you can certainly tell! The suppli (risotto cones with mozzarella and a balsamic reduction), the beef and pork meatballs, the slightly-spicy spinach linguine, and EVERY ravioli are all favorites. Aaaaand now I am craving pasta.
If your friend...wants authentic tacos, but isn't feeling the "dive bar vibe."
Go to: Sol Azteca
I have always been a Taqueria purist since moving to JC. But sometimes, when you aren't exactly in the mood to slurp down margaritas on the rocks and can't exactly handle being in close quarters, elbow to elbow and back to back, with a slew of fellow-margarita-slurpers, you may look to go for something a little more low-key. Sol Azteca is new to the neighborhood, and not only do they do takeout and delivery, but they also have a nice, clean restaurant with a lot more space than the previously-mentioned taco spot (it used to be a deli). Oh, and did I mention, they are also a BYO?! That is ALWAYS a huge plus in my book. We have gotten everything from the tacos, to burritos, to the nachos, to the addicting chicharrones de harina (Mexican fried wheat crispy deliciousness) they bring to your table when you dine in. Everything has been pretty solid, although I will say their huevos rancheros left a little bit to be desired. But! Everything else has been amazing, whether we have gotten takeout or dined in with a six-pack of IPAs in tow. Also, their salt shakers wear the tiniest of somberos and sit upon the tiniest of Mexican blankets. So, there's that.
If your friend...loves tapas, and also amazing sangria. And wants to enjoy an all-day Sunday happy hour.
Go to: Raval
Ohhh, Raval. How I love you. They have my favorite sangria in JC, which will come in handy as the warm weather arrives, and their tapas menu is just fantastic. Gone are the days of their bottomless brunch, which is horribly sad, but also probably a great business venture on their part....when brunch is all-you-can-eat AND the sangria is flowing, it couldn't have been sustainable for long. That being said, they have an amazing happy hour (Tuesday-Saturday 4-7, and ALL DAY SUNDAY!) with half-price apps and $5 drinks that range from draft beer to well drinks to that killer sangria I can't stop mentioning. When the food is this good, with so much of it being half-price, why not order the whole HH menu? I wish I could say I am kidding, but, I'm not really. You can't go wrong with anything here, and with the outdoor seating along the Newark plaza, this is one of my favorite places to spend a few hours of people-watching as I sip and snack. It is fun for a date, but also for a group. Not to mention, their bar is one of the prettiest and coziest I have seen in JC; even if it's a beautiful day outside, sometimes I still love grabbing a seat at the bar inside and taking it all in. So no matter the weather, go to Raval (especially on a Sunday) and take advantage of those pitchers and great deals.
Written by Sam Cooper
Sam is a toy designer, illustrator, and graphic designer by day, and a fitness enthusiast and wanna-be chef by night. A NJ native, she has lived in Downtown Jersey City with her husband since 2014, and has fallen in love with everything JC has to offer. You can follow her beer-loving, restaurant-hopping explorations on Instagram @sam.cooper.studios!