Jersey City - the heights - to Port Authority
I'll be staying in the Heights in Jersey City over the holidays and clueless as to where that is in relation to good eats! I'm from Toronto and won't have a car. I plan to take a minibus to Port Authority to eat in Manhattan, but would also love to eat must-try and memorable eats in Jersey City if you can also tell me which bus/train leads me to food heaven. Thanks in advance! I'm looking mainly for any range of lunch places (hole-in-the-wall to high end) and mid-range dinner places (mains under $30 if possible). I believe we'll also be shopping at Short Hills and an outlet mall in Jersey if that helps me get close to eating paradise.
Thanks for your advice!
Sadly, we ordered pizza from Mama Leona and chinese from Hoboken Cottage. Sometimes it is better to be polite and not offend your hosts/family and be offended by the food instead! The fresh garlic on the pizza was a strong point but crust was weak. Hoboken Cottage obviously caters to non-asian palates. Even General Tso chicken lacked oomph.
La Isla makes great cuban lattes (I also loved Joe the Art of Coffee and Stumptown in Manhattan). We also ate La Isla's pressed pork sandwich and chicken and beef empanadas to go last Sunday as they were closing at 3:00. Definitely flavourful, but hey, what do I know, I'm from Toronto where we don't get Cuban food.
Last night, we ordered from Beyti Kebab in Union City. A definite improvement in the home delivery experience! Lamb was medium-well and mostly tender. Most dishes were flavourful though I suspect most of it was average for Turkish cuisine. http://www.beytikebab.com/menus.html
Madison's half-price martinis on Tuesday night were also tasty and worth ordering (e.g. Chock Full of Nuts) to survey the meat market of singles-friendly Hoboken! That was followed by a late-night snack at the Malibu Diner (nobody cared about my suggestions for diners, either) with a really disgusting meatloaf sandwich (on a roll), undrinkable coffee, a huge reuben blanketed in white cheese (what an offense after Katz) and expensive "chocolate milk" that was really just syrup half-heartedly mixed into white milk.
re: Food Tourist
I am not a fan of Mama Leona at all. Pizza Master right across the street is better at just about everything, and even there I only eat at pretty much because of convenience. I have never had Chinese at Hoboken cottage, but authenticity is very rare in Hoboken when it comes to Chinese food so I'm not surprised with your experience.
I haven't ate at Beyti Kebab in a few years. I wanted to a few weeks ago but my mother wasn't into the idea and we ended up eating overpriced overportioned Cuban food in Union City instead. I wasn't sure if the place was still around, I'm glad it is. Not that it's amazing or anything, but it gets the job done when you have a craving... although the bread and dips are a lot more cravable than the kebabs in my opinion.
I haven't been to the Malibu diner since I was an apprentice bricklayer working near by on the weekend when the lunch truck didn't come around and I had to take the coffee break order for everyone. All I remember was it being possibly a step up from the lunch truck... but that doesn't say much lol.
The heights is not exactly a haven for great food. There is tons of latin food with just about every country represented but it's often mediocre at best. When you take the jitney bus to port authority you can get pretty much anywhere by subway from there, so your best bet is really to just go to the city as often as possible and eat at the places you read about. There are a few good places to eat in downtown Jersey City and Hoboken but I'm not sure how easy they are to get to without driving. If you take the jitney bus to journal square (the opposite way than going to port authority), you can explore Indian Square or you can take the path train to either Hoboken or Grove St (Jersey City) for a lot more decent restaurants than you will find in the heights. It's almost the same trouble as it is to get to the city though. I live in the heights and it's always hard to figure out a decent place to eat around here other than regular pizza or americanized chinese... I barely bother with any of the latin food even though it's everywhere.
re: Food Tourist
In Jersey, I stick to mostly ethnic cuisines because they are usually the ones that end up being worth the money in comparison to NYC... the more ambitious places usually come up a little short. Marco and Pepe near Grove St. was an exception for a while for New American cuisine but my last few experiences have not been very good.... so onto the ethnic places...
Grand Sichuan on Grove St. has the most authentic Chinese food in the area but much of it is spicy. The pork and crab soup dumplings are usually very good.
Nha Trang Place nearby on Newark Ave. has pretty authentic Vietnamese food and good pho.
Ibby's Falafel on Grove St. is an inexpensive place to get falafels, shawarma, gyro, and other middle eastern foods. It is known to rival even the best NYC falafels.
The Hard Grove Cafe down there is also very popular for Cuban food in a diner type setting but I haven't been there in a long time so I can't vouch for it.
In Hoboken there is a lot of overrated and overpriced food, so be wary. However, I did have one of the best meals I ever had in Jersey this sunday at Cuchuramama on Clinton and 3rd St. They described it as "artisinal south american cuisine", and it was the best latin food I've had not only in the area but period. The chef was nominated for a James Beard award for best Chef midatlantic but lost it to Jose Garces (who also recently became the next Iron Chef). She also has a more Cuban-based restaurant around the corner called Zafra which I haven't tried yet.
Grimaldi's Pizza is a few blocks away from there and makes pizza in a coal fired oven with fresh mozzarella the way it was originally done in New York and they have a lineage going back to the beginning.
There are many more places in Hoboken but my experiences have been too hit or miss to really stand behind any of them. Satay (Malaysian) on Washington was surprisingly pretty good but I still wouldn't go out of my way for it.
As for the Heights itself, I already established that it's a culinary wasteland, but if you do end up having to order pizza or chinese at any point during your trip (especially for delivery), I would go with Pizza Master for pizza and Garden State for Chinese, which are both on central ave. near the Police Station. Pizza Master also has a restaurant in the back which is a little nicer called Renato's which isn't too bad for your regular Italian American type place.
If you go down Central Ave. to by the park (pershing field) there is a pizza place called Rizzo's with huge slices (I think they come off of a 26" pie) for like 2 bucks each. I wouldn't order anything else from there though.
When you take the jitney bus down Kennedy on your way to NYC as soon as you leave the Heights and enter North Bergen there is a diner called The Coach House. Some stuff there is good, some stuff there isn't... but more or less it's one of the better diners out there. What is almost always good there is breakfast... especially the belgian waffles which are always very crisp.
It's hard to talk about the Heights without talking about White Mana on Tonnele Ave. If you want to see an original tin can diner created for the 1936 world fair and still making sliders in the style white castle invented in the 20's (before they used frozen hole punched patties and dehydrated onions) then you might want to check it out... although I'm not sure how you feel about greasy little burgers topped with processed american cheese on a super bleached out bun... but if you are going to eat any fast food at all on your trip, let it be here.
I agree with your assessment of Hoboken food, I just don't, for the most part, find that there is really anything here that is great. Cuchuramama is very good as you stated, I like La Isla, Augustino's is good food but I just can't stand the owner dropping the f bomb while chatting with you, not very charming in my book, so I haven't been back in over a year.
I tend to head to Jersey City when we want to go out to eat, Marco and Pepe is always a good choice, sad to hear your last few experiences there were not so good. I loved Ox but sadly it closed.
I have a friend that lives there that speaks of some places that do whole pigs on the weekends, which I am very interested in going to. Said basically it looks like a big garage and they bring out some pigs that have been roasting and go to town.
David, you familiar with any of those places?
I have never heard of the pig roast you are talking about.
I tried to find Ox and turned out I wasn't in time... it was closed before I ever even gave it a try.
My bad experiences at Marco and Pepe may have to do with being there during peak times. Really long waiting for really sub par food. And I really got the impression that there was no chef back there running the show even on fri/sat night. The kitchen looked way too relaxed. Anywhere I have ever worked, if you are in the weeds, it doesn't and shouldn't look that fun. Off peak meals might still be acceptable, but gambling during a recession is not something I am really willing to do.
I gave La Isla a try a few years back and found it to be average on a level not on par with the crowd it's cult status attracts.
An update about Cuchuramama/Zafra... the chef, Maricel Presilla, served a White House dinner last month and supposedly the Obamas were very pleased. What other Hoboken chef can say that? The rest of the area's restaurants needs to step their game up.