AND WHILE I MUST admit that I’m not the biggest fan of New Jersey, even though I’ve lived here for nearly four years, what I can tell you with complete confidence is that New Brunswick, New Jersey, a college town in the middle of the state, has a pretty great variety of food and drink with a wide range of prices and cuisines (not all just student spots for Rutgers students).
I went to Makeda’s with a friend and, like all guests, we were given the option to sit at tables or at the more traditional, low stools and wicker tables with red and green patterns. More traditional, please! If you’re going to go Ethiopian in New Jersey, you might as well go all the way.
The food was on a layer of injera. It’s a spongy flat bread that we used to dip up the food, eating mostly with our fingers. I don’t find that option looked upon too highly at many sit-down restaurants that don’t serve burgers and fries, so even though we had the option of utensils, we stuck with eating with our hands.
I fell in love with the honey wine (one glass each turned into ordering a bottle), and the spot is now my favorite place in the city.
338 George Street
Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant
Dimly lit and with an unobtrusive presence on George Street, I’d walked past the Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant many times without a thought. Apparently I was missing out; I told a friend a couple of years ago that I hadn’t yet been there, “What?” he said, “We’re going there soon. No, we’re going there right now.”
I got the pho (beef noodle soup), though the menu also has a variety of rice dishes, or the chef’s specials, which include a wild salmon fillet or the canh chua, a hot and sour soup. For those who don’t use chopsticks very well, like me, they will non-judgmentally offer a fork and spoon.
351 George Street
The Grease Trucks
The name may be unappealing, but the Grease Trucks serve the most delicious meals I’ve ever had from a run-down trailer parked near a bus stop. Overwhelmingly popular with students with all menu items under $7 and opening hours of 7:30am to 2am, the trucks have been featured in Sports Illustrated and USA Today.
They are best known for their “fat sandwiches”, and of these, the “Fat Darrell”, named for a student back in 1997, is one of the most popular. A “Fat Darrell” features chicken fingers, French fries and mozzarella sticks in a bun. Many of the vendors are from the Middle East, and alongside the desperately unhealthy sandwiches, they serve stuffed grape leaves and a few other vegetarian options.
Most recently, and interrupting one of my classes last year, I heard the crowds cheering on the Adam Richman from the Travel Channel’s Man Vs. Food on as he tried to down 5 sandwiches in 45 minutes. See the video here. ***Spoiler alert** He doesn’t make it. As he says, “I didn’t beat the Grease Truck gauntlet.”
8 College Avenue
Harvest Moon Brewery & Café
Two large copper colored brewing vats stand in the windows of the two story Harvest Moon Brewery & Café on George Street. The eight microbrews on tap range from the almost sweet Full Moon Pale Ale to the heavy Siberian Express Stout. Conveniently, the menu recommends what beer to enjoy with each entrée. The coolest one, I think is Jimmy D’s Firehouse Red, brewed in honor of a local firefighter.
392 George Street
Stuff Yer Face
The floors may be sticky and the bar may be noisy and crowded with undergraduates, and for me, this is what makes Stuff Yer Face a classic college dining spot.
The beer list is international, and once you’ve tried the 70 different varieties, you can claim your very own t-shirt proclaiming you as member of the beer club. Since I don’t drink beer, I have my own game I like to play at Stuff Yer Face, count the popped collars and Ugg boots.
Best known for their strombolis, Stuff Yer Face also serves gourmet style burgers – my favorite is the brie burger. It’s a cheeseburger, but since the cheese is French, I think it’s fancier. Or as fancy as I can get in a place with fishbowl drinks.
49 Easton Avenue
An institution of drinking for students and locals in New Brunswick, Tumulty’s Pub is a faux-Irish bar on George Street. Easily spotted by the Tudor-style brick architecture and the large shield sign, the restaurant does have a couple of features that don’t seem to connect at all to its “Irish-ness” – the model train track that runs around the inside of the building and the house salad is a half head of iceberg lettuce with a side of dressing.
Trains and salads aside, the menu has sandwiches under $10 and the priciest dish is the $23.95 filet mignon, which makes for a fairly diverse clientele, and from what I’ve noticed, plenty of couples and double daters. American and European beers are on tap. On the weekends, there’s live music by local bands beneath the large Guinness sign in the basement.
361 George Street
Rose petals are scattered over the stairs leading down to Clydz, an upscale martini bar on Paterson Street. The bar has a range of drinks: from the girly and sweet “Watermelon Martini”, the dry and strong “Joe Dirty”, and one I’d never seen before: “Root Beer Floatini” with vanilla vodka and root beer schnapps. And it’s the only bar in town that I’ve found that serves Pimm’s, the ubiquitous English summer drink.
The small bar gets crowded on the weekends with smartly dressed professionals and graduate students. It’s less “student-y” with fewer undergrads, so I have to ditch the Converses I’d wear to Stuff Yer Face and slip on some heels or at least shoes without laces.
55 Paterson Street
Old Man Rafferty’s
The dessert portion of the menu is first at Old Man Rafferty’s, and there are two pages of treats to choose from.
The most memorable birthday present I’ve received since I’ve been in New Jersey was opening the refrigerator to see my roommate had left me a slice of the chocolate mousse cheesecake from Old Man Rafferty’s. (I’m easily pleased by cheesecake!) You can actually pick your slice from the dessert counter, or just stop by there to grab a piece to go.
There are specials throughout the week, and the latest (accurate at the time of writing) includes a free dessert on Wednesday with the purchase of an entrée. For those who aren’t as obsessed by desserts as I am, yes, there is a menu with actual food – seafood, steak, sandwiches and the like. In warm weather, the outdoor patio opens up.
106 Albany Street
Thomas Sweet Chocolate
Walking into Thomas Sweet Chocolate, the smell of chocolate hits you. It’s a great spot for ice cream as well; it’s made locally and doesn’t have any artificial flavors or ingredients – their mint chocolate ice cream is white, not neon green.
Also selling an eclectic and somewhat kitsch collection of cards and stuffed animals, the small shop has a range of candies from the traditional chocolate covered cherries to the 18+ only display (any body part you’d like to see in chocolate is there).
55 Easton Avenue
More advice from someone from Jersey with A Jersey Girl’s Top Pics for New York Style Pizzas in San Diego. And while you’re in Jersey, you can check out Where to Eat in Jersey City.
Did we miss your favorite spot? We want to hear about it in the comments below!