Jersey City, New Jersey, has long been overshadowed by its more famous neighbor. And I get it: New York City is bigger with more to experience and more people to meet – not to mention there are way more restaurants, many of which have been crowned among the best in the world. But let’s not overlook the underdog.

Jersey City, though small in comparison to New York City, is crowded with some of the most interesting food in the United States. In fact, the New York Times already declared that the best pizza in New York City is actually at downtown Jersey City’s Razza. I know it’s not a competition, but Jersey City restaurants have just as much style, ambience, and, of course, good food as anything you’ll find in New York.

Razza isn’t on my list of Jersey City restaurants that every visitor needs to try. Most people who plan their travels around where they want to eat already know it’s good. Instead, I want to show you the spots that Jersey City locals swear by. These are restaurants to go to when you’re just visiting for a day or two and you have to pack in the best food in Jersey City before you head to your next destination.

Just remember, Jersey City is home to more than 200,000, people spread across many different neighborhoods from The Heights to Bergen-Lafayette to McGinley Square. It’s routinely named either the most or second most diverse city in the country. And the food we eat here reflects all the cultures that come together to make Jersey City as special as it is. But it will almost definitely take more than one trip here – and exploration outside of the popular downtown area – in order navigate the city’s rhythms.

The atmosphere at most restaurants in Jersey City is friendly and playful. Case in point: One afternoon, my partner and I were out to lunch at one of the restaurants on this list, Bread and Salt. He decided to buy a certain type of pasta from the adjoining shop – thick, extra long hollow tubes that wouldn’t fit in any of our pots but that looked too good to ignore. One of the chefs was so impressed by the purchase that he came out from the kitchen and shook his hand.

I’m not saying you can expect a handshake every time you go out for lunch or dinner, but you can expect that level of convivial connection with the people making your food. Jersey City is only 10 minutes from downtown Manhattan on the PATH train, so there’s no excuse for not dropping in for a day trip or an overnight stay. Explore the many facets of this charming city and you might not want to go back to New York City so quickly.

Jersey City restaurants everyone needs to try

Sam A.M.

There’s usually a wait at this staple cafe in Paulus Hook, one of the Jersey City restaurants I hesitated to even write about because I fear it being overrun by out-of-towners. But truthfully, everyone deserves to try the delightful fare at Sam A.M.: Sausage topped biscuits, pillowy waffles topped with succulent pieces of chicken and thick gravy, a fried egg sandwich adorned with nothing but a juicy Jersey tomato and house-made pimento cheese that I guarantee you’ll never forget. The coffee is strong, and it’s worth grabbing a pastry from the register before paying your tab.

Gregarious chef and owner Francis Samu will likely greet you at the door, and he checks on and chats with patrons during the meal. Chef Francis also sold locals his extra toilet paper and vegetables when the restaurant had to close during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which I will never forget.

What to try: The Pimento (fried egg, house pimento, lettuce & tomato on ciabatta)

Where: 112 Morris St, Jersey City, NJ 07302

Domodomo

This chic sushi restaurant near Exchange Place and the Hudson River focuses on simple, exceptionally fresh cuts of fish. Domodomo‘s wood-paneled interior design reflects the minimalism and elegance of the food here. Hot dishes include uni pasta and smoked pork belly, and all the classic rolls and sashimi from yellowtail to salmon roe are all available. Diners can also sample lobster, blue crab, and scallop sushi rolls and a 12-piece omakase menu is served at the bar.

Ample Hills Creamery is located just steps away if you want to end dinner with some of the best ice cream in Jersey City.

What to try: 12-piece sushi omakase served at the sushi bar

Where: 200 Greene St, Jersey City, NJ 07311

Taqueria Downtown

Every single time I drive by this taco spot located in the basement of an apartment building, there is a line out the door. People are pacing the sidewalks waiting for their tables. People are clutching drinks on the patio, straining to hear their names called by the hostess. Hungry locals come to Taqueria Downtown for the super strong margaritas and the simple, well-cooked, perfectly seasoned tacos, wrapped lovingly in two flour tortillas and served in a playful, energetic atmosphere. Oh, and there’s a backyard too, making it one of the most bumping restaurants in Jersey City in the warmer months.

What to try: Chorizo, carnitas, barbacoa tacos

Where: 236 Grove St, Jersey City, NJ 07302

Bread and Salt

This cafe and bakery in The Heights is well on its way to becoming an iconic Jersey City establishment. For now, Bread and Salt is open for walk-up ordering, but there are tables set up outside where diners can feast on their food. Here, you’ll find bomboloni filled with delightful ingredients like rhubarb and chamomile cream, maritozzo (a Roman pastry filled to the brim with whipped cream), and olive oil cake. Opt for a box of pastries to take home, but it’s also worth taking the time to order a pizza and eat it at one of the sidewalk tables. The oval shaped pies are perfectly crispy and hot, and you can taste the high quality ingredients Bread and Salt is known for in every bite.

What to order: Whole mozzarella pizza, bomboloni

Where: 435 Palisade Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07307

Wurstbar

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Photo: Wurstbar

I like to think of the menu at Wurstbar as sophisticated comfort food. There is a selection of delectable poutine, topped with creative ingredients like mango chutney or buffalo fried chicken, for starters. Then there’s the main event: the sausages and brats. Polish kielbasa, chorizo, and cheddar brats, among other options, are smothered in toppings that range from queso fresco to chive cream cheese to fig mustard. This is not the disappointing hot dog from the ballpark, this well thought out, exciting food that is fun to eat.

Another reason to drop by Wurstbar? The cider selection is comprehensive and for aficionados like myself, I enjoy stopping in to just peruse the selection, try something new, and munch on an order of fries.

What to order: Fried cheese curds, Rancho Grande (Spanish chorizo, avocado, queso fresco, pickled onions, chili lime mayo), Haus Poutine

Where: 516 Jersey Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07302

Madame Claude’s Bis

This sophisticated French restaurant is housed in one of the coziest, most stylish spaces in Jersey City. The lighting is low, the ambience is romantic, and the wine is always flowing. The French classics are on the menu at Madame Claude’s Bis, like duck confit, couscous, and coq au vin, and all are rich and flavorful, but what I really love here is the small plates – the mussels, stuffed mushrooms, and divine escargot. Madame Claude’s is the type of place I reserve for special occasions. But it’s also perfect for a cocktail and a snack on a whim – if you can find space at the bar.

What to order: Escargot, stuffed mushrooms, curry mussels, steak frites

Where: 390 4th St, Jersey City, NJ 07302

Corto

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Photo: Corto

This BYOB Italian sit-down restaurant in The Heights is just a short walk from Bread and Salt. It’s a sparse and no frills space – a small dining room with a totally open kitchen – that’s taken up mostly by a couple of long communal tables and as well as some tables for two. But don’t be fooled: Corto is decadent Italian fare with layers of flavor pulled rom ingredients like black truffle, calabrian chili, and arugula pesto. But the food never feels heavy or fussy, it’s just well made food in a stylish but casual atmosphere.

There are hearty main dishes here – chicken and pork for instance – but what you really need to gravitate toward is the pasta.

What to try: Ricotta and honey toast, Angry Chicken (tomato, garlic, guanciale, thyme, chianti, calabrian chili), rigatoni (bianco di napoli tomato, pancetta, calabrian chili, basil, mint, pecorino romano)

Where: 507 Palisade Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07307

Saigon Cafe

Saigon Cafe isn’t fancy, but it’s just what you need: Deeply satisfying, soul rejuvenating pho. Pho is typically a dish enjoyed in the colder months, but I crave the pho from Saigon Cafe all year around, even in the summer, when it’s muggy and hot out. The menu also includes Southeast Asian dishes like claypot shrimp and chicken curry (in fact, the menu is expansive), but I come back here time and time again for that classic pho, which never fails to taste and smell delicious and inviting.

What to order: Pho bo

Where: 188 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07302

Rustique

I know that most people will argue that the best pizza in Jersey City is Razza, but I’m personally partial to pies at Rustique, near Hamilton Park. The unassuming building, which is shaded by a large tree on the sidewalk, creates simple, classic pies that might look the pizza anywhere else in the city but are made with much more care and thoughtfulness. There’s the perfect ratio of sauce to cheese, a crunchy curst (if you’re into that), and the dough itself which is not too thick or dense, but not so thin that it can’t support the toppings.

What to order: Rustique is consistently good no matter what type of pie you get but the real triumph is the Kathy pie, which swaps out tomato sauce for a transcendent vodka sauce — hands down my favorite pizza in Jersey City.

Where: 611 Jersey Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07302

Lobster Garage at Lighthorse Tavern

This outdoor, sidewalk seafood bar is one of the most charming places to eat in Jersey City, especially in the summer. Situated behind Lighthorse Tavern, Lobster Garage is supposed to imitate a New England-style seafood shack: Cold beer, oysters, clam chowder, and lobster rolls are served from a bar in an actual repurposed garage. Diners relax at picnic tables on the sidewalk, sipping drinks in the sunshine. The Lobster Garage isn’t cheap, but it’s worth stopping by on a warm afternoon for the convivial atmosphere. It’s also the perfect spot for day drinking.

What to order: Fresh oysters, lobster bisque, fried shrimp basket

Where: 98 Morris St, Jersey City, NJ 07302