Forget New York City; no one does Italian food better than New Jersey. It seems like every Garden State street corner features a pizzeria, trattoria or cafe serving some of the country’s finest Italian imports.
New Jersey has one of the largest Italian-American populations in the country (1.45 million Italian-Americans, per 2017 census data), and cities like Newark and Elizabeth having rich cultural histories as hubs for Italian immigrants. So it’s no surprise that among New Jersey’s myriad delectable cuisines, Italian food reigns supreme.
In this saucy collaboration, us food fiends Jeremy Schneider and Pete Genovese ranked the state’s 25 best Italian dishes. The list is more than just pasta dishes — that’s too easy — with juicy pork chops, scampi wings, black mozzarella and maybe the world’s best veal parmesan. Having ranked pizza and subs in the past, we’ve omitted them from the list. Our initials are at the end of each entry — JS for Jeremy, PG for Pete, so you know who wrote what.
Let’s dig in!
A classic Italian dish from a classic Italian restaurant — a no-brainer. Get a thin-crust pie for the table, but order yourself a plate of Vic’s succulent shrimp in a sauce with just the right amount of citrusy zip. The pasta is cooked to to the proper texture as well, which is just as essential. (JS)
24. Manicotti, Angelo’s Ristorante, Lyndhurst
Simple. Elegant. Just about perfect. Tubes of pasta, filled with delicious cheese, topped with a rich and flavorful sauce. When you nail the core components of a dish you don’t need to get too fancy, and that’s the case for the manicotti at Angelo’s, one of the Garden State’s iconic red sauce spots. (JS)
23. Rigatoni Vodka, Suprema, Rutherford
Vodka sauce is a low floor, high ceiling dish — it can either be highly disappointing or one of the greatest, most comforting plates you’ve ever eaten. The rigatoni vodka at Suprema is the latter. Perfectly al dente pasta, with a delectably creamy sauce that has just the right amount of bite. Everything is delicious at Surprema, but start here. (JS)
Ryan DePersio’s Bloomfield Avenue restaurant has been acclaimed since it opened back in 2003, and dishes like his squid ink pappardelle are a big reason why. It’s a seafood pasta, topped with seafood. Fascino’s strikingly shaded pasta, black from the squid ink, is topped with shrimp and crab ragu, chili oil and citrus crumbs — a distinct ocean flavor with spice and zest. (JS)
Filippo Russo and his wife, Berti, opened a tiny storefront in 1988. Today, da Filippo is more spacious, and white tablecloths cover the tables. But stuffy it’s not; when he’s done in the kitchen, Russo often comes out and plays the piano for his patrons. My favorite dish here: Malloreddus, a special, Sardinian-style gnocchi topped with shrimp. (PG)
Lasagna lovers were heartbroken when Giotto, considered by many the best restaurant in a town full of can’t-miss eateries, shockingly closed back in 2016. They then rejoiced when Café Giotto opened just a few blocks away on Church Street. The smaller operation serves the same heaping multi-layer lasagna. New York Giants great Brandon Jacobs had it days before the NFC Championship game in 2008, and loved it so much he took two pieces to go. (JS)
Few dishes are more beloved than the Italian-American classic chicken parmesan. Chicken cutlets, mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce, paired with pasta — what’s not to love? You can’t go wrong with any dishes at the wonderfully nostalgic Reservoir Tavern, but the chicken parm is sure to please. (JS)
Something about tomato sauce and gnocchi always floats my pasta boat. The gnocchi pomodoro at Sapore Italiano was one of the surprise hits of our epic search for N.J.’s best Italian restaurant. The dish is proof you don’t need a long list of ingredients to make a deeply satisfying meal. (PG)
Here’s proof that great Italian doesn’t just mean pasta. If outsiders know Lawrenceville, it’s usually for Quaker Bridge Mall, but there’s a cute little town there, with Vidalia as its dining centerpiece. “My philosophy is simple food – don’t drown it in sauces,’’ says chef/owner Salvatore Scarlata. Good luck getting past the apps; the black mozzarella appetizer, with balsamic caviar, mortadella-topped melon, crostini of arugula and artichoke heart, is a show-stopper. And the creme brûlée pie is outstanding. (PG)
While pizza is the main attraction at Star Tavern, home of arguably the most legendary thin crust pie in the Garden State, a full meal at Star isn’t complete without wings — and you better make ‘em scampi wings. Take shrimp scampi and its buttery, tangy sauce, and swamp the shellfish out for delish chicken wings. The classiest bar food ever fried. (JS)
As Bread and Salt in the Jersey City Heights became the next big thing in pizza back in 2019, it wasn’t the pizza that impressed me post — it was their sausage and grapes. The grapes imbue the sausage with a curious sweetness, while the sausage adds a kick of spice and flavor to the fruit. The texture is tender; the grapes melt in your mouth. Sop it all up with Bread and Salt’s impeccable crusty bread. (JS)
The winner of our N.J.’s Best Italian Restaurant showdown, Cafe 2825 remains relatively under the radar 30-plus years after opening. Old-school atmosphere, high-end dining, Cafe 2825 is small and cozy. You absolutely must order the mozzarella made table-side, then a meat or pasta dish, such as the terrific Rigatoni Bolognese, simple and sensational. (PG)
You can find bolognese at almost any Italian restaurant. How many of them top the dish with garlic breadcrumbs? The sharp garlic flavor cuts through the richness of the meat, and the crunch elevates the texture — making Osteria Crescendo’s take unlike any other preparation of the dish I have tried. (JS)
Local boy-made-good Kevin Maher cooks simple, authentic dishes from throughout Italy at ITA101; each weekend a different region is featured. I could easily pick a half dozen dishes here. I’ll go with the pappardelle con ragu di cinghale, handmade pasta tossed in a slow-cooked wild boar ragu. For dessert, the tiramisu-made-tableside is a must. (PG)
Corto might not just be the best Italian restaurant in Jersey City — it may be the foodie burg’s best restaurant, period. Their menu is small and ever-changing but always delicious. Their rigatoni might not seem so different from other restaurant’s version of the pasta, but the Calabrian chili, basil, mint and Pecorino Romano give it a subtle sweetness, spice and creaminess to go with the tang of bianco di napoli tomato and pancetta. A knockout. (JS)
Mic drop, jaw drop, something. The osso bucco over pappardelle at Mulberry Street is a tasty teetering tower of meat, pasta and sauce — your photo will be a guaranteed Facebook and Instagram hit among envious friends. I also love the baked Bolognese lasagne here. (PG)
Zeppoli is one of New Jersey’s most heralded Italian restaurants; chef/owner Joey Baldino is a three-time James Beard award semifinalist. The menu is Sicilian-influenced, and the Rigatoni alla Disgraziata, with eggplant, tomato, ricotta, salata, and basil breadcrumbs, shows off Baldino’s rustic yet refined touch. (PG)
It looks just about perfect, doesn’t it? Trattoria la Sorrentina may be better-known for its pizza, but their pasta dishes are not to be missed. The lasagne is lovingly constructed, a saucy, cheesy (both ricotta and mozzarella) success. (PG)
Almost hidden in an ordinary-looking highway strip mall, Luca’s, run by Andrea DiMeglio, is not your average neighborhood Italian restaurant. It would easy to pick the Gnocchi Genovese here as my standout dish, but I’d rather recommend the agnolotti di cacao, a cocoa ravioli stuffed with roasted butternut squash. (PG)
If it’s not the best Italian dish in New Jersey, it might be the most revered. The nearly 100-year-old tavern serves up big, pillowy ravioli stuffed with creamy ricotta in a classic red sauce. This dish may be on the endangered species list — the restaurant is up for sale there’s no telling what will happen if and when it’s sold. You’ll find plenty of great ravioli in New Jersey, but you won’t find any with this kind of nostalgia. (JS)
Getting a table at cash-only, 24-seat Augustino’s is not easy, but you’ll be rewarded by friendly service and first-rate food. The pork chops are legendary — monstrous, meaty and marvelous. Best pasta dish here: di Pomodoro with penne, a supremely satisfying combo of pasta, prosciutto and onions in a plum tomato sauce. Augustino’s was one of ten finalists in our epic N.J.’s best Italian restaurant showdown. (PG)
LuNello is one of Jersey’s hallowed Italian restaurant shrines, but they don’t mind having some fun every once in awhile; this is the restaurant, after all, where Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice went bonkers and flipped over a table in one episode. There are fancier pasta dishes at LuNello, but the linguine with white clam sauce is a simple dish perfectly executed. (PG)
Picking your favorite dish when eating at 15 Fox Place is like a grandmother picking her favorite grandchild — you love them all equally. The restaurant inside of the Budinich family’s old home treats you to a multi-course feast. But the creamy polenta mixed with a spicy, hearty arrabbiata sauce is definitely my favorite. It’s a dish you don’t see often on menus, and I can’t imagine anyone executing it as well as the Budinich family. (JS)
Chef Vola’s in on the short list of legendary New Jersey Italian restaurants. The portions are huge, it’s cash only, there’s no real website, and reservations must be made well in advance. The restaurant opened in 1921 in what was then a rooming house. What then-owner Joe Vola cooked “is what you got,’’ current co-owner Lou Esposito told me. The veal parm is the absolute best example of that classic Jersey dish. And don’t you dare leave without trying the banana cream pie. (PG)
Wood paneling, American-flag-decorated bar, fluorescent lighting, cash-only: they don’t make them like this anymore. The Belmont Tavern finished high on my list of the state’s greatest old-school restaurants, and for good reason. The garlic-and-vinegar heavy Chicken Savoy is their signature dish. What becomes a legend most: roasted bone-in chicken pieces, garlic, Italian herbs, red wine vinegar. Ignore all those Chicken Savoy imitators out there; no one comes close to matching Belmont Tavern’s version. (PG)
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