photo by brian morrison
today i am beyond thrilled to post a city guide to an area that’s just across the water from me: jersey city, new jersey. written by jersey city local kristen scalia of kannibal home, today’s guide is dedicated to celebrating all of the great places to eat, shop, stay, and have fun. kristen explained, “from the shore’s fist-pumpers to the north’s supposed organized crime families, new jersey has its fair of mixed publicity. but i was born and bred here and am happy to point out that new jersey is filled with historical charm, fantastic eateries, and shopping destinations that provide unique goods and copious amounts of charm.” i’m happy, too and am excited to share kristen’s guide here today. thanks, kristen!
CLICK HERE for the full jersey city guide after the jump!
JERSEY CITY – CITY GUIDE
As the second largest city in the state, Jersey City is a bit of a phoenix. From the ashes of decaying factories and crumbling industrial parks, warehouses and rail yards sprout artists’ lofts and farmers’ markets, new businesses and young families. I was so enchanted by its rows of brownstones and quaint parks that I moved into the downtown area five years ago and a little less than one year ago gave up my midtown job (and 401K) to open a boutique right down the block from the Grove Street Path station.
Jersey City is made up of several neighborhoods – Exchange Place, Paulus Hook, Harsimus Cove, Van Vorst Park, Hamilton Park, Greenville, the Heights, etc. – but I’m going to operate under the general “downtown” blanket with a couple extras mixed in.
Please note that these are just my favorite haunts. One of the best things about Jersey City is that everyone has a special spot and the city is always growing and changing in new and inspiring ways.
Fun fact: Downtown Jersey City is easily accessible from New York City by the Path train (Grove Street stop), mom-and-pop shops are in abundance and the majority of the local downtown business owners are women.
GOOD EATS & LIBATIONS
289 Grove Street, 201.860.9688
In the summer you’ll be hard pressed to find a seat outside for brunch, but the French toast (made with croissants) and mimosas are worth the wait. Stopping by for dinner? Don’t even think about passing up the macaroni & cheese. Made with aged gruyere, mushrooms, bacon, mascarpone and aged goat cheese it’s a little bite of heaven.
279 Grove Street, 201.200.0202
Directly across from City Hall, The Merchant is housed in an old bank and the vault can still be seen on the main dining floor. Recently the owners opened a second restaurant, The Embankment, but The Merchant remains a downtown staple if you’re looking for a good meal and a cold drink. The burgers never disappoint, but my favorite is actually the larger-than-life Cobb salad.
275 Grove Street, 201.451.4400
If you’re looking for a dark wine bar with comfy seating, good music and a friendly wait staff, then this is your spot. In the warmer months they offer a good amount of outdoor seating and host parties for Cinco de Mayo and Oktoberfest.
Medina Al Hamara
287 Grove Street, 201.435.4900
Don’t be turned away from the drab decorating, Medina serves up some of the best Indian food in the downtown area. Not afraid of spice and flavor, this little corner restaurant can feed a party of four for $20 with leftovers to spare. Try the chicken biryani, the daal of the day and a slice of naan and call it a night.
236 Grove Street, 201.333.3220
Authentic, fresh Mexican food for a price that will leave both your stomach and wallet satisfied. For $2.50 try each of the tacos offered, but remember to follow los diez mandamientos. After tasting Taqueria Downtown’s food you’ll forget that you even liked fajitas and sour cream in the first place.
88 Liberty View Drive, 201.721.8888
The new kid in town, Zeppelin offers something entirely different for Jersey City. With indoor and outdoor seating for hundreds, I’ve often overheard customers commenting on a warm summer night that it seems like “all of Jersey City is here”. With 144 beer taps, giant mugs and thirty-foot tables for communal seating, it’s a great addition to the growing neighborhood.
426 Jersey Avenue, 201.433.0471
Although it was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” for its pancakes, this family-owned diner is dishing out way more than just breakfast food. Actually, the expansive menu covers pretty much every animal, vegetable or drink you can imagine.
530 Jersey Avenue, 201.451.5199
Using the finest organic and fair-trade ingredients, including local organic farm products, this newcomer has quickly become a local favorite for everything from baked goods to live jazz shows and cooking classes. One thing is for sure, everything that comes out of this kitchen is made with some serious love and a commitment to sustainable living and organic eating.
520 Jersey Avenue, 201.204.0720
Baked with the finest ingredients, Feed Your Soul turns out outrageous, oven-fresh cookies. Whether you’re grabbing a snack or sending a present, this shop packages their cookies with a creative sophistication and built-in charitable component that’s aesthetically pleasing, socially responsible and simply delicious.
Torico’s Homemade Ice Cream Parlor
20 Erie Street, 201.432.9458
Creamy, cool and satisfying with flavors that refresh and fascinate, Torico’s combines a tried-and-true approach to ice cream making with simple, yet interesting ingredients. At this mom-and-pop shop you will be equally delighted digging into a bowl of chocolate peanut butter as you would be grabbing a cone of avocado, pumpkin, jackfruit or lychee ice cream.
364 ½ 4th Street, 201.876.8800
Off the beaten path at the end of a residential block, this French bistro will tantalize your taste buds with dishes like sweet and savory crepes and succulent les moules frites (mussels with French fries). The décor is equally as charming, but cozy with limited seating, so if you’re set on having a seat I would suggest arriving early on nights and weekends.
Second Street Bakery
402 2nd Street, 201.420.1793
Homemade mozzarella, fresh bread and quality cold cuts have kept this unassuming storefront in business for quite some time. Specializing in stuffed breads and sandwiches, this small Italian deli has a line out the door around lunch time and empty shelves by 2:00pm.
Nha Trang Place
249 Newark Avenue, 201.239.1988
Nha Trang Place is an unfussy Vietnamese option where the food arrives fast and hot with recession friendly pricing. I recommend the spring rolls and Pho, but if you’re in the mood for something a little nicer than pop right down the street to another fantastic Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Café (188 Newark Avenue, 201.332.8711).
140 Newark Avenue, 201.536.5557
With movie nights, food specials and art exhibitions, there’s always something going on at LITM (an acronym for Love Is The Message). In the winter definitely stop by and sip one of their signature hot toddies.
146 Newark Avenue, 201.915.0600
Dark wood décor, elevated comfort food, a great bar and roof deck, Skinner’s Loft has a little something for everyone. In the warmer months I recommend having brunch upstairs on the roof deck. It’s an intimate space decorated with fresh herbs and rusting metal furniture that makes you feel like you’re tucked away enjoying a Bloody Mary at a friend’s house.
67 Terhune Avenue, 201.434.4115
Sandwiched in the middle of a residential block, this Italian spot is a local favorite and a newcomer’s dream. While Jersey City isn’t lacking in its range of food choices, it’s nice to sometimes sit down and know that you are getting a consistent, home-cooked meal without any flourishes or frills. Laico’s provides comforting pasta dishes, succulent meats and a nice, simple wine list.
Café La Rustique
611 Jersey Avenue, 201.222.6886
If this is your first time eating at this brick oven pizza place, skip by everything and go straight for the margherita pizza. Fresh mozzarella, chunky tomatoes, large pieces of fresh basil and a crush that’s at once crispy and tender … my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
322 2nd Street, 201.418.8585
Wine bars are nice and lounges are just fine, but every once in awhile I just want a hole-in-the-wall bar with great music and drink specials. Welcome to Lucky 7 Tavern. Taped up pictures, band stickers and random memorabilia adorn the walls, old-school booths offer seating and a dart board in the back is usually getting some serious action. Personally, this is one of my favorite spots to grab a drink in Jersey City.
230 Brunswick Street, 201.653.9234
If you ask any Jersey City resident who has the best wings in town, 9 out of 10 times they’ll tell you White Star Bar. Actually, the whole menu is delicious. Traditional bar food done right, White Star Bar’s unofficial slogan pretty much sums this place up: “Good Food, Bad Judgement is always the end result at the White Star Bar.”
GOOD EATS & LIBATIONS EXTRA: If the above wasn’t enough for you, here are a few more places that shouldn’t be overlooked - Light Horse Tavern (199 Washington Street, 201.946.2018), Lamp Post Bar & Grille (382 2nd Street, 201.222.1331), Basic Food & Beverage (231 8th Street, 201.656.5900) and Beechwood Café & Market (290 Grove Street, 201.985.2811). Plus there’s a number of outrageous food trucks that have recently driven into town.
213 Montgomery Street, 551.200.9386
Opened less than a year ago, Kanibal Home is where you’ll find me seven days a week (unless I’m out hunting for new items). The shop has a range of refurbished furniture, found objects, general oddities, vintage dishware and plenty of new home goods, apparel and gift items. Stop by and say hi – I promise we don’t bite.
353 Grove Street, 201.860.9990
When I’m not at my shop, you’ll find me shopping here. It’s the first place I send my customers because I know they’ll be treated to a friendly reception and a variety of hand-picked vintage treasures that will rival any major New York City vintage shop. And although the quality you’ll be getting is high, the prices won’t be. I recently picked up a great pair of leather boots for $35.
277 Grove Street, 201.451.9358
Two floors of beautifully arranged clothing and accessories fill this luxury shop. On the ground floor you’ll find a range of clothing pieces, shoes and bags and, upon traveling up the large wooden staircase in the middle of the store, you’ll find an assortment of lovely evening gowns, lingerie and personal accessories – everything from jewelry to double sided tape.
302 Grove Street, 201.432.7600
Similar to Tia’s in style, but located across the street and a smidgeon of the size, is Aspasia’s Boutique. They stock a range of designers and have a nice selection of everything from clothing to jewelry and accessories.
581 Jersey Avenue, 201.792.5648
As with many of the shops in Jersey City, Stockinette Knitting Café satisfies an array of tastes. With a fantastic collection of yarns, the knitting enthusiast would feel right at home, but they also have a delicious coffee and pastry bar for the customer who’s looking for somewhere quiet to sit with a book or laptop. In the warmer months they also have an adorable garden where you can sit, knit, sip, read or just enjoy the fresh air.
528 Jersey Avenue, 201.332.8697
If you’re a toy enthusiast or someone looking for that perfect children’s gift, then this is your place to shop. In this specialty toy shop you’ll always find hand-picked items with a focus on green, unique or hard-to-find arranged alongside tried and true favorites.
SHOPPING EXTRA: Definitely stop by DEEN located in the Powerhouse Arts District (140 Bay Street, 201.963.3336) and Hello Again Vintage (120A Bowers Street, 551.998.1475).
350 Montgomery Street, 201.413.0303
Looking for something to do? Then head over to the Jersey City Museum. Lovingly assembled with a focus on contemporary artists, the Jersey City Museum hosts a range of events every month in addition to its rotating exhibitions, educational initiatives and public programs.
58 Coles Street
This isn’t your typical gallery, but it is the place to see some of the best shows – art and music alike. Located down a residential block, you’ll know when you’ve gotten to the right place when you look up and see the sneakers swinging from the power lines.
143 (Suite 2) Christopher Columbus Drive
The Lex Leonard Gallery takes up 1400 square feet on the second floor of a mixed use building where you’ll often find bands practicing on the ground floor and a party going on somewhere upstairs. Showcasing contemporary visual and performance artists, the gallery also houses the workshops of four local artists.
Not so much an actual place as it is a vision, Art House Productions is a driving force behind the arts movement in Jersey City. They host everything from a weekly TV show to acting classes and art exhibitions, comedy shows and film screenings. They’re also responsible for free art events around Jersey City, including the incredibly popular JC Fridays.
Recently acquired by the Jersey City Independent, the magazine covers arts, culture and lifestyle in Jersey City with a mix of long-form magazine-style reporting, appealing visual design and shorter informational pieces. Most importantly, if you are looking for an expanded guide, the back of the magazine acts as a city guide with updated information on many of Jersey City’s boutiques, restaurants, bars and art venues.
ARTS EXTRA: Two other great art locations is the recently opened JC Art School (326 5th Street), which offers various art classes and lectures and 660 Grand Street, an art collective that’s hard to define – it’s one part art, two parts party and a dash of skate (there’s a ramp built into the loft space).
68 Mercer Street, 201.333.0500
Tucked inside what used to be the carriage house of the neighboring brownstone, Walker’s Apothecary specializes in everything related to personal pampering, including – but not limited to – massage, waxing, manicures, pedicures and facials.
297 Grove Street, 201.946.9000
A one-stop shop for organic beauty products, Skin Organix is filled with everything from body scrubs and creams to acne solutions. You can even schedule all natural on-site facials.
218 Montgomery Street, 201.309.9959
I was unsure where to stick this listing, in the Arts category or Pampering, because – on one hand – the arrangements from this shop are so pretty they’re worth spoiling yourself with, but – on the other hand – their artistry in arranging flowers in everything from tin cans to vintage tin boxes and ceramic urns takes on a kind of living sculpture definition.
PAMPERING EXTRA: Looking for a great haircut? I highly recommend Shampoo JC (107 Christopher Columbus Drive, 201.395.0045) and Studio 17 Beauty Salon (346 2nd Street, 201.610.1515).