Long before The Sopranos, there were some of us that knew and loved old-school Italian-American food in New Jersey. Yes, it can be crude, and yes, there's not a ton of originality, but when it's good, there's nothing better.
It doesn't get any more old-school than this Garfield restaurant, whose menu is practically a codex of Italian American standards.
Although its neighborhood rivals Fiore's and Vito's are better known, for my money this is the very best fresh mozzarella in the greater New York area, especially if you get it early in the day when it's still maximally warm and milky.
A Sinatra shrine in an obscure corner of Hoboken, this tiny restaurant is only a few blocks from where the man himself was born; and word is he came in from time to time.
Locals rave about the warm service, family atmosphere, and homey cooking at this Union red-sauce institution. But really, what everybody loves best here are the truly titanic portions, which will feed you for days after you've waddled out.
Benito is the quintessential North Jersey working class family restaurant, the kind whose meatballs inspire sentimental reveries in years to come, and dyspepsia in the hours immediately following.
Spirito has some fierce partisans; 80 years in one location will do that for you. The go-to move here are the pillowy ravioli, although the veal is an institution as well.
Ten thousand teenagers, and off-duty workers, and families of every kind of put in their hours at this classic, old-time bar, known for its pan pizzas, cheap red wine, and spaghetti. Not much is left of the old, pre-casino Atlantic City, but Tony's is enough.
Yes, Virginia, there are clam bars outside of Little Italy, and in many ways they're better than the ones that reside there now. Uncle Vinnies is the real deal, serving fresh, simple clams, scungilli, and other Italian seafoods, accompanied with either lemon or some spicy marinara.
The classic, timeless, unreconstructed Italian-American restaurant is so secret that for many years, even many Atlantic City residents never knew about it. The secret is out now, but the place hasn't changed -- yet.
A classic boardwalk red-sauce restaurant, this Asbury Park landmark is a must-visit for anyone who has any kind of feeling for Jersey Shore blue collar culture before it became a joke.