A Central Jersey Local’s Guide to Unique Italian Restaurants and Eateries

A Central Jersey Local’s Guide to Unique Italian Restaurants and Eateries


As New Jersey residents, we’re lucky enough to enjoy some of the finest Italian cuisine this side of the Atlantic thanks to countless Italian restaurants that have everything from classic Margherita pizzas to delectable desserts (cannoli anyone?) But within that treasure trove of restaurants, are restaurants that bring something a bit more than your typical Italian dishes. Whether it’s the story behind the sauce, the fact that they’ve withstood the test of time, or that they had their start in the back of a Speed Wagon, it’s all just a part of the story of these must visit unique New Jersey Italian restaurants.

Ama Ristorante, Sea Bright
Tucked away in one of the shore’s beach clubs on Ocean Avenue is Ama Ristorante in Sea Bright, an Italian restaurant that will envelop you in Tuscan notes from the warm mahogany floor to the classic meatballs and Negroni’s. It’s a taste of the Tuscan countryside on the coast of the Atlantic.  “All of our seafood is served within 12 hours of when it comes off the boat,” said Chef Chuck Lesbirel of Ama Ristorante in Sea Bright.  It’s land and sea at its best.1485 Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright (732) 530-9760 http://amaristorante.com/

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Amici Milano, Trenton

A nod back to the past, Amici Milano (600 Chestnut Avenue, Trenton 609-396-6300) will have you stepping back in time to when Italian restaurants came with white-tablecloths, weekend jazz music, and a warm atmosphere reminiscent of classic supper clubs. Surrounded by the once beautiful mansions of Trenton, Amici Milano has withstood the test of time while so many other restaurants have come and gone. http://www.amicimilano.com/

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Anjelica’s, Sea Bright
Italy is known for al fresco dining under the stars, in a tight ally, where the food is fresh from the market and made with love. At Anjelica’s in Sea Bright, that’s exactly what you’ll be getting, but at the tip of the Jersey Shore. The menu, atmosphere, and service are all reminiscent of owner Ray Lena’s childhood where the kitchen was the heart of the home and always filled with fresh pasta dough, simmering pots, local vegetables, and the catch of the day. 1070 Ocean Avenue Sea Bright (732) 842-2800 http://anjelicas.com/

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Catherine Lombardi, New Brunswick

Located on the second floor and featuring two fireplaces, a warm red interior, and a lively bar, Catherine Lombardi (3 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick 732-296-9463) offers a bird’s eye view of the town’s theater district. Owned and operated by Catherine Lombardi’s grandson, Mark Pascal, who opened up the restaurant in 1992, the menu and the atmosphere are an homage to his grandmother who cooked Neapolitan-based and Brooklyn-influenced family dinners. http://www.catherinelombardi.com

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Da Fillipo’s Ristorante, Somerville

Open since 1988, Da Fillipo’s Ristorante (132 East Main Street, Somerville 908-218-0110) is known for their Italian style seafood dishes thanks to master chef Filippo Russo. Continuously reviewed by The New York Times and Zagat, Russo also was the recipient of the Luigi Veronelli Award for fine Italian dining, all with dishes that replicate his mother’s recipes. http://www.dafilippos.com/

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Da Soli, Haddonfield

Yet another Zagat rated unique Jersey Italian restaurant, Da Soli (116 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield 856-429-2399) is a BYOB featuring handmade pastas in a rustic setting. Voted Top 50 Restaurants in 2015 by Zagat, Da Soli goes above and beyond, combining the old and the new with “to-die-for” risotto. http://dasolihaddonfield.com/

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DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville

Dating back to 1947, De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies (2350 US Highway 33, Robbinsville), originally established in the Chambersburg section of Trenton for 66 years, moved to its current location 8 years ago. The legacy continues to live on, with Sam Amica, the grandson of original owner, Alexander “Chick” De Lorenzo. Still serving the classic birch beers, no grated cheese, but now with restrooms (which past Hudson Street patrons love), it may be an updated interior, but luckily for us the recipes have remained the same. http://www.delorenzostomatopies.com/

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Eccola Italian Bistro, Piscataway

Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or just feel like eating Zagat rated Italian dishes, Eccola Italian Bistro (1082 US-46, Parsippany 973-334-8211) is your answer. Diners rave about everything from the service to dishes with ingredients that hail from storied purveyors that include Wayne Meat Corp. If that’s not enough reason to call it a unique Jersey Italian restaurant? It’s fine dining, in a strip mall, only in the garden state. http://www.eccolarestaurantnj.com/

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Eno Tera, Kingston

One look at Eno Tera (4484 NJ-27, Kingston 609-497-1777) and you’re instantly transported to the hills of Tuscany, where Chef Christopher Albrecht offers true farm-to-table Italian dishes that include countless varieties of vegetables that are grown just a half-mile away at Canal Farm. Sitting on one of the oldest highways in America, this Zagat rated unique Italian restaurant’s structure dates back to the 1860s, successfully creating true farm to table cuisine. http://enoterra.com/index.php

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Giumarello’s, Haddon Twp.

If you’re looking for a night out where you can not only enjoy a delicious Italian dish, but also relax without feeling rushed, Giumarello’s (329 Haddon Avenue, Haddon Twp. 856-858-9400) should move to the top of your list. Delivering consistently tasty dishes with a friendly ambience for over 20 years, it’s not shocking that this establishment has been voted Diner’s Choice Award year after year. http://www.giumarellos.com/home.aspx

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Luca’s Ristorante, Somerset

Yet another strip mall find, Luca’s Ristorante (2019 NJ-27, Somerset 732-297-7676) offers a fresh approach to traditional Italian dishes. Taking inspiration from the Italian island of Ischia, the sister island of Capri, owner and chef Andrea Di Meglio brings together the simplicity of old-school Ischian cuisine with the creativity of contemporary Italian cuisine. Do you know any Ischian inspired restaurants around here? Yea, we didn’t think so. http://www.lucasristorante.com/index.html

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Monticello, Red Bank
Since 2009 Monticello has developed a loyal following of local diners that appreciate the ever-changing menu from Chef Katerina which can only be described as Italian Fusion Cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. The best way to experience Monticello on your first visit is to book any one of the prix fixe seatings that are offered 4 days a week from 3:30pm to 9pm.  This restaurant also offers “clean” eating options with no processed foods that are GMO free. Gluten free options are always available.  69 Broad Street, Red Bank (732) 450-0255 http://www.monticelloatredbank.com/

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Nomad Pizza, Hopewell

What started out as two guys cooking pizza in the back of a 1949 REO Speed Wagon six years ago has now become a brick and mortar institution. If you happen to visit Nomad Pizza (10 East Broad Street, Hopewell 609-466-6623) on a weekend night, chances are you’re going to be waiting for the chance to delve into their Neapolitan style pizza that’s soft and chewy yet crispy for an 800 degree wood oven. http://www.nomadpizzaco.com/

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Novita Bistro & Lounge, Metuchen

When The New York Time writes that a visit to Novita Bistro & Lounge (25 New Street, Metuchen 732-549-5306) is “worth it,” you know you need to visit. Meaning “something new” in Italian, it’s all about “Italian with a twist” for the Badalamenti family. Paired with live music from Wednesday through Saturday, it’s a unique Central Jersey Italian restaurant that is both lively and delicious. http://www.novitanj.com/

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Osteria Procacini, Kingston

Osteria Procacini (4428 NJ-27, Kingston 609-688-0007) is using only the freshest organic ingredients possible to make artisanal pizzas, salads, and specialty dishes. Owners and brothers John and Tino Procaccini (who’s parents immigrated from Pettoranello del Molise aka Princeton’s sister city) are throwing it back old school with the time honored method of terra cotta oven cooking.  http://www.osteriaprocaccini.com/

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Photo by @teamtamcam of Instagram

Piccola Italia, Ocean

Even though it’s been repeatedly named one of the best kept secrets in Monmouth County, Piccola Italia (837 West Park Avenue, Ocean 732-493-3090) has been family owned and operated for over 13 years. We’re pretty sure the secret is out on Chef and Owner Brian Gualtieri’s passion for regional Italian dishes made with the freshest, finest, and highest quality ingredients that have been Zagat rated for years. http://www.piccolaitalianj.com/

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Porcini, Highlands
In the past year, Porcini has made waves for themselves as a consistent, high quality restaurant. Their menu of fresh Italian-American cuisine has become less and less “hidden”, and the nightly specials made with seasonal and local ingredients are as delicious as they are beautifully prepared. If you get the chance, be absolutely sure to try Chef Chris Atamian’s Pork Osso Bucco. It is to die for! 168 Bay Ave Highlands (732) 291-3080 http://www.restaurantporcini.com/

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Pizzuto Ravioli, Eatontown

You may think, wait a minute, Pizzuto Ravioli (15-17 Main Street 732-544-2000) isn’t a restaurant, but hold on just a second. For those nights when you’re looking to bring that unique Jersey Italian restaurant experience home, Pizzuto Ravioli is one of the only places to pick up fresh ravioli made by a true Brooklyn institution in the area. http://www.pizzutoravioli.com

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Sam Vera, Marlboro

Set in a stately Victorian home, driving up to Sam Vera Restaurant (476 County Road 520, Marlboro Twp. 732-834-9889) is like seeing a beacon of Italian food. Transformed into a romantic rendezvous, the restaurants boasts an cocktail lounge, antique enhanced dining room, and open-air terraces. If the atmosphere doesn’t convince you, the food will. From Risotto ai Funghi Porcini to Cernia A la Livornese, and classics like Vitella Parmigiana, there’s no better place to impress a date than here. http://samverarestaurant.com/

jersey shore hidden gem
Trama’s Trattoria, Long Branch
Chef Pat Trama has earned a loyal following with food and wine aficionados due to his fierce commitment to quality, consistency and attention to detail. Every sea scallop gets perfectly caramelized, every dish carefully thought out based on the freshest and highest quality ingredients. At Trama’s Trattoria, you’ll feel like you’re in the heart of Tuscany. 115 Brighton Ave, Long Branch (732) 222-1121 http://tramastrattoria.com/

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Tre Famiglia Ristorante, Haddonfield

Known as the perfect cozy spot to enjoy a bottle of wine and Italian dishes like Crispy Calamari Salad, Tortelloni with Mushroom and Sage Cream Sauce, and Grilled Salmon, Tre Famiglia Ristorante (403 North Haddon Avenue, Haddonfield 856-429-1447) has been the choice for families for years (since 1903). When you’re in the market for a delicious, fresh, and traditional Italian meal that won’t break your budget, this is the unique Central Jersey Italian restaurant to visit. http://www.trefamiglia.com

Via 45, Red Bank

Ask anyone who has visited Via 45 (45 Broad Street, Red Bank 732-450-9945) about their thoughts on dinner and most likely you’ll hear “you have to go there!” For those of you who have yet to experience this popular BYOB Italian restaurant, let us recap it for you. Zagat rated, fresh and seasonal dishes (which changes daily), delicious gluten-free dishes, and a rustic atmosphere. There’s nothing else left to say besides, “go eat there!” http://www.via45.com

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Zeppoli Restaurant, Collingswood

With only 32-seats, you can imagine just how hot those reservations are at Zeppoli Restaurant (618 Collings Avenue, Collingswood 856-854-2670). Owner Joseph Baldino finds the cozy (and sometimes a little loud) atmosphere reminiscent of his father’s ancestral home. Two years ago, diners were a little hesitant of Baldino’s Sicilian inspired dishes including the Spaghetti with Squid Ink Sauce and Calamari, but now it’s requested (and it even comes with a black tongue – just like in Sicily). http://zeppolirestaurant.com/

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