The Most-Notorious Eats in New Jersey
Plant yourself in the Garden State for a taste of tomato pie, disco fries, panzarotti and other classic plates.
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Garden State Specials
New Jersey residents are known for their strong opinions — and that extends to food. They argue over where to find the best pizza or the best wings, and don’t get them started about pork roll versus Taylor Ham. But, they’ll all agree that some of the best food in the country comes from the Garden State. These are the foods that those from New Jersey love to fight about and love to eat; the iconic foods that anyone who has ever moved away from the state must have the minute they step back on its soil.
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South Jersey Pizza
There’s wondrous pizza to be sampled all up and down the state of New Jersey, but in the South, the Sicilian pie at Bruno’s Restaurant & Pizza is truly an amazing feat of dough, sauce and cheese. The crust is thick and flavorful with extra-crisp edges, meaning the corner slices are typically the most sought-after pieces of the pie. This pizza is all about balance, right down to the ratio of impeccably seasoned sauce to impossibly gooey cheese. You’ll be hard pressed to find a heartier pie, too, which means you may just find yourself in the sweet situation of taking home leftover slices — we won’t tell if you scarf them down cold for breakfast.
Sliders are now as varied as they are ubiquitous — chicken, cheesesteak, pulled pork, breaded seafood or even veggie sliders can be found just about anywhere. But there’s still no beating an old-school beef slider — and White Manna in Hackensack turns them out daily by the hundreds. These sliders feature fresh mini beef patties with thinly sliced onions smashed right into them. They come nestled on fluffy potato rolls, with or without a melted layer of cheese between patty and bread. White Manna has been in the slider business since 1946, giving the spot plenty of time to perfect a flavorful, slightly greasy (in the best way) slider that keep the crowds coming back for more. Pro tip: Order at least six.
Pork Roll Sandwich
Those who live far from New Jersey’s borders have likely never heard of pork roll aka Taylor Ham. This Garden State staple is the source of a seemingly endless debate over what to call it — but it is much beloved by both North and South Jersey residents. A mystery meat of sorts, it’s made from processed pork (and locals are happy to not know which part of the pig supplies its ingredients), spices and “flavors” (again, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement). It’s the star of the classic pork roll sandwich, which is built on a hard roll and topped with egg — either fried or scrambled — and melted American cheese. Not just for breakfast, this sandwich is served all day long, and it’s known to do wonders for a hangover.
At first glance, you may mistake a Tarantini Panzarotti™ for a simple savory pastry, but one bite will prove that this dish is so much more than your standard turnover. Pauline Tarantini began turning out panzorattis in the early 1960s at her Camden home, using a family recipe straight from Italy. Made from a signature dough, the stuffed pockets come crammed with mozzarella cheese, sauce and a customizable array of pizza toppings. A dip in the deep fryer creates a crisp, golden-brown crust that gives way to the harmonious — and piping-hot — medley of fillings within. Pro tip: vent a hole in the pocket and allow the steam to escape for a minute to prevent burning the roof of your mouth on first bite.
Sloppy Joe Sandwich
Despite what the name Sloppy Joe suggests to many outside the Garden State, this Jersey sandwich does not actually come stuffed with ground beef swimming in tomato sauce. This regional delicacy is in fact something totally different — and vastly more delicious, if you ask locals. Created in 1934 at Town Hall Deli in South Orange, the sandwich is still a sought-after staple all these years later. Three (yes, three) hefty slices of specially baked Pullman rye bread come stacked with layers of meat, cheese and coleslaw. A healthy pour of Town Hall’s homemade Russian dressing finishes this towering creation. So how did the name of the dish originate? The sandwich was inspired by one in Havana, Cuba, which was served at a notoriously messy bar called — you guessed it — Sloppy Joe’s.
Before De Lorenzo’s family-owned restaurant in Robbinsville even opens for the day, people are often lined up outside. The draw? Tomato pie, a tomato-forward pizza that the De Lorenzo family has been making since 1936. Though the third generation of the family now serves the pizza in Robbinsville, you’ll likely hear locals referring to it as Trenton tomato pie — since the business originated in that city. DeLorenzo’s tomato pie starts with a bit of mozzarella baked right on top of the thin, crisp crust. Hand-crushed tomatoes are then placed on top of the cheese, not the other way around. Other toppings can be added, but even the basic version can get people to pass up dozens of other pizza parlors for the promise of a De Lorenzo’s tomato pie.
Ask anyone who lives in or around Camden where the best Philly cheesesteak comes from, and they’ll tell you — New Jersey! Just head across the bridge from where those famous cheesesteak wars happen in Philadelphia… and make your way to a little spot in Camden instead. Donkey’s Place isn’t your typical sandwich shop — in fact, it’s not a sandwich shop at all, but rather a tavern that’s been around since 1943. And only one sandwich is featured on the menu. That’s right, a cheesesteak. Slices of steak are slathered with a secret seasoning created by Donkey’s original owner Leon Lucas, then piled along with cheese and a heap of caramelized onions on a sliced roll. But no ordinary hoagie roll will do at Donkey’s; no, this spot switches it up by using a round, poppy-seed kaiser roll instead.
Before eating seasonally and locally was the thing to do, everyone in New Jersey already knew the rules: Don’t eat corn on the cob out of season and don’t eat it unless it’s grown in the Garden State. In the days before farmers’ markets dominated suburban parking lots, families would travel miles and miles to get their corn on the cob from Stella Farms’ roadside stand. Many families still make the pilgrimage to Berlin to get just-picked ears of corn by the dozens from this family-owned farm that’s been around since 1921. Boiled, slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt, Jersey corn is one of the state’s most iconic foods and there’s no better place to get it than Stella Farms.
Salt Water Taffy
There’s no actual salt in salt water taffy, but as soon as you can smell the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll know that the chewy taffy is not far away. Sold at dozens of shops that dot the Jersey Shore, this taffy serves as a sweet souvenir for many a tourist. And with a prime location along Ocean City’s boardwalk, Shriver's candy shop reels 'em in, selling more than 150,000 pounds or a whopping 6 million pieces of taffy annually. You can buy the candy by the pound or mix and match your own box from a seemingly endless array of flavors. Standards like chocolate and vanilla are popular, of course, but don’t overlook the shop’s distinctive flavors. Sour apple or molasses mint, anyone?
Venture into the vast swaths of forest that compose the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and you’ll come across farms that produce some of the best blueberries in the country. At the south of the Pine Barrens is Hammonton, a town that bills itself as the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” Further north in the Pine Barrens is New Egypt and Emery’s Berry Farm, which has been in operation for more than 50 years. The pick-your-own farm has plenty of organic blueberries for the plucking, with 20 of its 60 acres set aside solely for growing this fruit. For those berry lovers who don’t want to traipse through rows upon rows of plants, there’s a stand stocked with blueberries — and Emery’s must-try blueberry pie.
Disco fries are New Jersey’s answer to Canada’s poutine. The Tick Tock Diner in Clifton lays claim to originating them, as do several other establishments in the Garden State. But it’s the Tick Tock that most Jersey residents think of when they’re craving crisp French fries smothered in melted mozzarella and warm gravy. While the dish has been around longer than the days of disco, the name allegedly came about in the 1970s at diners when John Travolta wannabes stumbled in after a night of dancing and drinking. Known primarily in North Jersey, the dish has been creeping down south in recent years.
Despite so many competing custard and ice cream vendors hawking their frozen treats along the Ocean City and Wildwood Boardwalks, Kohr Bros. continues to draw the crowds with an original frozen custard recipe that is nearly 100 years old. Beachgoers line up at the various Kohr Bros. stands to order vanilla, chocolate or a specialty flavor, with options that include chocolate and peanut butter, vanilla and orange (which evokes the dreamy taste of orange cream bars) and other combinations that were made for each other. The topping options may just spark a debate all their own — are the little candies the custard gets dipped into called sprinkles or jimmies?
Barnegat Light Scallops
Some of the best scallops from this side of the Atlantic can be found right off the coast of New Jersey’s Long Beach Island. At the northern tip of the island is a town called Barnegat Light, and from its shores come millions of pounds of sustainable sea scallops known for their fresh taste and perfect texture. Those in the know head right over the bridge from Long Beach Island to The Old Causeway Steak & Oyster House (open year-round) or Mud City Crab House (open seasonally) to get these local delicacies, which are served in a variety of preparations.
Campbell’s® Tomato Soup
The soup inside the Campbell’s can is iconic — and so is the can itself. This classic piece of Americana was captured on the pop art canvases of Andy Warhol in the 1960s, nearly 70 years after the canned soup was created. And though Campbell Soup Company in Camden churns out a dizzying array of flavors, it’s the very first of the bunch — tomato soup — that typically comes to mind when the brand is mentioned. From its introduction in 1895 until 1979, the soup was made with New Jersey tomatoes (which any local will get into fisticuffs to defend as the best in the world). If you’ve never read the gold seal on the can, it replicates the medal of excellence Campbell’s won at the 1900 Paris Exposition. This soup isn’t just famous in New Jersey; it’s famous the world over.
Cape May Salt Oysters
The waters off the coast of New Jersey are teeming with a bounty of salt-kissed treasures: Cape May Salt oysters, to be precise. Once a staple of the East Coast’s booming oyster business in the late 1800s, the seemingly endless supply was depleted by the mid-1900s. But the story doesn't end there. A concerted effort to restore those once robust levels of shellfish has been successful — and the meaty, premium oysters with the distinctive salty taste are back on menus. They can be found at raw bars all over the state, including one popular spot in Milford. At The Milford House (formerly known as The Milford Oyster House), customers happily slurp down the oysters when they make their seasonal appearance on the menu. Here, they’re prepared delicately to allow their fresh natural flavors to shine through.
In a state where you can get a burger within a mile of most homes, people drive for miles and miles to get a taste of the juicy patties turned out by Vincentown Diner. One beloved option is the burger made from locally sourced, grass-fed beef. But there’s a patty for practically every palate, with choices that include turkey, pork and black bean mushroom (for those who prefer to skip the meat). The burgers come topped with juicy Jersey tomatoes when this regional variety is in season. Vincentown’s philosophy of keeping it local even extends to the brew selection, as they offer nine seasonal beers sourced from nearby breweries.
The bread that holds New Jersey’s famous hoagies and cheesesteaks together is just as important as the fillings inside. As every sandwich connoisseur in the Garden State knows, it must be a hard roll — no other bread will do. A hard roll is characterized by a crisp crust that gives way to the soft bread beneath, perfect for cradling all the fillings that can be crammed into the sandwich. The place to get hard rolls is Del Buono’s Bakery in Haddon Heights, where you can catch them as they drop hot off the conveyer belt, ensuring maximum freshness. The spot churns out rolls in an array of shapes and sizes — round for burgers and sandwiches, long for hoagies and meatball sandwiches and a perfectly petite option that’s best served with butter as a dinner roll. Regulars snatch Del Buono’s rolls up by the dozen, with the youngest customers known to occasionally bite into one right there on the spot (kids are permitted to eat one free roll).
The closer you get to the New York City border, the more Cuban restaurants you’ll find in New Jersey… and each with its own version of the iconic Cuban sandwich. One such spot is La Isla, which has been in business since 1996. This small Hoboken joint offers authentic Cuban cuisine, including a Cuban sandwich served with the crispiest of pickles — one of the distinctions that separates this type of sandwich from a hoagie. La Isla’s interpretation of the Cuban classic is spot-on: Cuban bread is pressed like a panini after being stuffed with pork, ham and Swiss cheese. The restaurant’s garlic mojo sauce enhances the sandwich and elevates it to one of the most respected in the state.
North Jersey Pizza
Picking an iconic pizza in New Jersey is tricky. After all, pizza lovers across the state don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to which combination of dough, sauce and toppings typify the perfect pie. At Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza in Elizabeth, third-generation pizzaiolo Al Santillo relies on a tried-and-true recipe developed by his grandfather. Dough, sauce, cheese and toppings come together in a 50-year-old brick oven that was handed down along with the recipe. No matter which option you choose, the resulting pie is sure to satisfy.
New Jersey residents may insist on calling a long sandwich brimming with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion a hoagie, but one Atlantic City shop has long been bucking that name trend. The iconic sandwiches served at the White House Sub Shop may look just like hoagies, but here they’re called subs — and have been since the joint started churning them out in 1946. No need to quibble over the name, though, as you’ll need to focus on how to finish this massive sandwich without letting any of those precious fillings fall to the floor. The number one reason people give for this being the best sub in the state is the Atlantic City bread delivered fresh to the shop eight times a day to ensure maximum freshness. Each sandwich is filled — no, make that stuffed, with the same high-quality ingredients that have kept the crowds coming back for the past 70 years.
Italian Hot Dog
The origins of this hot dog are hotly debated, but most fans can at least come together in agreement on which spot serves a truly craveworthy version: Jersey Joe’s in Port Monmouth. First served here in 1960, the dog enjoyed a 35-year run until the spot shuttered in 1995. Frank Gioia, son of the original owner, came to the rescue of the dog’s diehard fans when he reopened Jersey Joe’s in 2003. Much to their delight, he put both a single dog and a double dog option on the menu. This very Jersey take on a hot dog is served on pizza bread and comes topped with a mound of onions, bell peppers and crisp potatoes. A North Jersey favorite, the regional delicacy doesn’t travel south very often.