Slip under the Hudson this weekend and you’ll find that panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline are the least-enticing attraction between the cheese dives and art galleries, beer gardens and farmers’ markets thriving atop every PATH stop. From the retro ethnic flavors surrounding Journal Square’s Mana Contemporary to uptown Hoboken’s food truck-laden Pier 13, a swipe of your MetroCard offers access to some of the region’s best-kept culinary secrets.
Ride the 33rd Street line to its conclusion at Jersey City’s Journal Square, and past the landmark Loew’s movie palace you can belly up to classic neighborhood cheap eats in neon and Hindi, like classic griddled dogs and liquid orange goodness from Boulevard Drinks (48 Journal Square Plaza; 201-656-1855) and aromatic saffron and cardamom kulfi by the scoop at Kwality Ice Cream (787 Newark Avenue; 201-377-1862) en route to the Mana Contemporary. The 50,000-square-foot arts center, founded by storage kingpin Moishe Mana, packs a a rotation of enviable works by the likes of Nobuyoshi Araki, Judy Chicago, and Francesco Clemente throughout an expansive all white everything warehouse.
Ping an Uber downtown to the Van Vorst Park Farmers’ Market (Jersey Avenue at Montgomery Street), where vendors like Hoboken pizza kingpin Tony Boloney’s satisfy all your Jersey tomato and fresh mutz needs.
Explore just beyond the park to find Cocoa Bakery (275 Grand Street; 201-830-3430), where you can linger over former Nobu pastry chef Jessica Isaacs’s chocolate whoopie pies, and an array of crumb-rolled cake truffles that rival Momofuku Milk Bar. Or go the opposite direction over brunch at Thirty Acres (500 Jersey Avenue; 201-435-3100), where Momofuku vet Kevin Pemoulie dishes out weekends-only sandwiches and cocktails including a steak tartare club and spiked cold-brew coffee.
Venture into the Village neighborhood after dark for stiff gins, truffled egg toast, and black market cheeses at Third & Vine (363 Third Street; 201-533-8309), rock out over $2.50 PBRs and more than 40 whiskeys at hipster hangout Lucky 7s (322 Second Street; 201-418-8585), then end the night at Barcade (163 Newark Avenue; 201-332-4555), plunking quarters into Donkey Kong or piling them up for a pint of Victory Golden Monkey.
Before you check out for the night, wander the riverfront boardwalk into Hoboken and check into the W Hoboken (225 River Street; 201-253-2400), where you can start Sunday morning bingeing on brownies and lemon water at downstairs Bliss Spa or rub your belly after conquering the crunchy-creamy strawberry cinnamon French toast at Cuban brunch draw La Isla (104 Washington Street; 201-659-8197).
And while Washington Street’s still Hoboken’s busiest stretch, the best Italian eats lurk west. The Saturdays-only hot roast beef sandwich at Fiore’s Deli (414 Adams Street; 201-659-1655) may be well known since inspiring an episode of 30 Rock, but the smoky pleasure of wood-fired fior di latte and soppressata pies in the backyard at Dozzino (534 Adams Street; 201-656-6561) remains a secret even to many locals.
Another local secret: Cabs charge $5 to travel anywhere in the mile-square city’s limits, so ride uptown before you skip town and end your stay where the best cocktails and food trucks are hiding in plain sight.
Upstairs inside Pilsener Haus & Biergarten (1422 Grand Street; 201-683-5465) weekends-only bar-within-a-bar Kolo Klub offers a drinks list crafted by the crew behind Ward III and Rum House, while just across town Pier 13 (1301 Sinatra Drive North; 201-798-8065) has become a safe harbor for so many food trucks driven off the city’s streets. Homegrown and traveling vendors sate every appetite, whether you’re craving The Cow & The Curd‘s spicy-springy batter-fried Midwestern cheese nuggets or quarter-pounders of smoked camel and kangaroo from Dark Side of the Moo.
And you thought Jersey wasn’t exotic.