A Mano | Ridgewood
Aside from pizzas made in true (meaning gloriously puffy, charry, chewy) Neapolitan style, A Mano dishes up a luscious, meaty lasagna. It also comes in a toothsome vegetable version. 24 Franklin Avenue, 201-493-2000, amanopizza.com.
Anjelica’s | Sea Bright
With its dark interior, close tables and sociable noise, Anjelica’s feels more like a restaurant in southern Italy than at the Jersey Shore. Although known for seafood dishes like angry lobster and zuppa di pesce, Anjelica’s also turns out superior steaks and chops, including an epic, 28-ounce, grilled veal chop stuffed with melted fontina called “a porterhouse of veal.” We call it magnificent. 1070 Ocean Avenue, 732-842-2800, angelicas.com.
Due Mari | New Brunswick
The name means “two seas” in Italian. Representative of Due Mari’s piscine delights is expertly grilled branzino, which cavorts happily with Caribbean white shrimp, escarole and oven-roasted tomatoes and is drizzled with black olive vinaigrette. Not that the pastas are slackers—especially not the robbiola cheese ravioli with sauces that change with the seasons. Likewise the outstanding desserts of pastry chef Candace Ulloa. The lounge has its own appealing taverna menu, including brick-oven pizzas. 78 Albany Street, 732-296-1600, duemarinj.com.
Eno Terra | Kingston
Hurricane Irene last August dumped several feet of water into this farm-to-table’s supplementary basement kitchen. Eno Terra used the subsequent downtime to rethink the entire operation, making changes to the menu’s structure, price points and offerings in order to mimic more closely those of a true enoteca. A fabulous meal can be had from starters alone—say, fire-roasted sweet peppers with white anchovies; slabs of tiny Fairy Tale eggplant parmigiano; and marinated cauliflower florettes tossed with hot soppressata and pine nuts. But if you ignore the pastas and entrees you’ll miss out on, for example, palate-bracing arugula pesto clinging to excellent fresh linguine, or a meaty hunk of roasted halibut bathing in soulful corn chowder. 4484 Route 27, 609-497-1777, enoterra.com.
Grissini | Englewood Cliffs
Tony Del Gatto grew up in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen when the neighborhood was as fearsome as its name. Now he runs a heavenly place for a well-heeled following that prizes chef Alberto Leandro’s sophisticated cuisine, especially his pastas (like paglia e fieno with cream, peas and sautéed prosciutto slivers) and seafood (like whole branzino roasted in a wood-burning oven). Del Gatto himself toils over a weekly batch of delicious meatballs and Sunday Sauce that is served only on that day. 484 Sylvan Avenue, 201-568-3535, grissinirestaurant.com.
Il Capriccio | Whippany
For many years, chef Tony Grande—Italy born, raised and trained—has kept his restaurant at the pinnacle of Italian dining in service, posh decor and especially food. The menu contains many gems, some hard to find, like a chitarra pasta with shaved bottarga (cured roe). 633 Route 10 East, 973-884-9175, ilcapriccio.com.
Il Michelangelo | Boonton
In a converted 19th-century stagecoach inn, the Cascio family serves dishes from all over Italy with a large helping of warmth and hospitality. Dominic Sr. was born in Sicily, where his father was a chef. A few years ago, Dominic Jr., now 25, took over from his dad as chef. His accomplished food includes a Sicilian specialty, panelle Palermitane, worth asking for (it’s not on the menu). Panelle are flash-fried squares of herbed chickpea flour, served with salt, pepper and lemon, a starter you can’t help but gobble up. 91 Elcock Avenue, 973-316-1111, ilmichelangelo.com.
Luke Palladino | Northfield
Luke Palladino in Northfield is loaded with exciting Italian dishes, but even so the antipasto of caciocovallo scaloppine stands out. Palladino slices the caciocovallo—a firm, aged, provolone-like cheese from Sicily—into thick ivory rounds and caramelizes them in a hot pan that’s then deglazed with Sambuca. Finished with nutty, sharp, toasted garlic chips and refreshing mint, the warm, slightly gooey formaggio can make grownups swoon. 1333 New Road, 609-646-8189, lukepalladino.com.
Panevino | Livingston
The secret of Panevino’s eggplant parmigiana, a signature dish, is simple—the eggplant slices are sautéed without any breading. As a result, you can really taste the eggplant, and the round, pie-like individual serving is much lighter and more delicate than usual. The San Marzano tomato sauce shines. Also outstanding are the cold shrimp with cannellini beans, celery, tomato and parsley, a refreshing starter, and, in summer, the curly strozzapreti pasta with a pesto made from grilled vegetables, Calabrian chili, pecorino and olive oil. 637 W. Mount Pleasant Avenue, 973-535-6160, patinagroup.com.
Patsy’s Tavern | Paterson
The dark, wood-panelled dining room with its narrow wooden booths and incongruous wagon-wheel chandeliers looks like it has not been updated since the place opened in 1931, but the traditional southern Italian cooking is hearty, fresh and generous, and the pizzas are famous. 72 Seventh Avenue, 973-742-9596.
Porto Leggero | Jersey City
When chef Angelo Stella opened Porto Leggero in partnership with chef Michael Cetrulo, owner of Scalini Fedeli in Chatham and Manhattan and Il Mondo Vecchio in Madison, he wanted to adapt some of Scalini’s signature dishes to make them, in some way, his own. One of those is his pumpkin and butternut squash agnolotti with brown butter and sage sauce and crumbled amaretti cookies sprinkled on top. The basic dish is Tuscan, Stella says. How he altered the dish he won’t reveal except to say it has to do with the stuffing inside the agnolotti. However he tinkered, the results are brilliant, making for one of the most popular of many sophisticated dishes served in the grand, high-ceilinged space. 5 Harborside Financial Plaza (Pearl Street), 201-434-3200, portoleggero.net.
Sorrento | East Rutherford
In 2008, Pasqualina and David Bikoff bought this venerable restaurant and infused it with new life. The culinary theme (supported by photos on the walls) became Sorrento, Pasqualina’s hometown on the Bay of Naples. They redecorated in a grand but tasteful manner, adding upholstered armchairs, framed paintings and a ceiling mural depicting the apotheosis of mortals to divine rank. Their chef, Zorko Glavan, a Croatian, specializes in apotheosis on the plate (as does Pasqualina with desserts). We’re particularly partial to Glavan’s ethereal capesante alla Sorrento—pan-seared scallops and a plump lobster raviolo with spinach and pine nuts in a tangy-sweet limoncello cream sauce, the limoncello being homemade by the Bikoffs. 132 Park Avenue, 201-507-0093.
Spano’s | Point Pleasant Beach
Leave the bustling beachfront for the quaint downtown and find Spano’s Ristorante Italiano, a BYO replete with copper ceiling and piped-in Italian music, where Joe Spano dishes up heaping plates of luscious pasta. One not to be missed is fettuccine alla Franco, named after Joe’s godfather, who taught him to cook. It’s topped with succulent chunks of chicken, five jumbo shrimp, chopped prosciutto and pancetta and sliced crimini mushrooms, all sautéed in olive oil and garlic and finished with a blush of Spano’s combined marinara and alfredo sauces. 719 Arnold Avenue, 732-701-1600, spanos.net.
Uncle Vinnie’s Clam Bar | Raritan
Lois and Chris Ricci, the young couple who run the restaurant, also own nearby Vinnie’s Market, a seafood shop that supplies the restaurant with pristine product. The veteran kitchen staff knows how to transform this bounty into memorable southern Italian classics. Try tender baked clams oreganata, whole fish broiled on the bone or sparkling seafood salad. 5 East Somerset Street, 908-526-9887, unclevinniesclambar.com.
Undici Taverna Rustica | Rumson
A Tuscan farmhouse handsomely crafted from stone, tile and rough-hewn timbers, with a wood-burning oven that turns out authentic Neapolitan pizzas, Undici can be a place for a casual meal or a sophisticated feast of specialties from one end of Italy to the other. All pastas are house-made. The extensive Italian wine list is a treasure, and experts on staff are happy to lead you through it. 11 West River Road, 732-842-3880, undicirestaurant.com.
Zeppoli | Collingswood
“Antipasti is such an integral part of any Italian meal,” says chef Joey Baldino, 33, who opened this charming, 35-seat Sicilian-themed BYO last fall. Baldino changes the specifics with the seasons, but you can count on grilled and sweet-and-sour vegetables, seafood salads, legumes and regional or imported meats and cheeses. (The tangy eggplant caponata would do any Sicilian nonna proud.) 618 Collings Avenue, 856-854-2670, zeppolirestaurant.com.