Awash in culture and lined with laid-back cafes, Halsey Street is invigorating Newark's food scene.
From the 25 full service interactive food stations in The Main Dining Hall to the Starbucks coffee perked at Tech Café, the convenient Grab-n-Go sandwiches that line the shelves of the C-Store and the steaks and handcrafted wraps on deck at Warren Street Café, there’s a wide array of selections to whet the appetite of the university’s diverse student body.
But every now and then you want something different…something outside the norm.
Luckily, you don’t have to venture too far off the beaten path to embark on a culinary journey.
A short five-minute walk from NJIT and University Heights is Downtown Newark and its buzzy thoroughfare, Halsey Street, a concentration of quaint brick buildings, small boutiques and businesses—and critically hailed cafés and eateries owned and operated by passionate entrepreneurs turning Newark’s Central Ward into a thriving food destination.
Yes, right here in NJIT’s own backyard is a world of quality vittles, even the finickiest eater will love. The health-conscious, the vegetarian and vegan-obsessed, the meat lovers and those with an insatiable sweet tooth all have a hand in Newark’s burgeoning melting-pot dining culture.
And with a yearlong tribute to the city’s 350th birthday (dubbed NC350) already underway and a new mixed-use retail and residential building anchored by a Whole Foods Market under construction, New Jersey’s largest city is priming for a major boost in tourism and culinary options.
As a college student, we know that you may be working with a limited budget and unable to fork over the cash to dine out often.
Not to worry.
We sat down with Antonio Valla, Newark resident, foodie and founder of "Nom Nom Newark" to get his recommendations for the best local eats that won’t break the bank. (Seriously, there isn’t anything on this list over 10 bucks).
Here, in no particular order, are five affordable, off-campus spots to get your grub on.
Let the hunger games begin!
1. Burger Walla
The scoop: Looking to sink your teeth into a juicy, gourmet burger? Make a beeline for the Indian-influenced Burger Walla, home to the #3 best burger in New Jersey, according to NJ.com. A fast and casual joint with counter service and an open kitchen, Burger Walla was founded in 2014 by Newark residents and husband and wife team Kai and Tamara Campbell (also the duo behind NewarkPulse). “We pride ourselves on using high quality, locally sourced Pat LaFrieda Meats, organically fed chickens and handmade, fresh veggie burgers,” says Tamara Campbell.
Vibe: Inside, you’ll find exposed brick, an original tin ceiling and a bathroom plastered with Bollywood posters.
Eat: The mint chutney-infused Walla Lamb burger ($7) topped with goat cheese will shift your taste buds into overdrive.
Valla says: “Try the sweet potato tots; you won’t regret it.”
Beyond the food: The eatery recently hosted its first Bollywood dance class and will offer cookie-decorating classes during the holiday season. Mondays during football season beget 50-cent wings and $2 hot dogs; master your downward-facing dog pose on Tuesdays during free Walla yoga; on Wednesdays, the decibel level is high, as burgers are served to the mixes and rhythms of a live DJ; and Thursday is open mic night with EvolveNJ.
Student discount: Feast on a burger, fries and drink for only $10 everyday after 4 p.m. when you dine in.
Visit: 47 Halsey St.; burgerwalla.com
2. The Green Chicpea
The Scoop: Owner Martin Weber delivers the Middle East’s indigenous flavors and fresh ingredients to the heart of Brick City by way of The Green Chicpea. Foodies go mad for the homemade pitas, laffas and baguettes inspired by recipes lifted from the pages of a decades-old, family-generated cookbook.
Vibe: “We created a serene, peaceful vibe that keeps up with the fast pace of the city,” says Weber, a former accountant. Meaning: Don’t let the large crowd spilling out the door deter you from stopping by. “When the line starts to form, people know that it will move fast,” he assures, proving that you really can rush greatness. Look out for the chalkboard tabletops on which patrons draw pictures, scribble notes and do homework. If your work of art is any good, Weber will post it on Instagram.
Eat: The hearty, freshly-baked laffa wrap (also known as Taboon bread, a chewy flatbread) comes with a choice of chicken—rotisserie, fried, grilled ($9.35)—or vegetable ($7.94), three mix-ins and a selection of mild, medium or tongue-torching sauces for a spicy finish.
Student discount: $1.00 off soup; free homemade lemonade with an order of fries.
Visit: 59 Halsey St.; thegreenchicpea.com
3. Intrinsic Café
The scoop: When the walls of your dorm room start to close in, take a study break and escape to Intrinsic Café, a cozy student hangout, where the Wi-Fi is free and the late-night operating hours compliment your circadian rhythm. Intrinsic’s close proximity to campus has made it a go-to for NJIT students and staff for nearly a decade. “Most students think of us as a second home, and we have established ourselves as part of the community and an integral part of the universities,” says owner Wanny Wong.
Vibe: Laidback, relaxed and extremely casual, the cafe boasts an outdoor courtyard replete with fire pits—a perfect haven to unwind with friends after an emotionally draining exam.
Drink: Wash down the homemade mousse with an endless combination of the café’s famed bubble teas. “We have graduates that come back to the café just to order them,” says Wong.
Valla says: “Order the chicken salad on a toasted croissant.”
Beyond the food: Groove to the tunes of a live jazz band every Monday from 5 – 7 p.m.
Student discount: There are daily early bird and lunch specials; fraternity and sorority members receive discounts on Mondays; athletes get a percentage off on Tuesdays; Fridays, bubble teas are two for $5.
Visit: 5 Sussex Ave.; intrinsiccafe.com
4. Spice n Grill
The scoop: Gather your crew and head over to Spice n Grill on Academy Street, which holds the distinction of being the only full-fledged Indian food restaurant in the city of Newark.
Vibe: A pleasant atmosphere, offering an authentic Indian experience through food. “We’re like an Indian style Chipotle,” says owner and co-partner Karishma Shaikh about the restaurant, which opened in February.
Eat: The flavorful, easy-to-navigate menu is brimming with meat substitutes, like paneer tikka, which can be added to a pair of kathi rolls or rice and salad bowls in lieu of chicken. If you’re looking for a quick nosh, opt for a trio of the vegetarian-friendly punjabi samosas ($4.95), a deep-fried, cone-shaped dough filled with peas and potatoes. There are also a slew of chicken dishes available for the carnivorous set, including spicy wings, seekh kababs and daily chicken dish specials, such as the Tawa chicken combo platter ($8.95), which comes with rice, naan and salad.
Valla says: “Yes, those red chickpeas are spicy. Proceed with caution or with wild abandon, depending on your taste.”
Student discount: Flash your student ID to get 10 percent off your meal.
Visit: 27 Academy St.; spicengrillofnewark.com
5. Harvest Table
The scoop: “There are no cheap cold cuts here,” declares Carissa Borraggine, the mastermind behind Harvest Table, which opened in 2007, helping to lead Downtown Newark’s fresh food movement. “We roast our own chicken and turkey, offer lots of veggie and vegan options, bake our homemade goodies from scratch daily and have super-friendly customer service.”
Vibe: Mornings and afternoons are pretty chill, but during lunchtime, tables are packed with employees on short lunch breaks, looking to eat and quickly get back to work. “If you're in a hurry during rush hour, order ahead,” advises Borraggine.
Eat: A plethora of sweet treats abound—brownies, cookies, granola bars, banana and pumpkin cranberry bread—but the balsamico panini, turkey & bacon club and chicken Caesar wrap are savory favorites among regulars. Salad lovers, order the Aztec Cajun chicken salad ($7.25), tossed with corn, black beans, cheddar, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and a tangy mango dressing.
Valla says: “There's a little to-go trail mix by the cash register that will make your day. Be sure to pick one up.”
Tip: Feel free to create your own dish and if it catches on, Borraggine will name the dish after you and advertise it on the board. “The reason I went with a create-your-own concept is because I, myself, am a pretty picky eater,” she admits. “I want it my way. So, I always encourage people to do the same with salads, sandwiches and smoothies.”
Freebies: When you sign up for a rewards card, you get a free gift; lunch is on the house on your birthday; and you accumulate points toward $5 vouchers every time you visit.
Visit: 127 Halsey St.; harvesttablenewark.com
Hungry for more?
Follow Valla at facebook.com/NomNomNewark to purchase a ticket for the next "Nom Nom Newark" food tour, and be sure to bookmark newarkhappening.com for the latest and greatest surrounding the ongoing celebrations of Newark’s 350th birthday.
By Shydale James