As we begin to make the transition back to campus and life pre-coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the time has come for us to get reacquainted with some of our favorite small, local businesses and restaurants.
Rutgers has an overwhelming abundance of food to try, and choosing where to eat can get pretty hectic at times, especially if you are new to campus or if you're like me, always indecisive about where to eat.
If you find yourself tired of the same old crisp from Hansel 'n Griddle, take a look below at some of the less “mainstream” Rutgers restaurants that have become essential for me these past four years and consider supporting these independently run, tried and true, certified hidden gems of our beloved New Brunswick.
My heart soars when I think of Judy’s Kitchen. I mean like literally, I get goosebumps.
Judy’s Kitchen is the epitome of everything Rutgers means to me. It’s located right next to the Verve New Brunswick apartment building, on the corner of Hamilton Street and Guilden Street, which effectively makes it the closest spot to get a breakfast sandwich when I'm hungover after a long night out.
But I love Judy’s Kitchen for so much more than that. The same man works there every day. His name is Alfredo and at times, he's the only person I want to speak to in the mornings. He runs the shop with the help of a small staff and they cook everything by hand from egg and cheese sandwiches, burritos and wraps to smoothies — all cooked to order, and all delicious.
He also manages the staff and the daily operations of the restaurant, cooks and cleans, which is no small feat, all while wearing a smile and never failing to brighten my mornings.
They also have a small, quiet room (which may I add, is hard to find at Rutgers) where you can sit while you wait for your food — old wood, creaky floorboards and a big window overlooking the bustling streets.
As a senior, it makes me super nostalgic about my time here, so thank you Judy’s Kitchen for not judging me all those times I ordered $2 empanadas in the middle of game day, and thank you Alfredo for being possibly the only person who can make me smile after a long Saturday night out.
Immediately upon entering Clydz, you get the feel that it is the type of place with regulars. There’s people at the bar chatting up the bartenders like old friends, couples talking and laughing intimately with their servers like they had some sort of inside joke and customers asking if their favorite dish is still on the menu.
To enter, you have to go down a small staircase, giving it the exclusive, secretive feel of a speakeasy in the '20s. It is dimly lit and deceptively small from the outside, but when you actually make your way inside, the building opens up into a huge dining room filled with vintage posters and furniture.
If you’re 21, this next part is for you: Clydz has the most extensive, beautifully crafted and elusive drink menu I have ever seen. Not only that, but they offer a happy hour special where all cocktails are only $7.50. There are more than 50 cocktails to choose from, but the bartenders and servers are both well versed and take great pride in their menu and are more than eager and willing to offer suggestions.
If you're searching for a lowkey, quiet date night spot, or even a fun place to try with friends, this place will be sure to impress. The food, although a little pricey, is good, but the drinks are the star of the show. The bartenders make all additives, such as the house-infused sweet tea vodka in the "destroyer," by hand. The restaurant just recently switched to new management, so there are many changes constantly happening throughout the restaurant.
Pizza City is for those "I had class all day, getting home at 10 p.m. at night and curling up on my couch and watching American Horror Story with my roommates" days. And while I wish I could take credit for finding this gem myself, I have to give it to my roommate who put me on.
Granted, there are a ton of places for Mexican food around Rutgers, and a lot of them are probably better than Pizza City, but like I said, this place embodies everything Rutgers has to offer: A one-stop shop for all the greasy, cheap and delicious food your heart could ever desire.
Pizza City has some of the longest hours of operation on campus, serving their customers until 3 a.m. The best part is it’s just around the corner from Scarlet Pub, so when the 2 a.m. munchies hit after those tequila shots and you find yourself craving some really good Mexican food, you know where to go.
Although I can’t speak for the actual pizza from Pizza City, the tacos are unbeatable and Pizza City has gotten me through four years exams, finals and countless restless nights full of homework, making it a bona fide hidden gem at Rutgers.
Perhaps the coolest addition to my list of favorites, Chamber 43 is the cutest little café located on George Street in downtown New Brunswick. Owned by two best friends, Jimmy and David, Chamber 43 is dedicated to not only sourcing their coffee locally from families and communities, but also to curating an eclectic and vast collection of local artists' works which they have on display in their shop.
They also have a selection of carefully curated records, thrifted and handmade clothes and a coffee bar, making for a haven of local Jersey culture in our very own backyard. The space also hosts open mic nights, live bands and is home to its very own recording studio!
The shop is also devoted to direct trade coffee and is a proud carrier of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a company that is steadfast and unwavering in their search for wholly green and organic coffee.
Their commitment to fostering long and lasting business relationships with local farms around the world and their lack of interest in the commodity market ensures that you’re not only drinking great coffee, but coffee that is ethically sourced from families like the Cantillo Family, who run a fourth-generation family farm in the mountains of Colombia.
So not only is the coffee better than chains like Starbucks and Dunkin', you can be sure your money is going toward supporting something much larger than capitalist corporations.
This list would not be complete without the inclusion of Rutgers' very own "Friends" themed coffee shop and café. The new café, which is located on Robinson Street (a short walk from the center of campus) is owned and operated by husband and wife Josephine and Mohammad Fakhrzadeh, and it opened last year shortly before COVID-19.
I love this place. Everything is homemade and delicious, but their story is really what makes this place worth checking out. Josephine bought a lease for the building back in 2018 but the pressure of owning and operating her own bakery made it difficult for her to bake. But, her husband believed in her even when she didn’t believe in herself, and continued to secretly pay the lease without telling anyone. Talk about relationship goals.
It‘s now 2021, post-COVID-19, and the café is not only up and running, but attracting more and more patrons by the day.
Everything from the matcha tea, to the kind workers, homemade pastries and even the iconic purple door from a certain popular '90s sitcom, make this place one of the coolest and most notable places on campus, and definitely the most nostalgic.
Next time you find yourself hungry, consider ditching your corporate coffee or Chipotle burrito and checking out one of New Brunswick’s very own up-and-coming businesses. You may just find that the people are just as great, if not better, than the food they serve.