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Where to Eat in Newark’s Ironbound Neighborhood

bon Appétit logo bon Appétit 8/6/2022 Esra Erol

If you’re visiting New York City, there’s a pretty good chance you don’t have a trip to New Jersey on your itinerary. But if that’s the case, you’re missing out. In the heart of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, you’ll find a culinary gem: the Ironbound. The 19th-century neighborhood is known for its clusters of Portuguese, Spanish, and Brazilian restaurants and bakeries, many of them located on or around Ferry Street. Waves of Portuguese immigrants began to join the Ironbound population in the 1960s, surpassing the number of other European immigrants who came before them. A wave of Brazilian immigrants arrived in the late eighties. Not only did the neighborhood’s close proximity to Manhattan make it attractive to those who worked in nearby factories or in New York, but the convenience of having everything within a three-mile radius was a major draw. And it still is.

Ironbound is just a short walk from Newark’s Penn Station, where the PATH train arrives from New York every 10 to 20 minutes. You’ll know you’ve reached your destination the second you smell grilled meat in the air, coming from one of the many barbecue restaurants or someone’s backyard. Take a seat at one of these restaurants or bakeries, enjoy a casual lunch or more upscale dinner, and be back in New York by bedtime.

The Essentials

  • The best time to visit is… between May and late October, for the sunny weather and the start of the New Jersey Devils’ hockey season at the Prudential Center.
  • Don’t forget to pack… a beach towel and book—you’re going to want to unwind at Independence Park.
  • Don’t leave town without… a good-luck rooster figurine for your kitchen.
A hamburger with batata palha (potato sticks), corn, lettuce, and tomato from Hamburgao. © Photography by Chris Gregory A hamburger with batata palha (potato sticks), corn, lettuce, and tomato from Hamburgao.

Breakfast (and pre-breakfast)

A 15-minute walk from Newark Penn Station, Teixeira’s Bakery is an ideal first stop for a pre-breakfast treat. The second you step inside the quaint bakery, with its hand-painted tiled walls, you’ll be stunned by the pastry case’s overwhelming choice of baked goods, as well as the baskets of fresh-from-the-oven bread behind the counter. But the main draw here is the pasteis de nata, or Portuguese egg custard tarts. They’re warm and crunchy on the outside, and sweet and silky on the inside. Get one or two to enjoy on your walk over to breakfast.

Sihana Cafe offers stellar lattes, teas, and baked goods to go, but you’ll want to sit down for a proper breakfast in the wide open space, where sun pours in through big arched windows. The cafe offers excellent poached eggs with feta and spinach or avocado and arugula. And if you want something more substantial after housing a few egg tarts on the walk over, you can’t go wrong with the chorizo omelet or a stack of house-made pancakes.

Take a long walk or visit a treasure trove of home goods

With a latte in hand, walk over to Riverfront Park, a 20-minute stroll from Sihana. The city’s 12-acre waterfront property features multiple athletic fields and playgrounds, but it's the boardwalks that make this place special. You’ll get gorgeous riverside views of Newark’s skyline as well of Red Bull Stadium in the neighboring town of Harrison.

If you’re in need of a little retail therapy, Portugalia Sales is reason enough to visit the Ironbound. The vibrant Portuguese home goods store on Ferry Street has been open since 1977 and offers a wide variety of hand-painted pottery and ceramics, terracotta cookware, kitchen textiles, and traditional good-luck roosters in their typical ceramic or aluminum forms.

The seafood selection at Seabra's Marisqueira. © Photography by Chris Gregory The seafood selection at Seabra's Marisqueira.

For lunch, burgers and fruit juice or a fresh seafood feast

One block over from Ferry Street, you’ll find Hamburgao. This little joint offers, in my opinion, the best burger, period. The Brazilian luncheonette has a sprawling menu, but the supercharged hamburger is the standout. The addition of corn off the cob and batata palha (shoestring potato sticks) gives the burger a boost in saltiness and an oh-so satisfying crunch. You could wash it all down with a soda, but I recommend checking out their sprawling fruit juice menu—I highly recommend the mango.

If you love seafood, Seabra's Marisqueira is a must. The Portuguese seafood-focused restaurant boasts a large dining room, but the bar area is better for lunch. Order a glass of white wine (it’s a generous pour so take it slow) and the amêijoas à bulhão pato. The complimentary Portuguese rolls are perfect for soaking up the clams’ tangy garlic sauce. On warmer days, I recommend ordering the salada de polvo as well. The octopus is served cold in a vinaigrette, which is a most excellent way to cool down.

A scoop of sweet corn ice cream and a reginetta from Nasto's Old World Desserts. © Photography by Chris Gregory A scoop of sweet corn ice cream and a reginetta from Nasto's Old World Desserts.

Break for ice cream

Whether you opt for a burger or a plate of clams, both Seabra’s and Hamburgao put you within a 10-minute walk of Nasto's Old World Desserts. The old-school ice cream establishment goes beyond what an average scoop shop offers—here, they make classic Italian desserts like tartufo, spumoni, and reginetta, too. In the warmer months, the line stretches out of the shop and down the block, but the wait is well worth it. Order a scoop of guava, banana, or—my favorite—sweet corn ice cream and walk over to Independence Park to soak up some sun.

Cannoli from Nasto's Old World Desserts.\ © Photography by Chris Gregory Cannoli from Nasto's Old World Desserts.\

What makes Independence Park so special is how it brings the Ironbound together. The second you step into the park, you get a real sense of community: families gather around grills and collapsible tables, couples sit on park benches, and, when school’s out, children play on the athletic fields for hours. You can do a single lap around the park and call it a day, but I recommend packing a blanket and a good book so you can unwind before dinner.

Paella valenciana from Fornos of Spain. © Photography by Chris Gregory Paella valenciana from Fornos of Spain.

For dinner, paella and rare Spanish wines, plus post-dinner cocktails

Fornos of Spain is one of the Ironbound’s pricier locations, making it a popular spot for folks looking for a more upscale dining experience. Expect a wide selection of hard-to-find Spanish wines, which pair nicely with generous portions of paella, steak, and seafood. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with warm churros served with a cup of silky melted chocolate for dipping.

Just a short walk down Ferry Street from Fornos, Adega Grill’s elegant dining room is perfect for an intimate Portuguese and Spanish-inspired dinner for two. Its moody lighting, stone archways, and grapevine murals make the space feel like a downright vacation. Choose from a variety of appetizers (if you eat shrimp, my favorite is the garlicky camarones al ajillo), and finish with one of the many Portuguese mains. My pick is the paelha marinheira, a pan of saffron rice studded with lobster, shrimp, clams, scallops, and New Zealand mussels. If you’re looking for something a little more casual, grab an after-work drink at the restaurant’s long, narrow bar.

Any night is a good night for fancy cocktails, in my humble opinion. But cocktails at Mompou Tapas Bar & Lounge in the summertime hit differently. The drink menu boasts a long list of playfully named cocktails (“Menage A Trois,” anyone?), but if you need a recommendation, I'd say to focus in on the basil gin mojito or the Barcelona Martini. Have a drink or two before walking back to Newark Penn Station and heading home for the night.

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