I know, I know: Everyone has their favorite Italian restaurants because here in New Jersey we have the best of the best in Italian cuisine. The choices are many so I narrowed it down to my favorite Italian restaurants on the Jersey Shore and I explain why. I encourage you to let me know your favorite Italian restaurant on the Jersey Shore and share with us.

I need to feel comfortable with the restaurant and I look for menu items that are classic but yet may have a special spin that the chef will create.

I enjoy Italian cuisine, next to a good steak, it’s my favorite. I have studied some of Italy’s cuisine and enjoy the typical dishes that are from the different regions of Italy. It’s interesting to follow the thought process when local restaurants serve up your favorite Italian meal here in New Jersey.

With that said here are my top 8 Italian Restaurant choices here on the Jersey Shore. I live at the Shore so the Shore is where we’ll start.

In no particular order:

Trama Trattoria – Long Branch, NJ

Chef Owner Pat Trama is a tribute to his respect for the traditional Italian dishes and how they are prepared with local farm-to-table ingredients that make Chef Trama’s dishes fresh and delicious.

I’m a big fan of his Cacio e Pepe (pepper and pasta), his scallops and pasta and white clams is so very good and his meatball is a great way to kick off your meal. Normally many of us skip the bread to reduce your carbs or in trying not to fill up before your dinner but you have to try the bread, it’s from Brooklyn and is so very good. Every meal is prepared with care and elegance and is served from a great staff.

Trama’s has an astounding wine list and a great bar where I like to dine.

Brando’s Citi Cucina - Asbury Park, NJ

Walk into Brando’s and you’ll feel like you’re in a New York City Italian restaurant that’s going to serve up good Italian cuisine. They have huge and delicious steaks but their veal parm is big and delicious and the rigatoni with vodka sauce and their rigatoni Bolognese is very good.

Brando’s also has a great selection of seafood dishes.

Chef/Owner Steve Botta has fine-tuned his culinary skills after learning the basics from his mother when they lived in Brooklyn and then exploring the regions of Italy and choosing the right dish for the right time.

They have a great wine list and the service is very attentive and I’m a big fan of their bar where bartenders serve up classic cocktails to make your experience full service.

Piccola Italia – Ocean Township, NJ

Piccola Italia is one of my favorites because the food is so outstanding. Chef Brian Gualtieri and his wife Carolina who is the general manager serve up innovative Italian cuisine. They do amazing dishes that are so well flavored and executed.

To start my dinner I always like the homemade bruschetta, calamari or eggplant rollatini then when you’re ready to dig into dinner you have to check out the perciatelli carbonara, the slow braised veal ragout and the scallops these are just some of my favorites.

Chef Brian serves up specials each night and the wine list is filled with many regional Italian wines along with California and other wines from around the world. This is a great dinner experience.

Tuzzio’s Italian Cuisine – Long Branch, NJ

This is a restaurant that has been around for over 53 years! A walk into a past that is filled with great memories and outstanding classic Italian dishes. It’s a walk into grandma’s kitchen, your neighbor’s house and it’s everything that’s good with that experience. They have an “old school” feel with simple red sauce dishes, great chicken parm and meatballs that are made classic style and grandma style, just like in grandma’s kitchen.

Owner Joe Tuzzio oversees everything and knows how to serve up the food. They have a fully stocked bar and it’s a reasonable dinner out. The food is delicious and the customer base is very loyal to Tuzzio’s for many years.

They have a great bar where I like to sit and dine on their very good food.

Buona Sera Ristorante – Red Bank, NJ

There is a great feeling that you get when you walk into Buona Sera. The smell from the Italian dishes being prepared leaves you wanting to try everything on the menu and the atmosphere is inviting and very comfortable.

The food is awesome and I like to start out with a stuffed meatball or clams oreganato and their bruschetta pomodoro is very good. They have a famous pasta capellini agio olio, their steaks, chops and more pasta dishes make this a must-stop for great authentic Italian cuisine.

Buona Sera has a great bar that I enjoy and their wine list is filled with outstanding wines from around the world. Buona Sera is next door to the famed Count Basie Theatre and is a must if you want to grab a great dinner before a show.

Johnny Piancone’s – Long Branch, NJ

I’m a big fan of Johnny Piancone’s. Chef Rick Piancone and his wife Cynthia have succeeded in presenting a great Italian dining experience.

You can’t get any closer to freshness as Chef Rick makes the mozzarella several times a day at Piancone’s and is the freshest possible when it’s brought to your table. One of the many things I’ve learned at Piancone’s restaurant is the difference in taste in a fresh serving of mozzarella as opposed to a serving that’s been hanging around for a while in other restaurants.

Chef Rick stays close to his family who still owns an olive oil company in Italy and Chef Rick proudly uses the product at his restaurant. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better antipasto plate. It is really good and filled with the freshest ingredients, pair that with his delicious bread and some fine wine and you’ll have one of the better dining experiences here in New Jersey.

Anjelica’s Restaurant – Sea Bright, NJ

For over 25 years Anjelica’s has been a staple of outstanding food in Sea Bright, NJ.

While the place is small and they are a BYOB, the plates of food that they serve up make you come back for more. The antipasto plate is very good with aged Italian meats and formidable Italian cheeses. I like to start our dinner with a pasta course, the spaghetti cacio e pepe is so worth splitting at the table before you dig into your main course and then try the double pork chop or the rigatoni Bolognese.

The desserts at Anjelica’s are sinful and delicious so save room. Reservations are a must and getting a table in the summer is pretty difficult but worth the try.

Porcini Italian Ristorante – Highlands, NJ

Executive Chef and Owner Chris Atamian and his wife Alexandria run this quaint and comfortable restaurant in Highlands. They do a great job in presenting an outstanding menu with great service.

I’m a big fan of the crab cakes, and the wild mushroom tart for an appetizer then I enjoy digging into the pork osso buca, the scallops and the pasta dishes. Chef Chris uses fresh local vegetables and fish and his efforts have named him one of the best Italian restaurants at the Jersey Shore.

The restaurant is BYOB so bring your own beverage to pair with Porcini’s very good food, save room for dessert and you’ll be glad that you headed to this treasure in Highlands.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.

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