Cafe Michelina, Hoboken’s Roman Trattoria

27 Jan

Points of interest:

  • Boisterous BYOB atmosphere
  • Earthshakingly good vodka sauce
  • Roman trattoria culture

Simply put, Italian trattorias are wacky family restaurants. They offer hearty meals, decent prices, plenty of vino, and a casual bustling atmosphere for large parties to conversate loudly. To me, trattorias are the gastronomic ideal to which all Italian restaurants in America should aspire. In Hoboken NJ, Cafe Michelina hits all these points…perfectly.

Mike had been wanting to eat here for months. Really? That hole in the wall with neon lights and the dry erase board of specials?  But his sister gave it rave reviews, it is literally around the corner, and no one felt like cooking. So we go.

Looking on, to the dry-erase specials board

We walk into Cafe Michelina at 9pm on a Saturday night. The one room dining area is a cacophony of large parties, couples, laughter, loud talking, bottles clinking, and hair-gelled waiters rushing around in Armani Exchange t-shirts. I’m pretty sure everyone is pre-gaming…or maybe this is the game. The decor is an afterthought. Random oil paintings are scattered on the walls. Boticelli’s Venus head has been severed, reproduced, and plastered onto every table. No candles. No tablecloths. No fuss.

Beautiful. We are in Italy.

We are seated at a small table near a large party. These people have white wine, red wine, several types of beer, vodka, and Smirnoff Ice. We feel like lightweights with our single bottle of red wine…but carry on.  The menu looks good, but the dry-erase board specials beckon. And lo! A large basket of bread and bruschetta appears. There is officially no more room left on the table. I am tingling with excitement.

Fruit of the gods

I order stuffed manicotti with chicken and vodka sauce. It is heavenly…rich, tender, slightly chunky, and very fresh. Mike says it’s like crack and I have to keep slipping him bits of it. He orders pasta with chicken, fresh mozzerella, tomato, and broccoli rabe. Also very good. The romantic glow from the green and pink neon lights in the windows have a lulling effect, as we finish the bottle and swear our new allegiance to this place. You were right Mike! You were right.

It occurs to me suddenly, that this is the only place I can bring my want-to-be-Italian mother for her birthay…so we arrive exactly one week later. It was perfect. Cafe Michelina is the ideal place for a festive BYOB event or birthday. Your party can be as loud as it wants. Just make sure you make a reservation! Ma stepped it up that night and secretly ordered shrimp parmesan over ziti with loads of vodka sauce. We all nearly died of jealousy. We finished the evening with homemade cannoli and sambuca con tre mosca (coffee beans) for luck. Salud!

And so, I want to have my birthdays here now. Every year, at this magical Hoboken trattoria.

Ghostly, but happy

Cafe Michelina’s website :

5 Responses to “Cafe Michelina, Hoboken’s Roman Trattoria”

  1. erin January 27, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    MARNA! Your blog is absolutely mouthwatering-ly wonderful. I heard all about this place from mommy, it sounds like she had a great time! I want to go! I’m now going to continue reading each of your other reviews 🙂 Love you.

  2. Wez January 27, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    Your description is perfect!!! It was divine. We walked through the door and were instantly transported back to the motherland. The vodka sauce was hauntingly good and the happy cacophony made the dining room feel like a big party. It’s the perfect place for a birthday, or to test a new hearing aid. Great time! We must return.

  3. Papa John January 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Marley you are soooo right, this is a wonderful place for nice and noisy family meals. And for birthday parties too!

  4. alex March 13, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    For more info about places Roman food I suggest to visit this page:


  1. Cafe Michelina – Hoboken | - January 27, 2011

    […] Jersey Food Blog Share and Enjoy: […]

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