Beyond The Cafeteria: When MHS Students Do Lunch, Here’s Where They Go


Montclair High School students are spoiled with countless local dining options at their disposal. The open-campus policy allows many students to eat wherever and whatever they want for lunch. Students caravan all over Montclair, and sometimes even out of town, to get whatever they crave. Despite recent renovations to the cafeteria and the school’s best efforts to attract more students to buy school lunches, the lure of better-tasting food just outside the doors of MHS is hard to ignore.

In fact, with so many options, MHS students may sometimes find it hard to choose. Here are some of the best local places students like for lunch.

For freshman:

The open-campus lunch policy no longer applies to the freshman at MHS. While some fearless freshmen do venture off campus, the grand majority stay within the confines of Rand Park. Satisfying the demand of these hungry freshman (and upperclassmen unwilling to take a long walk) is a competitive food truck business.

Two of the more popular food truck options are the Munch Man Truck and Soccer Chef Wagon. At the Munch Man Truck students can get burgers, wraps, chicken nuggets and a plethora of other items, all for very fair prices. Similarly there are many options at the Soccer Chef Wagon, however the most popular are the pancakes which are very inexpensive.

Other food trucks come and go. For a while the most popular was the “Thai Truck” as students called it (please come back), where students could get terrific Thai food at reasonable prices.

For those who walk:

Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza has long been a favorite of MHS students not just for its food but also for its convenient proximity. Located only two blocks away from the school on Chestnut, it is packed every lunch period with students in search of pizza, barbecue, and its delicious cookies.

A little farther away and in the opposite direction are several restaurants located at the cross section between Valley and Van Vleck. While some students pop into Naunas or Stuffed burgers or even Quick Check, the two most popular food places on Valley are easily Enzo’s and Hot Bagels Abroad, for good reason.

Enzo's and Hot Bagels Abroad
Enzo’s and Hot Bagels Abroad

Enzo’s offers up some of the best and most creative slices of pizza in Montclair. From the “Caesar Salad” pizza to the extremely popular “Chicken Bacon Ranch” pizza, students can cheaply satisfy anything their tastebuds desire (speciality slices cost $2.75).

Hot Bagels Abroad specializes in bagels of all types, hence the name. Debatably the best bagels in town, Hot Bagels comes in cheaper than other local bagel places costing only around two dollars for a bagel with cream cheese. In addition to bagels, Hot Bagels also offers terrific sandwiches, coffee, and other hot plates.

For those with a car (or a friend with a car):

Even with great options a short walk away, there are favorite places students will frequently drive out of their way to dine. Having access to a car opens students up to all the possibilities Montclair and the surrounding area has to offer. The only tricky part is finding parking when lunch is over.

Students can walk to Watchung Plaza and back in one period, but they would be cutting it close. The safest bet is to get a ride there, and it is well worth it. The “Skinny Deli” (Watchung Deli), “Fat Deli” (Cafe Clair), and Rosario’s all offer tasty sandwich creations. The Watchung Deli is the most popular out of the three and after trying sandwiches like the “The” or the “Angry Dwarf” it’s easy to see why. The only drawback? Sandwiches are more expensive than a bagel or a slice of pizza (speciality sandwiches at the Watchung Deli cost between $5.95 and $8.95), but they are definitely worth the price.

Other Watchung Plaza lunch spots include Mr. Dino’s, for a traditional slice of pizza; Bonjour Montclair for crepes; and Bluestone Cafe, for those with time for a full sit-down meal (or who don’t mind rolling into their next class late).

Students willing to drive down to Bloomfield Ave. are rewarded with several delicious dining spots that make the trip worthwhile. Belgiovine’s has some of the best sandwiches in Montclair. The “MKA Special” and the Cheesesteak are two student favorites. In fact, the “MKA Special” is so good, MHS students are willing forgive it being named for their crosstown rival and costing $7.95.

Another beloved lunch spot is Beyond Pita on Church Street. Students come back for generous portions of Mediterranean food (great falafel!) at fair prices.

Beyond Pita
Beyond Pita

Uptown Montclair also draws students with Sandwich Theory and Jackie’s Grillette both sought after for sandwiches and wraps. Fast becoming a must-stop lunch destination is Walnut Street’s Red Eye Cafe, where you can also score amazing coffee.

With so many tempting options, it’s easy to see why students at MHS stray from the cafeteria. Whether they walk or drive, students at MHS can easily find a lunchtime meal for a terrific deal.

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  1. Way back in the pre PARCC days, the furthest we’d venture from MHS for lunch was to Calabrese Deli, where Ruthie’s BBQ is located now. We’d go there every day and share a tuna sub and a Clinton’s iced tea. Of course, none of us had a car then. We’d walk to school and back home uphill both ways.

  2. Something about bagels has always enchanted me. It is too bad they have 3x the calories of a slice of bread!

  3. I believe the MHS cafeteria should be closed. It is ill-suited to an open campus school with so many walkable food options.

    Paraiso Cocina Dominicana is nearby on Williams Street, and my kid has mentioned it more than once. Bu-Ba-Q on Forest is also close.

  4. Townie, the cafeteria is important for students on reduced or free lunch, as well as those kids with busy schedules who don’t have time to go out. Unless they developed some sort of partnership with local restaurants (the way some college campuses have so that they accept meal plans), the cafeteria isn’t going anywhere. Not to mention local restaurants can easily come and go. In any case, I’m jealous of all the great options they have access to – there was nothing walkable where I went to high school!

  5. I did both off campus or cafeteria. It depended on my budget, my mood, my schedule, etc. It was where I learned the wonder of french fries and russian dressing.

  6. For whatever reason, we always went to Danny’s instead of Calabrese, especially if we were working late on a show at SPA. I became friends with the owners and eventually their kids, who are friends to this day. We also spent a lot of time at Tina’s pizza (where Trattoria Rustica is now). If someone had a car, we’d hit McDonalds in Bloomfield. Good times.

  7. State, if someone had a car, we’d take a ride over to Cardone’s Luncheonette (where Bluestone Cafe is now on Watchung) for a burger and fries.

  8. Silver,

    Never knew the original Ray. Solo owned Ray’s when I first arrived in town. What a character! Walnut Street was mighty different back then. Barry’s Motorcycle, the Oddfellows Hall, Oppenheimer’s Butcher, and old Italian social clubs.

    Good times.

  9. Always Calabrese. My go-to sandwiches there was the tuna sub or roast beef on a long roll with mayo, S&P and lettuce. The best!

  10. Oppenheimer’s, wow. Wasn’t there a pizzeria next to Oppenheimer’s for a while.

    How about Frank & Eddie’s market? That was like walking back in time.

  11. silverleaf, I remember Cardone’s! I think that used to be a newspaper and candy shop, maybe Bernie’s, that moved down the block.

  12. @relex – I recall those days, before Montclair became the burgeoning the suburban nightmare it is today. Did Solo own the lunchenette pre Ray, as he (Ray) owned and operated it almost up until his unfortunate passing in ’92. His family ran it for a while but it sold shortly thereafter.

    @anne prince – Calabrese roast beet was delish. I’d order it when my finances permitted, otherwise tuna or bologna for me.

    @state – The pizzeria next to Oppenheimer Meats (Halcyon now) was Jencarelli’s (Egan’s now.) I’ve always remembered Cardone’s as a luncheonette, if I understand you correctly. Inner Dimenson’s was a head shop located next door where Montclair Soccer is now.

  13. SSP, The pizzeria was Gencarelli’s, and it was a way better than average restaurant. Also on that side of the street was eponymous gin mill “George Strand”.

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