Eat & Drink

Global Eats: 46 Restaurants That Put the World on Your Plate

Sambusas and a salad with shrimp at Dashen in New Brunswick. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

All but four of the 50 states are geographically larger than ours. But New Jersey—thanks to its immigrant communities and the diverse roots of many of its citizens—offers a veritable expo of world cuisines in its packed confines. In these pages, we concentrate on the cooking with which you may be least familiar, omitting those we think you know best (Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Japanese, Thai) and the two we’ve celebrated in previous issues (Italian and Mexican). So grab a fork, chopsticks, ladle or strip of Ethiopian injera. The flavors and portions tend to be big, the tabs small. —Eric Levin

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Afghan Kabob  

Wrightstown • 82 Fort Dix Street, 609-723-3050

Located just outside Fort Dix, Afghan Kabob is often filled with men and women in uniform. Many developed a taste for the cuisine while deployed in Afghanistan, the owner’s native land. The juicy kebabs (chicken, lamb or beef kofta) are fragrant with cumin, saffron and black pepper. They’re served over rice pilaf, with warm pita and a green salad. Don’t overlook the stewed chickpeas with curry and chili; they’re essential—and best spread over everything. Cash only. BYO. —Shelby Vittek

Korai Kitchen

Jersey City • 576 Summit Avenue, 201-721-6566

When Nur-E Gulshan Rahman and her daughter, Nur-E Farhana Rahman, were scouting locations, they avoided blocks packed with Indian restaurants. Though India and Bangladesh share a border, the cuisines differ, and the Rahmans wanted to bring their food out of India’s shadow. In 2018, they opened Korai Kitchen near Journal Square. Everything is served family style in a buffet in the cozy storefront. The menu, which changes twice a day, might include creamy chicken korma, pumpkin shrimp curry, begun bhaja (fried eggplant), and various spiced vegetables. Hilsa, considered the supreme fish, is flown in from Bangladesh. Everything is cooked by Nur-E Gulshan, including the stellar bhorthas, flavorful mashes made from eggplant, potato, tomato or egg. BYO. —SV


Montclair • 7 Park Street, 973-744-6764

Since 2011, Brazilian native Ilson Goncalves has been showing people there is more to Brazilian food than steak (though his sirloins are very good). Examples? Grilled salmon with passion-fruit sauce, and acorn squash filled with shrimp, squash and Parmesan. On weekends, Samba serves feijoada, the national dish—one of the world’s great meat stews, combining beef, pork ribs, bacon and black beans with sides of collards, vegetables and seasoned yucca powder to dump into the stew, enriching its flavor and texture. BYO. —EL

Villa de Colombia

Hackensack • 12 Mercer Street, 201-343-3399

A classic Colombian meal at this elegant, 30-year-old eatery starts with ceviche mixto, lime-cured chunks of seafood with shaved onion and plantain chips. And maybe the chorizo appetizer, with onions, peppers and some biscuit-like arepas. Upgrade from the standard thin steak to the thick, juicy skirt steak of the paisa churrasco. If you’d like to never be hungry again, attempt to finish the unofficial national dish, bandeja paisa: grilled steak, fried pork belly, rice, beans, sweet plantains, avocado and a fried egg. There is a bowl of spicy, house-made salsa on the table. Use it. The in-house bakery sells those fluffy arepas, savory empanadas, and the powerfully addictive buñuelo, a cheesy puff bread. BYO. —Michael Aharon

Division Cafe

Somerville • 8 Division Street, 908-450-7979

Chef/owner Maida Morales, originally from San José, Costa Rica, opened Division Cafe in 2013. It’s known for its baked empanadas and traditional Costa Rican food, which is sometimes characterized as simple. Costa Rican dishes don’t front-load spicy chilies, but they are present, flavorful and satisfying. Divison makes a solid gallo pinto (“spotted rooster”), the national dish of fried rice and beans, fried egg, corn tortillas, fried farmer’s cheese and sweet plantains. Equally comforting are arroz con pollo (rice with pulled chicken) and carne en salsa, a beef and vegetable stew served with white rice and beans. BYO. —SV


Rahway • 1467 Main Street, 732-540-1724

Brothers Pablo and Jerry Varona opened this swank lounge in 2007. Their mother, Rosa, supplied most of the recipes for traditional Cuban dishes like pernil (roast pork) and ropa vieja (shredded beef). The brothers have added their own—the popular Babalú chicken, stuffed with fried sweet plantains, black beans, chorizo and a hint of goat cheese. Another popular twist is Cubanitos—pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles, the ingredients of a traditional Cuban sandwich, but fried inside a wonton. The flan is creamy and eggy, its caramel topping not too sweet. Signature cocktails include the CubaNu Punch, made with Midori, coconut rum, banana liqueur, and pineapple and orange juices. “It’s our job to make sure everyone has a great experience,” says Pablo. —Carmen Cusido 

Sol Sazon

Willingboro • 4324 Route 130 #4, 609-835-0002

Luis Geronimo grew up watching his mom and grandmother make Dominican dishes, which inspired him to pursue a culinary career. Last October, he opened Sol Sazon, dedicated to “Dominican soul food.” Pastelitos (savory turnovers) and yuca fries, loaded with tomato, onions and avocado crema, are served with a flight of sauces. One is bright, herbaceous chimichurri. It lifts any dish, including the broiled whole-parrotfish special. Fresh juices (tamarind, passion fruit and a Caribbean fruit called soursop) are especially refreshing. BYO. —SV

The dining area at Dashen in New Brunswick. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

At Dashen, samplers come with injera and stews sometimes served in a mesob, a colorful, round, wicker basket. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager


New Brunswick • 88 Albany Street, 732-249-0494 

For a vibrant introduction to Ethiopian eating, order one of Dashen’s combo platters, ranging from five to 10 samples of traditional meat and vegetable dishes. Consider doro wot (spicy chicken stew), tibs wot (spiced, cubed, stir-fried beef), menchet abesh (mild ground beef simmered in spiced butter), kitfo (lean beef spiced with red pepper, cumin and ginger), gomen (simmered collard greens), shiro (chickpeas with Ethiopian spices and herbs) or kik alicha (yellow split peas with garlic, ginger and turmeric). They’ll be served atop injera, the sour, spongy crepe made of teff flour that serves as both plate and utensil. You tear off pieces to scoop up the sauces and stews. BYO. —SV


Montclair • 515 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-655-9000

Fifteen years ago, sisters Berekti and Akberet Mengistu fearlessly opened Mesob despite never having worked in a restaurant. They’d grown up in a family of 10 children. With relatives dropping by all the time, cooking dinner for 40 on little notice was no big deal. They figured they could handle it. And they were right. Mesob is busy most nights, and people have taken to the Ethiopian way of eating: scooping up subtly spiced meat and vegetable stews with hand-torn strips of spongy injera, Ethiopia’s uniquely absorbent sourdough crepes. BYO. —EL


Bloomfield • 65 Belleville Avenue, 973-743-1900
Jersey City • 687 Newark Avenue, 201-798-2700

Maximo Gimenez, a native Filipino and a Stanford grad, opened the first Max’s in 1945 in Quezon City. It became a chain. The whole-fried-chicken recipe, a signature dish created by Gimenez’s niece long ago, is unusually tender and tasty. Other hits include the crispy spring rolls filled with adobo-seasoned pork purée, and the bicol express, which is fried pork belly in coconut milk with shrimp paste and spices. Ease the heat with a bowl of halo-halo—purple yam ice cream with sweet beans, fruit preserves, rice flakes, coconut shreds and even cheddar to counter the sweetness. —CC

Manila Cafe

Mount Laurel • 200 Larchment Boulevard, 856-222-0604

Part market, part café. Order from the daily selections at the hot-tray counter. Staples include chicken adobo (in a vinegar-soy sauce), pancit (rice noodles with vegetables), barbecue chicken or pork skewers, and kare-kare (a peanut-sauce stew simmered with oxtail and other meats). Portions are plentiful. For dessert, try ube halaya, a jam made from boiled, mashed purple yam (ube) topped with coconut flakes; or halo-halo, consisting of ube ice cream, shaved ice, evaporated milk and other toppings. Starting at 8 am Sundays, Manila Cafe hosts a Filipino breakfast feast. BYO. —SV

Black Forest Inn

Stanhope • 249 Route 206 North, 973-347-3344

The Aichem family, originally from Germany, has been serving the traditional dishes of their homeland since 1977. Stepping into the Black Forest Inn is like stepping into a lost era of restaurants: multiple dining rooms, dark wooden paneling and, particular to this tradition, servers dressed in dirndls. Also unchanged are the wonderfully prepared classic German selections: crisp Wiener schnitzel, buttery spaetzle, rich slices of sauerbraten, sweet braised cabbage, and flammkuchen, a type of thin German pizza spread with crème fraîche, bits of bacon, caramelized red onion and mushrooms. There are more than a dozen dessert options, but the light and flaky apple strudel is the only one you owe it to yourself to try. —SV

La Parrilla

Trenton • 1007 Hamilton Avenue, 609-989-1912

On the former site of the famed DeLorenzo’s Pizza, La Parilla (“The Grill”) is reasonably priced and family friendly. It’s owned by siblings Juan Carlos and Amanda Diaz; their brother, Eduardo, is the manager. About 60 percent of their customers are Latino. The most popular dish is Tres Carnes a la Parilla, with three grilled meats: flank steak, chicken breast and carne adobada (traditional Guatemalan pork marinated in a tomato-based adobo). It comes with rice and beans, salad, avocado, sweet plantains and fried taquitos. The drink of choice is té de elote, a warm corn tea with kernels of corn, milk and a hint of cinnamon. BYO. —CC

Mommie Joe’s

Trenton • 1036 South Broad Street, 609-695-6561

A variety of Caribbean flags adorn Mommie Joe’s sign, but the best food here is Haitian. For more than 30 years, the take-out spot has served delicious diri ak djon djon, a specialty known as black rice. Earthy and deeply flavored with black mushrooms native to northern Haiti, it also accompanies spicy stews of oxtail, chicken, pork or goat, as well as fried fish. All come with fiery peppers sliced thin and marinated in vinegar. BYO. —SV

Mount Masala in Voorhees. Clockwise from above right: Salt-and-pepper shrimp; sizzling chicken momo; Manchurian goat and Himalayan beef, with rice and sauces on the side. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

Mount Masala

Voorhees • 300 White Horse Road, 856-281-9711

There’s spicy, and then there’s Mount Masala spicy. The family-owned restaurant—opened by Gayatri “GG” Giri, her husband, Bharat Bist, and her brother, Jaya Nepal, in 2017 in the former Tiffin space—doesn’t shy from the heat of the food of their native Nepal. “With spice, you are warmer, with more energy, and can climb higher,” says GG. Of Nepali cuisine, she says, “Hardly any people know about it. I wanted to showcase the flavors I had in my daily life.” 

Nepal’s earthy flavors involve cumin, dried chilies, coriander, pepper and garlic. They turn up in everything from dry-pot Himalayan beef to cumin-laden Manchurian goat to chili-flecked chow mein. Sizzling momos (Himalayan dumplings stuffed with vegetables or chicken and topped with tomato chutney) are served, still smoking, in a cast-iron dish. The restaurant imports all its herbs and spices from Nepal, as well as yak milk, which has twice the fat of cow’s milk and is blended with regular milk to make super-creamy ice creams. BYO. —SV

Cafe MoBay in Bloomfield. From left: Patrick Smith; fresh sorrel, mango and pineapple drinks. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

Cafe MoBay

Bloomfield • 1039 Broad Street, 973-337-8460

“People tell me, ‘There’s not many Jamaicans in Bloomfield. Why do you put a Jamaican restaurant here?’” says Patrick Smith. “I always tell them, ‘Good food people will find good food. It might take awhile, but they will.’” Smith’s Cafe MoBay (short for Montego Bay) is a little over two years old, and people are finding their way there. Smith—who grew up in Jamaica, graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York, and became a chef in New York restaurants and New Jersey country clubs—serves a menu he calls “90 percent Jamaican.” His jerk Gulf shrimp with sweet plantain and house-made tomato marmalade is irresistible. His curried goat with rice (a Jamaican staple) is tender and delicious, his sautéed callaloo one of the most involving leafy vegetable dishes around. Smith’s French training especially shines in desserts like his brioche bread pudding with vanilla rum sauce and his warm, flourless chocolate cake. BYO. —EL

Morgan’s Island Grill

Hightstown • 110 Mercer Street, 609-308-2108

Chef Kenroy Morgan, a native of Jamaica, and his wife, Jewel, opened this place in 2013. In the bright and cheery restaurant, Morgan makes excellent renditions of the Jamaican dishes he learned from his father: flavorful beef patties, unapologetically spicy grilled jerk chicken, tender curried goat over seasoned rice, slow-cooked and fragrant oxtail stew, and fried sweet plantains. Then there’s ackee and saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish—made with ackee fruit, salted cod, onions, hot pepper and spices—delicious and transporting. BYO. —SV

Eden Korean

Cherry Hill • 1428 Marlton Pike East, 856-489-5757

The tables do not have built-in grills like many Korean barbecue joints, but the menu is unmistakably Korean. Owned by the Kwak family for nearly a decade, Eden’s highlights include handmade beef and pork dumplings, and dolsot bibimbap, a sizzling stone bowl filled with rice, marinated beef, vegetables and a fried egg tossed with gochujang. Thinly sliced barbecued short ribs, called galbi, are simple and completely delicious. Banchan, the side dishes served with a Korean meal, include kimchi, marinated mushrooms, seaweed and seasoned bean sprouts. They’re great to nibble on before your meal arrives. BYO. —SV

Four Seasons

North Brunswick • 1892 Route 130 North, 732-658-6555

Known as Headquarters until January of this year, Four Seasons does a large take-out business, but fills the dining room as well. Lentils bob in a bright, lemony soup, a signature dish. Cabbage rolls stuffed with spiced, chopped meat are a frequent special. Chicken kabobs are moist and meaty and come with grilled peppers and onions, as well as hummus, which is light, with balanced notes of sesame and garlic. The baba ghanoush is properly smoky, but the subtle flavor of eggplant shines through. Grape leaves stuffed with rice and chickpeas are excellent and warm. The tabouli seduces with chopped fresh parsley and lemon juice. —Emily Drew


Cherry Hill • 145 Barclay Farms Center, 856-795-1373

Norma and George Bitar, who emigrated from Lebanon during that country’s civil war, opened Norma’s in 1996. The restaurant and gourmet shop became a haven for Middle Eastern families, as well as others who relish the age-old recipes Norma prepares: stewed lamb with honey and almonds; kabobs; sfiha (a Levantine open-faced lamb or beef pie); mujaddara (lentils, rice and caramelized onions); and kibbi (bulgur, onions and ground meat, served fried, baked or raw). The vegetarian platter offers crisp falafel and mezze such as hummus, baba ghanoush and stellar stuffed grape leaves with fresh pita. Norma’s also offers vegan and vegetarian takes on traditional dishes such as moussaka and shawarma. The Bitars’ three children—Elias, Mariette and Ziad—carry on the family’s legacy. BYO. —SV

Rose’s Place

Fair Lawn • 32-01 Broadway, 201-475-8800
Englewood •  126 Engle Street, 201-541-0020

Rose Hajjarian opened the original Rose’s Place in Fair Lawn in 2000 and its Englewood branch in 2008. “Rose is the mind behind everything,” says her daughter, Yesmene Allam, Englewood’s chef. “We make everything from scratch from fresh ingredients and cook everything to order. We grill over hardwood charcoal, not gas.” You can taste the difference in the smoky baba ghanoush, which has a balancing brightness, and in the small, dense mekanek sausages, made with lamb, pine nuts and—the subtly enhancing ingredient—pomegranate molasses. Imam bayildi is a Lebanese eggplant and tomato ragù, redolent of cumin and allspice. Kofta, ground lamb sausage smothered with tahini sauce, forms an inseparable alliance. BYO. —EL

Coco Asian Cuisine

Edison • 1803 Lincoln Highway, 732-777-1300

Much of the menu is adorned with Thai favorites for the suburban audience, but the standouts are Malay. Roti canai, a crispy pancake served with a dipping sauce thick with curried chicken and potatoes, makes a great start. Satays, skewers of chicken or beef seasoned with a marinade that includes lemongrass and turmeric, are grilled to juicy perfection. Beef rendang, a semi-spicy Malaysian staple, is tender and flavorful, with notes of lemongrass, curry and coconut. Pulut hitam, a warm, creamy dessert porridge, is rich with black sticky rice and coconut milk. BYO. —SV


Parsippany • 321 Route 46 East, 973-808-0062

The Moroccan-born Abdelfettah El Akkari opened Marakesh in a small strip mall in 1996. Since then, he’s grown the restaurant’s impressive collection of Moroccan decor: textured ceramics, Moorish lighting, vibrant throw pillows and a Moroccan drum. With low-lying couches and etched brass trays that serve as tables, the dining area feels more like a lounge—which makes sense, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, when dinner is accompanied by belly dancers (reservations recommended). Even then, you’ll want to come for the robust flavors on the menu. The sampler includes a rich and thick hummus, a salad of cooked eggplant and tomatoes called zaalouk, and a complex and smoky baba ghanoush, served alongside warm pita. Traditional tagine dishes are cooked in a clay pot; the saffron-spiced lamb shank and Tunisian chicken, flavored with harissa, are especially tender. Herby and aromatic, the grilled lamb kofta, made from seasoned minced meat, is charred and juicy. BYO. —SV

Seven Valleys

Hoboken • 936 Washington Street, 201-792-5979

Encountering a dearth of Persian restaurants in Hudson County, Hoboken mother-daughter pair Maryanne Fike and Dale Ryan opened Seven Valleys to share herby rice pilafs, juicy kebabs and hearty stews with the community. Now, lovers of tahdig (crispy saffron rice), ghormeh sabzi (a stew of herbs, beans and dried Persian limes), and many other traditional dishes have a (small, 24-seat) place with sleek, airy decor to frequent. Not as traditional, but popular with Seven Valleys diners, are vegetarian swaps, such as tofu in place of chicken in fesenjan, a stew thick with pomegranate paste and ground walnuts. Servers are happy to suggest dishes and explain ingredients, from the sour cherries in the albaloo polo rice to the sumac bottles on every table. BYO. —Sophia F. Gottfried

Top: Costanera’s ceviche consists of lump crab, ahi tuna and shrimp, and is served with toasted corn nuts. Below, from left: Costanera’s Chicharron de Pescado; shrimp soup; Tiradito Nikkei. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager


Montclair • 511 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-337-8289

Chef Juan Placencia’s first restaurant (for his latest, see review, page 84) earned three stars from NJM when it opened in 2010. It’s still terrific and busy as ever. Portions are huge and flavors are rich and well woven, from a big bowl of spicy prawn soup (with floating fried egg) to some of the best pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) anywhere—the invigorating marinade penetrates deep into the meat. Ceviches, Peru’s signature marinated raw-fish salads, and tiraditos, Peruvian crudos, are spirited and super fresh. BYO. —EL

Terras Ceviche

Middlesex • 559 Bound Brook Road, 732-752-3700

Ceviche is spoken here: raw fish, shrimp and scallops marinated in lime juice with onions and chili peppers, served with sweet potato, large-kernel Peruvian corn and cancha (toasted corn nuts). Equally bright are tiraditos, thin slices of red snapper in lime juice, topped with creamy sauce. Anticuchos, a street food, are skewers of grilled veal hearts, tripe or filet mignon. Terras Ceviche makes excellent lomo saltado, a stir-fry of sirloin, onions and tomatoes; and chaufas, a style of fried rice.Both stem from the influence of Chinese immigrants. BYO. —SV

Royal Warsaw’s hearty Plate a la Warsaw, with stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, pierogi and hunter’s stew. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

Royal Warsaw

Elmwood Park • 871 River Drive, 201-794-9277

A palace of polished comfort food, Royal Warsaw offers house-made pierogi plump with meat, potato and cheese, or with sauerkraut and mushrooms. Potato pancakes, another staple, are fluffy. Polish cuisine is rich in meat: grilled kielbasa; breaded pork cutlets; cabbage stuffed with pork and rice; a hearty, pork-based hunter’s stew; and pork shank slow cooked in vegetables and beer sauce until the meat falls off the bone. It all goes well with a Polish lager such as ?ywiec or Lomza, both on draught. —SV

Broa Cafe 

Jersey City • 297 Grove Street, 201-463-1467

Tucked into the garden level of a brownstone, Broa could easily be missed. But what a shame that would be. The interior is filled with mementos from chef/owner Michael Casalinho’s family, who hail from the Leiria region of Portugal. The single chalkboard menu, scribbled with offerings that change nightly, is visible from most of the 40 seats. Broa’s items are petiscos (analogous to Spanish tapas). They are delicious, from bean salads bright with onion and olive oil to flaming platters of chorizo, garlicky shrimp, braised octopus and crispy fried sardines. Groups of five or more can try everything on the menu for $45 per person. For dessert, have a creamy pasteis de nata, the classic Portuguese egg tart. On warm evenings, sit on the back patio under string lights. BYO. —SFG

Seabra’s Marisquiera

Newark • 87 Madison Street, 973-465-1250

For 30 years, Seabra’s has been a landmark in Newark’s Ironbound and a bastion of super-fresh seafood cooked in traditional Portuguese style. At lunch, it’s fun to hang with locals at the bar and schmooze over cockles in garlic sauce. Dining room hits include acorda de marisco, a bread stew loaded with seafood in a garlic-and-coriander sauce, all topped with a poached egg. The Portuguese wines are good and reasonably priced. —Rosie Saferstein

Buen Provecho 

Hamilton • 1701 Hamilton Avenue, 609-981-7700

Christina Bonilla, 32, always dreamed of running her own restaurant and learned to cook Puerto Rican dishes like picadillo from her grandmother, Delia. After earning a culinary degree, she opened Buen Provecho (Spanish for bon appetit) in 2014 with her father’s help. Picadillo, spicy ground beef in tomato sauce, is here served with avocado. “Most of our Hispanic and Puerto Rican customers say our cooking reminds them of home,” she says. Other favorites include bistec encebollado (steak and green onions with avocado) and chipotle shrimp. In-demand desserts are piña colada upside-down cake and chocolate-pecan-coconut rum cake. BYO. —CC

La Ponceña

New Brunswick • 57 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, 732-249-3754

Eulalia Vargas Rivera and her husband, Esteban, opened La Ponceña (a person from Ponce) in 1975. Since Esteban’s death in 2016, Eulalia and her children have run the restaurant. “Many of our customers have been here for years,” says her son, Esteban Jr. “Some come on Fridays or Saturdays, when they know my sister will make her tilapia and red snapper, items not usually on the menu.” The biggest sellers are braised chicken, bacalao, oxtail and mofongo—fried, mashed plantains seasoned with salt, garlic and oil. Appetizers like alcapurrias—fritters made with plantain or cassava dough and stuffed with ground beef—usually sell out quickly. BYO. —CC 


Vineland • 602 East Chestnut Avenue, 856-405-0015

Opened by Milagro “Milly” Juarez in 2013, Milly’s offers Mexican favorites: guacamole, tacos, burritos and sopes. But the pupusas, El Salvador’s most notable dish, are wonderful. The saucer-sized discs are handmade corn-flour tortillas stuffed with cheese and pork or refried beans, served with tangy cabbage slaw, and are best with a healthy hit of green hot sauce. Sopa Azteca, a tortilla soup, is peppery and filling. BYO. —SV

Casa d’Paco

Newark • 73 Warwick Street, 862-307-9466

Angel Leston and his father, Francisco, who goes by Paco, serve the food of their native Galicia, on the northwest coast of Spain. They opened their small restaurant, with Spanish wine list and sangrias, in 2015 in the Ironbound. The menu is coastal, including a distinctive, soupy style of seafood paella and a marriage of seafood and tapas in the piquant chipirones da casa—grilled baby squid with grilled onions and cherry peppers. Angel’s mom, Ana, makes memorable desserts. —Julia Mullaney

Hakki Baba

Cliffside Park • 555 Anderson Avenue, 201-844-8444

The Turgut family have been restaurateurs since the 1920s, beginning in Antep, Turkey. Ferda Turgut runs Hakki Baba with her parents, siblings and nephew. (Hakki Baba was the nickname of the family’s first restaurateur.) The appetizer combination platters (four or six items) alone could make a fine and substantial meal, especially for vegetarians. Choices include smoky baba ghanoush, spicy walnut-and-tomato spread, briny feta, thick labne and almost a dozen other starters. Then make way for the kebabs: juicy chicken, lamb or beef, central to Turkish cooking. Each comes with pilaf, over toasted pita, or on smoked eggplant and yogurt. BYO. —SFG

Köy Turkish Grill

East Brunswick • 647A Route 18, 732-955-6449
Marlboro • 280 Route 9 North, Marlboro, 732-792-3659

Apparently as handy with saws and sheetrock as with kitchen tools, owners Jawad and Hina Malik and Adeel Siddiq transformed an old pizzeria into a soothing, scarlet sanctuary with hanging lanterns and billowy ceiling fabrics. Their aim was to create the feeling of a köy, Turkish for village, with food to match. The plump zucchini pancakes called mucver, with red peppers and feta in garlic-yogurt sauce, make a fine introduction to the cuisine. The pomegranate salad, a mound of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and walnuts in a sweet-and-sour pomegranate dressing, is delicious under its shower of pomegranate seeds. Köy’s grilled lamb chops over rice with a side salad is its signature entrée. There are two flaky baklavas: walnut and pistachio. BYO. —ED

Shirin Cafe

Manalapan • 345 Route 9 South, 732-462-8585

Uzbekistan—north of Afghanistan and south of Russia—is the home of plov, a fragrant, well-seasoned, golden pilaf with carrots, mounded with chunks of tender lamb and beef. It’s the Uzbek national dish. Shirin’s small storefront, decorated with Central Asian figurines and art, is packed and lively on weekends, peaceful on weeknights. Shurpa is a traditional Uzbek soup of lamb, beef and vegetables. Kutabi—pancakes stuffed with either lamb and beef or with sautéed greens—come with a savory yogurt dipping sauce. Listed as a starter, it’s big enough for two. Shirin also offers Russian and Armenian dishes. BYO. —ED

Pho Ninh Kieu

Parsippany • 73 New Road, 973-521-9900

For about three years, the Huynh family has been turning out perfectly executed Vietnamese café cuisine. There are several types of bun (cool rice vermicelli tossed with salad, herbs, peanut and choice of grilled meats, crisp spring rolls or shrimp), intricate fried rice dishes and vegetable-forward stir-fries. Com dia are sort of the blue plate specials of Vietnam, served over couscous-like broken rice with fish sauce, cucumber and tomato. The star is com tam dac biet, which includes a grilled pork chop, shredded pork and a slice of a quiche-like pork-noodle pie, all topped with a fried egg. The Huynhs are most proud of their pho soup (left), aromatic and more delicately flavored than most. BYO. —MA

Olaide’s Kitchen in Parlin. Clockwise from left: Amayase, a Nigerian stew, with efo elegusi with goat and a mound of jollof; owner Olaide Tella holds a plate of efo elegusi; a bowl of ila, an okra soup, with yams and stew. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

Olaide’s Kitchen

Parlin • 499 Ernston Road, 732-952-8880

After moving to New Jersey from Lagos, Nigeria, in 1998, Olaide Tella worked as a certified nurse assistant to support her young family. At the same time she ran a West African catering company out of her basement. In 2017, she opened Olaide’s Kitchen, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Her Nigerian and Ghanian specialties include jollof, rice cooked in tomato sauce; asaro, a yam porridge with sautéed fish; ila, plain okra soup served with a stew; amayase, an aromatic stew of green peppers and meat; efo elegusi, a green stew with kale and pumpkin seeds; and suya, beef skewers coated in a nutty spice blend. BYO. —SV

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New Jersey’s 20 Most Underrated Food Markets

City Fresh Market in Union City carries foods from throughout Latin America. Photo by Laura Baer

The Jersey food scene is so vibrant and diverse that a comprehensive list of cuisine-specific markets would be overwhelming. The following list of 20 omits essential markets we’ve previously celebrated (Mitsuwa in Edgewater, Corrado’s in Clifton) in order to introduce you to lesser known places worth a visit.

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In Palisades Park, Korean Food is King

99 Ranch Market

Edison, Hackensack, Jersey City 

99 Ranch is part of the largest Asian supermarket chain in the United States. Its aisles turn up Japanese dorayaki (bean-paste-filled pancakes), Korean kimchi, Chinese black bean garlic sauce, Thai tom yum goong (spicy shrimp soup), Vietnamese pho ga (chicken-noodle soup) and Taiwanese pineapple cake. The same variety fills the produce aisles and the food court, where a shopper can try Chinese dim sum, Japanese ramen or Hong Kong-style barbecue. The chain, which started in California, is more than 30 years old and now comprises 50 stores, three in New Jersey.

Gold Valley Supermarket

Springfield • 211 Morris Avenue, 973-564-9092

The mission is to provide fresh food at an affordable price “to the neighboring community, including the Korean, Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Caucasian, Spanish, Indian and others.” This mix coexists comfortably. Canned banana blossoms from Thailand sit beside Filipino jackfruit in syrup. Vietnamese instant rice noodles (pho ga and pho bo) snuggle up to Japanese udon and soba noodles. Coming upon the large selection of Latin Goya products is a bit jarring at first, but they too fit into the global mix. 


  • Asian Food Markets: Jersey City, Marlboro, North Plainfield, Piscataway, Plainsboro
  • Food Bazaar: Elizabeth, Fairview, North Bergen, Trenton, West New York
  • Kam Man Market: Edison, East Hanover

English Gardener Gift Shop

Haddonfield • 123 Kings Highway East, 856-354-5051

The English Cook and Gardener Gift shop would be a more fitting name. Shelves are packed with packaged foods from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It’s a great place to stock up for your next Downton Abbey viewing party (the movie comes out in September). There are popular British teas like PG Tips and Ty-phoo, and upscale brands like Brodies and Taylors of Harrogate. No fresh-baked goods, but you can pick up ready-made pastries including crumpets, Eccles cakes, Bramley apple pies, Jaffa cakes, shortbreads, Welsh biscuits and mini Battenburg cakes, as well as mixes for making scones and soda bread and ingredients like Irish oats, golden syrup, Devon custard, marmalade and Maldonado sea salt. Savory selections include Marmite, mushy peas, piccalilli, chutney and porridge. Cheerio!


The Pie Store, Montclair

Joe’s Market

Newark • 1011 South Orange Avenue, 973-373-5215

Even without palm trees, the Caribbean vibe is strong, from exotic greens (callaloo, dasheen, sunchoy) to fresh, hard-to-find seafood (doctor fish, parrotfish, pompano, porgy, red mullet, goatfish) and many types of jerk seasoning. The store carries African and American products, too, but the reggae soundtrack and many Jamaican packaged food and drinks (St. Mary’s banana chips, Agony peanut punch, canned ackee in brine) make it clear where Joe’s heart lies.


  • Ando West Indian Market, Jersey City
  • Caribbean Supermarket, Elizabeth
  • Original Kaneshie Market, Parlin
  • Tropical Sun, East Orange

Hong Kong Supermarket

East Brunswick • 265 Route 18 South, 732-651-8288

Walking down the soy sauce aisle here brings to mind the myth that the Inuit have 100 words for snow. In this soy sauce aisle, you’ll find black, thin, light, dark, sweet and aged sauces, including soy sauces for cooking, for seafood, and for glazing food. The market carries noodles, teas, seaweed and soups in many varieties. It also has a good selection of fresh and frozen fish, fresh meat and a large produce section. Download the Waygo app before shopping in this or any other Asian market; the app translates Chinese characters when you point your phone’s camera at them. 


  • East West Market, Bloomfield
  • New Harrison Supermarket, Harrison

Appetit Fine European Food

Cherry Hill • 1614 Route 70 West, 856-324-0211

Appetit imports foods from countries such as Bulgaria, Albania, Russia and Romania. “Even things like instant coffee and tomato sauce taste different than the American versions,” explains Viktor Levashki, a Bulgarian immigrant who owns the store with his wife. He points to displays of meats, cheeses, olives, olive oils, jams, honey, chocolates and cookies. Juices like birch and pumpkin sit alongside bottles of Fanta, which Appetit carries in flavors generally unavailable here, such as the lemon-and-elderflower Fanta Madness. Herring is a best seller, as are the many types of feta. “Try the desserts,” Levashki urges, pointing to a case of frozen cakes from Moldova and Ukraine. He explains that many are made with beet sugar rather than the cane sugar or corn syrup used in many domestic baked goods. “It’s a different sweetness,” he says. “Americans should try it!” 


  • Amira Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Fair Lawn
  • Broadway Food Palace, Fair Lawn
  • Ema International Foods, Clifton
  • Emporium International Food, Old Bridge

Fiesta Oriental Food

Cherry Hill • 225 Haddonfield-Berlin Road, 856-429-0041

The cuisine of the Philippines has been influenced by its colonizations by the Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Americans. Fiesta caters to a growing local Filipino population. “But our customers include Americans, Germans, Spanish and people of other nationalities, too,” says Alma Castro, who’s worked in the store since it opened 30 years ago. “The most popular foods we sell are things like soy sauce, fish sauce and vinegars,” she says, adding that “snack foods are also popular. Cookies and chips—things people miss from home.” Shelves hold many varieties of noodles and rice, canned fish and corned beef, and boxes of mixes for making favorites like bibingka (Filipino coconut cake) and puto (steamed rice cakes). The store brings in fresh-baked goods from northern Jersey, and also offers frozen fish, meat and sausages. 


  • Phil-Am, East Brunswick 
  • Fil-Am Mart, Edison
  • FilStop, Jersey City
  • Tropical Hut, Old Bridge and Somerdale

Swiss Pork Store

Fair Lawn • 24-10 Fair Lawn Avenue, 201-797-9779

The two men—one German, one Swiss—who founded the store in 1950 were so worried about lingering anti-German sentiment that they decided to call the store Swiss. Still, the German heritage is unmistakable in the cases of smoked pork, sausages and various types of bratwurst. And, as the store’s slogan states, “We’re not just pork!” There’s rotkraut (pickled red cabbage), weinsauerkraut (pickled cabbage in wine), Bavarian-style sauerkraut, loaves of dense, dark breads, and boxes of cherry- and brandy-filled chocolates. 


  • Ehmer Quality Meats, Hillsdale
  • Forked River German Butcher Shop, Forked River
  • Kocher’s Market, Ridgefield
  • Union Pork Store, Union

The Greek Store

Kenilworth • 612 Boulevard, 908-272-2550

Although this store is almost 70 years old, it’s still younger than some of its recipes. “The koulourakia [butter cookie] recipe is over 150 years old; it was originally from Constantinople and was passed to us by a family friend,” says Lia Diamandas, granddaughter of the founder. The store-made spanakopita is another best seller. “We also make our own moussaka, pastitsio and baklava,” says Diamandas. Local Greek families shop here, but “we have an assortment of customers, especially as people travel more and become more aware of Greek food and how healthy the Mediterranean diet is,” she says. Diamantis points to another popular product: feta, aged and sold in small wooden barrels “like wine casks.” The store offers tastes of many of its goods—olives, breads and, yes, the koulourakia cookies. 


  • Local Greek, Princeton
  • Mediterranean Gourmet, Fort Lee

Hungarian Meat Center

Passaic • 189 Parker Avenue, 973-473-1645

The aroma of smoked meat and paprika makes a mouthwatering first impression when you enter this small shop full of hanging salamis and cases of smoked ham, smoked pork loin, smoked slab bacon and smoked salami. The Rozsa family has owned the store for two decades and prepares the meats using traditional Hungarian recipes and ingredients. There are traditional Hungarian sausages, including kolbasz, szalonna, hurka and blood hurka. In the refrigerator case, you’ll find goose lard and pickled cabbage. The shelves hold bags of paprika, walnuts, ground poppy seeds and and chestnut purée, a popular Hungarian treat served with whipped cream.


  • Buday Meat Market, New Brunswick

Subzi Mandi

Iselin • 1518 Oak Tree Road B, 732-603-0588 (branches in Parsippany and Piscataway)

At Subzi Mandi, produce is featured in a large, open space in the center of the store. Among familiar items, you’ll find fresh tamarind, aloe vera, jackfruit and banana flowers. Surrounding the produce area are large sacks of orange, white and yellow dal (dried lentils, peas or beans) and colorful cloth bags of rice. Spices such as chili powder, fennel, coriander and turmeric, so important in Indian cuisine, are offered not just in tiny tins, as in American markets, but in large bags up to 4 pounds. And they are very fresh. There are plenty of snack foods and freezer cases of samosas and kulfi. 


  • Narmada Indian Groceries, Clifton
  • Patel Brothers, multiple locations
  • Patidar Supermarket, Hillsborough
  • Star Bazaar, Lawrence and Somerset


Cherry Hill, Edison, Fort Lee, Leonia, Little Ferry, Paramus, Ridgefield

A trip to HMart makes for an instant immersion in Korean food, less familiar to many of us than Chinese or Japanese. Buy some sweet, nutty corn tea to steep at home. Sample kimchi made from radish, mustard greens or cucumbers, in addition to the familiar cabbage. Buy spicy gochujang pepper paste to add a touch of fire to your cooking. Experiment with vegetables such as burdock, knob celery, black kale, king oyster mushrooms, seafood mushrooms, ginkgo nuts and lotus root. Some of the fruits and sweets are beautifully packaged for gift giving. Consider giving that gift to yourself!

City Fresh Market

Union City • 518 32nd Street, 201-348-3660

Choices in the produce section range from Dominican avocados and celery to Mexican chayote to Peruvian mangoes to other produce such as aloe vera leaves, fresh sugar cane, jicama, tomatillos, rambutan, cactus leaves, yucca, taro and sorrel. One aisle holds goods from Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Mexico. Another is devoted to products from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru and Colombia. There are cookies, coffees, spices, beans, pastas and sauces, packages of guava paste and cakes of brown sugar. Tropical climates know how to cool off deliciously, so check out the frozen Mexican paletas (Popsicles) in flavors like Mayan chocolate, rum raisin, pecan, mango and coconut.


  • Cousin’s Supermarket, Camden
  • Kikos Supermarket, Fairview
  • La Placita Supermarket, Union City
  • Selecto Supermarket, Trenton

Nouri Brothers

Paterson • 999 Main Street, 973-279-2388

A neon sign outside proclaims Hot Pita Bread. Inside, the aisles smell of exotic spices. This large market was opened over 40 years ago by Abed Noury and his brothers. Today, Abed is still an active manager, with lots of involvement from Christine and George, two of his five grown children. “The store started as a bakery—we’re still known for our pita, which we bake fresh daily—and then branched out into everything else,” says George. “It’s like one-stop shopping for our customers, who come from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Armenia, Palestine and other places. They can find the same things they’d find at home.” Those include dates, olives, pickles, beans, grape leaves, halvah, tahini and pastries. The store, which has a hot-food deli, recently added a brick-oven, sit-down café. “Everything is made here with our grandma’s recipes and our mother’s,” say the siblings. What’s their favorite? “Everything!”


  • Afandina Mediterranean Specialties, East Brunswick
  • Caspian Market, Ridgewood
  • Phoenician Market, North Brunswick
  • Sultan Food Bazaar, Parsippany

Piast Meats and Provisions

Garfield, Maplewood

Kielbasa and pierogi are just the start. At the two Garfield stores, varieties of fresh meat, mostly pork, plus sausages, cured hams and lunch meats, as well as cheeses, fill the displays. All three stores have a takeout bar with hot prepared foods. “Provisions” encompass tins of cabbage soup, meat and sauerkraut stew, pickled vegetables, fruit juices, honey, jams and syrups. At the Garfield stores, the conversation is nearly all in Polish. Garfield has a large Polish community, but in a concession to English speakers, there’s a printed handout describing 16 varieties of pierogi and dumplings, with instructions on how to prepare them. As they say in Polish, “Zapraszamy!


  • Bratek Deli, Garfield
  • Polish American Deli, Runnemede
  • Polonia Meat Market, Clifton

Seabra Foods

Harrison, Hillside, Kearny, Newark 

Newark’s Ironbound district is home to many markets specializing in Portuguese and Brazilian foods. Seabra Foods has its flagship supermarket there. In addition to what you’d find in an American supermarket, there are aisles devoted to the foods of Portugal, Brazil and other South American countries. Stacks of dried salt cod (bacalao) are piled on a table near the fresh fish counter. There are cases of traditional sausages such as linguiça, salchichón, alheira and farinheira. If you’d like to try making feijoada (Brazilian black bean stew), buying a specially bundled packet of the requisite meats—sausage, dried beef and smoked slab bacon—simplifies matters. Seabra also has a good selection of Portuguese baked goods such as pound cakes, sweet breads, and pastel de nata (egg-custard tarts).


  • Brazilian Market, Long Branch
  • Emporium 112 Supermarket, Newark
  • Seabra’s Market (not related to Seabra Foods): Elizabeth, Newark, Union


Paramus • 221 Route 4 West, 201-308-6888

More gourmet than Gorbachev, this is a food market you can imagine Czar Nicholas and his family frequenting. There’s smoked fish (including smoked sea bass at $42 a pound) and an entire case of caviars. Take a break from pancakes to try the more delicate blini; from Coca-Cola to try kvas (a traditional fermented rye drink with less than 1 percent alcohol); and from regular salami to try Russian, Estonian, Karpatian or Old Kiev varieties. Dense, dark breads beckon from the in-house bakery. Or choose from a wide range of prepared foods (after all, the Czarina probably never cooked). Recently, a man stood at the bread display and, in accented English, asked his young daughter to request a Lithuanian loaf from the baker. “But Daddy,” she said plaintively, “I don’t know how to say it in Russian!” English will do.


  • Babushka’s Deli, Livingston 
  • Prime Food Markets, Livingston
  • Russian Store, Fair Lawn
  • Syberia, Fort Lee

Stewart’s Scottish Market

Kearny • 338 Kearny Avenue, 201-991-1436

In the late 1800s, several Scottish companies, including the Clark Thread Company of Paisley, opened factories in Kearny, and immigrants followed. Businesses sprang up to serve the displaced Scots. Stewart’s Scottish Market was not the first to open, but is one of the last standing. The store has been in the same family since it debuted in 1931, still turning out sausages, meat pies, pasties, blood pudding and potato scones. “We also do lots of mail orders, shipping to people all over the country,” says Mike Keefe, the manager, who adds that business is most brisk from Thanksgiving to Burns Night at the end of January, when many celebrate Scottish poet Robert Burns by eating haggis and other national foods. The store sells a variety of imported, packaged foods, including Scott’s Porage Oats (with a kilted Scottish shot putter on the box), Green’s Yorkshire pudding mix and Chivers blackcurrant jam. 


  • Cameron’s Scottish Food, Brick

Istanbul Food Bazaar

Clifton • 1500 Main Avenue, 973-955-2989

Housed in what was once the Henry Doherty Silk Company, this large market stocks halal meat, fresh fish, cheese, poultry, dairy and packaged goods from Turkey and elsewhere in the region. The selection of olives alone is as big as most salad bars. Turkish delight comes in flavors including rose petal, pistachio, pomegranate, fig and walnut. Dried dates start with the familiar medjool and move on to mabroom, safawi, sagai and sukkari. The bakery features honey-soaked baklava and sugar-dusted almond cookies.


  • Basci Mediterranean Food and Halal Meat Market, Fairview
  • Bereket Market Place, Monmouth Junction
  • Sahara 34 Arabic and Turkish Food, Matawan
  • Sultan Food Bazaar, Parsippany

Makola African Market

Newark • 375 Lyons Avenue, 973-926-3919

At Makola Market, you shop to the lively beat of African music on the sound system. Named for a bustling outdoor market in Accra, the capital of Ghana, the store specializes in products from that country, as well as Liberia, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and other West African nations. Staples like oat flour, plantain flour, rice and pounded yam come in small packages all the way up to 100-pound sacks. The store sells meats popular in West Africa, including goat, tripe, oxtail, cow feet and cow skin. Packaged goods include popular African nonalcoholic beverages like ginger beer, Vita Malt and Maltina. Also an attraction: bolts of the bright, printed cloth Ghana is known for.


  • Ecowas Food Market, Newark
  • LizzyBoat African Market, Pennsauken
  • New Jersey African-Caribbean Market, Trenton
  • So It Is African Market, Stratford

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In Palisades Park, Korean Food is King

Chef Humberto Rolando at Tang Maru in Palisades Park. Photo by Laura Baer

Palisades Park, for many years largely Italian, has in recent decades undergone a dramatic demographic shift. Since at least the 2000 census, this Bergen County town not far from the George Washington Bridge, has had the highest percentage of Korean immigrants and their descendants of any municipality in the country. If you want to explore the dynamic flavors and rustic cooking styles of Korean cuisine, Palisades Park is the place to do it. 

Korean barbecue, actually a form of grilling, is the signature style. A brazier is built into the table. Some grills are gas-fired, but the best burn hardwood charcoal, brought to the table in a metal pan by an extremely focused individual wearing fireproof gloves and wielding tongs. 

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Photo by Laura Baer

At the venerable and popular So Moon Nan Jip (238 Broad Avenue, 201-944-3998), the tables are closely spaced, and the charcoal carriers are adept at slithering between them to deliver the hot coals. They cook and serve the meat and seafood as everyone at the table helps themselves to the banchan, the standard accompaniments—bowls of vegetables, pickles, lettuce, condiments and kimchi. 

The classic marinated meats are bulgogi (sliced beef) and kalbi (short rib), but there are other choices. One of the tastiest is pork jowl. Its densely marbled fat irresistibly crisps after a few minutes over the coals.

Beyond barbecue, So Moon also offers sushi, sashimi and, best of all, hoe deopbap, a meal-in-a-bowl of salad, sashimi and rice in a mildly spicy chili-vinegar sauce. Beer and sake are available, but try the Korean distilled liquor, soju, clear and bracing at about 20 percent ABV.

A lively display of the Korean barbecue experience at Hanam Korean BBQ House. Photo by Laura Baer

Hanam Korean BBQ House (445 Grand Avenue, 201-482-806; byo), another charcoal grill, is more spacious and has a hipper, younger vibe. It offers pork and tripe, highly marbled American Wagyu beef, and duck from a farm in Pennsylvania. The assortment of banchan is perhaps not as wide as at So Moon, but Hanam will cheerfully refill your favorites.  

Aficionados will want to venture about a half mile south of Pal Park to Ridgefield just to indulge in the prized specialty, Korean black goat, at Bang Ga Nae (518 Broad Avenue, 201-941-1199). Thought to have medicinal qualities, black goat, a breed native to Korea, is often accompanied by soju. The goat is steam roasted, yielding a melting texture and a rich flavor somewhere between pork, lamb and pure happiness. Sold by the pound (2-pound minimum), it is offered two ways: jeongol, in a spicy red soup with vegetables and scallions; or suyuk, a haunch your server will break down into boneless morsels on steamed scallions, which you wrap in lettuce with condiments, including gochujang chili paste, aromatic perilla seeds, garlic cloves, jalapeños and tiny salted shrimp. 

Some of the most deeply traditional Korean foods are the soups and stews of the countryside. Back in Pal Park, one of the best examples is the spicy pork-neck and potato stew at Tang Maru (500 10th Street, 201-482-8744). Another house specialty is Seolleongtang, a rich ox-bone soup, white from days of simmering. It features sliced beef and rice noodles. Peek in the kitchen window to see the massive bubbling cauldron of stock.

Chinese people began emigrating to Korea in the late 19th century, and over time, a Korean school of Chinese cooking emerged. This is represented at Te Min Quan (270 Broad Avenue, 201-592-8993). The Korean version of mapo tofu is redder and more chili based than the original Szechuan version. The most famous Korean-Chinese dish is jjajangmyun, listed on the English menu here as noodles with Mandarin sauce. It first appeared in 1905 in Inchon, Korea, at a restaurant run by a Chinese immigrant. This version tops thick, springy wheat noodles with a mild, savory black bean purée mixed with crisp chunks of sweet onion and either seafood or cubes of pork. 

Sweet potato cake, foreground, and green tea cake from Grand Shilla Bakery. Photo by Laura Baer

For dessert, head to Grand Shilla Bakery (234 Broad Avenue, 201-302-9651) where Sam Kim, the owner, has been working since his mother opened the place (the first Korean bakery in Pal Park) about 30 years ago.  Since then, Korean chains have moved in, but Kim wins with quality. He doesn’t settle for commercial sweet red bean paste; he makes his from scratch, simmering it in a giant vat. The effort pays off in the silky texture of his famous boong uh bbang, a fish-shaped pastry filled with red bean paste. Also try some almond cookies. Thin and crisp, they combine the virtues of an Italian pignoli cookie and a potato chip. 

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The 18 Best Restaurants in Asbury Park

Whether your reference is Springsteen or the grinning face of Tillie the Clown, the words “Asbury Park” have a resonance perhaps no other Shore town can match. But nostalgia plays no role in Asbury’s current revival. Over the last decade, the restaurant scene has become one of the most dynamic in the state. The vibe is youthful, the choice of cuisines and interior designs wide-ranging. The boardwalk combined with Bangs and Cookman avenues amount to three bona fide restaurant rows, plus scattered spots also worth a visit.

Here are our 18 top picks for the best restaurants in Asbury Park, in alphabetical order.

Ethiopian and Dominican food under one roof might not sound like it would work, but it’s a beautiful combination at Ada’s Gojjo. Chef Adanesh Ashghedom first learned to cook Dominican food while working at Ada’s Latin Flavor in Long Branch, even though her native cuisine was Ethiopian. At the end of 2018, she moved into a bright, beautiful space in Asbury Park, renaming the restaurant Ada’s Gojjo. Her cooking style has also evolved, with the menu now split between Ethiopian dishes like doro wot and classic Dominican dishes like mofongo and empanadas. BYO
1301 Memorial Drive, 732-222-5005

In summer there is no better perch than the rooftop garden, but wherever you settle in this atmospheric evocation of an early 20th century Austro-Hungarian beer garden, you will revel in the roster of draft beers, wursts, schnitzels, potato pancakes, smoked trout, sauerbraten and strudel.
527 Lake Avenue, 732-997-8767

Photo by John Connolly

A hit since it opened in 2016, Barrio Costero modernizes Mexican food in a way that is hip, colorful and, most of all, bursting with bold, harmonious flavors. The cocktails take this theme to heights of their own. The menu ranges from beef cheek tacos with grilled pineapple to a plate of scallops with black quinoa, golden raisins and chimichurri.
610 Bangs Avenue, 732-455-5544

Photo by Paul S. Bartholomew

The big raw bar is right by the front door, and the shuckers at the Bonney Read are always busy. But there is much more to this contemporary seafood house. Chef James Avery does a “Jersey Green” clam chowder with green pepper, fennel and sausage as well as a classic New England one. There’s Cajun shrimp, clams casino, a grilled catch of the day—and, yes, a hefty burger should you want one.
525 Cookman Avenue, 732-455-3352

Asbury Park’s dining revival arguably began right here. When the entrepreneurial partnership that calls itself Smith opened Brickwall in 2006, nothing much was happening in what was then just downtown. The beauty of Brickwall is that its then-novel industrial look still feels relevant, honest and satisfying. So does the no-nonsense menu: burger, pork chop, meatloaf, fried chicken, shrimp & grits and more, right on down to the ice cream sundae.
522 Cookman Avenue, 732-774-1264

Breakfast pasta. Photo courtesy of Cardinal Provisions

Spring Lake natives Laura Brahn and Grace Crossman met while working at nearby Porta. They later worked at other restaurants before starting a catering company together. In 2016, they opened the charming and rustic Cardinal Provisions. At first, they served just breakfast and lunch. In November 2018, they began offering dinner Friday and Saturday nights, with a new dinner theme each weekend. During weekend brunch, the restaurant is usually packed, with crowds waiting outside for a table. Favorites include cacio e pepe scrambled eggs, rosewater-scented ricotta toast, a fried chicken “Sammy,” and the breakfast Pasta, a classic carbonara with bacon, egg, fresh spaghetti a la chitarra, peas, black pepper and Parmesan. BYO
513 Bangs Avenue, 732-898-7194

In an effort to “echo the ambitions of mid-19th century Manhattan,” this gastropub uses American-made ingredients, from food to cocktail garnishes. You’ll find all the great hits here—burgers, buttermilk fried chicken, pork belly, fried Brussels sprouts, mac n’ cheese—and a creative cocktail menu featuring small-batch spirits.
508 Cookman Avenue, 732-361-5502

Photo courtesy of Cubacán

Located on Asbury Park’s boardwalk, Cubacán offers a wide-ranging modern Cuban menu, from traditional (Arroz con Pollo, chicken with yellow rice and peas) to fusion (a beef-chorizo slider), plus wine, beer, tropical cocktails and a long list of tequilas and mezcals.
800 Ocean Avenue, 732-774-3007

Since 2008, this vibrant, beachfront restaurant has offered a crowd-pleasing menu featuring local ingredients that touches all bases, from panini to pizza, a burger, edamame, sushi and a kale Caesar. Plus beer, wine, cocktails and Sunday brunch.
1000 Ocean Ave, 732-455-3275

Jalisco, where Tapatia owner German Garcia was born and raised, includes the city of Tequila, and you will have many of those agave liquors to choose from at your table or the bar. Jalisco’s signature dish, birria, a rich beef stew, is a monthly special. The menu, mostly Pueblan, includes excellent tamales; chunky guacamole; and carnitas and lengue tacos. Garcia began in 1998 with a small grocery, which he later turned into La Tapatia restaurant—one of the best Mexican restaurants in the state. Now the family’s domain covers half a block, encompassing a large grocery, bakery, liquor store, taqueria, and the showplace, Plaza Tapatia.
707 Main Street, 732-776-7826

All the cooking is done in the 1,700-pound, Mugnaini wood-burning oven that chef-owners Lauren Castellini and Aimay McElroy installed in the corner of what was once a garage. Castellini starts most days roasting tomatoes and slow cooking pork, while McElroy nurses into being the sumptuous dough for bread and pizza. There are a couple salads and sandwiches, but crisp blistered, delicious pizzas are the main event. No reservations. BYO.
711 4th Avenue, 732-361-3061

Shrimp and grits.

Photo by Stuart Goldenberg

With Modine, one of our Top 30 Best Restaurants, husband and wife chefs Chris Davin and Jill Meerpohl have brought an irresistible Southern accent to town. Their head-on shrimp and grits, fried chicken, sausage gravy over biscuits and wedge salad, among other things joining the menu all the time, possess a joy born of travels through the South and a conviction that you can both honor and update tradition by unstinting attention to detail and making everything from scratch.
601 Mattison Avenue, 732-893-5300

Smith, the company that almost single-handedly rebooted the restaurant scene in AP with the earthy Brickwall Tavern and Porta, went upscale French with Pascal & Sabine. And they pulled it off. Not only is it their most elegant and comfortable restaurant, it just might be Asbury Park’s, too. The bar is great for hanging out, feeling suave, the huge circular booths are something to experience, and the brasserie-style food is persuasive.
601 Bangs Avenue, 732-774-3395

The patio at Porta, a popular, Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant on Kingsley Street, one block from the beach.

Photo by Jim Connolly

Yes, this was where the Boss first met Clarence Clemons, back when this cavernous space was the Student Prince. In 2011, Smith (the name keeps coming up, doesn’t it?) redesigned and reinvented it as an homage to Neapolitan pizza. But the menu offers more than that, including arancini, salads, roasted vegetables, pastas and branzino and rack of lamb.
911 Kingsley Street, 732-776-7661

The team that modernized Mexican at Barrio Costero launched Reyla in 2018 to do the same for Middle Eastern cooking. By the end of the year they had broadened the culinary concept and created a new menu of small but shareable plates—18 of them, ranging from lamb burgers with tzatziki, to octopus with green coconut chutney to three types of hummus. Cocktails, tailored to the concept, are lively. (Reyla is currently closed for remodeling, and expects to reopen sometime in May.)
603 Mattison Avenue, 732-455-8333

Photo courtesy of Stella Marina

In the same building as Cubacán, Stella Marina (“the star of the sea”) has a modern yet rustic Italian menu of pizza, pasta, upscale entrées and a raw bar.
800 Ocean Avenue, 732-775-7776

In a city with so many restaurants and kinds of restaurants, it’s surprising that there is just one that is Japanese. Taka is the real thing, in food, drink and atmosphere, with modern touches. Its chef and founder, Takahiro Hirai, 50, was born in Japan and earned a degree in economics there. After working in sushi restaurants in Miami Beach and Nantucket, he opened Taka in 2000. It offers both sushi and cooked menus, as well as one of the largest selections of Japanese whisky and sake in the area, including one sake made just for the restaurant near Hirai’s hometown.
660 Cookman Avenue, 732-775-1020

Photo by Jim Connolly

Husband and wife Steve and Shanti Mignogna’s sourdough crust has pizza lovers in ferment. Their pies, baked in a gas-fired stone hearth, are thin yet hearty, with puffy, charred crusts—and some of the best in the state. The New Yorker pie distinctively combines fresh and aged mozzarella with aged provolone. The Dolorian, a witty brunch pie, is topped with smoked salmon, hash browns, crema, capers, scallions and dill. Whatever the topping, the foundation raises Talula’s to the heights. And sandwiches on their sourdough bread, list of natural wines and hip cocktails, and fresh-baked pastries make for lines out the door.
550 Cookman Avenue, 732-455-3003

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The 20 Best Restaurants in Montclair

Montclair, always a major restaurant destination, is unusual in that it has three “downtowns”—north (Upper Montclair), central (Watchung Plaza) and south. The latter is the biggest, consuming a mile of Bloomfield Avenue, with restaurants on or just off the avenue, and along Walnut Street, which runs parallel to Bloomfield Avenue a few blocks north. Dig in. The range of choices is striking.

Here are our 20 top picks for the best restaurants in Montclair, in alphabetical order.

Pizza at Bivio. Photo by Erik Rank

Tomasso Colao plays three instruments: alto sax, flute and wood-fired pizza oven. He is an artist on all three. His delicate pies are as close to the Neapolitan ideal as you’ll find anywhere, and they pair well with his detailed salads. They’re so good, in fact, that Bivio appeared on our list of the state’s top pizza places. With just 24 seats in this lovely old storefront, waits are not uncommon. But worth it. BYO.
107 Pine Street, 973-941-9602

Tiradito Nikkei and ceviche at Costanera. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

Chef Juan Placencia’s Peruvian restaurant is uniquely handsome, its walls covered in disc-like cross-sections of trees. Peru’s signature ceviches and baked empanadas are standouts at Costanera, and the pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) is one of the juiciest and most flavorful around. Portions are generous; the spicy prawn soup could make a meal. BYO
511 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-337-8289

Spaghettoni chitarra with crab meat; behind it, a bowl of gnocchi Telefono at Da Pepo. Photo credit: Laura Baer

One of our 2019 hottest new restaurants, the Italian home cooking at Da Pepo is as authentic and compelling as the space is a bit, well, tight. There are 19 seats, including three at a narrow counter. But after a career cooking in big Italian-American restaurants, chef Carlo Orrico is living his dream, cooking time-tested family recipes from Southern Italy. BYO
54 Fairfield Street, 973-655-8825

Scallops. Photo courtesy of Fascino

Since chef Ryan DePersio and his family opened Fascino in 2003, they have kept it Montclair’s go-to for modern Italian food. Fresh pastas are a strength, and main courses are substantial. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to find the three-course vegetarian menu sensuous and satisfying. (Fascino is one of our top 30 best restaurants in New Jersey.) BYO
331 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-233-0350

The dining room is simple but pleasant and the cooking is good. The classic Korean rice bowls–bibimbap and bulgogi, among others–can be ordered in a sizzling hot stone bowl for $1 extra. There are soups, vegetable dishes and a kids’ menu to bolster the selection of spicy grilled meat entrees. BYO
128 Watchung Avenue, 973-509-7800

Lamb shank. Photo by Natalie Chitwood, courtesy of Laurel and Sage.

Chef Shawn Dalziel’s New American cooking is flavor-forward and generous in portion. In response to customer requests, a number of his menu items have no gluten, dairy or animal protein (though you can add the latter). For riotous richness, it’s hard to beat his shrimp and chorizo risotto, pomegranate-molasses braised short rib, or Moroccan orange tagine with eggplant relish—which surrenders nothing for being vegetarian. (Laurel and Sage is one of our top 30 best restaurants in New Jersey.) BYO
33 Walnut Street, 973-783-1133

The Moroccan Lamb Skillet at Le Salbuen. Photo by Jason Varney

The storefront is tiny, the rustic interior packed with small wooden tables, antiques and an open kitchen run by chef/owners John and Christina Salierno. Opening in 2012, Salbuen first won fans for boosting breakfast and brunch staples to flavorful new heights (using organic ingredients, with gluten-free options). More recently, the Saliernos have added dinner, applying the same flavor-forward ideas to a range of European and New American dishes. BYO
97 Walnut Street, 201-622-8473

Growing up in Israel, Meny Vaknin learned to cook from his Moroccan Jewish mother. His Mediterranean influences, and skills in baking, have made Marcel a community hot spot since it opened in 2017. It works as a grab-and-go cafe or a schmooze fest at its community table and two-tops. Hits include shakshuka, hummus or rice bowls topped with meat or vegetables, shwarma chicken tacos and a variety of smoothies and coffee drinks. BYO
631 1/2 Valley Road, 973-842-4088

Despite never having worked in a restaurant, sisters Berekti and Akberet Mengistu fearlessly opened Mesob in 2003. They’d grown up in an Ethiopian family of 10 children; with relatives dropping by all the time, cooking dinner for 40 on little notice was no big deal. They figured they could handle it. And they were right. Mesob today is busy most nights, and people have taken to the Ethiopian way of eating–scooping up subtly spiced meat and vegetable stews with hand-torn strips of cool, spongy injera, Ethiopia’s uniquely absorbent sourdough crepes. BYO
515 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-655-9000

At Montclair Social Club, an orange peel is flamed to release oil. Right, a deviled egg. Photo by Michael Barr

Opened in late 2018 in a long-dormant space, Montclair Social Club immediately created one of Montclair’s liveliest bar scenes. The renovated space is attractive and the menu of time-tested popular items is well executed. There’s a small corner bandstand where combos hold forth on certain nights. (Montclair Social Club is one of our 2019 hottest new restaurants.)
499 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-436-4200

Photo courtesy of Pig and Prince

With its brick-lined vaulted ceiling, the renovated former waiting room of the Lackawanna train station makes a sensational setting for the dining room and bar of chef Michael Carrino’s restaurant. His wide-ranging New American menu includes his house-made charcuterie. P&P boasts an excellent bar program, and its mixologists have distinguished themselves in the annual Iron Shaker competition.
1 Lackawanna Plaza, 973-233-1006

Photo courtesy of Raymond’s

One of Montclair’s most popular meeting places, and for good reason. The built-from-scratch interior could be the set of a luncheonette from a 1940s Hollywood movie. The menu is basically all the American favorites people love to eat. And the prices are reasonable. Plus outdoor seating in warm weather. BYO
28 Church St, 973-744-9263

Photo courtesy of Samba

Brazilian native Ilson Goncalves opened Samba in 2011, and ever since has been showing people there is more to Brazilian food than steak (though his sirloins are very good). Grilled salmon with passion fruit sauce and baked acorn squash filled with shrimp, squash and Parmesan is another. You don’t have to be gluten-free to feel greedy about the warm cheese biscuits. On Fridays and Saturdays, Samba serves feijoada, the national dish. It’s one of the world’s great meat stews, combining beef, pork ribs, bacon and black beans with sides of collard greens, chopped vegetables and seasoned yucca powder to dump into the stew and multiply its flavors. BYO
7 Park Street, 973-744-6764

Chef Michael Cetrulo made his name with Scalini Fedeli in Chatham. Scala del Nonna (“steps of the grandmother”), which he opened in 2014, serves sumptuous Italian food under a vaulted ceiling that adds a touch of elegance to the warm hospitality, which is overseen by Cetrulo’s sister, Sally Gildea. BYO
32 Church Street, 973-744-3300

Photo courtesy of SLA Thai

The initials stand for Simple Love Authentic. Owner Meiji Pattamasingchai radiates the L word. She grew up in northern Thailand and learned the local cuisine (the A word) from her mother, a caterer. Her menu, prepared by her husband Paul Phaisanyakit, is too rich in flavor and varied in texture to be summed up by the S word. Spice levels are adjustable on request. BYO
38 Upper Montclair Plaza (off Valley Road) 973-509-0111

Photo courtesy of Turtle + the Wolf

Montclair native Lauren Hirschberg rose to a high level in Tom Colicchio’s Craft organization. In 2015 he and longtime friend Matt Trevenen fulfilled their dream of opening their own New American restaurant in their hometown. The food is hearty and contemporary, the atmosphere hip but relaxed. BYO
622 Valley Road, 973-783-9800

Photo courtesy of Vanillamore.

Don’t get hung up on the name. Vanillamore sounds like a dessert café. While there’s no shame in making a meal of its extensive sweets menu, Risa Boyer’s restaurant deserves to be known as a savory destination as well. The menu offers a host of salads, dips, grain bowls, cured meats and a handful of entrees such as roast chicken and red wine-braised short ribs. BYO
349 Bloomfield Ave, 973-707-5373

Vegetarian enchiladas with kale “chicharron.”

Vegetarian enchiladas with kale “chicharron.” Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

Chef Adam Rose’s take on modern Mexican keeps Villalobos busy. His passion for salsas has produced a list of seven noticeably individual ones, and he also offers four different elaborated guacamoles. Tortillas are handmade in house daily. There are eight different tacos and five entrees, including one that’s vegetarian. BYO
6 South Fullerton Ave, 973-337-6667

At the Beard House’s Waste Not dinner, Kwame Williams prepared Jamaican pepperpot—a traditional meat and vegetable soup “that is a great way to make use of leftovers.”

Kwame Williams. Photo courtesy of F. Martin Ramin

Chef/owner Kwame Williams, a sustainability activist, serves traditional Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken, braised oxtail and curry shrimp as well as more modern takes like avocado with almond stuffing and arugula and rasta risotto, made with brown rice, peas, mushrooms and coconut milk. BYO
387 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-655-9500

Photo courtesy of Zeugma Grill

Chef Can (pronounced John) Alp trained in Turkey and brings a fanciful, modern take on Mediterranean food to Zeugma, which he opened in 2017. Think crunchy beet falafel delicately flavored with cumin and calamari ringed with miso aioli. BYO or wine from California’s Domenico Winery.
44 South Park Street, 973-744-0074

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At the Pastoral Pig, Carving Meat is an Art Form

“We have an open layout,” says Sebastien Destree, head butcher of the Pastoral Pig in Flanders,”because we have nothing ?to hide.”
Photo by John Bessler

If you get to the Pastoral Pig in Flanders early, you’ll see something rare: butchers breaking down a whole pig or side of beef, not in a back room, but in the open for all to see.

The Pastoral Pig, which carries only grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised beef, pork, lamb and poultry, specializes in whole-animal butchery rather than buying boxed cuts.

“It’s like CSI for us,” says head butcher and co-owner Sebastien Destree. “With the whole animal, we can tell you how the animal was treated, if it was mistreated, and what it ate. You cannot do that when you just get parts in a box.”

Destree, 44, grew up in Lyon, France, where the butcher shop was the social center of town. He worked in restaurants in Europe before moving to America to attend culinary school in 2008. After graduating, he worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in New York such as Gilt and Jean-Georges. There, he became fascinated with whole-animal butchery and the high-quality, humanely raised meats that top chefs often procure through relationships with farmers. Why shouldn’t the average consumer be privy to the same stuff?

Living in Long Valley with his wife and two children (now 4 and 8), Destree eventually decided to leave restaurants, lose the long hours and long commute, and answer that question. He attended a whole-animal butchery class and, in August 2016, opened the Pastoral Pig.

“I wanted my children to have good meat,” he says. “And of course, we wanted to do it for the community, too.”

Photo by John Bessler

In the Pig’s refrigerated cases you’ll find ribeyes, tenderloins and chops, as well as less familiar cuts like sirloin bavette (similar to skirt steak, great for pan searing) and terres major (beef shoulder, tender as filet mignon, but less costly). Custom cuts are available on request. Destree dry ages New York strip and rib-eye steaks for at least 30 days. They range in price from $23.99 to $32.99 a pound.

His team makes rich stock from leftover bones and turns scraps into sausages and lard. “We try to throw nothing in the garbage,” he says. Last year, Destree started preparing dishes like pork ragù, chicken curries and empanadas in the shop’s kitchen and selling them for takeout. He also stocks oils, local cheeses and fresh-baked breads.

“We’re not a supermarket,” he says. “We don’t want to be.” Instead, he offers “specials during weeks when we have extraordinary meat.”

Destree often visits his farmers and—with a chalkboard out front listing them—encourages customers to do the same. “I guarantee you’ll appreciate the food on your plate more if you do,” he says.

The shop has a website, but it doesn’t ship. He doesn’t sell to restaurants. “People say, ‘I want to know my butcher. I want him to know my kids.’”

Never does he forget what his mother used to tell him: “Befriend a cop, a mechanic and a butcher. The first two can get you out of trouble, but the butcher will give you a happy life.”

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Hoboken Food Tour: Pizza, Mozzarella and So Much More

Writer Sophia Gottfried approaches Lisa’s Italian Deli on Park Avenue. Photo by Marla Cohen

Hoboken clocks in at just over one square mile, but the Hudson County city packs a plethora of authentic Italian food into its tiny domain. One way to taste a smattering of it—from hand-pulled mozzarella to crusty, coal-fired loaves to pillowy cannoli cream—is to pound the cobblestones with Avi Ohring of Mangia Hoboken! Food and Culture Tour.

Kate Hein at Carlo’s. Photo by Marla Cohen

Ohring, who has called Hoboken home since the mid-1980s, started taking tourists around his city 10 years ago. He advises groups to start hungry and wear comfortable walking shoes. Our party of seven, who converged at the Hoboken PATH station on a sunny, early-fall day, gladly complied. During the 3 1/2 hour outing, we briskly followed our leader down promenades crammed with strollers and dogs, along rowhouse-lined side streets and through quaint alleys. We walked the streets with gusto, jaywalking like true Jerseyans.   

The adventure, which costs $48 per person (including food tastings), began at Carlo’s Bakery, of reality television’s Cake Boss fame, where we skirted the crowds and ate our cannoli in the fragrant back alley. Ohring imparted a little history (the building has been a bakery for more than 100 years), and divulged Carlo’s secret cannoli ingredient—lard (vegetarians, take note). 

Back on Washington Street, Hoboken’s main drag, we wove through young families enjoying the weather, shop owners greeting regulars, and college sports fans heading for a pub. Ohring led us fleetingly past the popular Luca Brasi’s Deli, explaining, “If we went to all the Italian delis in Hoboken, this would be a seven- or eight-hour tour.” 

We trekked instead to Fiore’s Deli, whose sign proclaims, “Famous for our mozzarella.” Indeed, patrons were lined up to the establishment’s well-weathered door for the chewy, juicy house specialty, eaten on its own or in a special roast beef and gravy sandwich. We intently devoured a tray, the tranquility broken only when a slice I was holding accidentally slipped to the ground.

The Mangiaracina family. Photo by Marla Cohen

All was forgiven by the time we got to Dom’s Bakery Grand, last of a small chain of traditional Italian bakeries in Hoboken. In the bare-bones interior, only a few pieces of tomato focaccia and two flaky, cream-stuffed sfogliatella, or lobster-tail, pastries remained by the afternoon. A passing local graciously informed us that the bread keeps well in the freezer. But ripping hunks from a loaf still warm from the coal-fired oven is superior. (Consider bringing your own olive oil for dipping, as Ohring did for us.) 

Between food stops, we also got a fair serving of history; Ohring pointed out the vacant lot on Monroe Street where Frank Sinatra’s birthplace once stood, a few of the once-abundant Italian-American social clubs still in use, and plenty of formerly industrial buildings turned condos.

If you know Hoboken, you know the Lisa of Lisa’s Deli is a guy—Tony Lisa. Photo by Marla Cohen

More mozzarella awaited us at Lisa’s Italian Deli on Park Avenue, where 73-year-old Anthony “Tony” Lisa, whose family has owned the shop since 1971, had the shelves stocked with canned Italian tomatoes, peppers, pasta and other imported goods. But the sandwiches, panini and fresh mozzarella were the draw; in fact, Tony had mozzarella boss embroidered on his chef’s jacket. To prove it, he gracefully pulled a ball of curds into a neat braid, and another into a bundle to be aged and stuffed (called scamorza). Entertained, we dug into a tray of heroes laden with housemade pesto, arugula and ham, salami or fried eggplant (and, of course, fresh mozzarella). Meanwhile, Lisa told family stories and explained how Hoboken has changed over the last 50 years. One of our party was so charmed, she said she’d return as much for his company as for his sandwiches. 

What’s an Italian food tour without pizza? Back on Washington, we piled into Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, of Brooklyn fame; this is one of their two Jersey locations. Seated at the bar, my food-tour comrades and I didn’t have to be convinced to make room for a thin, crispy slice topped with more fresh mozzarella.

Rounding out the cheese-and-bread-filled journey, we headed to Sweet, a charming corner bakeshop, for mini red-velvet cupcakes. We took them up the block to Empire Coffee & Tea on Bloomfield Street for a caffeine pairing. The family-owned business offers dozens of signature roasts, as well as drinks to go.

Three hours and about one and a half walked miles later, Ohring returned us to Carlo’s Bakery, this time out front. There we stood, mozzarella-sated but already plotting to return for more.  

Mangia Hoboken! tours run at 2 pm every other Saturday, April–October; tours are limited to 16 people. Go to for information and reservations.

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The Surprising Nuance Behind Brewing Lagers

Alementary’s Hackensack Lager has a robust foamstand—the term for the length of time the head endures. Photo by Scott Jones

Lager has an image problem. This seems odd, since it is the most consumed style of beer in the world. Yet unlike hoppy IPAs, burly stouts and fruity wheats, lagers aren’t considered sexy or bursting with character. That may have to do with the best-selling beers in America (Bud Light, Coors Light, Budweiser, Miller Lite, Corona, Michelob) being lagers.

But craft brewers know that a lager puts their skills to the ultimate test. It uses a different yeast than ales (one that promotes crisp rather than fruity flavors and aromas), is fermented at colder temperatures, and takes up to twice as long to make because it has to be lagered (from the German word for stored) at cool temperatures to fully develop its character. Lagers traditionally have been more subtly hopped than ales.

“Flaws in ales can be concealed by hops,” says Greg Zaccardi, president of High Point Brewing in Butler, maker of Ramstein beers, including several lagers. “In a lager, there’s nowhere to hide. It’s like you’re singing a capella.”

Lagers are friendly in that they’re relatively low in alcohol. The classic helles (German for bright) is crisp on the palate. Barleys malted to varying levels of darkness add bready notes. A lager like Double Nickel’s Vienna, named best lager by our panel, combines light, medium and dark malts for a creamy, toasty quaff.

Hackensack Lager Photo by Scott Jones

Alementary Brewing in Hackensack, created by a molecular biologist (Michael Roosevelt) and a chemical engineer (Blake Crawford) takes, as you might expect, a scientific approach to every nuance of brewing. Yet ultimately, they are flavor geeks. Their widely praised Hackensack Lager, their best seller, makes a virtue of Hackensack’s hard water, delivering a crisp, spicy foretaste, full, round mouthfeel, and a clean finish with no residual sweetness or bitterness. Its aroma is floral with a faint herbaceousness.

Crawford considers it high praise that “one of our regulars refers to it as ‘beer-flavored beer.’ It’s super food friendly,” he adds. “You don’t have to meditate on it. Many craft breweries want the experience to be all about the beer. There’s a time and place for that.” Indeed, Alementary makes several stunning beers. “But with Hackensack,” he says, “our mission was a beer that supports whatever your experience is today, without it having to be your experience.”

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Mud Hen Brewing Co. is a Statewide Favorite

Brewmaster Tony Cunha tends to the fermentation tanks. In brewing, cleanliness is godliness. Below: Mud Hen has at least 10 beers on tap at three separate bars.
Photo by Scott Jones

It felt like Mud Hen would never open. Whole summer seasons passed, and along with them, thousands of visitors to Wildwood who entered and exited the island via West Rio Grande Avenue, where a decrepit old Harley-Davidson dealership awaited transformation into the promised brewpub. It wasn’t until April 2018 that Brendan Sciarra, who owns nearby Poppi’s and Dogtooth, finally debuted Mud Hen with a 150-barrel system, expansive food menu and robust programming of live music and garden games. 

Less than a year later, and with its first (insanely busy) summer under its belt, New Jersey Monthly’s panel of beer experts deemed Mud Hen the best brewpub in the state.

At the heart of MudHen’s appeal is brewmaster Tony Cunha’s smart, inclusive beer list. “Tony and the staff realize the importance of having something that will challenge the veteran craft-beer palate as well as having beer for the masses of people who are not accustomed to it,” says John Couchoud, the cofounder and editor in chief of South Jersey Beer Scene and one of the New Jersey Monthly beer judges. To exemplify the range, Couchoud cites Mud Light (“an entry-level pilsner for the non-craft drinker”) and Cackling Coot (“a complex Belgian Tripel that appeals to a craft-beer aficionado”).

Photo by Scott Jones

The formula has resonated with customers. “From our opening to December 31st, we sold slightly under 900 barrels of beer,” says Cunha, a graduate of Lower Cape May Regional High School. “We are very honored and excited.” Cunha has already added another 30-barrel tank to his lab to increase output this spring. “In the upcoming months we are looking to have a weizenbock, Scotch ale, coffee porter, Vienna lager, Belgian tripel and saison.”

Complementing the beer is a huge food menu featuring everything from onion rings and smoked wings to Cape May salts on the half shell and crab-topped rib eye. “They do a great job with beer-food synergy,” says Couchoud, which was another award criterion, along with staff knowledge, beer service (“proper glassware!”) and overall design. Mud Hen ranked highly everywhere. Raise a toast to its new award.

A 127 West Rio Grande Avenue, 609-846-7918;

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Vote In Our Craft Beer Madness Competition

Do you have a favorite New Jersey brewery? Make sure to vote in this month’s Craft Beer Madness competition, presented by New Jersey Monthly.

Throughout March, we are pitting Jersey’s top-16 craft brewers (chosen by a panel of beer experts) against each other in a bracket-style elimination contest. For the contest, we split the state into northern and southern regions, with Interstate I95 as the dividing line. The eight northern and eight southern breweries are seeded 1 through 8, based on the vote by our expert panel.

In this week’s opening round, in each region, the number 1 seed is pitted against the number 8 seed; number 2 against number 7; number 3 against number 6; and number 4 against number 5.

When you vote, you can become eligible for our drawing to win a $50 American Express gift card. See the details on the polling page.

We’ll cut the field in half each week based on your votes. A new round begins each Tuesday, with the championship round starting March 19. The winning brewery will be announced on March 26.

Check here each week to see which breweries advance. You can also sign up to receive a weekly email with bracket updates.

Make sure to vote for your each week for your favorite Jersey breweries!

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