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Looking for Something Different in Union County NJ

I feel like we've been everywhere in Union County. Obviously, we haven't. My husband's birthday is this weekend and I'm looking to take him someplace new. Doesn't have to be upscale, infact, I'd prefer that we don't make a big deal out of it since the next day we have to be at a family gathering which will be on the fancy side.

We would consider going out of the County, if it isn't too far out.

We eat everything, except he doesn't eat seafood - so please don't suggest sushi :-) We've also eaten at every single restaurant in Westfield many times over, so all of them are out. All ethnic foods are a possibily other than japanese for the aforementioned reason.

Oh and no Italian - that's the party the next day :-)

I guess we're hoping for some hidden gem. Someplace we've passed by and forgotten about or didn't notice was there before. Like the other night when we suddenly remembered there was a Turkish restaurant in Summit we'd never tried. Can't remember the name now, but we had a very nice mezze, with stuffed grape leaves flavored like none we'd every had before.

Sorry for rambling, but you all know how it is when you're looking for something new, in a place you've lived for a long time. Challenging is the word which comes to mind.

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  1. Hi sivyaleah! What about Pithera Taverna in Highland Park? I know you said Union County, but I am still thinking!!! :) It is the new Greek place..I wrote a post about it recently.

    Or, I have not been but many people have said wonderful things about it...Drew's Bayshore Bistro in Keyport. (Cajun food.)

    I absolutely love Le Rendevous in Kenilworth. :) yum!

    ok, I am still thinking...I will post if I think of more :)

    Otherwise, enjoy and have a great time!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Angelina

      Wow, there's cajun someplace close by? I'm stunned! Thanks for that suggestion. Pithera sounds feasible too - we love Greek food and I do remember you mentioning it before.

      Le Rendevous has also been mentioned before, that's one nearby we do keep forgetting about, but perhaps a bit too fancy this time?

      I'm going to look all of them up - all good possibilities. Thanks for the suggestions :-)

      1. re: Angelina

        A, Le Rendevous is my new fav place!

        1. re: HillJ

          Merci...:) I love the place, too!

      2. My first thought is Lorena's, in Maplewood (Essex County). It's doubtful you can get a reservation this Saturday, but it's definitely worth a try. Sunday would be a much better bet. Of course, if you've already been...? (BYO)


        Verjus is another good option in Maplewood. The food, though not the high caliber of Lorena's, is quite good. They have a liquor license.


        Highland Park has several very good ethnic possibilities:

        Seven Hills of Istanbul - http://www.7hillsofistanbul.com/index...

        Pithari Taverna is just two months old and already very popular. http://www.pitharitaverna.com

        Shanghai Park has some of *the* best! soup dumplings. 230 Raritan Av., Tel.: 732-247-8813

        All are BYO

        In New Brunswick, I've not been to Piquant Bread Bar and Grill, but have heard some good things about the Indian food served there. 349A George St., Tel.: 732-246-2468. BYO.

        Finally, the only relatively new place that springs to mind in Union County is Rio22, the cavernous space that has been turned into a Brazilian rodizio and sushi bar. (Obviously, forget the latter.)


        Best birthday wishes to your husband. :-)

        1 Reply
        1. re: RGR

          Pithari is really appealing to both of us. We've been searching for Greek food and Highland Park might not be too far to drive, I'll have to check mapquest. Seven Hills is a good choice too, but we had Turkish last weekend - but I'm glad you reminded me of it, as I remember reading good things here about it a while ago.

          We know about Rio22 and have only heard poor reviews so far. The menu looks unappealing actually. Really odd concept. Both of us have no desire to try it. We're both not too big on the riodizio aspect either, not being into gorging ourselves into oblivion. My brother keeps talking about giving it a go so I'm going to wait and see what he has to say about it first.

        2. http://www.bayshorebistro.com/

          Here is the website. Like I said, I have not been, but the menu looks really good!! Le Rendezvous is really nice, and not too fancy. The owner Philip is so welcoming and friendly. We have dined there before on "casual days" not really dressed up much. (Just for your information :)

          2 Replies
          1. re: Angelina

            For whatever reason, your post didn't show when I posted mine. In any event, Drew's is a terrific suggestion though it is further from Union County than the other restaurants you and I have suggested. The Cajun/Creole-inspired cuisine is delicious, and portions are *very* generous. Also, Drew is a honey of a guy.

            1. re: RGR

              Keyport isn't that far, we're at the tip of Union County - although the menu is a bit heavy on seafood - not good for my hubby but I'll be keeping that one in mind for another day, his birthday might not be the best time to try it, since I'd rather cater to his tastes. He does like cajun - but the menu seems somewhat on the small side, so I'd rather go someplace where I'm assured there will be something he'll enjoy.

          2. Angelina/RGR, what is the atmosphere at Pithari? I assume very lowkey? Do they take reservations? I kind of assume not on that account too. You mentioned they've become quite popular, so I guess getting there earlier over later is better? We're leaning very heavily to driving out there - it's only 5 exits from where we live - not a huge big deal to us. The menu looks fantastic :-)

            1 Reply
            1. re: sivyaleah

              Very casual. You can also buy wine next door because they own the store. Amethystos is my favorite. $22..either Cabernet or Chardonnay. I am not sure about reservations, but I would eat there early on a Sat. night because some people make it a huge dinning even and stay for hours..(Don't you just hate that?)

              Birthday wishes to yor husband :)

            2. I have been lax about posting a review of our first meal at Pithari last week. As Angelina said, it is very casual with taverna-style decor in traditional blue and white. When we called to make a reservation for around 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, we were told none was necessary. When we arrived, the place was about 3/4 full, and by the time we left, only 2 tables were vacant. Many NJ restaurants can only dream of that level of patronage mid-week. There's no way you'd find me and my husband there on a weekend because it sounds as though it's a zoo.

              1. siv, have you been to Van Gogh's Ear in Union?

                2 Replies
                1. re: HillJ

                  Nope, haven't been their either. What type of food is it?

                  1. re: sivyaleah


                    They offer a jazz night, intersting menu and the decor is unusual for the area. See what u think.

                2. Have you tried North Avenue restaurants in Garwood? There is a spanish place (sorry name escapes me) that was terrific.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: HillJ

                    Spanish in Garwood? It's such a small town and I live so close by you'd think I know about this one and I don't. Are you perhaps thinking of the one in Cranford? (which we have been to, and is pretty good). Or are you remembering that great Mexican place which is alas, long gone and now Pastrami King (BTW, pretty good pastrami and corned beef!)

                    1. re: sivyaleah

                      Could you mean Tatiana's BBQ, which is Portuguese and on North Ave. in Garwood? If so, I'd pass. The ribs were really fatty and the chicken dry. There's much better Portuguese, without even going all the way to Ironbound. Samantha's is one (in Roselle Park, I think).

                      1. re: gangly handful

                        I think the Portuguese mentioned above is:

                        Stephanie's BBQ
                        101 E Westfield Ave
                        Roselle Park, NJ 07204
                        (908) 241-8811

                        I've been there (though it was more than a year ago) and agree it is much better than Tattiana's.

                        Spanish in post above is most likely
                        (It's almost in Garwood):

                        Cervantes of Spain
                        24 North Ave E
                        Cranford, NJ 07016
                        (908) 276-3664

                        Sidenote: If you love beer the best place in the area is

                        112 South Ave E
                        Cranford, NJ 07016
                        (908) 276-3414

                        Upwards of 30 beers on tap. Lots of microbrews.

                        1. re: jrd303

                          yep, that's it...Cranford. thank you for posting it.

                      2. re: sivyaleah

                        I'll check with my SIL. She lives in Garwood. Our dinner wasn't that long ago, name of rest. escapes me...

                    2. Hi Laurie!

                      Have you been to Winberie's in Summit? It's pretty casual, but it's one of my favorite places.

                      There's also a good Thai place on Main Street in Chatham. After dinner you could go up the street to Cafe Beethoven for dessert.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: maryelizabeth

                        Hi MaryElizabeth :-)

                        I've never heard of Winberie's, what kind of food is it? I also don't know about the Thai in Chatham. This thread is giving me lots of great ideas!

                      2. Winberie's is American bistro food. The salads are really good, and huge. I also like their cheddar and beer fondue appetizer. The Thai place in Chatham is a little fancier than the place on Central Ave in Westfield, but not as trendy as Splash of Thai.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: maryelizabeth

                          BTW, we went back to Splash recently for the first time since it opened and had a really great dinner. They really have ironed out all the kinks in the service. We'll keep the one in Chatham in mind the next time we're in the mood for it - we've gotten a bit bored with our fav in Clark - I actually think the quality has slipped a bit recently, so we're on the look out for others.

                          I took a look at Winberie's site - looks really appealing, especially the deserts :-) But, maybe not for his birthday.

                          He actually mentioned going back to David Drake. I thought he didn't want to do something so fancy, I was somewhat stunned he mentioned it. So, I made a reservation "just in case" we decide in the end to get all gussied up :-)

                        2. How about Pho 99 in the shopping center at the corner of OakTree Rd and Park Ave in South Plainfield? I love the pho there. They have a dinner menu too, but I usually go there for lunch. It is not far from Westfield, which is where I live too.

                          1. Magic Grill in Garwood, I think on North Avenue. Very fresh and good Mongolian bbq.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: rakh

                              I can't believe this thread got resurrected LOL.

                              Anyway - thanks for the rec but I'm not into Mongolian BBQ at all. I've been to quite a few of them and haven't found anything worthwhile about any of them. Just not my thing and I like just about everything but for some reason these kind of places rub me the wrong way. There is something about buffet type places like that that irk me - attempting to claim their food is something interesting and special when in fact it's just a mishmash of veggies, meat and noodles thrown together randomly.

                              Just my 2 cents - I know lots of people enjoy them but from my experience - it's just been low quality, and it all winds up tasting the same no matter what combination of ingredients you use.

                              1. re: rakh

                                rakh>> Magic Grill in Garwood, I think on North Avenue. Very fresh and good Mongolian bbq.

                                I been there many times over the years. My parents like it. I would say it's nothing special, but I enjoy going there. It's fun to construct a bowl of meat, veggies, and sauce and have the guy grill it for me. The veggies are usually very fresh. Meats are frozen slices. The place is not as pleasant when it's crowded.

                                1. re: val ann c

                                  They actually make really good dumplings at Magic Grill. We always get extra orders.

                              2. If that's your opinion, I would say quality restaurants in Union County are far and few between. Try Somerset County.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: rakh

                                  There are plenty of quality restaurants in Union County rakh - I've been to many of them. I just happen not to like Mongolian BBQ. As I mentioned, I've been dragged to several through the years and my personal experience has turned me off from going to any others. "Fresh" to me does not mean using frozen meats to compose a meal - which I know most of these place do use.

                                2. Jfood plugging a multi-generational favorite. Do a search on Spiritos in Elizabeth. You will see rave after rave after rave. Not sure if you meant something different from your normal haunts or something different as in weird. This is the former. It's a throwback to a generation where grandma arrived every morning and made the lasagne, the chicken parm a little eggplant parm, some red gravy and came out and served you what you wanted. Great pizza as well. No butter on the table.

                                  16 Replies
                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Well considering I wrote this thread 11/06, and mentioned not Italian, that wouldn't do. We were looking for something out of the ordinary at that time, because we were having a big Italian feast the next day (see original post).

                                    However, considering this thread has been resurrected for some darn reason, your suggestion for Spiritos is now most welcome :-) and I'll add it to our list of "must do" restaurants in the area. No butter on the table is a plus to us - I asume you mean olive oil instead :-)

                                    1. re: sivyaleah

                                      if i may-- sivy,,,,no olive oil either :)
                                      Spirito's does place parm cheese on the table
                                      My dh takes the trek to Elizabeth from our piece of Jersey twice a year so I can have my Spirito's fix. Must try the garlic salad, bar pie, ravioli, cutlets and so on...everything is delicious...the entire restaurant is a throwback (tyou jfood) to a simpler time.

                                      Come with an appetite, leave rewarded.

                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        Garlic salad? What is that? I'm salivating thinking of it!

                                        1. re: sivyaleah

                                          sivy, you have got to go! The garlic dressing provides the magic to a very simple green salad. I think the simple preparation IS what makes Spirito's a special place.

                                          When we go, I order one salad with dinner (easily shared by two) and bring one home with extra dressing on the side.

                                      2. re: sivyaleah

                                        i would like to say that i knew that and that was the reason i did not respond in november, but that would be a lie. What's not a lie is spiritos. hope you like it.

                                      3. re: jfood

                                        Wow just reading this older thread since we were looking for something different close by in union county. When I saw spiritos it brought back child hood memories. My parents use to bring us there for some good old Italian food. Is it still there?

                                        1. re: ryry

                                          Yes, and those really mean waitress' are there, too! lol

                                          LOVE the ravioli!!

                                          1. re: Angelina

                                            Ravioli the size of your hand! Last time we were there the veal parm was a bit tuff but the bar pie, GARLIC salad and "shots" of warm cola were spot on! A waitress that doesn't write down an order, can't provide budder but has the spirit to work at Spirito's for 40 years isn't mean (LOL) she's authentic.

                                            1. re: HillJ

                                              Again this thread pops up that I started (under a different name) lol. Funny thing is, I'm now living close to Elizabeth and I still haven't gotten to Spritos yet . BAD ME. I'm putting this on my "To Eat" list now for sure, as there is no excuse with me living so near by.

                                              1. re: Elora

                                                First timer, start with the garlic salad...move onto the ravioli with table bread and parm cheese....order a bar pie just for the experience...and then the chicken parm. Make sure you park by the playground and order at least two shots of cola. If you time it just right you can catch a typical family crowd with a line that spirals around the entire dining room. Prepare to adjust your eyes to dim lighting and the need to squeeze into a booth or table circa 1950 when apparently people didn't need elbow room!

                                                Have a blast from the past.

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  Remember when the waitress' use to smoke like hell at that one table?? I miss always being called, "sweetie" by them, too. I have to get my butt back there. I like putting the parm cheese on my bread, too!

                                                  1. re: Angelina

                                                    Angelina, I have countless memories of the place. Bar pies while my father had business lunches (he ran a bridal factory in Eliz & NY), being "allowed" in the bar, watching the cooks make sauce, waitresses filling the parm jars, on and on. My parents were REAL regulars. When I go to Spirito's its a total timewarp for me. My kids laugh.

                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                      HillJ we have the same taste. A garlic salad, some raviolis, and a bar pie. I'm in heaven. My grandfather, who passed away two years ago, always ordered the same thing, lasagna, for years. We lived on 4th ave so we'd walk down and then hit up DiCosmo's for dessert.

                                                      1. re: dani0622

                                                        dani, I've enjoyed your posts on Keyport dining and yes, we do have the same taste and often the same restaurant preferences. Your blog is very cool.

                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                          HillJ, I'm think you, me, and baconguy are the same person, lol. thanks for the blog compliment, should have it up and running this month after my hiatus!

                                                          1. re: dani0622

                                                            Funny you mention CH Baconguy. When I read the post, I thought the same thing.