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Jersey Top 10

While living in the Garden State as a transplant, I often found myself, surprisingly, defending her against the oft-repeated charges of spiteful New Yorkers and others (toxic odors, urban blight, enduring Bon Jovi fandom, the trappings of middlebrow or guido existence, etc.). I didn't have much to go on, and as an outsider, I partially agreed with what I heard. However, I could always rely upon the unimpeachable quality of the food available, which reflects the state's agricultural history and the ethnic diversity of its population.

I have since left Jerz, but somehow, she won enough loyalty for me to make this pact: to always emphasize the best she brings to the table. I did not try every place, and I tended to favor unique or traditional cuisines that represent a good value over expensive culinary innovation, with I think is better accomplished in NYC, but not always. With that, I offer, in my humble opinion, the Jerzee Top Ten (in no particular order):

-So Moon Nan Jip. In the heavily Korean community of Palisades Park is this BBQ joint, perhaps the best in the Tri-State area (though there are likely doubters in Queens). The banchan are plentiful and vary by the day, and a baked egg mixture and whole fried fish are usually provided with compliments. The dining room is often bustling and waits may be required, especially if a BBQ table is desired, but the experience is not to be missed. Real wood chips are inserted into the inlaid grill box red-hot, and the staff will dutifully tend to your pork belly or kalbi with periodic turns.

-Marco & Pepe (J.C.). The decor here seems simply too chic for new jersey, and more appropriate to the lower east side, carroll gardens, or elsewhere on the brooklyn front. The menu has Spanish, French, and American influences in the small/large plate concept, and there is a lot of variation and change, but some standard favorites include their applewood-smoked bacon BLT, charcuterie, and the high-end comfort food poly-cheese macaroni. Brunch outside on a late morning is harmonious, and they have a clever selection of Belgian brews, wines, and scotches.

-Moghul (Edison). In the South Asian milieu of Edison/Iselin, no eatery brings it quite like Moghul, located near a movieplex in a strip mall. The large dining area features a glassed-in cook, tending to the tandoor ovens containing succulent skewered meats and breads. In the waiting area, guests can pop open their BYOB's and peruse the celeb photos, including former Pres. Clinton. The menu delivers superior versions of the various rich, spice-laden Northern-style delights, as well as chaats and other vegetarian appetizers. My favorites include Machli Hara Masala, fish with a thoroughly green sauce of mint, chiles, and coriander, and Bindi Masla, curried okra.

-Casa Dante. After my first visit here, having observed that the waitstaff on hand far exceeded the demand, leaving the gruff tuxedoed gentlemen to hushed conversation in southern Italian dialects, I mentioned to a Jersey City native, tactlessly, that the restaurant "seemed like a mob front". He looked upon me gravely and said "we don't use...that word". Whatever the case may be, I cannot think of a more classy purveyer of Italian-American food. The remarkable seafood salad appetizer is dressed only with a judicious mixture of lemon and oil. The kitchen performs well with the various chicken and veal cutlets, served with pasta on the side, and also excels with arugala and broccoli rabe. The cheesecake is very good.

-The Frog & The Peach. Well-know innovative and vibrant cooking with a seasonal menu in New Brunswick. I haven't visited in several years, but I trust that it remains great.

-Sri Ganesh's Dosa House. A packed house, serving dozens of varieties of dosai and other South Indian vegetarian street snacks, overseen by the eponymous deity. http://www.villagevoice.com/bestof/20...

-Siri's French-Thai. In the strip-malled apocalypse of Cherry Hill, lies this bastion of succesful fusion cuisine, with aromatic herbal takes on boulliabasse, lamb cuts, and fish. BYOB policy keeps the bill manageable.

-Chez Sima. Morroccan sephardic and pan-Middle Eastern fare of impeccable quality in Fair Lawn. See http://www.chowhound.com/topics/312305

-Taqueria Downtown. Simply put, the best tacos (and perhaps Mexican cuisine) in the NYC-metro area, on a dead end corner in J.C. Exceptional weekend brunch, with huevos rancheros y Mexicanos. Inviting, thoughtful decor, including games, books and other pastimes. Run by a couple from LA and Mexico City, who had previously operated a taco truck for a time while studying their competition in the region.

-Seabra's Marisqueria. This seafood mecca in the traditional Portuguese enclave of Newark's Ironbound has unparalleled atmosphere, in the dining room or at the winding bar, near the catch of the day displayed on ice. There will be enticing specials, but try the feijoada de polvo on weekends (octopus and white bean stew), the dramatically presented skewered mixed grill, or the mariscada, assorted shellfish in a luxurious tomato broth with a bit of cognac.

Honorable mention:
Fiore's House of Quality, Hoboken (decades-old Italian deli serving perhaps the state's best sandwich, fortified by fresh "mutz" http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage... )
Shanghai Park, Highland Park (Shanghainese delights, including freshly formed soup dumplings, “lion’s head” meatballs, and cold appetizers
)Morgan Seafood, J.C. (Egyptian seafood in the style of Alexandria, fillets available fried or grilled with an addictive garlic-vinegar herb sauce http://www.villagevoice.com/bestof/20...
)Mandarin Chinese Restaurant, Highland Park (purveyor of handmade wheat noodles in black bean sauce, and other Korean/N. Chinese concoctions)
Kashmir Grocery and Halal Meat, Edison (Indo-Pak market with remarkable kebab rolls on fresh-baked breads)
Grimaldi's, Hoboken (outpost of storied Brooklyn pizzeria)
Crown Palace, Marlboro (outstanding Cantonese/dim sum with elaborate garden views)

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  1. sounds like you know what you are talking about and cover a lot of territory here. I grew up in NNJ so I never really ate in counties other than Passaic, Bergen, Hudson and Essex. Have barely any experience out side except for the Long Branch area, where Joe & Maggies was unreal, now closed.

    1. I live in JC, walking distance from most of the places you mentioned there (Casa Dante is a PATH stop away). Glad to see someone appreciates our good neighborhood restaurants.

      My personal faves are Nha Trang Place and Rachel, a tiny bistro-ish place that serves a killer brunch (mmmm...shakshouka....)

      Unfortunately, another good spot recently closed down - Tania's, a fab Polish place on Grove St.

      1 Reply
      1. re: piccola

        Tania's? Never understood why people liked that place. I had lunch there one day and did not like it one iota. Yuck!

      2. I would add Arthur's Tavern, Harold's Deli, and Big Ed's BBQ. Nonna's is good too.

        1 Reply
        1. re: steakrules85

          You're kidding about Big Ed's aren't you?

        2. Is Mandarin Chinese in Highland Park still open? If so, do you have the address?

          2 Replies
          1. re: chuck98

            I made a typo in my post, I apologize. Mandarin Chinese is in Palisades Park, not Highland Park. It is at 110 Broad Ave # 10. This korean dude who is a real expert on the subject put me on to it.

            I do highly recommend the shanghai place in highland park as well.

            1. re: equinoise

              I somehow missed it when you originally posted your list. With one regular dining foot in NJ and the other in NYC, I agree about Frog and the Peach (yes, the cuisine is still excellent); Moghul (though not in the same superior league as Devi, in NYC); and Shanghai Park (especially for the steamed buns). However, I vigorously disagree about Crown Palace. I've talked about this on threads on the Mid-Atlantic board discussing Chinese restaurants. We stopped going to Crown Palace years ago because we received insulting treatment by a manager when we had a complaint about our food. It was easy to give it up since I never thought the food was anything special.

          2. Best in Jersey? Without even mentioning Nicholas in Monmouth county?? Nicholas is, if not the best period, certainly one of them.

            Also, Westlake chinese in Matawan blows Crown Palace out of the water for authentic Chinese food and fresh seafood. Crown Palace is waaay too uneven and can be rude when crowded.

            My list would also include Cafe Ole in Asbury Park for best Hispanic cuisine ...

            I better stop here or this could get long :o)

            2 Replies
            1. re: seal

              Bistro Ole, you mean.

              We should also try to post this in Mid-Atlantic - most NJ items go there.

              1. re: seal

                The dude never even visited Monmouth County and the aforementioned Nicholas. And for the dude upstairs in this thread, Joe Romanowski ( A Beard Award winner) continues to ply his trade, and creative fare at Bay Ave Trattoria.

                There's 6-8 pizza joints in Monmouth which outshine anything outside of NYC, and if I was to hijack Mercer County, I'd put up 8 pizza spots right there that could hang with NYC (including SI, Brooklyn, and Harlem).
                It's all goodd (the thread), but he surely hasn't ever visited a Monmouth Co. restaurant of note.
                I'd put othe Original Origin in Somerville as being the equal if not better than Siri's in Cherry Hill.

                Bay Ave Trattoria
                122 Bay Ave, Highlands, NJ 07732

              2. rutt's hut. ground zero for hot dogs in new jersey.

                5 Replies
                  1. re: tuxedo

                    the "texas weiner" is jersey's gift to the rest of the world. rutt's does it right.

                    1. re: steve h.

                      Does Rutt's Hut even offer a Texas Weiner?

                      1. re: Sdenred

                        No. You have to order chili on the side and put it on yourself. While Rutt's chili is good; it's not Texas Weiner type chili.

                  2. re: steve h.

                    perhaps it is NOW, but that's only because the original callahan's in fort lee closed :(

                  3. We should add a couple of very non-expensive choices for the NJ in all of us who crave these treasures that can be found nowhere else.

                    To the NJ Sloopy Joe - Add Millburn Deli, Goodman's (Elizabeth) and posthumously Tabatchnicks Millburn/Livingston, and Kartzman's (Union)
                    To the NJ Hot Dog - Syds (Millburn, now relo'd to Springfield) Rutt's, Galloping Hill Inn and to my all time favorite posthumously dedicated to Don's (Livingston/Short Hills)

                    And to the Old World favorite - Spiritos (Elizabeth), a throwback to the great Italian food than your Italian Grandma would make. Call it gravey or leave and do not ask for butter please.

                    16 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      im 100% with you on Don's hotdogs! i really miss that place! it was great!

                      1. re: jfood

                        Great choices, jfood. In an above post, Rutt's Hut is mentioned for their Texas Weiners. Rutt's does not serve a Texas Weiner; you have to order a bowl of chili separate. The Hot Grill in Clifton serves an excellent Texas Weiner. Let me also add a type of hot dog not found in any other state; the Italian Hot Dog. This sandwich consists of one or two all beef hot dogs (fried or sauteed) placed in a half moon of round pizza bread (bread baked in a pizza oven that resembles pita bread) and topped with fried or sauteed peppers, onions, and potatoes. Tommy's in Elizabeth, Jimmy Buffs in West Orange or East Hanover, (the Scotch Plains and Irvington locations aren't as good) and Attilio's Kitchen in Denville serve the 3 best in my opinion.

                        1. re: hotdoglover


                          I knew I could count on you and your wisdom on THE DOGS.

                          BTW - Amazing that growing up in the Big E, we never thought that the Italian Hot Dog we bought after school was SOOOOO special (i couldonly afford a single and sometimes they gave me a double for the same price). It's only in hindsight that we look backon these items with reverence. I am very lucky in my hot dog past to have eaten the Italian Dog in Elizabeth (with and occasional Galloping Hill dog) for twenty years and then Don's and Syds for twenty years.

                          Now in CT with some great dogs, but these were the hot dog foundation.

                          1. re: jfood


                            I've been to Connecticut a few times and indeed they do have great dogs. Out of about a dozen places, my favorites are the Glenwood Drive In in Hamden and Rosco's Big Dog in Hartford. The Glenwood serves a Hummels dog the exact same size as a Syd's dog that is prepared on a charcoal grill. Rosco's, which is closed and will reopen in the summer on Temple Street in Hartford, serves the Thumanns griller prepared on a griddle and served with delicious homemade toppings.

                            1. re: hotdoglover

                              Hamden a little out of my zip code. But Mrs Jfood remembers Glenwood from the 60's but mentioned that she thought Jimmies had a better dog. Do not even know if Jimmies still there. Within 15-20 minutes I have Ridgefield, Fairfield and Norwalk, so i have some pretty good choices. I went to the re-opened Swanky's in Norwalk a couple of weeks ago and pretty good. I do like the idea that they grill the 'kraut, and the grilled dogs is an 8-9 on the jfood scale.

                              1. re: jfood

                                Jimmies is still there, but they no longer use a Roessler's frank since the company went out of business. They now use the same dog (Hummels) as the Glenwood and Swanky's. At Jimmies it is split and griddled.

                                1. re: hotdoglover

                                  Thanks again, HDL. Mrs Jfood reacted "Your kidding" with a million dollar smile. Unfortunate news on the change of dogs, not the biggest Hummel fan. I still have the Karl Elmer all beef as number 1 on the Jfood home cooking hot dog parade.

                          2. re: hotdoglover

                            HDL - Wondering if you knowwhat hot dog places still exist in and around Paterson - grew up there and have not been back in years and am craving a hot dog "all the way"

                            1. re: tuxedo

                              In Paterson there is Libby's, which many consider the quintessential Texas Weiner joint. They have been operating continually since 1936. Many other Texas Weiner joints began in Paterson and either moved or closed. Johnny & Hanges began in Paterson, but moved to Fair Lawn. The Falls View began in Paterson also. There are about 8 or 9 of them now scattered about in North Jersey. Duffy's Grill is in Paterson where Johnny & Hanges used to be. Many luncheonettes in Paterson still serve the Texas Weiner or "hot dog all the way". There are many other places in Clifton and nearby. Clifton is 1 town over from Paterson. You have the Hot Grill, Getty Grill, and Corral all in Clifton. Nearby you have Pappy's Diner in Totowa. Pappy's, the Hot Grill, and Libby's are my 3 favorites.

                              1. re: hotdoglover

                                thanks hdl - planning a road trip to north jersey with a side of "white mana" burgers in hackensack - think I will sidetrip to a dog place!

                                1. re: tuxedo

                                  I recently tried Hiram's deep/flash fried dogs in Ft. Lee. So good!

                          3. re: jfood


                            ahhhhhhhhhh, don's!

                            spent a lot of time there...from it's tiny beginning to it's monstrous end

                            the pizza burgers and onion rings

                            memories for a lifetime...those were the days

                            wuz up wit you not giving a nod to the sloppies of town hall in souith orange?

                            we've been through this before

                            it's all good, man

                            how bout nettie ochs' cider mill on old short hills road in livingston/west orange?

                            1. re: kleinfortlee

                              here's the issue K

                              grew up in elizabeth and only ate deli from goodman's and kartzman's. the ride up the hill to SO was too long.

                              moved to short hills and went to don;s religiously (richie actually liked mrs jfood, watched her grow up) saturday's maybe a millburn deli (not my fave but all jfood's buds liked it). jfood liked tabatchnicks and Eppes better. Town Hall was just not in jfood's zip code and with all the great choices within walking distance the drive down the hill was too far.

                            2. re: jfood

                              I heartily second Spirito's. I love that place for the atmosphere as much as for the pizza.

                              Also need to put in a plug for Tony's on the Rahway/Clark border. Amazing stromboli.

                              1. re: jfood

                                my posthumous votes [some of these places are still open but the quality and/or spirit of the dishes have died]:

                                callahan's in fort lee [r.i.p.]...for the dogs AND the fries.
                                royal cliffs diner in englewood cliffs for cheese fries with gravy & home fries.
                                sol & sol deli in englewood for sloppy joes [the place is still there, but now called s&s and not nearly as good].
                                leonia pizzeria [r.i.p.] for pizza...and any pasta dish with their perfect red sauce.
                                china chalet in closter [r.i.p.]
                                china quarter in tenafly [r.i.p.]
                                ming palace in englewood cliffs [r.i.p.]
                                bicycle club in englewood cliffs...burgers used to be stellar, but they won't cook them medium-rare anymore.
                                mexicali rose in montclair [r.i.p.]
                                archers ristorante in fort lee - USED TO have the best gnocchi

                                and places i still love:

                                river palm - edgewater only. the fairlawn location isn't nearly as good.
                                samdan in cresskill
                                windmill in longbranch for cheese fries
                                it's greek to me for chopped greek salad
                                park & orchard
                                solaia in englewood for mediterranean seafood dishes

                                ***does anyone remember an italian place in cliffside park back in the '80's that was on a little side street off anderson avenue? it changed hands once or twice, and i think even turned into a spanish place at some point...and i can't remember the name. it's killing me!

                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                  ok, the cliffside park resto was de angelo's...excellent italian food! then it became maison madrid or something like that, and the food was awful.

                              2. i have to, have to, HAVE to disagree on the hoboken mozz / deli place.

                                most will reco vito's. i won't.

                                biancamano, 11th/washington, makes mutz which when compared to others (including fiore's, but also for almost everyone i know who's tried and loved vito's) comes out supreme.

                                and they don't skimp on their sandwiches, either.

                                but i'll also add that all the places in hoboken blow away almost every other i've ever tried for mozz (exc. dipalo's, which is just a little below biancamano's)

                                on hot dogs...my dad used to love falls view and johnny & hanges. i don't like dogs so i can't comment, but the smells were always decent.

                                thanks for the other places; i missed trying seabras when i lived in hoboken, but have to check out chez sima next time i'm in fair lawn...

                                1. keyport fishery-fish and chips
                                  libretti's (orange)-casual italian food
                                  star tavern (orange) or reservior tavern (parsippany-boonton)-pizza
                                  hunan taste (denville) or Chendu 46 (clifton)-chinese
                                  amazing hot dogs (verona)-specialty hot dogs
                                  noodle chu (parsippany)-dim sum
                                  ruth's chris (parsippany or weehawken)-steaks
                                  fernandes 2 (newark)-brazilian rodizio
                                  cheeburger cheeburger (westfield,new providence, lawrenceville,cherry hill)-hamburgers
                                  ritas-italian ices

                                  just some of my favorites

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: robertjsweet

                                    some more additions

                                    harolds deli (edison, parsippany, lyndhurst)-deli food + many other choices
                                    tops diner (east newark) or union plaza diner (union) or alexis diner (denville)-diner
                                    denville dairy (denville)-ice cream
                                    boom boom chicken (fort lee) or bon chon chicken (fort lee)-korean fried chicken
                                    royal buffet (east hanover)-chinese buffet
                                    mario's trattoria (union) or belmont tavern (belleville)-more casual italian
                                    santillo's brick oven pizza (elizabeth)-old style pizza
                                    cervante's of spain (cranford)-spanish style food
                                    brasilia grill (newark)-spanish, portuguese or brazilian
                                    mr. chu's (east hanover)-chinese

                                  2. Silver Oak Bistro - Ridgewood, unique southern-inspired cuisine
                                    Dim Sum Dynasty - Ridgewood, best dim sum in north jersey...cleanliness counts
                                    Varka - Ramsey, somewhat upscale Greek
                                    Cafe Matisse - Rutherford, eclectic tasting menu
                                    Lotus Cafe - Hackensack, straight up Chinese, noodles are the big winner
                                    Brooklyn Pizza - Hackensack, stick with the pizza and cold antipasto salad
                                    White Manna - Hackensack, mmmm those lil burgers
                                    Rutts Hutt - Clifton, get a ripper and be sure to use their yellow home-made condiment
                                    Cinco de Mayo - Hillsdale, go alone, sit at counter, have steak or chicken sopes (not soup) and lengua, chorizo, and cabeza tacos, wash down with a nice Jarrito

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Bosmer

                                      i know this is old - but i am adding a recent agreement - a place that doesn't seem to get much exposure - which is fine with me - but probably up in my top 5 - Cafe Matisse! Thanks, Bosmer, for the callout to it!

                                      I also agree with Varka - eh to white manna and Rutts Hutt - i know they are special for what they are - but.......

                                    2. I doubt it would qualify in anyone's top ten, but I sure miss Fat Mike's.

                                      1. Gees, if anyone outside of New Jersey read these posts they’d probably think that there wasn’t a restaurant in existence anywhere south of New Brunswick.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: TomDel

                                          More specifically, according to a typical New Yorker, there isn't anything west of the Hudson worth trying. (For around 3000 miles.)

                                          Too bad they'll miss out on plenty of stuff better than they're used to.