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May 31, 2008 08:47 AM

best ethnic in Middlesex & Monmouth Counties

Thai - Pad Thai
Indian - pls help
Spanish - pls help
Vietnamese - are there any great restaurants in these counties
Southwest - been to the best, in New Mexico - are there any great ones here?

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  1. For Southwest I just love Mojave Grill in Westfield. (Sorry, I know it is in Union County.) BYOB

    Mexican..probably almost everyone on this board just LOVES El Meson on Main Street in Freehold. BYOB

    For Greek I like Pithari Taverna in Highland Park. Also, BYOB..they have a Greek store next to it, so you can buy a great bottle of Greek wine!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Angelina


      You just named the two that I hit just about every weekend, El Meson and Pithari are both flat out amazing and dependable.. and authentic. I couldnt agree with you more and the fact that they are BYOB tops it off.

      The downside is that I always intend on trying out some others but end up at these religously.

      Origin Thai in Somerville is quite good as well (French Thai). As far as Indian, havent had much luck. Not a big fan of Moghul and have had bad experiences at Piquant Bread in New Brunswick.

      1. re: yankeefan


        While I agree that the food at El Meson is very dependable, I reserve hyperbolic terms like "amazing" for restaurants like Nicholas and Lorena's. Don't get me wrong, I like El Meson a lot. But amazing? Not so much. And, btw, I'm not sure how authentic the food there really is. I tend to think they are still catering to an American palate, more precisely, to the palates of patrons from the surrounding area. When it comes to things culinary, I daresay most are not very adventurous.

        As for Pithari, we've only been there once, and I wasn't very impressed, especially when compared to our favorite Greek restaurant in NYC.

        1. re: RGR

          Im not looking to ruffle feathers, but it is my favorite restaurant in the area so I use strong terms. I would personally rather eat there, be laid back, bring my own craft beers than be at Lorena's and feel stuffy.

          Just personal opinion and preference. I think the food is great there and at Pithari. Sure, its snootier in the city and Ive been to all the greek places in manhattan and Pithari's cuisine stands up to them all.

          Again, this board is for opinions and we are both entitled. Im not into pretentious places.

          1. re: yankeefan

            When it comes to dining out, I'm all for "Chacun at son gout," aka "Different strokes for different folks." :-) That said, Lorena's is one of the most unpretentious, unstuffy restaurants on that high culinary level you will find anywhere. No need to dress up, and it also happens to be a BYO. Don't knock it until you've tried it. :-)

            1. re: RGR

              Very true RGR- I got a little ruffled at your Pithari note. I cant emphasize how impressed Ive been with that place.

              "Dont knock it until you tried it" is something I should practice as much as I preach. Im actually going to finally hit Drew's after continually bailing on several times. Not sure what to expect. Last place I did this for was Gaetano's and I was quite impressed.

              Cheers RGR.

              1. re: yankeefan

                Hey, yankeefan,

                I certainly never meant to ruffle your fine feathers with my comment about Pithari. I really wanted to like it, especially since I went there after Angelina raved about it. So, I was disappointed when it didn't live up to my expectations. I will probably give it another shot sometime during the summer, especially since they have outdoor seating.

                When it comes to the food at Drew's, I have absolutely no problem using words like "amazing," "awesome," "spectacular," etc., etc., etc. lol And Drew is a sweetie. Go and enjoy! :-)

                1. re: RGR

                  Thats all I ask and always try to do the same- give it a second shot. Always do that with new craft brews that dont impress the first time through as well. At Pithari, please try the fried calamari, one of the octopus dishes, and porgy.

                  Looking forward to Drew's. Thanks RGR.

    2. Hey, eatinman,

      My Thai favs are Thai Chili and Thai Thai, both in Old Bridge, and Cafe de Thai, in Matawan.

      Indian - Aangan, in Freehold and Moghul, in Edison.

      There is a Spanish restaurant in Highland Park called La Fonda. We've been there once, but that was ages ago.

      A new Puerto Rican restaurant called Salsa Latina just opened in Matawan. We haven't tried it yet, but there have been some positive reports here:

      The only Vietnamese restaurant we've been to is Saigon II, in Lincroft. I thought the food was awful though other Hounds like it.

      As Angelina mentioned, El Meson is popular, and I'm a fan. However, it's Mexican and not Southwestern in the way Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, in NYC, is. I don't know of a Southwestern restaurant in Middlesex or Monmouth.

      27 Replies
      1. re: RGR

        Thai - I love Pad Thai also. Their sausage fried rice is one of my favorite thai dishes anywhere and their beef w garlic... I also enjoy Thai Chili for their papaya salad and fresh tamarind sauce dishes and Cafe de Thai is a great French/Thai fusion byob. Btw - next door to Cafe De Thai is one truly great local chinese place called West Lake.

        For Vietnamese, there is a joint in New Brunswick called Mekong that may have the best in our area.

        As far as the tastes of the southwest, definately not like home. But New Brunswick does have a plethora of very good little authentic home-style Mexican and Latin American joints mostly scattered around where French St and Jersey Ave meet by Handy St. Best we can do ;o)

        1. re: seal

          I think the best Vietnamese is at Pho Anh Doa on Rt 1 in Edison. Awesome Pho, spicy Bun Bon Hue, great iced coffee and delicious Cha Goa (fried eggrolls) w/ fish sauce.

          1. re: FoodDude2

            Try Thanh Hoai II 960 RT 1 south in South Amboy, Still new in the area but way better than Pho Anh Doa.

            1. re: currymouth

              I disagree. I find the food far superior and Pho far tastier at Pho Anh Doa. They also serve the soup with hot peppers which I love and have to request and not always receive at Thanh Hoai.

              1. re: FoodDude2

                I guess it's a case of personal taste, I used to eat at their Jersey City branch, Which was a favorite with the Viet Population, but even the Vietnamese population in our area claims that their SA location is better. On my several visits to Pho Anh Do I was not impressed with either the food{ Hogie roll for their Bahn Mi, Oily squid,Bo Luc Lac overcooked and beef too tough} or the service. {everything arrived to the table at the same time} As for the peppers, I have always recieved them and ever thai bird peppers when available, but then again I'm a regular and they know I love the hot stuff.

                1. re: currymouth

                  I've only been to a few other Vietnamese Restaurants but I think its somewhat the custom for all the food to be brought at once. At least I've just accepted it and have learned to just order things at our own pace lol. I do know what you mean though. Those dishes I've haven't eaten there so I can't comment on them but I've been meanign to give the bun luc lac a try. Whats the name of the oily squid dish?

                  1. re: FoodDude2

                    Traditionally the dishes is only brought to the table at the same time when requested, usually when it is a 4 top or more. Again every Restaurant's policy is different. The Bo luc lac is a thing of beauty when done right, savory and tangy at the same time. The squid dish is called Muc Chien Don, and should be flash fried crispy and served on a bed of shredded red lettace, red and white onions,mint, thai basil, and toasted, cracked rice, in a fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and garlic/lime dressing. As you can tell this dish has to be prepared just so, and served immediately or we end up with "oily squid".I have had the distinct pleasure to visit Vietnam several times and love the people and culture. But their cuisine is a thing of beauty, and one of my very favorites.

                  2. re: currymouth

                    Currymouth: Are you sure you're referring to the same restaurant (Pho Anh Dao) that's on Route 1 in Edison with another branch on Route 27 in North Brunswick. I know the owner, and those are the only 2 he has right now.

                    Also, Pho Anh Dao does not sell/serve Vietnamese hoagies (banh mi) on their menu.

                    Maybe there's another Vietnamese restaurant in Jersey City with the same name, but not connected to the ones in Edison/North Brunswick.

                    I am always on the lookout for good Vietnamese restaurants, and am glad to see a profusion of openings in the last 4-5 years. Prior to that, there were 2 meager ones in Plainfield but I had to go to Washington St. in Philly or Chinatown, NYC for good pho.

                    Now I go to Pho Anh Dao for pho and bun thit nuong.

                    Pho Thanh Do on Route 27 in Edison is also decent, although I don't think their pho broth is as tasty, and their meat is sliced much thicker for the bun thit nuong. But their cha gio (fried spring rolls) are great, using traditional clear rice paper the last time I was there--admittedly last year.

                    1. re: athenanike111

                      I believe so , It's the one in that little strip mall , next door to the Indian Resto, and a small video store, just before the huge mall with TJ Max and Le Peep. When they opened there was Banh Mi on the menu. Never ordered it again after the first time though. The branch of Thanh Hoai II in JC was once called Miss Saigon and is still located on Newark Ave.I too love the Cha Gio but the wife has me down to a small portion because of my love of fried food.

                      1. re: currymouth

                        Pho Anh Dao sells the banh mi on the weekends only.

                        1. re: jrd303

                          Thank you , that would explain it .

                          1. re: jrd303

                            Thank you, jrd303. Huh! I will have to try their banh mi, then. Thanks for the tip!

                            1. re: athenanike111

                              Yeah, I just tried a Korean chicken wing recipe i got from Hannaone this Weekend and the wife gave me grief about how many I was eating the whole time the bones were multiplying on her plate. Go figure.

                              1. re: currymouth

                                Hey, currymouth,

                                Speaking of wings, have you tried Wing Daddy? If not, read about it here:

                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        That's the one ,Passa. How's the arm?

                        1. re: currymouth

                          On the mend, hard to keep an old Russkie down. Ready to start kayak guiding, almost.
                          South River has some good Polish delis and restaurants on Main St. and Whitehead Ave. Has anyone tried the new Brazilian BBQ on Main St.???

                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                            Didn't know there was one. There is also one on 516 in the little strip mall with Dunkin Donuts.Every thing was incinerated by the time it got to the table so I never went back. The sign says "under new ownership". Hopefully they found the knob to turn down the gas on the grills.

                            1. re: currymouth

                              There was one catty-cornered from the South River post office. The Brazilian BBQ on Main St. was about to open last Xmas. My Bolivian raised( But Norwegian born!) son would enjoy it when he flies into Newark next month. Will it be fun to take his wife to all the local NJ eateries as she has never been to the States.
                              Mc Murph where are you?

                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                I've got the 2 nephews who hasn't been to the USA coming on the 18'th, So it's going to be the same thing here, First day is big BBQ, baby backs, mojo chicken,Boiled corn with smoked ham hocks and chipolte butter, Rice and beans. and tres leches flan. I figure they will eat all the dishes that they can't get in Norway. Then we will hit Hong Kong Buffet, and a Roti Shop in Jersey city to show them what their father and uncle ate as fast food growing up in the Islands. Going to be great.

                              2. re: currymouth

                                Ha! I had the exact same experience with the old ownership. It's one of those places I can't forget because it was so bad.

                                On a good note, fresh pita s delivered every Wednesday and Friday around 12:30PM to Alsahara in the first strip mall on 516 east of rt 18. There's still steam in the bag whenever I pick them up.

                                1. re: jrd303

                                  But is the food any better? Should I give it a shot, or just grill at home? I know , A loaded question but I have to ask.

                                  1. re: currymouth

                                    I have to admit I haven't eaten there since the ownership change. Whenever I'm in the area and hungry I can't get myself away from the pizza place by jack brown road (name escapes me right now) .

                      2. re: FoodDude2

                        Also my favorite: (at pho anh doa) Vegetarian spring rolls with peanut sauce. I have them at least twice a week with a pint of the house special soup and it makes for a perfect lunch. They have tofu. rice noodles and herbs (either thail basil or mint) all wrapped up in rice paper and they're highly addictive.

                      3. re: seal

                        Costa Chico on Handy St. in New Brunswick, has the best authentic Mexican around. We have been going for years and the place is warm, friendly and very reasonably priced.

                      4. re: RGR

                        Sadly La Fonda is no more. There is now a Kosher family restaurant in its place which I have not tried yet. I miss the Garlic Chicken dearly,

                      5. For Indian, I would also recommend Rasoi II and Moksha, both on Oak Tree Road. A couple of years ago I went to Rasoi II with several Indian friends. They assured me it was authentic. All I know is that it was very, very good!

                        For Spanish, you might try Mi Sueno in Middlesex borough, close to the Somerset County border. It's not pure Spanish but you'll find a fair amount of Spanish influence. You'll also find Hungarian and German influences! Go figure.

                        For a real change of pace, try Planet Chicken in Dunellen. It's a Peruvian place that specializes in - guess what? - grilled chicken.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: ambrose

                          Planet Chicken- Is it a fries and rice type place or are there other traditional Peruvian dishes?

                          1. re: ambrose

                            It appears that Moksha on Oak Tree Road has closed.
                            A new Italian restaurant will be opening in that space on Oak Tree Road

                            1. re: shabbystorm

                              Yes, I heard about this. What's odd - at least to me - is that the ownership has not changed. I'm guessing that this was strictly a business decision. Lots of Indian restaurants in that area but very few, if any, top notch Italian ones. The new place is supposed to open early next month.

                              Nothing surprises me anymore. One of my favorite Indian restaurants shut down a little over a year ago and reopened as - are you ready for this - an IHOP!! Same owners too!

                              1. re: ambrose

                                When I arrived at Mosksha, the sign outside read Pasquale's Ristorante opening July 2009. Yes, went to another Indian restaurant and they said that the Italian restaurant was owned by the same businessmen. Thank you for confirming, the MING MOGHUL website still has Moksha listed and since it was Monday, could not call and confirm because they were closed.

                                1. re: shabbystorm

                                  I think, but am not 100% sure, that Pasquale is the chef.

                                  I'm trying to think of other Italian restaurants in the area but am pretty much drawing a blank. LouCas is fairly close but the only others I can think of are in Woodbridge. Switching from Indian to Italian may be a wise business decision. Besides, the owners still have Moghul right around the corner.

                                  1. re: ambrose

                                    There's a place called Cafe Genarro on 27 a little bit closer to Oak Tree than LouCas. I've never eaten there. It used to be a pizza place but has been renovated recently.

                          2. would have to agree on El Meson for Mexican

                            no one mentioned Siam Basil (sea girt) or Bamboo Leaf (bradley beach), for Thai/Viet... worth a shot, I would suggest... I was at BL last Friday and was really into the chili/lemongrass chicken, though they need work on their apps

                            and I would give my right arm to find a decent southwest restauraunt in mon/oc/middlesex... among my favorite foods... I miss Mojave Grill, but it has become quite a long ride for us down here in southern Monmouth

                            1. Do The Grease Trucks at Rutgers count and where do they go in the summer?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                Grease Trucks are open all year long.