Best Dining Towns – Newark

Best Dining Towns NJ Newark - NJ Monthly - The Best of Jersey

In a warm Friday night in May, a woman celebrated her 35th birthday with friends and family, laughing, drinking, and eating. But the dinner and the cake and the party were all just a cover. Suddenly, a man was kneeling before her with an important question. The woman seemed stunned. She answered with a kiss. Someone shouted, “Is that a yes?” More kisses. It was a yes.

27 Mix, a relatively new restaurant in Newark, is not a white-tablecloth, harps-and-violins place to get engaged. But it is engaging. This is a fun, lively place—exposed brick and hardwood floors in a narrow, newly renovated building. This is the kind of place where media people would want to film TV commercials, a moments-of-your-lives kind of place. And heaven knows Newark could use more like it.
Perhaps that’s why 27 Mix is crowded almost every night, and why everybody who is anybody in this town eats there. (On the aforementioned night, as the couple was kissing in the back of the room, state Senator Ronald L. Rice was dining in the front.)

The menu might best be described as adventurous bistro. For lunch, try the innovative wraps and salads. For dinner, sample the appetizer of grilled shrimp wrapped in prosciutto and served with a basil mayo; the rare tuna and the grilled hanger steak entrées are good too. For dessert, don’t miss the delightfully fresh zabaglione with berries.

27 Mix is one of only two restaurants to open in Newark in the past three years (the other is Mompou). The restaurant scene here is stable, explains chef and cooking instructor Daniel Rosati, a food connoisseur who lives in Newark and gives culinary walking tours of the city. Rosati is quite polite about his hometown, but clearly frustrated—indeed, he’s so grateful for the energy at 27 Mix that he eats there twice a week.

The new restaurant at 27 Halsey St., around the corner from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, is the only one in the neighborhood open for dinner after the show. The convenient and popular Theater Square Grill closes its kitchen after the show begins, at 9 p.m. (Its hours change seasonally; it’s closed through October, though the same management runs Calcada, where you can eat outdoors in warmer weather.) The Theater Square Grill, which seats 225, offers an impressive, three-course, prix-fixe menu for a reasonable $46 per person. Recent offerings included a salad of watercress, blood oranges, and daikon; grilled Australian lamb chops; and Valrhona chocolate truffle cake. Also worth noting: The restaurant has excellent brick-oven pizza.

Of course, food in Newark is strongly associated with the city’s Ironbound section, which has been home to wave after wave of immigrants for more than 300 years. A classic restaurant and city landmark is Fornos of Spain, where the menu features lots of seafood and lots of garlic. (Portions are generous; service is emphasized).

No visit to Newark would be complete without a stop at one of the amazing Portuguese bakeries along Ferry Street—Coutinho’s, Riviera Bakery and Teixeira’s— where customers stand in line every weekend for the Portuguese breads and rolls. The natas, Portuguese custard cups, rank right up there with the French croissant as one of the wonders of the world of baked goods.

Other recommended spots include Assaggini di Roma, one of the few remaining authentic Italian restaurants (it’s standing room only at lunchtime), and Brasilia Grill, which serves the popular rodizio, the multicourse Brazilian meal of grilled pork, sausage, and spareribs.

Many New Jerseyites expect big changes in Newark now that the city has a new mayor. But foodies may have to be patient. According to the 2005 documentary Street Fight, Cory Booker is a vegetarian, and friends say he doesn’t eat out a lot. It’s a shame. The city’s restaurant scene could use a jolt as well.

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