A Chinatown-Style Restaurant Hidden Right in East Hanover

A & J Bistro is a frills-free spot with off-the-charts flavor—no Holland Tunnel toll necessary!

Sichuan wontons at A & J Bistro in East Hanover
Spicy Sichuan wontons at A & J Bistro in East Hanover Photo: KT Harrison

In the 150-mile-long foodie thrill ride that is New Jersey, you can satisfy any culinary craving, from açai bowls to zeppole doughnuts.

Yet there’s one style of dining out that’s not so easy to come by in the Garden State. And that is Chinatown-style eateries: no-frills spots whose mainland-born chefs prepare authentic, regional Chinese dishes for primarily Asian-American diners. You know the genre: low prices, minimal decor, off-the-charts flavor.

A smattering of these elusive places have made it onto foodies’ treasure maps, such as Authentic Shang Hai Dumpling in Edison and Shan Shan Noodles in Parsippany.

As the Year of the Dragon swooped in earlier this month, I heard about another Chinatown-esque find flying under the radar. I fervently hoped that this potential hidden gem, tucked into a strip mall off Route 10 in East Hanover, would help patch over New Jersey’s Chinatown-less plight.

Lo and behold, A & J Bistro checked all the Chinatown boxes (except the Holland Tunnel toll and parking hassle). Plan a visit on a weeknight or an off hour; this day-to-night 52-seater fills up. Bring your Chinese food-fancying friends and your chosen quaff to this beckoning BYO, where the highest-priced dish is $12.50. (My menu favorites are listed below.)

I spoke with Josephine Lin, who owns A & J Bistro with her husband Terry Chang. In 1997, they moved from Taiwan’s sophisticated capital, Taipei, to East Hanover to study information management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. They got married, commenced business careers, and opened A & J Bistro in 2013. “We thought we could earn more than working in an office,” says Lin. Family inspiration figured in their career pivot. For 50-plus years, Chang’s parents have owned the well-regarded Ban Yu Muan restaurant in Taipei. And his brother runs his own A & J Bistro in Irvine, California, just south of Los Angeles.

A & J’s menu is mainland Chinese and Taiwanese, while its cooks and courteous servers are “from all over China,” Lin says. “70 percent of our diners are Asian-American, mostly Chinese and Taiwanese.” The other 30 percent are “New Jersey people who love real Chinese food,” she notes. Asian-American or not, “Our customers come back because our food is completely authentic,” she says. “Everything is made fresh daily, and nothing is packaged or frozen. Our noodles taste just right because we make them in-house. Our soup broths, sauces, spices and flavors are exactly what you’d get in Taipei, Hong Kong or Shanghai,” she promises. “Customers tell me that A & J is just like eating in China. They say, ‘This is the taste of home.’” Here’s a BYO toast to Chinatown-style Chinese food finding a welcoming home in New Jersey.

My favorites from A & J Bistro’s 80+ dishes:

Zha Jian Miang: Wide noodles with pork and black bean paste
Dan Dan Mian: Spaghetti-size noodles in irresistible sesame-peanut sauce
Hong You Chao Shou: Wontons with spicy Sichuan sauce
Da Bing Juan Zhu Ru: Pan-fried pork pancake
Zua Bing: Pork snack with “thousand-layer” flaky crust
Yan Su Ji: Popcorn chicken
Ma La Huang Gua: Pickles with hot pepper

A & J Bistro, 352 SR 10, East Hanover, 973-506-9066 

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