The 28 Best New Restaurants 2019

For rewarding food, atmosphere, variety and value, these new restaurants have earned enthusiastic followings.

Veal tartare with bottarga, shredded olives, mustard seeds and coddled egg yolk at Felina. Photo by Rob Yaskovic

Felina

Ridgewood

For nearly 20 years, Anthony Bucco has distinguished himself at every restaurant he’s led. The list includes Stage Left in New Brunswick, Uproot in Warren, the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station and Restaurant Latour at the Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg. Along the way, he has mentored younger chefs, beverage specialists and many others. What he has never had until now is a restaurant fully his own in concept and execution. Partnering with Frank Cretella of Landmark Hospitality has changed that. Felina is Bucco’s vivacious and engrossing take on modern Italian. The opening menu ranges from a fascinating veal tartare to complex pastas to lovingly detailed meat and seafood entrées. He has surrounded himself, as usual, with top talent, including beverage director Chris James and chef de cuisine Martyna Krowicka. Not least, the space, once a bank, is a knockout, not quite like any other in the state.­—EL
54 East Ridgewood Avenue, 551-276-5454

The Fox & Falcon

South Orange

On the November morning Fox & Falcon opened, owner David Massoni saw a peregrine falcon swoop down on his South Orange backyard and snatch up a mouse. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘That’s got to be a good omen.’” Not for the mouse, but clearly for the restaurant, which has been packed—and for the town, which has needed a top-flight restaurant and bar. The name is evocative, but not wishful: according to Massoni’s research, the red fox and the peregrine falcon are Essex County’s two apex predators. Massoni, 44, a New York City restaurant veteran, hired Freehold native Matt Ruzga, 35, as chef of the clubby, tastefully upgraded two-story space that was Ricalton’s. Ruzga’s pasta virtuosity helped him ascend to executive sous chef of Del Posto in Manhattan. At F&F, expect fine pastas, satisfying burgers, steaks, whole fish, vegetables, worthy cocktails, craft beers and good wine.—EL
19 Valley Street, 973-419-6773

The finished halibut entrée, topped with chives, frisée and parsley.

The finished halibut entrée at the Hill, topped with chives, frisée and parsley. Photo by Brent Herrig

The Hill

Closter

Having won a Michelin star as executive chef of Oceana in Manhattan, Ben Pollinger decided in 2016 to come home to Bergen County to open his own restaurant. It took almost two years, but last May, he finally opened the Hill. It brings to Bergen County’s tony northeast a level of New American food and drink not previously available there. Count on compelling salads, soups and seafood, gratifying meat and fowl, and attentive service in a relaxed, comfortable dining room, bar and seasonal firepit patio. New since the opening are a kids’ menu, brunch (with bottomless Bloodys, Bellinis and Mimosas) and a bar menu of “food you can share and eat standing up, like fish tacos and a burger,” Pollinger says. He’s also added barrel-aged cocktails, a private dining room for parties, and live music in the bar on Thursday nights, which draws a crowd.—EL
252 Schraalenburgh Road, 201-899-4700

Hên Vietnamese

Cherry Hill

There’s no shortage of Vietnamese restaurants in the Garden State, but Hên rises a step above most. The interior is modern, with industrial lighting, an open kitchen, and one wall adorned with illustrations of traditional Vietnamese ingredients. Owners Andrew Ma and Tam Phung, a Cathedral Kitchen culinary arts grad, offer excellent pho, a must, as well as diverse options including the complex, delicious bánh bèo—steamed rice cakes topped with minced prawn, mung beans and pork crackling. Equally popular are the twice-fried chicken wings in garlicky fish sauce, and thit nuong, sliced, marinated pork grilled and served with rice and pickled crunchy vegetables. The house-made chili sauce pulls no punches. BYO—SV
2087 Marlton Pike East; 856-888-1578

Hudson & Co. in Jersey City. Photo by Jeremy Smith

Hudson & Co.

Jersey City

Forget the fleet of flatscreens suspended from the ceiling; they can’t compete with the view across the Hudson to the towers of Gotham from virtually any seat at the bar. When spring arrives, the patio tables will put you that much closer to the water. This mammoth, 300-seat facility in the Plaza 10 office tower needs to make its coal-fired pizzas a little crisper, its sushi less cold. But the cocktails, like the Jorge’s Used Mule, are strong and generous; there are about 60 beers to choose from; the steaks and burgers are reliable; and the curry kale and endive salad—yes, sooo trendy—was actually terrific, replete with farro, pumpkin and pomegranate seeds in an orange-curry vinaigrette. —Peg Rosen
3 Second Street, 201-685-7330

Lefkes

Englewood Cliffs

Saganaki (baked cheese) in a sesame crust over sour cherry compote. Photo by Jeremy Smith

Bergen Country businesswoman Georgia Dumas transformed the space, vacant for nearly two years, that had housed Marc Forgione’s American Cut steakhouse. Forgione’s macho black-and-gold design has been replaced by placid whites and pale woods, evoking Santorini in Greece, where Dumas and her first cousin, chef Tassos Ntoumas, run the newer of their two Lefkes restaurants in Greece. (The other is in Athens.) With Ntoumas the chef here as well, grilling is key, but now the signature protein is whole fish, displayed on ice in the dining room. Lefkes, which Dumas says means “white” in Greek and is also the name of a lovely tree, boasts a high-energy bar scene (with huge flatscreen) up front, a relaxed dining room, and a fine list of Greek white wines that pair perfectly with fish. The menu highlights crossover dishes such as squid-ink seafood risotto and poached halibut with cauliflower purée. There’s also sushi, which seems odd until you consider that Dumas is already buying primo seafood, so why not? You can get grilled prime rib chops, too.—EL
495 Sylvan Avenue, 201-408-4444

At Montclair Social Club, an orange peel is flamed to release oil. Right, a deviled egg. Photo by Michael Barr

Montclair Social Club

Montclair

Revamping a large and long-empty eyesore on Montclair’s main drag deserves thanks; but turning that space, the former Rascals Comedy Club, into a magnet for millennials (and other gens of drinking age) buffs the whole block. Jason Miller, a lawyer who lives in Short Hills, quit his day job to perform the presto-chango. Equipped with a stylish bar and a crowd to match, the Montclair Social Club is open to all. It has a large dining room, a corner bandstand for live music, and a menu of proven favorites executed by veteran chef Michael Merida. If you’re bored with deviled eggs, Merida’s will reawaken your interest. Big, whole, standing on end, and stuffed with egg purée, pickled shallot, jalapeño and smoked salmon, and topped with crisp bacon, they turn cliché into hooray.­—EL
499 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-436-4200

Mud Hen

Wildwood

Local entrepreneur Brendan Sciarra transformed an abandoned Harley-Davidson dealership into a rip-roaring ride of its own: a humongous brewery, restaurant and indoor/outdoor hangout. Windows at the main bar offer a view into the brewery, which provides about a dozen tasty, approachable beers. The menu (desserts excepted) has many standouts: ribs with baked beans, coleslaw and cornbread; crisp, greaseless onion rings; a 14-ounce rib-eye bathed in rosemary-garlic butter and smothered with lump crabmeat; and mussels steamed in the brewery’s IPA. But best of all is the cheese steak—sliced rib-eye topped with melted American cheese and provolone, caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms on a sesame-seed bun. Philly’s cheese steak impresarios could cross the river and learn something.­—Adam Erace
127 West Rio Grande Avenue, 609-846-7918

The oyster menu at No. 12. Photo courtesy of No. 12

No. 12

Ridgewood

The food is really good, the atmosphere even better. But what sets No. 12 apart from every other eatery we know of in the state is the experience of getting in. Named for its address, No. 12 is sort of a speakeasy. It’s dark, hip and tiny, unbeatable for a romantic date. It’s also a hoot. Open only on Friday and Saturday nights, it has no phone number. You reserve online. The entrance is an unmarked door in an alley behind Stella Artisan Italian, chefs Heather and Ted Rozzi’s Italian trattoria at the corner of East Ridgewood Avenue and South Broad Street. At the appointed hour, you step inside Stella, wink, give the secret handshake.Kidding! Just give your name. The hostess will write four numbers on a small printed card with a picture of a lemur on it. Take that card, exit Stella, walk around the restaurant, make a left into the alley and punch those numbers into the lock on the door. You may feel silly, but you’re in. The space, vacant for decades, was once a frame shop. Now it’s a genuine boite, offering wines from Alba, but is otherwise BYO. The menu is scrawled faintly on a dark mirror; your server will explain everything. The raw bar is strong on local oysters. The food is eclectic. Heather’s hot creamy beignets could go toe-to-toe with Cafe du Monde’s in New Orleans.­—EL
12 East Ridgewood Avenue

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