The 28 Best New Restaurants 2019

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

Housemade pasta at the Pasta Shop. Photo courtesy of the Pasta Shop

The Pasta Shop

Denville

For about 70 years, the neon sign over the laundromat read Wash n Shop. When Denville natives Sergio Sciancalepore and Tommy Pollio took it over last winter, they turned the interior into a people’s palace of handmade pasta. They nostalgically kept the sign, just changing “Wash n” to “Pasta.” Pollio, 34, a veteran chef, and Sciancalepore (pronounced shanklapor), 51, who owns the renowned Italian deli Sergio & Co. around the corner, have just 36 seats at the Pasta Shop. Those seats are virtually always full, not just because there are so few. The pastas (including separately cooked gluten-free shapes) are modest masterworks, epitomized by the squid-ink spaghetti with spicy king crab and a classic pappardelle Bolognese. From the wood-burning oven come terrific dishes such as meatballs in a lava of jammy red sauce, and slow-roasted pork shoulder with peppers. The rich, crispy garlic bread with Romano puts most others to shame.—EL
13 First Avenue, 973-253-4143

Crispy rice cakes with Jersey scallops, fermented chili mayo and jalapeño. Photo by Michael Persico

Porch & Proper

Collingswood

Philadelphians Casey and Jason Simkins, veterans of the Stephen Starr organization—Casey tending bar, her husband, Jason, in management—decided the time had come to hang up their own shingle. After looking on both sides of the Delaware River, they took over the spot that had been IndeBlue, an Indian restaurant. What they and chef Ryan McQuillen have done is add to Collingswood’s boasting rights as one of South Jersey’s most dynamic dining scenes. The space is understated, intimate and pleasingly folksy. The servers are engaging and know their stuff. The kitchen needs a higher batting average, but the home runs include fish stew, scallop crudo on chewy-crisp rice, and ethereal beignets. BYO—AE
619 West Collings Avenue, 856-477-2105

Saddle River Cafe

Saddle River

Nutley native Jamie Knott (see profile, p. 36) is fast becoming one of New Jersey’s most creative and astute chef entrepreneurs. After earning his kitchen stripes at Fascino in Montclair and in major New York restaurants, he took over the venerable Saddle River Inn in 2013 and modernized its approach to fine dining. In 2016, he opened Cellar 335 in Jersey City, proving that a riff on a tiki-bar theme can produce amazing food and drink. This year, he opened the Saddle River Cafe, a casual but up-to-the-minute breakfast and lunch spot that proved so successful, it begins serving dinner this month. Knott’s concept is “food that is healthy, accessible, straightforward, but really delicious.” The lobster omelet, bristling with juicy chunks of meat under a halo of microgreens, is as photogenic as it is ravishing, as it should be for $22. The wedge salad is another reinvention that overloads one’s pleasure receptors. Dinner entrées will range from fish and meat to pastas and risottos, all prepared, as he says, “with a touch of culinary love.” And there will be more restaurants to come. BYO­—EL
171 East Saddle River Road, 201-282-2300

Salmon tiradito at the Salted Lime. Photo courtesy of the Salted Lime

Salted Lime

Somerville

The same group that runs the popular INC in New Brunswick and Uproot in Warren brings the Latin-inspired Salted Lime to Somerville’s burgeoning Main Street. Chef Renner Burgos, former Uproot chef de cuisine and a native of El Salvador, heads the kitchen, producing lively dishes with Central and South American influences. The tacos and ceviches are solid, but the highlight is anticucho, a skewered Peruvian street food similar to kebab, available in pork belly, seared tuna or shrimp. If it’s busy when you arrive, which it often is, snag a spot at the 27-seat bar. The cocktails are stellar, including a true pisco sour (shaken with egg white and topped with Angostura bitters) and a simple yet satisfying paloma.­—SV
46 East Main Street, 908-864-4403

Semolina

Red Bank

Scallops with maitake mushrooms, parsnip purée and saba at Semolina. Photo courtesy of Semolina

“We’re pretty much on the same level with everything,” says Chuck Lesbirel, 31, of himself and his brother, Tylar, 26. “I probably have more love for fresh pastas; he definitely has more love for good steaks and fish. We’re both here cooking every day.” Since opening in June (in the space that for 14 years was Dish), the Lesbirels—co-chefs and co-owners—have been doing big business in the small, bright, understated space. They turn local ingredients into marvels of finesse and flavor. Thought and care come through in every bite, whether in a shaved beet salad with pecans and raisins; sumptuous butternut squash agnolotti with squash seeds, butternut squash purée and sage; or seared Jersey dayboat scallops with maitake mushrooms, frisée, lemon and labne. Familiar desserts such as vanilla-bean panna cotta and chocolate budino arrive at the table lovingly detailed and refined, but frisky as pups. BYO­—EL
13 White Street, ​732-945-6816

Somos

North Arlington

Delayed many months, Somos, the new restaurant from chef Juan Placencia, finally opened in late November, and proved worth the wait. Placencia, born in Peru and raised in North Bergen, made his name at Costanera, his now 8-year-old Peruvian BYO in Montclair. Somos, which means “we are” in Spanish, “celebrates Latin flavors with a global perspective,” he says. “We’re melding those ingredients and techniques with pasta, salads, flatbreads, meatballs and traditional entrées. The surprise happens when they taste these familiar items with a Latin slant, and the conversation begins.” Look for squid-ink spaghetti with piquillo pepper sauce, a flatbread take on a Cuban sandwich using Serrano ham, and a tres leches cake with pineapple and nontraditional coconut-milk sauce. Somos has a liquor license and a creative mixologist, Rachael Robbins. One of her creations is the Have a Cigar: banana purée, rye, cinnamon and fresh citrus. Inhale the aroma, sip the rest.—EL
185 River Road, 201-621-0899

A meal of salads, sides and main dishes from Soul Curry. Photo by Melissa Hom

Soul Curry

Hoboken

Hari Nayak admits he “wanted to run away from Indian food” when he moved from his native South India in 1996 to enroll in the CIA. After earning a degree, he moved to Jersey City and mastered French cooking working for Daniel Boulud in New York. In recent years he’s become a creator of Indian-inflected restaurant concepts around the world and also a recurring judge on Beat Bobby Flay. Soul Curry, which opened in July just two miles from his home in Jersey City, is the 43-year-old’s first restaurant of his own. The food is Indian yet modern, casual, affordable and full of flavor. “Since I come from Southern India,” he says, “I’m using more tropical flavors and lighter ingredients, like coconut milk instead of cream and butter. We’re using pork, beef and fish to show that Indian cooking is not just vegetarian and chicken.” Standouts include bhel, a bright, juicy street salad with puffed and fresh corn, jicama, tomatoes, onions and green chilies in a cumin-chili vinaigrette; and burrata butter chicken, which is tandoori chicken in a smoked tomato makhni sauce topped with Italian burrata. For dessert, the mango and white-chocolate kulfi popsicles are goofy fun, like mango lassi on a stick. BYO­—EL
618 Washington Street, 201-683-9431

Taste of Szechuan

Cherry Hill

PinJun Yue and WuDan Dan emigrated to the U.S. from China nearly five years ago. The couple worked at restaurants in Connecticut and Pennsylvania before landing jobs at Han Dynasty in Cherry Hill. In March, they finally opened a place of their own. Yue, who learned to cook Szechuan in Chengdu as a teenager, is masterful. His Chengdu wontons, served in a spicy garlic sauce, are plump and juicy; the pork-filled seven-flavor wontons, tossed in sesame-peanut sauce, are delicate and satisfying. Toothpick-skewered lamb is at once crisp and tender, fragrant with cumin and fierce with dry chilies. Those chilies and chili oil are key ingredients in most dishes and are used liberally. Delicate palates will find solace in the juicy tea-smoked duck, which comes with a house-made hoisin sauce so unusually good you will want to ask for a little container of it to take home. BYO­—SV
2091 Marlton Pike East; 856-888-1370

White Birch

Flanders

Vegan chocolate cake at White Birch. Photo by John Bessler

When he opened Slamwich Scratch Kitchen in Madison with George Braun in 2015, chef Sam Freund hid his years of high-end restaurant experience behind a menu of irresistible hipster sandwiches. Now at White Birch—the name is a tribute to his father—Freund unleashes all his technique and talent to create New American food as refined and beautiful as it is sensuous. The space is gracious and soothing, the service animated and responsive, and the desserts—take a bow, pastry chef, Melissa Smith—unabashedly gratifying. BYO—EL
380 Route 206 South, 908-955-0443

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