The 28 Hottest New Restaurants 2019

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

Ai Sushi

Somerville

Part of the omakase at Ai Sushi. Photo courtesy of Ai Sushi

In May, after Kunihiko Aikasa—the revered Chef Ike—closed Shumi, one of the state’s best sushi restaurants, new owners reopened it with a new name and no drop in quality. David Grodman and partner Joy Noobanjong, a 10-year Shumi employee, brought in new head chef John Junichi, who had worked alongside Ike. His omakase—essentially the sushi equivalent of a chef’s tasting menu—remains exceptional. Junichi makes the journey thrilling. Highlights include a monkfish liver trio, each piece differently topped—with scallop, fatty otoro and spicy clam. The miyazaki beef and uni roll is as sensually complex as it is conceptually simple. The kitchen still produces delightful dishes, like the soul-warming tonkatsu ramen. BYO—Shelby Vittek
30 South Doughty Avenue, 908-526-8596

Big Mike’s

Atlantic Highlands

As executive chef of Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, one of the state’s pinnacles of fine dining, Mike Metzner seemed to have reached a career pinnacle himself. But after stints totaling nine years at the restaurant, the 34-year-old stepped down last summer to convert an 1885 general store into Big Mike’s Little Red Store, a creative sandwich, salad and soup shop with 16 seats, a six-seat counter and friendly grab-and-go. He partnered with Nicholas Harary, owner of Restaurant Nicholas. “Being in fine dining means you’re always in the kitchen and never get to see anyone,” Metzner explains. “Here, I get to be more a part of the community, which is what I always wanted.” Metzner brings his high standards to unique sandwiches like the Poppa, named for his Polish grandfather and featuring seared bologna, a potato pancake and a cheddar omelet. The Kelly features an inch of rare roast beef, onion, tomato, aged provolone and a nose-tingling, house-made horseradish aioli. Perhaps the best example of Metzner elevating a staple is his ketchup, which combines tomatoes, oranges, coriander, charred peppers and guajillo chilies. He also makes a selection of take-out dinners. BYO—Jill P. Capuzzo
101 Navesink Avenue, 732-291-2750

Café Loret

Red Bank

Chocolate mousse at Café Loret. Photo courtesy of Café Loret

Dennis Foy’s bona fides stretch all the way back to 1975, when he opened the Tarragon Tree in Chatham. A restaurant French in technique, American (and local) in spirit, it made Foy arguably New Jersey’s first high-profile chef. He’s won plaudits for his later restaurants in Manhattan and Jersey, including d’floret in Lambertville, opened in 2012. This year, he added Café Loret, a handsome and comfortable 42-seat space with a long glass wall shedding light on his impressionistic landscape paintings (his other great passion) and on his food. By current standards, Loret’s menu is conservative—seared foie gras, mushroom crêpe, veal Bolognese, dry-aged sirloin, slow-roasted halibut, chocolate mousse. But the execution is impeccable and the ingredients are first-rate. Every so often Foy will put you in orbit, as with his sautéed tian of crab with thyme, which you can think of as the world’s most licentious crab cake. BYO—Eric Levin
128 Broad Street, 732-430-2250

C.C.’s Kitchen

Haddon Heights
Overshadowed by the bounteous food towns Collingswood, Haddonfield and even Haddon Township, Haddon Heights isn’t known as a dining destination. That’s something chefs Matt Salvitti, 24, and Tyler Serenelli, 25, hope to change with C.C.’s Kitchen, named for the women who inspired their careers: Carmelyna, Salvitti’s late nonna, and Christine, Serenelli’s late mother. The chefs run the operation, even greeting and serving customers. Standouts include house-made pastas—Salvitti learned the art from his nonna as a kid—such as tortellini stuffed with ricotta and roasted pumpkin, mushroom agnolotti and carrot-and-potato gnocchi. The boneless short rib cooks 72 hours, resulting in a savory hunk that shreds easily with a fork. When the dry-aged sirloin is available as a special, order it. The extraordinarily tender meat’s richness is elevated by a bed of cheesy grits and a drizzle of buttery pan sauce. BYO—SV (Editor’s note: C.C.’s Kitchen closed in March 2019, after we published this list.)
517 Station Avenue; 856-547-3117

Grilled salmon on coconut quinoa, with beet and carrot salad at Central + Main. Photo by Laura Moss

Central + Main

Madison

Leia Gaccione learned a lot from her mentor, Bobby Flay: how to layer flavors and textures, seduce the eye and reward the palate. She learned attention to detail and how to build strong teams. All of this prepared her to captain her own ship. Last summer, three years after opening South + Pine in Morristown, Gaccione, 35, expanded her frisky take on seasonal American to Central + Main (named, like South + Pine, for the nearest cross streets). This merrily funky, more open space, just 15 minutes from Morristown, has similarly fetching prices (entrées begin at $18) but different takes on many items, from the burger to the pork chop to the ricotta dumplings (here with butternut squash purée, root vegetables, brown butter and smoked walnuts), “What we try to do,” Gaccione says, “is make you feel a little naughty when you eat our food. Like the spaghetti squash with mushroom Bolognese and smoked ricotta. You feel you’re really indulging, but it’s actually good for you.” BYO—EL
3 Central Avenue, 973-845-6622

Central Taco & Tequila

Haddon Township

The most recent addition to Haddon Avenue’s restaurant row, Central Taco & Tequila is a contemporary Mexican spot from the PJW Restaurant Group (PJ Whelihan’s, ChopHouse) in the space that once held the bare-bones Irish Mile sports bar. Rustic lights now illuminate the redecorated interior, lined with reclaimed wood and graffiti murals. There are just two flat-screens next to the large, square bar. The food, while not striving for invention, is good, especially the al pastor and carnitas tacos. Central’s most exciting asset is its back bar, which stocks more than 115 agave spirits—the majority tequila, with about two dozen mezcals—ranging in price from $8 to $130 for a 2-ounce pour.—SV
350 Haddon Avenue; 856-833-6800

Chit-Chat Diner in West Orange. Photo by Laura Baer

Chit-Chat Diner

West Orange

Everything about diners is supposed to be fast, including their construction. The Chit-Chat broke that mold before it even opened. Nearly three years elapsed from the demolition of the Eagle Rock Diner to the grand opening of the Chit-Chat on July 31. The people who own the venerable Chit-Chat Diner in Hackensack built the new place and, weirdly, slapped the same name on it. The new Chit-Chat, with its black stone exterior and looming turrets looks like it should be called Voldemort’s Castle, but no matter. It’s been packed since opening day, with no slackening in sight. Expect to wait. The interior flips the mood to extravagant extroversion with a riot of happy colors, upholstered comfort and MacKenzie-Childs charm, complete with distractions for kids and a view of Manhattan through big picture windows. The menu is almost literally anything you can think of. The food isn’t the point. The point is being there.­—EL
410 Eagle Rock Avenue, 973-736-1989

Corto

Jersey City

Perched in the rapidly developing Heights neighborhood, Corto focuses on local ingredients, local staff, and being a go-to for seasonal, elegant Italian fare that draws adherents even from the epicenter of hipness, downtown, near the river. Pastas, made fresh daily in shapes even experienced eaters may not have encountered, star at Corto. But don’t overlook the starters and entrées, like juicy chili-and-garlic Angry Chicken and carefully curated salumi-and-cheese platters, which chef Matt Moschella updates daily. Moschella, who rose at Harvest Restaurant Group (Roots, Trap Rock, et al) from server to corporate chef, resides in the Heights and bikes to work. “The food and atmosphere [at Corto] are meant to be more like dinner at Grandma’s than dinner in a restaurant,” he says. “The flavors evoke memories.” And, he might add, create them. BYO­—Sophia F. Gottfried
507 Palisade Ave., 201-420-6290

Spaghettoni chitarra with crab meat; behind it, a bowl of gnocchi Telefono at Da Pepo. Photo by Laura Baer

Da Pepo

Montclair

For much of his career, Carlo Orrico cooked Italian-American standards at restaurants he owned or co-owned in East Rutherford, Fair Lawn and Piscataway. But the food he cooked at home for his family was different. It reached back three generations to his roots in Campania in Southern Italy—simpler, humbler food, but splendidly so. Orrico named Da Pepo for his father, Pasquale, known as Pepo. “Our hope,” explains Carlo’s son, Carlo Jr., “was to find an audience for these dishes that were in danger of being lost.” Dishes like traditional spaghettoni carbonara; rich meatballs with whipped ricotta in thick red sauce; lancia e scudo, asparagus wrapped in mozzarella and prosciutto, breaded and fried; and panini. The restrooms are in the adjoining bookstore, which tempts you to browse on the way back. Da Pepo has just 19 seats, including three at a narrow counter. They don’t take reservations, so go early. You’ll want to go often. BYO—EL
54 Fairfield Street, 973-655-8825

Drifthouse by David Burke

Sea Bright

Grilled lobster with lobster dumplings at Drifthouse by David Burke. Photo by James J. Connoly

Burke, a longtime resident of Fort Lee, returns to New Jersey as a restaurateur for the first time since selling the Fromagerie in Rumson in 2015. He’s partnered with the Stavola family, owners of Ama, to transform their large, ocean view Italian restaurant into Drifthouse. Retaining his younger brother, Robert, Ama’s executive chef, and bringing aboard the stellar pastry chef Stuart Marx, Burke has created what he calls “a hipper, more casual, more approachable” Fromagerie update. Witty signatures, like his thick candied bacon strips pinned on a mini-clothesline and his tree of variously coated cheesecake lollipops, are fun to indulge in again. But there is serious food, too, like a recent lobster risotto special, with tender chunks of meat topped with a mound of black tobiko roe, and a lush bison short rib with wild mushrooms, truffle mousse and toothsome, house-made orecchiette pasta. Marx, who made his name at Avenue in Long Branch and was most recently at Halifax in Hoboken, immediately presented his signature angel food cake. Light and crunchy outside, creamy inside, the oblong construction merely looks like a Hostess Twinkie. Burke isn’t the only one with a delicious sense of humor.—EL
1485 Ocean Avenue, 732-530-9760

Click here to leave a comment

You are on page 1 of 3 of this article

1 2 3Continue
Read more Eat & Drink articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.