This article was last updated on January 29, 2024. It was originally published on April 22, 2019.
Montclair is unusual in that it has three “downtowns”—north (Upper Montclair), central (Watchung Plaza) and south. The latter is the biggest, consuming a mile of Bloomfield Avenue, with restaurants on or just off the avenue, and along Walnut Street, which runs parallel to Bloomfield Avenue a few blocks north. Dig in. The range of choices is striking.
Here are our top picks for the best restaurants in Montclair—one of our favorite restaurant towns in New Jersey—in alphabetical order.
For a fast-casual restaurant, Boschetto certainly feels more like fine dining—and that’s what the faces behind the restaurant (restaurateur Robert Spina, his partner, Ryan Held, and Michelin-starred chef Joseph Sergentakis) are aiming for. With its stellar regional Italian cuisine and gleaming new digs, a lunch or dinner here is worth every penny. Order at the counter, and your food will be brought to your table inside or on the spacious patio—but don’t skimp! Start with the pomodoro salad of ripe, marinated tomatoes with stracciatella cheese, chunks of marinated bread, and chili. Then consider sharing pastas, such as the Amatriciana (bucatini with guanciale, a type of cured pork, and chili). Not to be missed are the zucchine fritte; the pizza is also fabulous. —Jacqueline Mroz
111 Grove Street, 973-509-1095
The Italian home cooking at Da Pepo is as authentic and compelling as the space is a bit, well, tight. There are 19 seats. But after a career cooking in big Italian-American restaurants, chef Carlo Orrico is living his dream, cooking time-tested family recipes from Southern Italy. BYO.
54 Fairfield Street, 973-655-8825
After distinguished careers with the famed Daniel Boulud, chef Olivier Muller and manager Dominique Paulin set out to create their own palace of modern Mediterranean cuisine with French accents. Transforming a long-ago bank from empty shell to stunning showcase, complete with an outdoor bar and multilevel patio, might be their greatest achievement. Which is not to dis the food at Faubourg, which ranges from the adept and endearing coq au vin to the fricassée of snails and chicken “oysters,” which hits like a slot machine jackpot. It earned a spot on our 2021 list of New Jersey’s 30 Best Restaurants.
544 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-543-7700
This new, modern Peruvian restaurant may be small in size, but its food has big ambitions. The fusion restaurant, which also combines culinary techniques from Italy, China and Japan, boasts flavorful takes on typical Peruvian dishes, such as lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian stir fry with strips of beef, onions and tomatoes and topped with French fries. The papa y choclito Huancaina—fried potatoes that are usually served smothered with a cheesy Huancaina sauce—here is delicately drizzled with the sauce instead. The ceviche, the restaurant’s specialty, was tasty, but the risotto marino, with seafood such as mussels, calamari and shrimp, was a real standout, perfectly cooked and delicious. Don’t miss the rice pudding for dessert, which comes with raisins, cinnamon, anise, homemade dark caramel and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. —JM
14 Park Street, 862-846-4874
Diners may have been disappointed when the popular Fascino closed after two decades, but once they try its replacement, they will be delighted. From the moment guests step inside, the low lighting, soothing background music, and inviting, red-leather booths will make them feel happy and relaxed. Now owned by two former Fascino employees, including executive chef Logan Ramirez, Gioia Mia more than lives up to expectations. Start with the perfectly roasted oysters, which are delicately breaded and lemony. The scallops, served over saffron seafood paella, are heavenly, with sundried tomatoes giving them an unusually sweet tang. The menu is interesting, with appealing dishes that don’t require a gastronomic dictionary to decipher. The experience here is quite enjoyable. —JM
331 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-233-0350
The dining room is simple but pleasant, and the cooking is good. The classic Korean rice bowls—bibimbap and bulgogi, among others—can be ordered in a sizzling hot stone bowl. There are soups, vegetable dishes and a kids’ menu to bolster the selection of spicy grilled meat entrees. BYO.
128 Watchung Avenue, 973-509-7800
The storefront is tiny; the rustic interior is packed with small wooden tables, antiques and an open kitchen run by John and Christina Salierno. When it opened in 2012, Salbuen first won fans for boosting breakfast and brunch staples to flavorful new heights (using organic ingredients, and offering gluten-free options). More recently, the Saliernos have added dinner, applying the same flavor-forward ideas to a range of European and New American dishes. BYO.
97 Walnut Street, 201-622-8473
Growing up in Israel, Meny Vaknin learned to cook from his Moroccan Jewish mother. Vaknin’s Mediterranean influences and baking skills have made Marcel a community hot spot since it opened in 2017. It works as a grab-and-go cafe or a schmooze fest at its community table and two-tops. Hits include shakshuka, hummus or rice bowls topped with meat or vegetables; shwarma chicken tacos; and a variety of smoothies and coffee drinks. BYO.
631 1/2 Valley Road, 973-842-4088
Despite never having worked in a restaurant, sisters Berekti and Akberet Mengistu fearlessly opened Mesob in 2003. They’d grown up in an Ethiopian family of 10 children; with relatives dropping by all the time, cooking dinner for 40 on little notice was no big deal. They figured they could handle it—and they were right. Patrons have taken to the Ethiopian way of eating—scooping up subtly spiced meat and vegetable stews with hand-torn strips of cool, spongy injera, Ethiopia’s uniquely absorbent sourdough crepes. BYO.
515 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-655-9000
Stefano Bosetti, born and raised in Trento, northern Italy, says he grew up “putting a finger in everything my mother was making.” She was a professional cook, and he followed in her footsteps, first in Italy, and since 1994, in New York. In July 2021, he and his friend Massimo Apicella, having moved to New Jersey, opened Palato, a place as compact (about 20 seats at small tables, including one in the front window) as it is big in flavor, spirit and value. (The restaurant made our Best New Restaurants list in February 2022.) On offer: Polenta with mixed mushrooms and melted fontina, lush and crusty eggplant parm, served sizzling in a black-steel pan; and personal-size pizzas. The squid-ink pasta with crabmeat, garlic and Fresno peppers tops the price list at $22.95, and it’s big enough to feed two. BYO.
377 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-509-0416
Reservations at this spot, serving an unusual combination of Italian/Japanese food in downtown Montclair, are the hottest tickets in town, and tables fill up quickly on the first of each month, when the (online) reservation book opens. But then again, chef Robbie Felice has long been a New Jersey Monthly favorite. All three of his restaurants—Pasta Ramen, Viaggio in Wayne, and Osteria Crescendo in Westwood—made it onto our 2023 Best Restaurants list. Some of the most popular dishes at Pasta Ramen are Japanese Wagyu steaks, clams focaccia, and calamari fritti in spicy miso sauce. “l feel very lucky at 32 to have opened a concept that is not well known, is original and different, and I’m really grateful that everyone loves it,” Felice told NJM last year. —JM
6 S. Fullerton Avenue, no phone
One of Montclair’s most popular meeting places, and for good reason. The built-from-scratch interior could be the set of a luncheonette from a 1940s Hollywood movie. The menu is basically all the American favorites people love to eat. The prices are reasonable, and there’s outdoor seating in warm weather. BYO.
28 Church St, 973-744-9263
One of the better breakfast/lunch/brunch spots in town, Red Eye aces the staples and also offers such rewarding mashups as coconut grits (a bowl of grits mixed with shredded chorizo and toasted coconut, topped with two fried eggs). Brunch includes enticing twists like Hong Kong waffles, made with a custard base and tapioca flour for a firmer, denser texture. BYO.
94 Walnut St, 973-509-3663
Brazilian native Ilson Goncalves opened Samba in 2011, and ever since has been showing patrons there is more to Brazilian food than steak (though his sirloins are very good). Grilled salmon with passion fruit sauce, and baked acorn squash filled with shrimp, squash and Parmesan, are standouts. And you don’t have to be gluten-free to be greedy for the warm cheese biscuits. BYO.
7 Park Street, 973-744-6764
Chef Michael Cetrulo opened Scala del Nonna (“steps of the grandmother”) in 2014. He serves up sumptuous Italian food under a vaulted ceiling that adds a touch of elegance to the warm hospitality, which is overseen by Cetrulo’s sister, Sally Gildea. BYO.
32 Church Street, 973-744-3300
The initials stand for “Simple Love Authentic”—and owner Meiji Pattamasingchai radiates the L word. She grew up in northern Thailand and learned the local cuisine (the A word) from her mother, a caterer. Her menu, prepared by her husband Paul Phaisanyakit, is too rich in flavor and varied in texture to be summed up by the S word. Spice levels are adjustable on request. BYO.
596 V alley Road, 973-509-0111
Montclair native Lauren Hirschberg rose to a high level in celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality organization. In 2015, Hirschberg and longtime friend Matt Trevenen fulfilled their dream of opening their own New American restaurant in their hometown. The food is hearty and contemporary; the atmosphere hip and relaxed. BYO.
622 Valley Road, 973-783-9800
Chef Can (pronounced John) Alp trained in Turkey and brings a fanciful, modern take on Mediterranean food to Zeugma, which he opened in 2017. Think: Crunchy beet falafel (delicately flavored with cumin) and calamari (ringed with miso aioli). BYO—or try wine from California’s Domenico Winery.
44 South Park Street, 973-744-0074