This article was last updated on January 17, 2022. It was originally published on April 22, 2019.
Montclair, always a major restaurant destination, 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, in alphabetical order.
Bivio Pizza Napoletana (temporarily closed; check Instagram for updates)
Tomasso Colao plays three instruments: alto sax, flute and wood-fired pizza oven. He is an artist on all three. His delicate pies are as close to the Neapolitan ideal as you’ll find anywhere, and they pair well with his detailed salads. They’re so good, in fact, that Bivio appeared on our list of the state’s top pizza places. With just 24 seats in this lovely old storefront, waits are not uncommon. But worth it. BYO
107 Pine Street, 973-941-9602
One of our 2019 hottest new restaurants, the Italian home cooking at Da Pepo is as authentic and compelling as the space is a bit, well, tight. There are 19 seats, including three at a narrow counter. 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
Since chef Ryan DePersio and his family opened Fascino in 2003, they have kept it Montclair’s go-to for modern Italian food. Fresh pastas are a strength, and main courses are substantial. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to find the three-course vegetarian menu sensuous and satisfying. (Fascino is one of our top 30 best restaurants in New Jersey.) BYO
331 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-233-0350
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 outdoor bar and multilevel patio, might be their greatest achievement. Which is not to dis’ the food at Faubourg, which ranges from adept and endearing (hey there, coq au vin, old pal) to the fricassée of snails and chicken “oysters,” which hits like a slot machine jackpot.
544 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-543-7700
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 for $1 extra. 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
Chef Shawn Dalziel’s New American cooking is flavor-forward and generous in portion. In response to customer requests, a number of his menu items have no gluten, dairy or animal protein (though you can add the latter). For riotous richness, it’s hard to beat his shrimp and chorizo risotto, pomegranate-molasses braised short rib, or Moroccan orange tagine with eggplant relish—which surrenders nothing for being vegetarian. (In 2018, Laurel and Sage was one of our top 30 best restaurants in New Jersey.) BYO
33 Walnut Street, 973-783-1133
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The storefront is tiny, the rustic interior packed with small wooden tables, antiques and an open kitchen run by chef/owners John and Christina Salierno. Opening in 2012, Salbuen first won fans for boosting breakfast and brunch staples to flavorful new heights (using organic ingredients, with 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. His Mediterranean influences, and skills in baking, 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. Mesob today is busy most nights, and people 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
215 Glenridge Avenue, 973-337-5648
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. And the prices are reasonable. Plus outdoor seating in warm weather. BYO
28 Church St, 973-744-9263
One of the better breakfast, lunch and brunch spots in town, Red Eye aces the staples and also offers rewarding mashups such 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. Opened in 2012, Red Eye offered dinner until late 2018. Owner Anthony Brinton, who also runs the food service at Mana Contemporary, the huge art center in Jersey City, says Red Eye will resume dinner service in spring 2020. BYO
94 Walnut St, 973-509-3663
Brazilian native Ilson Goncalves opened Samba in 2011, and ever since has been showing people 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 is another. You don’t have to be gluten-free to feel greedy about the warm cheese biscuits. On Fridays and Saturdays, Samba serves feijoada, the national dish. It’s one of the world’s great meat stews, combining beef, pork ribs, bacon and black beans with sides of collard greens, chopped vegetables and seasoned yucca powder to dump into the stew and multiply its flavors. BYO
7 Park Street, 973-744-6764
Chef Michael Cetrulo made his name with Scalini Fedeli in Chatham. Scala del Nonna (“steps of the grandmother”), which he opened in 2014, serves 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. 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
38 Upper Montclair Plaza (off Valley Road) 973-509-0111
Montclair native Lauren Hirschberg rose to a high level in Tom Colicchio’s Craft organization. In 2015 he 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 wine from California’s Domenico Winery.
44 South Park Street, 973-744-0074