Global Eats: 38 Restaurants That Put the World on Your Plate

Diverse culinary delights await in neighborhoods throughout the state.

Sambusas and a salad with shrimp at Dashen in New Brunswick. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

All but four of the 50 states are geographically larger than ours. But New Jersey—thanks to its immigrant communities and the diverse roots of many of its citizens—offers a veritable expo of world cuisines in its packed confines. In these pages, we concentrate on the cooking with which you may be least familiar, omitting those we think you know best (Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Japanese, Thai) and the two we’ve celebrated in previous issues (Italian and Mexican). So grab a fork, chopsticks, ladle or strip of Ethiopian injera. The flavors and portions tend to be big, the tabs small. —Eric Levin

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AFGHAN

Afghan Kabob

Wrightstown

Located just outside Fort Dix, Afghan Kabob is often filled with men and women in uniform. Many developed a taste for the cuisine while deployed in Afghanistan, the owner’s native land. The juicy kebabs (chicken, lamb or beef kofta) are fragrant with cumin, saffron and black pepper. They’re served over rice pilaf, with warm pita and a green salad. Don’t overlook the stewed chickpeas with curry and chili; they’re essential—and best spread over everything. Cash only. BYO. —Shelby Vittek
82 Fort Dix Street, 609-723-3050

Photo courtesy of Korai Kitchen

BANGLADESHI

Korai Kitchen

Jersey City

When Nur-E Gulshan Rahman and her daughter, Nur-E Farhana Rahman, were scouting locations, they avoided blocks packed with Indian restaurants. Though India and Bangladesh share a border, the cuisines differ, and the Rahmans wanted to bring their food out of India’s shadow. In 2018, they opened Korai Kitchen near Journal Square. Everything is served family style in a buffet in the cozy storefront. The menu, which changes twice a day, might include creamy chicken korma, pumpkin shrimp curry, begun bhaja (fried eggplant), and various spiced vegetables. Hilsa, considered the supreme fish, is flown in from Bangladesh. Everything is cooked by Nur-E Gulshan, including the stellar bhorthas, flavorful mashes made from eggplant, potato, tomato or egg. BYO. —SV
576 Summit Avenue, 201-721-6566

BRAZILIAN

Samba

Montclair

Since 2011, Brazilian native Ilson Goncalves has been showing people there is more to Brazilian food than steak (though his sirloins are very good). Examples? Grilled salmon with passion-fruit sauce, and acorn squash filled with shrimp, squash and Parmesan. On weekends, Samba serves feijoada, the national dish—one of the world’s great meat stews, combining beef, pork ribs, bacon and black beans with sides of collards, vegetables and seasoned yucca powder to dump into the stew, enriching its flavor and texture. BYO. —EL
7 Park Street, 973-744-6764

COLOMBIAN

Villa de Colombia

Hackensack

A classic Colombian meal at this elegant, 30-year-old eatery starts with ceviche mixto, lime-cured chunks of seafood with shaved onion and plantain chips. And maybe the chorizo appetizer, with onions, peppers and some biscuit-like arepas. Upgrade from the standard thin steak to the thick, juicy skirt steak of the paisa churrasco. If you’d like to never be hungry again, attempt to finish the unofficial national dish, bandeja paisa: grilled steak, fried pork belly, rice, beans, sweet plantains, avocado and a fried egg. There is a bowl of spicy, house-made salsa on the table. Use it. The in-house bakery sells those fluffy arepas, savory empanadas, and the powerfully addictive buñuelo, a cheesy puff bread. BYO. —Michael Aharon
12 Mercer Street, 201-343-3399

House-made empanadas.

Photo by Shelby Vittek

COSTA RICAN

Division Cafe

Somerville

Chef/owner Maida Morales, originally from San José, Costa Rica, opened Division Cafe in 2013. It’s known for its baked empanadas and traditional Costa Rican food, which is sometimes characterized as simple. Costa Rican dishes don’t front-load spicy chilies, but they are present, flavorful and satisfying. Divison makes a solid gallo pinto (“spotted rooster”), the national dish of fried rice and beans, fried egg, corn tortillas, fried farmer’s cheese and sweet plantains. Equally comforting are arroz con pollo (rice with pulled chicken) and carne en salsa, a beef and vegetable stew served with white rice and beans. BYO. —SV
8 Division Street, 908-450-7979

CUBAN

CubaNu

Rahway

Brothers Pablo and Jerry Varona opened this swank lounge in 2007. Their mother, Rosa, supplied most of the recipes for traditional Cuban dishes like pernil (roast pork) and ropa vieja (shredded beef). The brothers have added their own—the popular Babalú chicken, stuffed with fried sweet plantains, black beans, chorizo and a hint of goat cheese. Another popular twist is Cubanitos—pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles, the ingredients of a traditional Cuban sandwich, but fried inside a wonton. The flan is creamy and eggy, its caramel topping not too sweet. Signature cocktails include the CubaNu Punch, made with Midori, coconut rum, banana liqueur, and pineapple and orange juices. “It’s our job to make sure everyone has a great experience,” says Pablo. —Carmen Cusido
 1467 Main Street, 732-540-1724 

DOMINICAN

Sol Sazon

Willingboro

Luis Geronimo grew up watching his mom and grandmother make Dominican dishes, which inspired him to pursue a culinary career. Last October, he opened Sol Sazon, dedicated to “Dominican soul food.” Pastelitos (savory turnovers) and yuca fries, loaded with tomato, onions and avocado crema, are served with a flight of sauces. One is bright, herbaceous chimichurri. It lifts any dish, including the broiled whole-parrotfish special. Fresh juices (tamarind, passion fruit and a Caribbean fruit called soursop) are especially refreshing. BYO. —SV
4324 Route 130 #4, 609-835-0002

The dining area at Dashen in New Brunswick. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

ETHIOPIAN

At Dashen, samplers come with injera and stews sometimes served in a mesob, a colorful, round, wicker basket. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

Dashen

New Brunswick

For a vibrant introduction to Ethiopian eating, order one of Dashen’s combo platters, ranging from five to 10 samples of traditional meat and vegetable dishes. Consider doro wot (spicy chicken stew), tibs wot (spiced, cubed, stir-fried beef), menchet abesh (mild ground beef simmered in spiced butter), kitfo (lean beef spiced with red pepper, cumin and ginger), gomen (simmered collard greens), shiro (chickpeas with Ethiopian spices and herbs) or kik alicha (yellow split peas with garlic, ginger and turmeric). They’ll be served atop injera, the sour, spongy crepe made of teff flour that serves as both plate and utensil. You tear off pieces to scoop up the sauces and stews. BYO. —SV
88 Albany Street, 732-249-0494

Mesob

Montclair

Fifteen years ago, sisters Berekti and Akberet Mengistu fearlessly opened Mesob despite never having worked in a restaurant. They’d grown up in a 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 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 spongy injera, Ethiopia’s uniquely absorbent sourdough crepes. BYO. —EL
515 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-655-9000

FILIPINO

Max’s

Bloomfield, Jersey City

Maximo Gimenez, a native Filipino and a Stanford grad, opened the first Max’s in 1945 in Quezon City. It became a chain. The whole-fried-chicken recipe, a signature dish created by Gimenez’s niece long ago, is unusually tender and tasty. Other hits include the crispy spring rolls filled with adobo-seasoned pork purée, and the bicol express, which is fried pork belly in coconut milk with shrimp paste and spices. Ease the heat with a bowl of halo-halo—purple yam ice cream with sweet beans, fruit preserves, rice flakes, coconut shreds and even cheddar to counter the sweetness. —CC
65 Belleville Avenue, 973-743-1900; 687 Newark Avenue, 201-798-2700

Manila Cafe

Mount Laurel 

Part market, part café. Order from the daily selections at the hot-tray counter. Staples include chicken adobo (in a vinegar-soy sauce), pancit (rice noodles with vegetables), barbecue chicken or pork skewers, and kare-kare (a peanut-sauce stew simmered with oxtail and other meats). Portions are plentiful. For dessert, try ube halaya, a jam made from boiled, mashed purple yam (ube) topped with coconut flakes; or halo-halo, consisting of ube ice cream, shaved ice, evaporated milk and other toppings. Starting at 8 am Sundays, Manila Cafe hosts a Filipino breakfast feast. BYO. —SV
200 Larchment Boulevard, 856-222-0604

GERMAN

Black Forest Inn

Stanhope

The Aichem family, originally from Germany, has been serving the traditional dishes of their homeland since 1977. Stepping into the Black Forest Inn is like stepping into a lost era of restaurants: multiple dining rooms, dark wooden paneling and, particular to this tradition, servers dressed in dirndls. Also unchanged are the wonderfully prepared classic German selections: crisp Wiener schnitzel, buttery spaetzle, rich slices of sauerbraten, sweet braised cabbage, and flammkuchen, a type of thin German pizza spread with crème fraîche, bits of bacon, caramelized red onion and mushrooms. There are more than a dozen dessert options, but the light and flaky apple strudel is the only one you owe it to yourself to try. —SV
249 Route 206 North, 973-347-3344

GUATEMALAN

La Parrilla

Trenton

On the former site of the famed DeLorenzo’s Pizza, La Parilla (“The Grill”) is reasonably priced and family friendly. It’s owned by siblings Juan Carlos and Amanda Diaz; their brother, Eduardo, is the manager. About 60 percent of their customers are Latino. The most popular dish is Tres Carnes a la Parilla, with three grilled meats: flank steak, chicken breast and carne adobada (traditional Guatemalan pork marinated in a tomato-based adobo). It comes with rice and beans, salad, avocado, sweet plantains and fried taquitos. The drink of choice is té de elote, a warm corn tea with kernels of corn, milk and a hint of cinnamon. BYO. —CC
1007 Hamilton Avenue, 609-989-1912

HAITIAN

Mommie Joe’s

Trenton

A variety of Caribbean flags adorn Mommie Joe’s sign, but the best food here is Haitian. For more than 30 years, the take-out spot has served delicious diri ak djon djon, a specialty known as black rice. Earthy and deeply flavored with black mushrooms native to northern Haiti, it also accompanies spicy stews of oxtail, chicken, pork or goat, as well as fried fish. All come with fiery peppers sliced thin and marinated in vinegar. BYO. —SV
1036 South Broad Street, 609-695-6561

Mount Masala in Voorhees. Clockwise from above right: Salt-and-pepper shrimp; sizzling chicken momo; Manchurian goat and Himalayan beef, with rice and sauces on the side. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

HIMALAYAN

Mount Masala

Voorhees

There’s spicy, and then there’s Mount Masala spicy. The family-owned restaurant—opened by Gayatri “GG” Giri, her husband, Bharat Bist, and her brother, Jaya Nepal, in 2017 in the former Tiffin space—doesn’t shy from the heat of the food of their native Nepal. “With spice, you are warmer, with more energy, and can climb higher,” says GG. Of Nepali cuisine, she says, “Hardly any people know about it. I wanted to showcase the flavors I had in my daily life.” 

Nepal’s earthy flavors involve cumin, dried chilies, coriander, pepper and garlic. They turn up in everything from dry-pot Himalayan beef to cumin-laden Manchurian goat to chili-flecked chow mein. Sizzling momos (Himalayan dumplings stuffed with vegetables or chicken and topped with tomato chutney) are served, still smoking, in a cast-iron dish. The restaurant imports all its herbs and spices from Nepal, as well as yak milk, which has twice the fat of cow’s milk and is blended with regular milk to make super-creamy ice creams. BYO. —SV
300 White Horse Road, 856-281-9711

Cafe MoBay in Bloomfield. From left: Patrick Smith; fresh sorrel, mango and pineapple drinks. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

JAMAICAN

Cafe MoBay

Bloomfield

“People tell me, ‘There’s not many Jamaicans in Bloomfield. Why do you put a Jamaican restaurant here?’” says Patrick Smith. “I always tell them, ‘Good food people will find good food. It might take awhile, but they will.’” Smith’s Cafe MoBay (short for Montego Bay) is a little over two years old, and people are finding their way there. Smith—who grew up in Jamaica, graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York, and became a chef in New York restaurants and New Jersey country clubs—serves a menu he calls “90 percent Jamaican.” His jerk Gulf shrimp with sweet plantain and house-made tomato marmalade is irresistible. His curried goat with rice (a Jamaican staple) is tender and delicious, his sautéed callaloo one of the most involving leafy vegetable dishes around. Smith’s French training especially shines in desserts like his brioche bread pudding with vanilla rum sauce and his warm, flourless chocolate cake. BYO. —EL
1039 Broad Street, 973-337-8460

Morgan’s Island Grill

Hightstown

Chef Kenroy Morgan, a native of Jamaica, and his wife, Jewel, opened this place in 2013. In the bright and cheery restaurant, Morgan makes excellent renditions of the Jamaican dishes he learned from his father: flavorful beef patties, unapologetically spicy grilled jerk chicken, tender curried goat over seasoned rice, slow-cooked and fragrant oxtail stew, and fried sweet plantains. Then there’s ackee and saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish—made with ackee fruit, salted cod, onions, hot pepper and spices—delicious and transporting. BYO. —SV
110 Mercer Street, 609-308-2108

KOREAN

Eden Korean

Cherry Hill

The tables do not have built-in grills like many Korean barbecue joints, but the menu is unmistakably Korean. Owned by the Kwak family for nearly a decade, Eden’s highlights include handmade beef and pork dumplings, and dolsot bibimbap, a sizzling stone bowl filled with rice, marinated beef, vegetables and a fried egg tossed with gochujang. Thinly sliced barbecued short ribs, called galbi, are simple and completely delicious. Banchan, the side dishes served with a Korean meal, include kimchi, marinated mushrooms, seaweed and seasoned bean sprouts. They’re great to nibble on before your meal arrives. BYO. —SV
1428 Marlton Pike East, 856-489-5757

LEBANESE

Four Seasons

North Brunswick

Known as Headquarters until January of this year, Four Seasons does a large take-out business, but fills the dining room as well. Lentils bob in a bright, lemony soup, a signature dish. Cabbage rolls stuffed with spiced, chopped meat are a frequent special. Chicken kabobs are moist and meaty and come with grilled peppers and onions, as well as hummus, which is light, with balanced notes of sesame and garlic. The baba ghanoush is properly smoky, but the subtle flavor of eggplant shines through. Grape leaves stuffed with rice and chickpeas are excellent and warm. The tabouli seduces with chopped fresh parsley and lemon juice. —Emily Drew
1892 Route 130 North, 732-658-6555

Photo courtesy of Norma’s

Norma’s

Cherry Hill 

Norma and George Bitar, who emigrated from Lebanon during that country’s civil war, opened Norma’s in 1996. The restaurant and gourmet shop became a haven for Middle Eastern families, as well as others who relish the age-old recipes Norma prepares: stewed lamb with honey and almonds; kabobs; sfiha (a Levantine open-faced lamb or beef pie); mujaddara (lentils, rice and caramelized onions); and kibbi (bulgur, onions and ground meat, served fried, baked or raw). The vegetarian platter offers crisp falafel and mezze such as hummus, baba ghanoush and stellar stuffed grape leaves with fresh pita. Norma’s also offers vegan and vegetarian takes on traditional dishes such as moussaka and shawarma. The Bitars’ three children—Elias, Mariette and Ziad—carry on the family’s legacy. BYO. —SV
145 Barclay Farms Center, 856-795-1373

Rose’s Place

Fair Lawn, Englewood

Rose Hajjarian opened the original Rose’s Place in Fair Lawn in 2000 and its Englewood branch in 2008. “Rose is the mind behind everything,” says her daughter, Yesmene Allam, Englewood’s chef. “We make everything from scratch from fresh ingredients and cook everything to order. We grill over hardwood charcoal, not gas.” You can taste the difference in the smoky baba ghanoush, which has a balancing brightness, and in the small, dense mekanek sausages, made with lamb, pine nuts and—the subtly enhancing ingredient—pomegranate molasses. Imam bayildi is a Lebanese eggplant and tomato ragù, redolent of cumin and allspice. Kofta, ground lamb sausage smothered with tahini sauce, forms an inseparable alliance. BYO. —EL
32-01 Broadway, 201-475-8800; 126 Engle Street, 201-541-0020

MALAYSIAN

Coco Asian Cuisine

Edison

Much of the menu is adorned with Thai favorites for the suburban audience, but the standouts are Malay. Roti canai, a crispy pancake served with a dipping sauce thick with curried chicken and potatoes, makes a great start. Satays, skewers of chicken or beef seasoned with a marinade that includes lemongrass and turmeric, are grilled to juicy perfection. Beef rendang, a semi-spicy Malaysian staple, is tender and flavorful, with notes of lemongrass, curry and coconut. Pulut hitam, a warm, creamy dessert porridge, is rich with black sticky rice and coconut milk. BYO. —SV
1803 Lincoln Highway, 732-777-1300

MOROCCAN

Marakesh

Parsippany 

The Moroccan-born Abdelfettah El Akkari opened Marakesh in a small strip mall in 1996. Since then, he’s grown the restaurant’s impressive collection of Moroccan decor: textured ceramics, Moorish lighting, vibrant throw pillows and a Moroccan drum. With low-lying couches and etched brass trays that serve as tables, the dining area feels more like a lounge—which makes sense, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, when dinner is accompanied by belly dancers (reservations recommended). Even then, you’ll want to come for the robust flavors on the menu. The sampler includes a rich and thick hummus, a salad of cooked eggplant and tomatoes called zaalouk, and a complex and smoky baba ghanoush, served alongside warm pita. Traditional tagine dishes are cooked in a clay pot; the saffron-spiced lamb shank and Tunisian chicken, flavored with harissa, are especially tender. Herby and aromatic, the grilled lamb kofta, made from seasoned minced meat, is charred and juicy. BYO. —SV
321 Route 46 East, 973-808-0062

Photo courtesy of Seven Valleys

PERSIAN

Seven Valleys

Hoboken

Encountering a dearth of Persian restaurants in Hudson County, Hoboken mother-daughter pair Maryanne Fike and Dale Ryan opened Seven Valleys to share herby rice pilafs, juicy kebabs and hearty stews with the community. Now, lovers of tahdig (crispy saffron rice), ghormeh sabzi (a stew of herbs, beans and dried Persian limes), and many other traditional dishes have a (small, 24-seat) place with sleek, airy decor to frequent. Not as traditional, but popular with Seven Valleys diners, are vegetarian swaps, such as tofu in place of chicken in fesenjan, a stew thick with pomegranate paste and ground walnuts. Servers are happy to suggest dishes and explain ingredients, from the sour cherries in the albaloo polo rice to the sumac bottles on every table. BYO. —Sophia F. Gottfried
936 Washington Street, 201-792-5979

Top: Costanera’s ceviche consists of lump crab, ahi tuna and shrimp, and is served with toasted corn nuts. Below, from left: Costanera’s Chicharron de Pescado; shrimp soup; Tiradito Nikkei. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

PERUVIAN

Costanera

Montclair

Chef Juan Placencia’s first restaurant (for his latest, see review, page 84) earned three stars from NJM when it opened in 2010. It’s still terrific and busy as ever. Portions are huge and flavors are rich and well woven, from a big bowl of spicy prawn soup (with floating fried egg) to some of the best pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) anywhere—the invigorating marinade penetrates deep into the meat. Ceviches, Peru’s signature marinated raw-fish salads, and tiraditos, Peruvian crudos, are spirited and super fresh. BYO. —EL
511 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-337-8289

Terras Ceviche

Middlesex

Ceviche is spoken here: raw fish, shrimp and scallops marinated in lime juice with onions and chili peppers, served with sweet potato, large-kernel Peruvian corn and cancha (toasted corn nuts). Equally bright are tiraditos, thin slices of red snapper in lime juice, topped with creamy sauce. Anticuchos, a street food, are skewers of grilled veal hearts, tripe or filet mignon. Terras Ceviche makes excellent lomo saltado, a stir-fry of sirloin, onions and tomatoes; and chaufas, a style of fried rice.Both stem from the influence of Chinese immigrants. BYO. —SV
559 Bound Brook Road, 732-752-3700

Royal Warsaw’s hearty Plate a la Warsaw, with stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, pierogi and hunter’s stew. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

POLISH

Royal Warsaw

Elmwood Park

A palace of polished comfort food, Royal Warsaw offers house-made pierogi plump with meat, potato and cheese, or with sauerkraut and mushrooms. Potato pancakes, another staple, are fluffy. Polish cuisine is rich in meat: grilled kielbasa; breaded pork cutlets; cabbage stuffed with pork and rice; a hearty, pork-based hunter’s stew; and pork shank slow cooked in vegetables and beer sauce until the meat falls off the bone. It all goes well with a Polish lager such as Żywiec or Lomza, both on draught. —SV
871 River Drive, 201-794-9277

Photo courtesy of Broa Cafe

PORTUGUESE

Broa Cafe 

Jersey City

Tucked into the garden level of a brownstone, Broa could easily be missed. But what a shame that would be. The interior is filled with mementos from chef/owner Michael Casalinho’s family, who hail from the Leiria region of Portugal. The single chalkboard menu, scribbled with offerings that change nightly, is visible from most of the 40 seats. Broa’s items are petiscos (analogous to Spanish tapas). They are delicious, from bean salads bright with onion and olive oil to flaming platters of chorizo, garlicky shrimp, braised octopus and crispy fried sardines. Groups of five or more can try everything on the menu for $45 per person. For dessert, have a creamy pasteis de nata, the classic Portuguese egg tart. On warm evenings, sit on the back patio under string lights. BYO. —SFG
297 Grove Street, 201-463-1467

Seabra’s Marisquiera

Newark

For 30 years, Seabra’s has been a landmark in Newark’s Ironbound and a bastion of super-fresh seafood cooked in traditional Portuguese style. At lunch, it’s fun to hang with locals at the bar and schmooze over cockles in garlic sauce. Dining room hits include acorda de marisco, a bread stew loaded with seafood in a garlic-and-coriander sauce, all topped with a poached egg. The Portuguese wines are good and reasonably priced. —Rosie Saferstein
87 Madison Street, 973-465-1250

PUERTO RICAN

Buen Provecho 

Hamilton

Christina Bonilla, 32, always dreamed of running her own restaurant and learned to cook Puerto Rican dishes like picadillo from her grandmother, Delia. After earning a culinary degree, she opened Buen Provecho (Spanish for bon appetit) in 2014 with her father’s help. Picadillo, spicy ground beef in tomato sauce, is here served with avocado. “Most of our Hispanic and Puerto Rican customers say our cooking reminds them of home,” she says. Other favorites include bistec encebollado (steak and green onions with avocado) and chipotle shrimp. In-demand desserts are piña colada upside-down cake and chocolate-pecan-coconut rum cake. BYO. —CC
1701 Hamilton Avenue, 609-981-7700

La Ponceña

New Brunswick

Eulalia Vargas Rivera and her husband, Esteban, opened La Ponceña (a person from Ponce) in 1975. Since Esteban’s death in 2016, Eulalia and her children have run the restaurant. “Many of our customers have been here for years,” says her son, Esteban Jr. “Some come on Fridays or Saturdays, when they know my sister will make her tilapia and red snapper, items not usually on the menu.” The biggest sellers are braised chicken, bacalao, oxtail and mofongo—fried, mashed plantains seasoned with salt, garlic and oil. Appetizers like alcapurrias—fritters made with plantain or cassava dough and stuffed with ground beef—usually sell out quickly. BYO. —CC
57 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, 732-249-3754

SALVADORAN

Milly’s

Vineland

Opened by Milagro “Milly” Juarez in 2013, Milly’s offers Mexican favorites: guacamole, tacos, burritos and sopes. But the pupusas, El Salvador’s most notable dish, are wonderful. The saucer-sized discs are handmade corn-flour tortillas stuffed with cheese and pork or refried beans, served with tangy cabbage slaw, and are best with a healthy hit of green hot sauce. Sopa Azteca, a tortilla soup, is peppery and filling. BYO. —SV
602 East Chestnut Avenue, 856-405-0015

Photo courtesy of Casa d’Paco

SPANISH

Casa d’Paco

Newark

Angel Leston and his father, Francisco, who goes by Paco, serve the food of their native Galicia, on the northwest coast of Spain. They opened their small restaurant, with Spanish wine list and sangrias, in 2015 in the Ironbound. The menu is coastal, including a distinctive, soupy style of seafood paella and a marriage of seafood and tapas in the piquant chipirones da casa—grilled baby squid with grilled onions and cherry peppers. Angel’s mom, Ana, makes memorable desserts. —Julia Mullaney
73 Warwick Street, 862-307-9466

TURKISH

Hakki Baba

Cliffside Park

The Turgut family have been restaurateurs since the 1920s, beginning in Antep, Turkey. Ferda Turgut runs Hakki Baba with her parents, siblings and nephew. (Hakki Baba was the nickname of the family’s first restaurateur.) The appetizer combination platters (four or six items) alone could make a fine and substantial meal, especially for vegetarians. Choices include smoky baba ghanoush, spicy walnut-and-tomato spread, briny feta, thick labne and almost a dozen other starters. Then make way for the kebabs: juicy chicken, lamb or beef, central to Turkish cooking. Each comes with pilaf, over toasted pita, or on smoked eggplant and yogurt. BYO. —SFG
555 Anderson Avenue, 201-844-8444

Köy Turkish Grill

East Brunswick, Marlboro

Apparently as handy with saws and sheetrock as with kitchen tools, owners Jawad and Hina Malik and Adeel Siddiq transformed an old pizzeria into a soothing, scarlet sanctuary with hanging lanterns and billowy ceiling fabrics. Their aim was to create the feeling of a köy, Turkish for village, with food to match. The plump zucchini pancakes called mucver, with red peppers and feta in garlic-yogurt sauce, make a fine introduction to the cuisine. The pomegranate salad, a mound of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and walnuts in a sweet-and-sour pomegranate dressing, is delicious under its shower of pomegranate seeds. Köy’s grilled lamb chops over rice with a side salad is its signature entrée. There are two flaky baklavas: walnut and pistachio. BYO. —ED
647A Route 18, 732-955-6449; 280 Route 9 North, Marlboro, 732-792-3659

UZBEK

Shirin Cafe

Manalapan

Uzbekistan—north of Afghanistan and south of Russia—is the home of plov, a fragrant, well-seasoned, golden pilaf with carrots, mounded with chunks of tender lamb and beef. It’s the Uzbek national dish. Shirin’s small storefront, decorated with Central Asian figurines and art, is packed and lively on weekends, peaceful on weeknights. Shurpa is a traditional Uzbek soup of lamb, beef and vegetables. Kutabi—pancakes stuffed with either lamb and beef or with sautéed greens—come with a savory yogurt dipping sauce. Listed as a starter, it’s big enough for two. Shirin also offers Russian and Armenian dishes. BYO. —ED
345 Route 9 South, 732-462-8585

Pho Ninh Kieu’s pho soup. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

VIETNAMESE

Pho Ninh Kieu

Parsippany

For about three years, the Huynh family has been turning out perfectly executed Vietnamese café cuisine. There are several types of bun (cool rice vermicelli tossed with salad, herbs, peanut and choice of grilled meats, crisp spring rolls or shrimp), intricate fried rice dishes and vegetable-forward stir-fries. Com dia are sort of the blue plate specials of Vietnam, served over couscous-like broken rice with fish sauce, cucumber and tomato. The star is com tam dac biet, which includes a grilled pork chop, shredded pork and a slice of a quiche-like pork-noodle pie, all topped with a fried egg. The Huynhs are most proud of their pho soup (left), aromatic and more delicately flavored than most. BYO. —MA
73 New Road, 973-521-9900

 

Olaide’s Kitchen in Parlin. Clockwise from left: Amayase, a Nigerian stew, with efo elegusi with goat and a mound of jollof; owner Olaide Tella holds a plate of efo elegusi; a bowl of ila, an okra soup, with yams and stew. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

WEST AFRICAN

Olaide’s Kitchen

Parlin

After moving to New Jersey from Lagos, Nigeria, in 1998, Olaide Tella worked as a certified nurse assistant to support her young family. At the same time she ran a West African catering company out of her basement. In 2017, she opened Olaide’s Kitchen, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Her Nigerian and Ghanian specialties include jollof, rice cooked in tomato sauce; asaro, a yam porridge with sautéed fish; ila, plain okra soup served with a stew; amayase, an aromatic stew of green peppers and meat; efo elegusi, a green stew with kale and pumpkin seeds; and suya, beef skewers coated in a nutty spice blend. BYO. —SV
499 Ernston Road, 732-952-8880

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