Angry Taco; Burke’s Bacon Bar, Newark
Newcomers to the Prudential Center, Angry Taco (a taco and burrito stand featuring chef David Burke’s signature “angry” spices) and Burke’s Bacon Bar (a sandwich shop featuring bacon in various forms in virtually every item) bring Burke’s trademark whimsy to the home of the Devils, Seton Hall basketball and marquee concerts. 25 Lafayette Street; 973-757-6000.
Ani Ramen House, Montclair
“I was going to open in Jersey City, but my mother said, ‘Montclair has changed so much. You must check it out,’” says Luck Sarabhayavanija, who did just that before opening Ani Ramen House, Montclair’s first authentic ramen restaurant. (How did his mom know? She owns Spice, the Thai place next door.) Brooklyn chef Valencia Julian crossed two rivers to run Ani’s kitchen. The 50-seat BYO is packed most nights; that sound you hear is happy slurping. 401 Bloomfield Avenue; 973-744-3960.
“I moved to New Jersey two years ago and started missing the dining experiences I’d had in Manhattan,” says Stephen Brandman, a Cornell-trained hotelier who lives in Saddle River and owns a Manhattan-based hospitality company. His chef, Julie E. Farias, has worked in the kitchens of Daniel, Café Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne and Le Bernardin in Manhattan. Brandman calls the food “modern American, with the kinds of great starters you might see at Nobu.” His wife and children are vegetarians, so Brandman says he wanted a place near home where he could get a good steak. Pat LaFrieda supplies the meat. There’s a cocktail lounge and live jazz three nights a week. 103 Spring Valley Road; 201-746-9990.
Mogo, Asbury Park
The long line for Korean fusion tacos from Mogo’s boardwalk kiosk spurred the development of this bustling brick-and-mortar restaurant. The expanded menu includes fusion burritos, rice bowls, salads and a bibimbap burger, which substitutes an Angus beef patty for the traditional base of rice and tops it with Korean pickled vegetables and a sunnyside-up egg. 632 Cookman Avenue; 732-361-3684.
Porta, Jersey City
With its communal tables, craft beers and Neapolitan pizzas, the original Porta, in Asbury Park, is a concept that fits seamlessly into downtown Jersey City’s burgeoning dining scene. Occupying a three-story, century-old building with a dazzling rooftop bar, JC’s Porta features salads, pastas, grilled meats and mozzarella and ricotta made on-site daily. There’s even a pie made with vegan versions of mozzarella and parmesan. 135 Newark Avenue; 201-544-5199.
Ricalton’s, South Orange
This two-story pub facing the train station has a retro look honoring its namesake, James Ricalton, a Maplewood school teacher and 19th-century world explorer and photographer. The downstairs pub has its own menu, with neo-noshes like truffled parmesan fries. The upstairs menu includes Guinness-braised short ribs; cod Livornese; and seared duck breast with rainbow chard. Ricalton’s has up to 24 beers on tap, and takes its food seriously, too. “We go hard for quality and freshness of ingredients,” says co-owner Tom McLaughlin. 19 Valley Street; 973-763-1006.
Runa, Red Bank
Runa grew out of owner Marita Lynn’s Aberdeen catering company. “In catering, I do food with Peruvian flair,” she says. “Runa is authentic Peruvian.” That means tiraditos—Peruvian ceviches in a light aji Amarillo pepper sauce. “It’s creamy, and people love it,” she says. Runa is BYO, but, Lynn says, “if you bring a bottle of pisco, I’ll make you a pisco sour.” 110 Monmouth Street; 732-758-8904.
Talula’s, Asbury Park
Brooklyn transplants Steve Mignona and Shanti Church and Californian Josh Stewart bake bread daily from organic grains in a wood-burning oven. Their artisanship shows not only in their sandwiches and toasts (with spreads) but also in their sublime pizzas (like the Beekeeper’s Lament: tomato sauce, mozz, soppressata, local honey). They serve wine, beer and cocktails, too. Yippee! 550 Cookman Avenue; 732-455-3003.
Third & Vine, Jersey City
It’s small and dark inside, has no sign outside (unless you count the piece of paper in one window). But that’s fine by downtown Jersey City’s young hipsters, who with good reason have made this one-of-a-kind cheese and small-plates bar, with liquor license, a hot spot. The nibbles are uniformly excellent, the cocktails kicky and the cheeses, curated by co-owner Jamie Mayne, a fantasia of discovery. You have to love the sensibility that includes a cheese category called “Stinkers.” 353 Third Street; 718-326-1999.
Union Republic, Jersey City
“Eat Noodles, Be Happy” is the motto of owners Noah Sexton and Gregory Torrech. But creative ramen (such as noodles mazeman-style, with miso butter instead of broth, topped by a cod croquette) is just one way this unusual restaurant, bar and artisanal grocery can achieve that end. Torrech, the chef, also makes a terrific butternut squash salad with pomegranate seeds and avocado. The offerings include spaetzle with pork ragu; octopus salad; a burger; and dry-aged steaks from Jersey City-based Pat LaFrieda. 340 Third Street; 201-279-5094.
Adam Rose, former executive chef of Nico at NJPAC in Newark, adds razzle-dazzle to tacos and Mexican food at his stylish 50-seat BYO. Signature dishes include beef tongue tacos with chipotle-pistachio salsa; and fluke ceviche with squash blossoms and fresno chiles. Tortillas are made fresh daily from organic corn. 6 S Fullerton Avenue; 973-337-6667.