New Jersey dining is striking in its range of cuisines and price points, high quality of food, and the lack of pomposity in service—snootiness is not our thing here in New Jersey.
You will see all of these elements reflected in this year’s 30 Best Restaurants list, one of our most hotly anticipated stories each year, requiring months of research (and eating!) by our dining editor and restaurant critics to put together.
The vibes run from swanky (Ocean Steak in Atlantic City) to homey (James on Main in Hackettstown, where everything is cooked over locally harvested wood). The cuisines include Indian, Japanese, American and, of course, Italian—the most popular type of restaurant in New Jersey.
A big restaurant needs a big staff. With 250 seats (including a patio facing the Morristown Green), a lively bar scene and six TopGolf suites, Jersey’s own rock-star chef, David Burke, corrals a crew of about 130 in a kitchen made to meet the challenge. On busy nights, you feel the energy, and the vibe is positive. So is the relatable, craveable food, like softshell crab tempura, scallop crudo, tomato gazpacho with crabmeat, pizzas, pastas, and Prime steaks dry aged 40-50 days.
67 East Park Place, 973-829-1776
“We’re always creating,” says Sammeer Raajpal, one of the owners. “The soul of the food is Indian, but using components that aren’t Indian. Our intention is to make Indian food for the global palate.” Recent example: a new appetizer, tuna tamarind tataki, features sushi-grade ahi tuna coated with black and white sesame seeds, seared, then glazed with a sauce made with tamarind, jaggery cane sugar and traditional spices for a sweet/savory balance. It comes with crispy potatoes and bhel, a crunchy, snacky Indian street food. BYO.
30 East Main Street, 732-333-0933
In a varied and energetic dining scene like Ramsey’s, it’s hard to stand out, but Bici does. Locals prize it, and many regulars drive a good distance to dine there. Chef, co-owner and Culinary Institute of America alum Anthony DeVanzo, 47, brings a lifetime of passionate cooking to this enticing ristorante. “From the time I was a little kid cooking with Nonna, I’ve known that Italian food makes people happy,” he says. Bici, named for another DeVanzo passion, Italian bicycles (bici), hums with happy chatter as diners relish DeVanzo’s refined yet full-flavored dishes. Standouts include his signature Chianti risotto, cauliflower sformatino (pudding), lobster strozzapreti pasta, gnocchi with Bolognese, buttery Norwegian salmon saltimbocca and pan-fried crab cakes. BYO.
61 East Main Street, 201-962-9015
This 37-year-old, family-run neighborhood gem sets itself apart from the many Italian restaurants at the Shore with peerless service, including theatrical tableside preparation of Caesar salad, cacio e pepe and hand-pressed burrata. The treasury of family recipes was passed down to chef/owner Joseph Lautato and his wife, Ginny, in the 1980s. Many are still on the menu, unchanged. Among them are clams oreganata and stuffed zucchini blossoms. With many ardent regulars and only 55 seats (until an expansion due next year), 2825 is a tough table. Pro tip: If you can, stop by and make a reservation in person. BYO.
2825 Atlantic Avenue, 609-344-6913
When farm-to-table can be measured in yards rather than miles, chefs get excited. So it is for chef/owners Brendan Ullman, 29, and Tyler O’Toole, 31, whose Circle is situated in a 1720 farmhouse on a country road between two farms. They buy from various farms, and also grow some vegetables on the restaurant’s own little property, including what Ullmann calls “way too many tomatoes. What separates us,” he notes, “is that we take simple ideas, like roast Long Island Crescent duck breast, and marinate it in al pastor spices, pan roast it and serve it like an al pastor taco, but with no tortilla.” New this year is a liquor license. The garden also produces ingredients for signature cocktails.
310 Route 94, 973-862-6410
Chefs Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan usually start their mornings at 9 am at nearby Great Meadow Farm in Lawrenceville. “We get down on our hands and knees every day picking herbs, vegetables, digging potatoes. Dirt under the fingernails? Plenty.” Digits cleaned, they set about the daily challenge “of using the ingredients well.” Diners choose between two tasting menus (5 courses, $129; 16 courses, $189). Seasonality reigns. This month features tuna freshly caught as they migrate to Nova Scotia. The belly becomes tartare, and the richest pieces are roasted on the hickory-fired grill—which also puts the char to the Wagyu beef rib-eye. The restaurant is on the second floor. Your nostrils will direct you as you climb the stairs.
66 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-0078
Under the glass-roofed atrium, refreshed this year with A/C, new plants, and new canvas sails suspended overhead, it’s always summer. Now it’s on the plate at this adventurous French bistro. Bite-size sungold tomatoes come off the grill with boneless lamb loin to the embrace of a fava bean- and-tahini purée and accents of spicy harissa paste. Lemon sole and thinly sliced bread, flattened into a pancake, are sautéed crisp on the bread side and served over a corn-and-chanterelle fricassee. Lift no fork till the server shaves a shower of summer truffles. Local strawberries are festooned with strawberry basil sorbet, Tahitian vanilla ice cream, white chocolate-infused whipped cream and a strawberry coulis.
544 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-542-7700
Even if you just want a glass or bottle at a reasonable price, it’s fun to fantasize over the wine list, especially deep in fine Bordeaux, like a 1988 Chateau Figeac for $500. At a price point right for you, the staff will pair a wine with chef Joe Beninato’s summer menu. As the restaurant turns 40 in September, the food is contemporary, ranging from scallops with charred corn, oyster mushrooms and saffron aioli to fresh house-made pastas and prime rib-eye steaks dry-aged in house 45 days, pan-seared and served with saffron aioli.
29 Dennis Street, 732-846-3216
Opened a year ago, Heirloom at the St. Laurent—a unique combination of private club, public restaurant and boutique hotel—is hopping. Members (and non-members, with purchase of a day pass) can lunch on the patio or around the intimate pool and enjoy dinner in the stunning, all-white dining room. Chef/co-owner David Viana’s engaging menu ranges from buttery pan-fried sweetbreads to perfectly seared duck breast with charred endive and sticky black rice. Co-owner Neilly Robinson says customers are starting to seek out this place, located beyond Asbury Park’s bustling commercial center. “We’re a little oasis on the north side of town,” she says, “and people are excited to have somewhere they can go to as a neighborhood spot.”
408 7th Avenue, 732-795-2582
The challenge is ever-present: Perched on a cliff, the high-ceilinged dining room with nine arched windows steers attention to the Manhattan skyline. “The views will always be there,” says Will Prunty, the director of culinary. “But I want people to come for the food—and they are.” Executive chef Carmine Spinazzola sees to that. The theme is Italian steak house. Pastas are sumptuous but precise. The same can be said of the steaks, including eye-rollingly tender yet flavorful A5 Wagyu with a ravishing crust. Even the creamed spinach is special, finely chopped, yet substantial in texture and flavor.
1 Crest Drive, 973-731-3463
When, dressed in the required business casual, you step into Il Capriccio’s ornate, high-ceilinged dining room for the first time, you just might roll your eyes. With its decorative frieze, framed oil paintings and bent-wood upholstered seats, it feels rather royal. But chef/owner Tony Grande’s staff put you at ease, perhaps with the aid of a signature cocktail, and the deft yet sumptuous Italian menu does the rest. Wild-caught European seafood, including carefully boned red mullet stuffed with fresh crabmeat and white wine sauce, is a specialty. In August, look for fresh octopus from Portugal. An elegant pianist at a baby grand knows every immortal tune and takes requests.
633 Route 10 East, 973-884-9175
Chef/owner Bill Van Pelt spends most of his time, other than at his restaurant and at home, visiting local farms such as Hope Cress in Hope, selecting fresh produce. Cooking over local wood, he’ll combine velvety chestnut mushrooms, named for their color, with crisp pork belly, mint-like micro shiso leaf and scallions. Brisket with a peppercorn dry rub smokes 16 hours over local peachwood until luscious. A first course of strawberry salad, from nearby Hope Cress Farms, balances the berries with pea tendrils, smoked almonds, shaved coconut and muscat vinegar. GM Kevin Asciutto, “my right hand, my partner,” attends to everyone in the 36 seats. The pair may soon be busier. “Next year, we have expansion in our sights,” Van Pelt says. BYO.
105 Main Street, 908-852-2131
Set behind trees and a long reflecting pool, in the circa-1917 Vail Mansion, JHBK “might seem like a sit-up-straight, elbows-off-the-table type place,” says chef Tom Valenti. “But it’s so not that.” Indeed, in partnership with owner Chris Cannon, Valenti fosters a fun atmosphere where lively food and drink—take a bow, bar director James Gelmi—counter the formal surroundings. This summer, look for sweet-corn risotto with local softshell crab and squid-ink spaghetti in soppressata-enriched tomato sauce. “I’ve always loved that pork-and-seafood combo,” Valenti says.
110 South Street, 973-644-3180
In a Delaware River town rich in Italian restaurants, Richard and Christina Cusack wanted to do something equally classic, but less available locally: French. With its cream-colored curtains and gold-plated tableware, 2-year-old June BYOB does suggest destination dining. But the welcome is warm, and the food and service quickly overcome fears that French is fussy and stingily portioned. “People are still a little intimidated by French food,” Christina allows, “but once the plate is in front of them, they see it looks pretty familiar.” Richard, who is classically trained, sends out dishes that are sophisticated yet hearty and engaging: braised rabbit leg, herb-crusted duck confit, scallop-and-crab quenelle. For Christina, they’ve met their goal. “People are excited to come here,” she says, “and not just for special occasions, but also on a Thursday or Friday night, when they’re looking for something different.” BYO.
690 Haddon Avenue, 856-240-7041
“When I was conceptualizing Madame,” says owner Jamie Knott, “the mostly British word naughty kept coming back to me. To me, it means sexy but classy, and I wanted that for Madame. Combine that with an American speakeasy feeling, a French brasserie menu and amazing cocktails, and here we are.” Since opening in November, the intimate, 400-square-foot boite—every surface matte black, but with effective, individual table lamps—has made an outsized splash. Executive chef Chris Abbamondi’s kitchen turns out topflight burgers, succulent steak frites, luscious lobster and consummate cassoulet. Cocktails are pretty, potent and palate pleasing. As night owls know, Madame marries naughty and nice.
390 4th Street, 201-876-8800
The city by the sea has no shortage of steak houses, a genre that goes hand in glove with casinos and conventions. This one, known until recently as American Cut, in the Ocean Casino Resort, is where you go for celebratory, price-no-object dinners to feast on caviar, aged cuts of luxury beef, all the expected sides, and Jersey diver scallops with a downright addictive corn purée, all mated with perfectly made cocktails and a well-rounded wine list featuring plenty of bold reds. Impeccable service and stunning ocean views contribute to making this the best steak house at the Shore.
500 Boardwalk, 609-783-8000
Here, in contrast to chef Robbie Felice’s rustic, largely windowless Viaggio and his dark, clubby Pasta Ramen, both also on this list, the white tabletops, pillars and ceiling lead the eye to the picture windows. The airy setting seems to clear the decks for cocktail creator Tommy Voter as well as the atavistic appeal of the specialty: steaks (dry aged in house, 40-60 days) cooked on a gas grill. Pastas, made in-house, include Paradiso ravioli, combining four imported Italian cheeses dimensioned with lemon butter, Sicilian oregano and a drizzle of Calabrian chili oil. End with the signature lemon olive oil cake, made with Sicilian olio verde.
36 Jefferson Avenue, 201-722-1900
Thirty-two seats aren’t a lot, but they’re plenty if, like Stephen Starr alum Philip Manganaro, you’re pretty much a one-man band. Tromping into nearby forests and fields, he forages hen-of-the-woods, pine and morel mushrooms, tupelo and juniper berries. He ages various cuts of beef himself, usually 55 days. He pickles, brines and cures all manner of ingredients, each sourced, as much as possible, from local farms. He makes elegant pastas by hand each day. His hunter friends bring him hearts and kidneys that he transforms into offal delicacies that all but the pickiest eaters can appreciate. The menu constantly changes, but if you happen upon Park Place when Manganaro is serving his agnolotti stuffed with rabbit and mascarpone, veal tongue tortellini, cod loin roasted in foie-gras butter, or seared squab with preserved blackberries, you shan’t be disappointed. BYO.
7 E. Park Avenue, 856-662-2200
In his travels and studies, chef Robbie Felice has immersed himself in Japanese and Italian cooking. At Pasta Ramen, opened in February, the newest of his three on this list (with Osteria Crescendo and Viaggio), he combines them in a vest-pocket boite of matte-black walls, booming bass, and a startlingly lifelike tree bursting with pink blossoms. The food is as distinctive as the setting. Uni ramen carbonara involves tableside presentation of glistening noodles showered with Parmigiano-Reggiano, fish roe, fresh uni, sesame seeds, lemon zest, an unbroken egg yolk, carbonara sauce and chopped scallions. A chore to describe, X-rated to eat. Also sexy: burrata with caviar, a dessert. BYO.
6 S. Fullerton Avenue, no phone
You’re in good hands with the brothers Giordano—Scott in the kitchen, Marc in the two intimate dining rooms. The food combines finesse with forward flavor. Locally caught seafood is a specialty; in August, look for pan-seared tilefish with fruit salsa. The cowboy rib eye, USDA prime and on the bone, comes with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus topped with portobello mushrooms and garlic-herb butter. The Key lime verrine, a pudding-like variation on a Key lime tart, is finished with crumbled graham crackers, mixed berry sauce and a shower of fresh berries. BYO.
816 Arnold Avenue, 732-701-1700
The Victorian mansion that once held the fabled Fromagerie seems almost jaunty under the guidance of gregarious chef/co-owner David Burke. Compared to his other restaurants (including 1776, on this list), “it’s a little more gourmet, without being stuffy.” You might see caviar, foie gras, bone marrow. On Wednesdays, a 10-course omakase alternates with What’s Your Beef, featuring Prime filet mignon, short rib and dry-aged steak. Each is around $100, without wine. The newly renovated wine cellar, with 16 seats, hosts a monthly Dinner in the Dark. Guests wear blindfolds and have to guess the food and the wine.
26 Ridge Road, 732-576-3400
Set amid golf courses and manicured greenery beside the Kittatinny Mountains, the sprawling Crystal Springs Resort seems an imposing destination. But its premier restaurant, the 38-seat Latour (named for the grand cru Bordeaux well represented in the resort’s world-class cellar, which is home to our state’s biggest wine list), rejects hauteur in favor of eye-opening cuisine in its seven-course tasting menu. Chef Aishling Stevens pairs langoustines—“sweet, buttery and delicate, the size of your palm, flown in from Scotland”—with lamb sweetbreads, “nutty and delicious. Our pairings are what make us unique. And that’s what our clientele is trusting us to do.”
1 Wild Turkey Way, 855-977-6473 ext. 3
As a mark of adulthood, having a steak house you consider almost a second home seems rather retro now. But the handsomely appointed River Palm Terrace—one of our favorite steak houses in the state— updates the notion with impeccable service that’s never fussy. Turning 40 this year, the River Palm is that go-to “meating” place for bon vivants from both sides of the Hudson River, for sushi as well as meat. “A golden rule of hospitality is consistency,” says GM Stephen Russ. “But we’re extreme. Chef Luis Montesinos has been here 28 years, myself, 33; bartender Steven Palmer, 30. Sushi chef Andy Lin is the newcomer at 16. So your bourbon cocktail or cheesecake topping might change, but the great house-aged Prime steak or 2-pound lobster meal you had last time and this time will be great next time.” Such has been our consistent experience.
1416 River Road, 201-224-2013
On a 1,400-degree cast-iron flattop that chef/owner Jamie Knott calls Old Faithful, the inn’s seven steaks—all 45-day dry-aged USDA Prime—and a center-cut veal chop gain their craveable crust. All come with two sides and a choice of six butters or sauces, from béarnaise and Bordelaise to black truffle butter. This month, you can also count on foie gras, Australian winter truffles (with agnolotti or in risotto) and buttery, briny royal osetra caviar. “The epitome of excellence,” says Knott—“That’s what we try to be.” BYO.
2 Barnstable Court, 201-825-4016
Japanese restaurants weren’t ubiquitous when Shigeru Fukuyoshi and his wife, Chizuko, opened Sagami in 1974—at 90 seats, a confident bet on the future. It continues to serve some of the finest sushi and Japanese food around. This year, at 77, Fukuyoshi was a semifinalist in the James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. Standouts? All sushi and sashimi, the fried oysters, steamed Asian clams and broiled eel on rice. BYO.
37 Crescent Boulevard, 856-854-9773
George Washington slept here in 1781, when it was Chatham House, before marching on to Yorktown. If the General had a meal, it was a long way from the sumptuous, French-influenced Italian cuisine of chef/owner Michael Cetrulo. Open in the landmark location in 1995, Cetrulo named it Scalini Fedeli (steps of faith) “because it was such a leap for me at 27.” Diners prize his pastas (like the wondrous raviolo—filled with a mix of egg yolk and ricotta) and mains such as rosy duck breast in Port-truffle reduction. This is a spend-the-evening place, with a four-course prix-fixe menu ($72) and romantic dining room graced by a luminous, vaulted ceiling that Cetrulo built.
63 Main Street, 973-701-9200
In concept, nothing could be simpler than a slice of raw fish on a finger of compressed rice. From that base, the Japanese have built an entire cuisine that joins subtlety with complexity and ranges from raw to cooked. In a serene space in white and gray, veteran sushi sensei Kunihiko “Ike” Aikasa and his prodigious protégé, David Seo, expound on the principles by the piece or roll in a 15-course tasting menu. Notes Seo, “The only fresher way to eat fish is on the boat.” BYO.
354 Broad Avenue, 201-272-6577
Italian-American tradition doesn’t straitjacket this lively 1-year-old. Instead of panfrying a floured, boneless breast for chicken marsala, chef Giuseppe Agostino debones a half chicken, pan sears it, and serves it with king oyster and maitake mushrooms in a marsala zabaglione. He makes a Sicilian Trapanese pesto (almonds, confited tomato, pickled shallots, mint, Calabrian chili oil), but instead of pasta, pairs it with tuna carpaccio. “We hop around the regions,” says owner Tommy Demaras. At this time of year, one of the most pleasant places to dine is on the patio.
530 Livingston Street, 201-347-6759
A viaggio is a voyage, and this strip-mall marvel is where, in 2017, chef Robbie Felice’s viaggio of ownership (“my first baby”) began. Barnwood beams and brick arches strike a rustic note Felice calls “Tuscan farmhouse.” Rustic and rewarding, too, is the work of on-site chef Felix Gonzalez, including the handmade spinach-and-artichoke ravioli with garlic butter sauce, made with Sicilian oregano and topped with a chili crisp. Fried calamari fresh from a buttermilk soak come with lemon butter, pickled shallots and chilies. House-made salumi, including duck prosciutto, add to the voyage. BYO.
1055 Hamburg Turnpike, 973-706-7277
Since opening his 35-seat storefront in 2011, chef/owner Joseph Baldino has consistently served some of the best classic Sicilian cooking outside of Southern Italy. He and chef Blake Weisman offer five choices each of starters, pastas, entrées and six desserts, plus the occasional special. “It’s just traditional Italian cuisine,” says Weisman, 28, who has helmed the kitchen for the last five years. “It’s all about being consistent with everything we’ve been doing for many years.” BYO.
618 Collings Avenue, 856-854-2670
(*new to the list this year)
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