Where New Jersey’s Chefs Eat

26 culinary stars reveal their favorite local restaurants.

where the chefs eat

Jamie Knott (Saddle River Inn, Cellar 335, Saddle River Cafe); Anthony Bucco (Felina); Luck Sarabhayavanija (Ani Ramen House); Ryan DePersio (Battello, Fascino, Kitchen Step). Photo by Christopher Lane

 

You bet they eat out. Often and with gusto. At all sorts of places. With friends, family and each other. Here, they dish about their favorite haunts and what they crave.

 

where the chefs eat

AT GRAND TAVERN: David Viana tucks into veal terrine under a ramp chimichurri, with cauliflower mash and veal jus. Photo by Christopher Lane

DAVID VIANA

Chef: Heirloom Kitchen · Old Bridge

As a chef, I really appreciate places that are consistently good; they don’t have to be great. I love chicken. It’s like a peasant food, but it can really shine in the hands of someone who pays great attention to detail. Paul Holzheimer at the Grand Tavern in Neptune gets the skin crispy and the meat juicy, and that’s not easy. He’s done it roasted with charred broccolini; he’s done a fricasee, a salsa verde. He also does the best crab cake I’ve had north of Baltimore. Moist and buttery, no filler, and just a light sear. I also go to Nettie’s House of Spaghetti in Tinton Falls. Chris Calabrese makes his own mozzarella and ricotta, perfect every time. lt almost makes me jealous.

AT SPIKE’S: Aishling Stevens takes a stand in favor of her favorite seafood joint. Photo by Christopher Lane

AISHLING STEVENS

Chef: Restaurant Latour · Hamburg

I only go out to eat on my day off; I don’t have time otherwise. For breakfast and brunch, I love Maeberrie Market in Avon. It’s close enough to where I live that I can bike over if the weather’s nice. The breakfast specials are always interesting, the lunch salads are great, and they change the menu often, which I love. The service is terrific, and they let me bring my dogs (two bernadoodles). For lunch, I have a favorite hole-in-the-wall, Pho 99 Vietnamese in Franklin Park. It’s quick, inexpensive and consistent. I get the pho noodles with beef and brisket. For dinner, Spike’s Fish Market in Point Pleasant Beach is right on the water. The fish come right off the boat. The staff is kind of rude, which I actually love. It’s a touristy area, but these guys have remained true, nitty gritty. If you want to change something, they’re like, ‘No, we don’t do that.’ I kind of like that. 

where the chefs eat

Biagio Schiano. Courtesy of Biagio Schiano/Matt Capone

BIAGIO SCHIANO

Chef: Mossuto’s Cafe · Wall

I love Bahr’s Landing in Highlands. It’s rightly known for seafood. But the best-kept secret is its German food. It’s owned by a German family, and they have great bratwurst. The pot roast with spaeztle is spectacular. Every server knows what they’re talking about, and you get quality for your money. For sushi, I love Kissui in Little Silver. Tiny place, run by a husband and wife. I’m pretty picky about sushi. Theirs is so good, I order sashimi. They always have uni, which others often don’t; I have it on rice with seaweed. It’s like eating butter—so delicious. I go to Barnacle Bill’s in Rumson for burgers. They’re big, griddled, never frozen. You can tell they’re hand formed by somebody who cares. 

where the chefs eat

Joseph Voller spoons up a dessert of custard apple rasmalai. Photo by Christopher Lane

JOSEPH VOLLER

Chef: Il Nido · Marlboro

You don’t get to see your family too often in this industry, so when I go out, it’s with my wife and kids, who are four and three. I try to expose them to new things. At Aarzu in Freehold, they’ll eat the rice and tandoori chicken if it’s not full spice. 

The guys at Aarzu have a level of finesse I’m not used to at other Indian restaurants. I told one of the servers we wanted to try new things, and he suggested the spinach salad, called palak chaat. I detest spinach, but I didn’t want to be rude. So I had it, and it was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. It combines crispy spinach leaves with regular leaves in a pomegranate-yogurt sauce that was very balanced and not too hot. They also do a duck taco on a flatbread, and that’s my wife’s favorite. We get them every time we go. 

At Peking Pavilion in Manalapan, we ordered char siu ribs. My son was tearing them apart. The more I keep my kids around restaurants, the better behaved they are.

where the chefs eat

Josh Lawler. Photo by Felicia Perretti

JOSH LAWLER

Chef: Farm and Fisherman Tavern · Cherry Hill

We often go to Han Dynasty in Cherry Hill. My wife and our kids—Oliver and Cole, 11, and Lucy, 7—really like it. It’s very relaxed. We order a bunch of stuff, and the kids can try new things. The food is not overly hot, which helps. We’ll do a mix, including something spicy, and then more traditional Chinese-American, like lo mein. 

For bar food, we go sometimes to Kaminski’s in Cherry Hill. The kids can get burgers and boneless wings. We like the Spanish fries with onions, peppers, melted cheese sauce and chipotle aioli. 

We also like Norma’s in Cherry Hill. It’s really good Mediterranean. Kabobs, hummus, tabbouleh. Their sautéed chicken breast is awesome. Our kids really like that kind of stuff. When we don’t want fast food or Chinese or pizza, it’s a good alternative—wholesome and delicious. When we go, we let the kids pick out candies from the Middle East, weird gums and other things they don’t normally see.

where the chefs eat

Leia Gaccione. Photo by Laura Moss

LEIA GACCIONE

Chef: South+Pine · Morristown | Central+Main · Madison

When I go out, I like to try places I haven’t been to before. I like to go with other chefs, because, like me, they want to taste everything. I recently went to Saddle River Inn for the first time, and it was excellent. I went with Ariane Duarte [Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona], Martyna Krowicka [Felina, Ridgewood] and Taylor Beighley [a partner in Silk City Distillers]. So four of the baddest bitches in the land. I’m not a fancy-restaurant kind of gal, but I recently went to Faubourg in Montclair for the first time. Their tarte flambé is rightly legendary. For something so rich, it’s really light.

Although I like trying new places, I also don’t want to waste a meal night out. So I have some favorites. I could eat Vietnamese pho every day of the week. For that, I really like Binh Duong in Bloomfield. I put so much hot sauce in my pho that I have tears rolling down my face. But I love it. When you do takeout, they include a little handwritten thank you note. I love that. 

where the chefs eat

AT OBALTAN: “Korean food is very warming, and sitting around the grill cooking your own dinner with friends and family is a great way to be together.” Photo by Christopher Lane

RYAN DEPERSIO

Chef: Fascino · Montclair | Kitchen Step; Battello · Jersey City 

I recently went to Obaltan in Fort Lee for the first time. It’s authentic Korean barbecue. I love the big flavors and the interaction of cooking your own food on the grill. I try to go to a different place each time I eat out. It’s a night with my wife and family, but also, you get ideas. If you keep visiting the same spot, you’re not going to get the ideas. But I do have some I go back to. I’m a sucker for Italian, so Robbie Felice’s places—Viaggio in Wayne and Osteria Crescendo in Westwood—are places I visit the most often. I’m also a massive fan of Arturo’s in Maplewood. One of my other favorites is Common Lot in Millburn. I think Ehren [Ryan] has really nailed high-end food in a casual setting. I love the fact that his food is a blast of flavor, beautifully plated, using very local ingredients. Ehren doesn’t dabble in Italian at all. So for me, Common Lot transports me out of New Jersey. 

where the chefs eat

David Burke. Photo by Michael Persico

DAVID BURKE

Chef: Ventanas · Fort Lee (plus six other NJ restaurants)

I eat out alone a lot; just go, grab a seat. I was recently at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster. What a charming country inn. I had the roast suckling pig, the skin pressed and crisp. Somebody recognized me and sent out a course, lamb meatballs. That was good. For dessert I had the apple crisp. That was good. I’ve also had good meals at Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone and the River Palm Terrace in Edgewater. It’s known for dry-aged steaks. I’ve been to LT Bar & Grill in Hackensack a couple times. That’s a nice-looking place, and I like the food a lot. Laurent Tourondel is a great pastry guy, so I always order dessert. Recently, I had the passion fruit soufflé. I love Porto by Antonio in North Bergen, with its wood-fired oven. Antonio, the pizza guy, does a great job. It’s small, and it’s caught on, so now it’s hard to get in. Char in Red Bank. Dong Bang, a Korean place, and Prime and Beyond, both in Fort Lee. These are places I’ve been to many times, and I go back because they’re good.

Luck Sarabhayavanija. Photo by Christopher Lane

LUCK SARABHAYAVANIJA

Chef: Ani Ramen House · Cranford, Jersey City, Maplewood, Montclair, Newark, Summit

My wife and three kids go out to eat about three times a week. The boys are 16, 14 and 12, so we order a lot—like six or seven appetizers and a couple extra entrées to share. We went to Osteria Crescendo in Westwood for Valentine’s Day, and the middle child, Joshua, blew through the three oysters on the prix fixe in about 90 seconds. The youngest one is asking if he can have branzino as an appetizer. I say, ‘No, Jadon, you cannot have an entrée as an appetizer.’ Another go-to for us is Kai Yang in Montclair, which has some of the best Thai rotisserie chicken ever. They use authentic Thai spices. Fascino in Montclair makes terrific handmade pastas. That’s one of Ryan DePersio’s places. We also go to his Kitchen Step in Jersey City. His Thai flavors are so authentic, I’m thinking, How do Ryan’s curries keep up with my mother’s?

where the chefs eat

Francesco Palmieri. Courtesy of Francesco Palmieri/Dan Epstein

FRANCESCO PALMIERI

Chef: Calandra’s Italian Village · Caldwell

It’s no secret I love fast food. Don’t follow me around, because I eat great and I eat horrible. But if you do, you’ll find me at Frank’s Pizzeria in Newark. I think he makes the best Sicilian. His crust—I call it the undercarriage—is light and fluffy, but has good crunch. The sauce is tangy; you get the flavors of fresh basil and garlic, and the mozzarella is fresh. They’ve been doing it as long as I can remember. For hot dogs, you’ll find me at JJ’s Hot Dog Truck on lower Bloomfield Avenue in Newark. Been around since 1971. For a burger, I go to Krug’s Tavern in Newark. They press it on a flat grill. It’s crisp but has a little juiciness. For subs, it’s Lenny and John’s in Bloomfield. I have a unique combination. I stumped one of the owners, I think it was Lenny, when I asked for it. An Italian sub with tuna. I think of it as surf and turf. I have to be a little unique.

where the chefs eat

Anthony Bucco. Photo by Christopher Lane

ANTHONY BUCCO

Chef: Felina · Ridgewood 

If you’re looking for an elevated experience for a pizza night out, think about Razza in Jersey City. Their pizzas are awesome and consistent. But the other stuff is just as good—the chickpea salad, the kale Caesar, and the meatballs, for example. The bread and butter alone is amazing. They make both from scratch, and they’re worth paying for. On top of that, the bar program is completely underrated. The wine list is small, but very interesting and esoteric. And there are great cocktails. I’m also a big fan of Ani Ramen House, in all locations. The ramen bowls are awesome and totally dialed in. The shrimp buns are probably the most craveable thing in my world. The textural counterpoint between the crispy shrimp, the soft bun, and the sweet-spicy umami of the sauce—you get everything in one bite. You can just devour them.

where the chefs eat

AT FORNO’S OF SPAIN: “I like clear, clean food. I don’t need a lot of stuff on it.” Photo by Christopher Lane

VONDA MCPHERSON

Chef: Vonda’s Kitchen · Newark

When I go to a restauant, I’m going to have all the things of that culture. That’s my thing. Like the shrimp in garlic and lemon sauce at Forno’s of Spain in Newark. I love the fresh seafood there, and their shrimp are the hugest. They serve them in a garlic and lemon sauce with rice and a vegetable. Their calamari is also fabulous. I like it grilled, not fried. They give you the body as well as the tentacles. I usually get two orders, I love it that much. Forno’s also has good steaks. I’m a medium rare New York strip with sautéed spinach. I always tell them to lay on the butter. The rolls on the table are hot and just right. You can eat 10 of them if you’re not careful, I’m telling you. I go with my girlfriends, and I take my staff there for Christmas parties. When I want a great hot dog, I go to Sonic, and that’s all you need. I like the Chicago, with pickles, onions, mustard and whatever you want. If you’re going to eat a hot dog, I say, eat a nasty one.

where the chefs eat

Humberto Campos. Courtesy of Lorena Campos

HUMBERTO CAMPOS

Chef: Lorena’s · Maplewood

I’m a big fan of Houdini Pizza Laboratory in Fanwood. They have six or seven types of pizza, baked in a brick oven just right. We do the habañero with pork or the meatball. My son, who just turned nine, has to have his Margherita pizza, but the basil has to be on the side or he won’t eat it. They make a Caesar salad with pumpkin seeds and Parmesan that’s super simple and super good. The white lasagna, in a bechamel with veal, is awesome. We also get an order of meatballs to share, and a burrata. I don’t know where they get the burrata, but it’s delicious. And the finale is the house-made tiramisu.

where the chefs eat

James Avery. Courtesy of Diana Avery

JAMES AVERY

Chef: The Bonney Read · Asbury Park

I love ethnic food, and Indian is my current culinary obsession. I feel Indian is a big unknown to people. It’s a very fragrant, exotic cuisine, with a lot of layers to it. It’s very comforting and soulful. It got me through the whole winter. I go to Bombay River in Red Bank. The butter chicken, a little stew of boneless white meat in a red curry sauce, is really tender. I’m thinking about it right now. It comes with fresh-baked naan and jasmine rice. Even the way they cook the rice is perfect—tender with just enough bite to it, and really absorbs all that awesome sauce. It’s a very good introduction to Indian cuisine.

AT HOT ON D SPOT ROTI: Mooney likes the finger-food ease of Trinidadian curried chicken in roti. Photo by Christopher Lane

JOE MOONEY

Chef: Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen · Morristown

Growing up in Chambersburg, Trenton, where I still live, I ate a lot of red-sauce Italian. I still enjoy that, but when I go out, I’m really drawn to Indian and Asian food. I’m single, and I eat out at least twice a week. One of my favorites is Annie’s Hot on D Spot Roti Shop in Hamilton. Annie is from Trinidad. The TV is always on, playing cricket. For all the time I’ve spent watching cricket while eating there, I still don’t understand it. I’ve never had roti like Annie’s. It’s a Trinidadian style called dhalpuri. The crêpe is quite large, made from dried split peas, and has a beautiful texture. I usually get the curried-chicken filling. It’s great. It could feed two people and it’s just $11. 

When I was growing up, Chambersburg was Italian. I got eyeballed because I was Irish. By the time I graduated, my class was a third white, a third Hispanic, and a third Black. Now all the Chambersburg restaurants are Latino. Among those I have a new favorite: La Bendicion Pupuseria. They have about 20 different pupusas, which are like small, thick crêpes with fillings. I do the cheese, pork and red bean. With it, I get two Mexican Cokes.

where the chefs eat

Bruce Lefebvre. Courtesy of Bruce Lefebvre/Cathy Miller

BRUCE LEFEBVRE

Chef: The Frog and the Peach · New Brunswick

My wife is from Monterrey, Mexico, north of Mexico City. Charcoal-roasted baby goat is their thing. We haven’t been able to find that up here, but we are very fond of El Oaxaqueño in New Brunswick. Oaxaca is known for its lamb, goat, seafood, chili peppers, and its signature pungent herb, epazote. It’s similar to bay leaf, but a little more floral and fragrant. El Oaxaqueño is always crowded, so sometimes we sit at the counter. It’s authentic; been there over 20 years. I take my cooks there, too. Most of my people are culinary grads, American guys and gals, and when they eat this food, they say, ‘Wow, this is great. Our parents never took us anywhere like this.’ 

where the chefs eat

Martyna Krowicka. Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

MARTYNA KROWICKA

Chef: Felina · Ridgewood

Ani Ramen House recently opened in Cranford, five minutes from where I live and just around the corner from the gym where I work out. That’s a godsend. I work out, then I’m ready to eat. I always get their edamame and their shrimp buns. Sometimes I get two or three orders of those and never get to the ramen. The bun in the shrimp bun is soft and a little sweet and has a nice texture that contrasts with the crisp, panko-coated crust on the shrimp. And there’s pickled cucumber for added contrast, plus two kinds of sauce. I also have a thing for Vietnamese spring rolls, and for that I go to Binh Duong in Hillside. They’re filled with pork and rice noodles. I wrap them in a romaine leaf, dip in the Vietnamese fish sauce, and I’m rockin’.

where the chefs eat

Jamie Knott. Photo by Christopher Lane

JAMIE KNOTT

Chef: Saddle River Inn, Saddle River Café · Saddle River | Cellar 335 · Jersey City

I like Faubourg in Montclair a lot. It’s a big space, simple and modern; makes me think of New York City. Everything about it is gorgeous and comfortable. It just feels right. Then you have the thoughtfulness and professionalism of the staff. You can tell these folks have serious culinary chops. They didn’t come to hit singles and doubles; they came to clear the bases. Olivier Muller’s modern French food is equally winning. I also like to visit what I think of as my people. That would include Ryan DePersio’s Fascino, Battello and Kitchen Step; Anthony Bucco’s Felina; Robbie Felice’s Viaggio and Osteria Crescendo; among others. On the go, I love Ralph’s Pizza in Nutley. If I’m in the mood for pita and hummus, I’m going to try to swing by Marcel in Montclair. My wife and two of my kids are vegetarian; Marcel has a lot of vegetarian options, and you can build your own bowls. We eat there pretty often.

where the chefs eat

Robbie Felice. Photo by Laura Baer

ROBBIE FELICE

Chef: Osteria Crescendo · Westwood | Viaggio · Wayne

I’ve lived in Jersey my whole life, and after traveling around, I realize we have some of the best pizza in the country. And new places keep popping up. I just came across Rasca’s in Edgewater. It opened last year. They do a square pie with crispy edges from the pan. I get the pepperoni, and I’ve been craving it every day. I lived in Las Vegas for a while, and that’s where I came across Korean barbecue. Friends turned me on to Obaltan in Fort Lee. The marinated meat is delicious, and cooking it yourself on the flattop is fun. They give you a bunch of sauces and condiments; you order a bunch of sides, like spicy noodles with squid. At Crescendo, we often go after work; the whole gang flocks in. Everyone I take there is like, ‘Omigod, this is good, and so different!’

where the chefs eat

Patrick Smith. Photo by Laura Baer

PATRICK SMITH

Chef: Café Mobay · Bloomfield

I am a fan of brunch, and one of my favorite places for that is Toast in Montclair. At most places, I find the French toast is not battered properly. It tends to be too thick and a little dry. At Toast they use a good brioche; the thickness is perfect. Each slice is deliciously moist and eggy, but you can taste cinnamon and, of course, vanilla. Those are the essential flavors. Before the pandemic, Toast was my favorite little spot after church on Sunday. Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I’m going again. It’s my all-time favorite. I would tell anybody that.

where the chefs eat

Lucas Manteca. Courtesy of Lucas Manteca/Yvonne Yuen

LUCAS MANTECA

Chef: Quahog’s Seafood Shack · Stone Harbor

When I dine out for research, I go to New York or Philly to see what the trends are. When I dine out for joy, a lot of my favorites are in Cape May, where I live. The fish at The Lobster House comes right off the boat, and the flounder Francese is delicious. I go to Mayer’s Tavern on the bayside for scallops, smoked bluefish paté, steamed clams. It’s clean and healthy eating. If I’m looking for home cooking, I go to Louisa’s. Will Riccio has carried it on from the founder, Louisa. They do a lot of untraditional local fish, like blue snapper, which is extremely buttery. I love what they do. The seafood takeout at Matthews Seafood in Cape May Courthouse is also first-rate. And I do love the thin-crust pizza at Max’s in Stone Harbor. I get my anchovy and broccoli rabe once a week.

where the chefs eat

Chris Siverson. Courtesy of Maritime Parc

CHRIS SIVERSON

Chef: Maritime Parc · Jersey City | Feathered Fox · Livingston

It’s a chain, but I love Houston’s in Riverside Square Mall in Hackensack. You know what you’re getting—good quality and great service. When I go out, I don’t want to think about anything having to do with the restaurant business. I just want to know the food is good, I’m being served correctly, and I’m comfortable. My favorite restaurant near where I live is probably Shumi in Ridgewood. I go as often as I can, at least every other week. The sushi is impeccable. I have a daughter, Devyn, 15, and a son, Ryan, 12. We did a lot of sushi takeout during Covid, and it became their favorite place. I keep telling them I wish they had a cheaper alternative. Like, ‘Don’t you want just another slice of pizza tonight, kids?’

where the chefs eat

Dan Richer. Photo by James Worrell

DAN RICHER

Chef: Razza · Jersey City

Between expanding Razza into the space next door and writing a pizza cookbook, I’ve only been out to eat maybe twice with my wife in the past year and a half. When I’m at Razza, I may grab takeout sushi for lunch from Domodomo in the neighborhood. Or I’ll get a bowl of brothy noodles from Ani Ramen House, also nearby. For dinner, my wife and I like Nettie’s House of Spaghetti in Tinton Falls. We’ll get a bunch of small plates—prosciutto, vegetables, whipped buttermilk ricotta with bread. I used to drink big red wines, but they’ve gotten me into some interesting natural whites.

where the chefs eat

AT BANGKOK HOUSE: Shanti Mignona beats the heat of Thai cooking (the pad thai noodles are actually quite mild) with sips of Thai iced tea. “It’s creamy, refreshing, sweet, and, I think, caffeinated, which is important for me as a new mom to a second child.” Photo by Christopher Lane

SHANTI MIGNONA

Chef: Talula’s · Asbury Park

We have a daughter who’s three and a son who’s less than one, so we don’t get out as much as we used to. We used to love sitting at the bar at Nettie’s House of Spaghetti in Tinton Falls, enjoying cocktails before dinner. Now we get takeout. We cook a lot of Italian food at home, so when we go out, we tend to get Asian or Indian. We like Shanghai Bun in Matawan and Bangkok House in Eatontown. Bangkok House has a really yummy coconut-curry soup. It’s super spicy, loaded with shrimp, and flavored with lemongrass, ginger and fresh galangal root. Steve, my husband, and I love spicy. So when we can, we go up to Freehold for Indian food at Aarzu. Their flavors are really fresh, and they offer a good mix of traditional and contemporary dishes. Their fish curries are really good, and we always get the vegetable biryani. 

where the chefs eat

Joe Balindo. Courtesy of Joe Balindo/Trevor Dixon

JOE BALDINO

Chef: Zeppoli · Collingswood

When we have a private party here at Zeppoli, afterwards—and this is kind of a tradition—I walk down the street to see my former sous chef, Dom Piperno, at his restaurant, Hearthside. He’s a very talented guy. His food is very flavorful. I go with my manager, Jessica McKeever. It’s not a personal thing—I’m single, she’s married. It’s just a tradition we do. We head out around 9 pm, and Dom makes us a great meal. Usually his T-bone, cooked on his wood-burning grill. It’s a regular menu item, and it’s superb. Another place I go—it opened last year, right across the street—is Li Beirut. The family is from Lebanon, and their food is beautiful.

where the chefs eat

Mark Pascal. Courtesy of Mark Pascal/Tatiana Rodriguez

MARK PASCAL

Co-owner: Stage Left Steak · New Brunswick

I eat out several times a week, every week. One week this spring, I hit Faubourg and Fascino in Montclair, Battello in Jersey City, and Nicholas Barrel & Roost in Red Bank. Nicholas Harary has really evolved from fine dining to food you could eat every day. I had four or five friends with me, and we ate pretty much everything on the menu. Pork chop, pastas, a great burger. When I’m down that way, I go to Dock’s Oyster House in Atlantic City. The Washington Inn in Cape May has great wine at amazing prices. And how do I not talk about Destination Dogs in New Brunswick? I love that place. The food actually got better during the pandemic. The sandwiches pop even more, the flavors just jump out.

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