After proclaiming that “suburban dining outside of NYC is better than ever,” you could only come up with four restaurants in New Jersey, in a list of “20 Best Suburban Restaurants Outside NYC.”
Actually, make that North Jersey (none were south of Jersey City).
Honestly? I would have expected more from a well-known food website such as yours. I would have expected a thorough, thought-out, substantive, illuminating list.
I’m not saying that the four Garden State spots you chose aren’t good. I love Razza’s pizzas in Jersey City. I’m a big fan of Jack’s Lobster Shack‘s lobster rolls, which I’ve devoured in its Edgewater location. And, while I have yet to dine at Sushi Aoki in Fort Lee (I’ve managed to secure two seats at its 10-seat counter in two weeks) or Bread & Salt in Jersey City (meeting a cousin there this Sunday), I know how popular and respected these BYOBs are.
But Thrillist, your list is, in a word, paltry.
I’m the food editor for The Record and NorthJersey.com. My job is to suss out the best restaurants in the region, and you barely scratched the skin of this tomato.
Let me help you out.
Here is my list of some of the “Best Suburban Restaurants Outside of NYC” that are in New Jersey, which, yes, include a few south of JC (that’s Jersey City, for ahem, outsiders).
Chef-owner Jamie Knott rarely misfires. His food is outrageously good. Ever tried his Szechuan noodles enveloped in a heavenly peanut sauce and flecked with bold spicy beef?
Or his Spanish octopus with a garden-fresh chimichurri sauce? Or his tender as a broken heart center-cut filet mignon dripping with a Bearnaise sauce? If you did, Thrillist, you would have had Saddle River Inn on your list. 2 Barnstable Ct, Saddle River, 201-825-4016, saddleriverinn.com.
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How does one take over a highly acclaimed, top-notch, fine-dine restaurant after its beloved chef-owner of 36 years dies? If you’re Michael Matonti, you don’t fix what isn’t broken — you just enhance what’s already really good. If you loved Kevin Kohler’s food — and who didn’t? — you can rest assured it’s in skilled and talented hands now. For proof, order a serving of Kohler’s signature filet mignon ravioli. Dare I say it may be even better than ever. 130 E. Main St, Ramsey; 201-934-0030, cafepanachenj.com.
I’m hardly the only one who thinks Robbie Felice, chef-owner of this modern Italian restaurant, is a whiz. The James Beard Foundation nominated him for a Rising Star Chef award, but then COVID-19 happened. But Felice doesn’t need awards to prove his cooking chops. He’s as passionate about what he does as LeBron James is about basketball. You won’t find chicken parm, penne alla vodka, calamari in marinara sauce or garlic bread at Osteria Crescendo or for that matter at his other terrific restaurant, Viaggio in Wayne (yes, it should have been on your list too). Because you wouldn’t find those Italian-American dishes in Italy. You want authentic Italian food cooked beautifully? Now you know where to go. 36 Jefferson Ave., Westwood; 201-722-1900, osteriacrescendo.com. (Viaggio is at 1055 Hamburg Turnpike, Wayne; 973-706-7277, viaggioristorante.com.)
Chinese restaurant: This restaurant may serve the best Chinese food in North Jersey
A secret restaurant in a secret location by a secret chef. It’s by invite only. I scored an invite. And? I can’t say much (shhhh!), except what I tried. Ever have silky tofu slathered in a house-made spreadable salumi? What about fresh-made sesame ramen coated with cheesy white carbonara, a crispy wild tuna meatball crowned with buttery uni and a gleaming edible gold leaf, or featherweight ricotta cavatelli bathed in a tender pork ragu with threads of pickled ginger? Follow on Instagram and get on the list!
Not even a year old, this Spanish restaurant is turning out some stellar Galicia-based dishes. The croqueta de jambon is a must. Ditto the poached Galician octopus, the seared cremini mushrooms on toast and the yellowtail ceviche. Just about everything is delicious. And it’s a party many nights, especially after a couple of coffee(!) Negronis. 631 Anderson Ave., Cliffside Park; 856-521-9135, bodegonnj.com.
New chef: Cafe Panache in Ramsey has a new chef, a protege of beloved founder Kevin Kohler
Two years ago, two French restaurant veterans (Daniel Boulud alums) opened what may be the best contemporary French restaurant in North Jersey, if not the entire Garden State. If you, Thrillist, had ever tried their thin-as-a-cracker tarte flambee, their light-as-a-summer-breeze gougere, or their out-of-this-world coq au vin, it wouldn’t have been MIA on your list. 544 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair; 973-542-7700, faubourgmontclair.com.
I’m thrilled that this upscale French restaurant now has a liquor license. Its salmon tartare and mushroom crepe, two of the most delicious appetizers anywhere, deserve to be enjoyed with a cool glass of white wine. For the heavenly rigatoni with short ribs, get a glass of red. 160 Maplewood Ave, Maplewood, 973-763-4460, restaurantlorena.com.
The chef-owner Ehren Ryan is from Australia. His food is from all over the world. In a good way. Ryan’s eats is not only beautiful but supremely creative and deliciously flavorful. From sashimi to naan to New Zealand venison and Nova Scotia halibut, you can happily take a trip around the world dining here. 27 Main St., Millburn; 973-467-0494, commonlot.com.
Come for the wine (owner Chris Cannon is a wine fanatic). Stay for the eats (Joe Mooney, formerly with venerated Mistral in Princeton, heads the kitchen now). 110 South St., Morristown; 973-644-3180, jockeyhollowbarandkitchen.com.
Chef-owner James Laird is a wizard. Without using cream and very little butter, he manages to make his haute dishes taste rich, creamy and downright delicious. For proof, just try any one of his cream-free soups. You’re going to be scratching your head for some time. 6 Roosevelt Ave., Chatham; 973-701-0303, restaurantserenade.com.
Chef/owner Sam Freund has a huge garden to help him cook some of the finest, most delicious American dishes that he changes according to the season. But what’s always on the menu: a heavenly onion tart with Gruyere cheese and pine nuts that you’d be nuts to pass up. 380 Route 206, Flanders; 908-955-0443, whitebirchrestaurant.com.
French chef Laurent Tourondel is not out to change what you eat. He just wants to give you what you want — but he wants to make it even more delicious. So his burger, for example, is a grilled patty of four different cuts of meat, topped with earthy white cheddar cheese, sweet caramelized onions, meaty sautéed mushrooms, and from-the-farm bread-and-butter pickles. The final touch: a generous smear of pungent peppercorn sauce. And if it’s sushi you want, it’s there too. And, no matter what, don’t pass up dessert: Tourondel is a dessert virtuoso. 390 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack, 551-287-6333, ltbarandgrill.com.
Ask most any chef in North Jersey where they like to eat, and invariably they’ll answer River Palm. The steaks, dry-aged and butchered in house, are great. The sushi, perhaps even better. Even the darn Idaho baked potato is a wonder here. 1416 River Road, Edgewater, 201-224-2013, riverpalm.com/edgewater.
Review: Closter’s Brasserie Mémère sates the hunger for authentic French dishes in NJ
Good luck getting a table here. Chef Matt Moschella, a self-taught cook who grew up in Morris County, uses as few ingredients as possible to make his delectable, nationally acclaimed, Italian dishes. (Bon Appetit called his food “fantastic.”) The pastas are all delicious. The “Angry Chicken” a must. And dessert? Don’t be a fool. These guys know what they’re doing; get it.
You’re likely missing a heart if you aren’t swept away sitting at a well spaced table on Andre’s lush green yard, a stone’s throw from serene Seneca Lake. The crystal chandeliers that hang from trees can quicken your heartbeat as well. The menu at this French spot with Asian touches changes as often as Food & Wine magazine comes out. For $95, chef-owner Andre’ de Waal wows with a six-course meal that will have you wondering when you can return for a repeat. If you’re not up to a pants-busting dinner and need help, my advice: get any of de Waal’s pastas. Housemade, al dente and just superb. And bring a bottle of wine. Andre’s is BYOB. 112 Tomahawk Trail, Sparta; 973-726-6000, andreslakeside.com/eat.
This acclaimed 6-year-old restaurant went through a tough time during the pandemic, shutting down indoor dining for more than a year and pivoting to curbside service. However, in-person dining has resumed — and that’s wonderful news for North Jersey food lovers. Montclair native Lauren Hirschberg, chef-owner, is famous for his transcendent liver mousse pate, fried chicken meal and his ethereal pot de creme. Hirschberg recently launched a beer-garden style BBQ restaurant Pineapple Express Barbecue in the stunning old station house of Montclair’s Lackawanna Station that promises to be delicious too. 622 Valley Road, Montclair; 973-783-9800 turtleandthewolf.com.
Yes, Thrillist, New Jersey is full of great “suburban” restaurants outside of NYC. Here are a few more in the running you overlooked:
Brasserie Memere, Closter. A darling French brasserie that isn’t afraid to serve out-of-fashion French food: escargots, frog’s legs and cheese-laden onion soup. Chef-owner Thomas Cizsak trusted that diners in New Jersey would appreciate quality classic French dishes. He was right. 107 Vervalen St., at, Closter Plaza, Closter; 201-660-8822, brasserie-memere.com.
Cheng Du 23, Wayne. You can get your Chinese-American grub here, but why bother. You’re in an authentic Sichuan restaurant, so go
Sichuan: extraordinarily delicious soup dumplings: Ants Climbing a Tree, scrumptious glass noodles dish with teeny specks of ground pork (“ants”); dan dan noodles; and whole branzino smothered in bean paste and chili sauce. Strong tea for refreshment or BYOB. 6 Willowbrook Blvd, Wayne, 973-812-2800, chengdu23.com.
Porter, Weehawken. Newcomer with great cocktails, nice apps, and scrumptious desserts. 1100 Ave. at Port Imperial, Weehawken, 201-430-8415, porterportimperial.com.
Oceanos Oyster Bar & Grill, Fair Lawn. This may be the best seafood restaurant in North Jersey. 2-27 Saddle River Road, Fair Lawn; 201-796-0546, hoceanosrestaurant.com.
Shan Shan Noodles, Parsippany. Far from fancy but, oh my, those hand-pulled noodles. 333 Route 46, Parsippany; 973-287-7399, shanshannoodles.com.
Elements, Princeton. A true dining destination. Dine here and get your socks knocked off, beginning with the “pre-meal” smoked quail egg brought tableside, inside a baby bird’s nest. 66 Witherspoon St., Princeton; 609-924-0078, elementsprinceton.com.
Mistral, Princeton. Can’t afford Elements? Dine downstairs at sister restaurant Mistral. Your socks may not be blown away but your palate’s going to do a little dance and your stomach is going to feel full and happy. 66 Witherspoon St., Princeton; 609-688-8808, mistralprinceton.com.
Gayeon, Fort Lee. Upscale Korean food in a stunning modern dining-room with a big, long bar — I’m all for that. The Bossom is a DIY kind of dish — wrap a sesame leaf around a thin slice of braised pork belly, octopus kimchi and tender radish, and pop it in one fell swoop into your mouth. Good stuff. Good too are the cold buckwheat noodle soup and the warm bibimbap with perfectly crunchy caramelized rice. And desserts, usually overlooked in Asian restaurants, are terrific here, especially black sesame ice cream. 2020 Hudson St., Fort Lee; 201-944-2056, gayeonrestaurant.com.
Varka, Ramsey. This longtime fine-dine Greek seafood spot is not inexpensive but fresh quality seafood never is. Splurge; it’s worth it. 30 N. Spruce St., Ramsey; 201-995-9333, varkarestaurant.com.
Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.
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Best restaurants in NJ: Thrillist, you're wrong – NorthJersey.com