Here’s a belated New Year’s resolution for you, New Jersey: Expand your dining horizons beyond your usual go-to spots and get in early on these up-and-comers before all your friends start talking about them.
Our latest list of restaurants burning up with five-star reviews is full of new sushi spots, authentic Turkish cuisine and several takes on brick oven pizza, the kind we will never, ever tire of here in the pizza capital of the world.
Oh, did you want like-grandma-made Polish food? Or French fare in a cafe that’ll make you think you flew to Paris? How about Filipino cuisine? Or Peruvian? Or Cajun seafood? Yup, yes and yeah, we’ve got those, too.
I know we’re partial, but is there a more diverse food landscape than right freaking here? We think not — and our current crop of newbies reflects it.
So get eating, Jersey. And then report back. We’d love to hear what you think in our Facebook group for people in N.J. who love food, which is, well, all of us, right?
We publish these lists quarterly. Know of a great new restaurant we missed? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: The fifth location of the favorite Jersey ramen chain. It’s also BYOB.
One Yelper says: “Great place with a cool vibe to get a filling lunch or dinner. The staff is friendly and the service is on point. This isn’t instant ramen by any means, but it’s worth the wait. Favorites are the kimchi ramen and the shrimp buns. Also the spicy edamame!”
What: A BYOB using locally sourced ingredients to bring the flavors of the French Riviera to Jersey.
One Yelper says: “Great service, decor/atmosphere & excellent food! We’ll definitely be back regularly. We had the lobster crepe, octopus, & fois gras appetizers, and the scallop entree, all were TO DIE FOR!”
What: “Traditional French fare” in an adorable space that’ll make you think you’ve flown to Paris.
One Yelper says: “Very NYC vibe, which we desperately need around here. The menu was sophisticated and unlike any in the area. They had my favorite, steak tartare and pomme frites and I went for it… AMAZING!!! The onion soup was the best I’ve had in N.J. and the dirty martini did not disappoint!”
What: Brick-oven pizza with creative flavors (like the wild mushroom, ricotta, lemon zest and truffle pie) — and it’s BYOB.
One Yelper says: “We love this new pizza place! We had the four cheese pizza and the meatball pizza. And we’ve already been twice. You can watch the owner make the delicious pizza right in front of you.”
What: A sushi and Japanese tapas BYOB from the owner of Inspiration Roll, also in Westfield.
One Yelper says: “Had the spotted prawn, regular tuna, inspired yellowtail, elm roll and Uni. Everything was perfectly fresh and well constructed. By far the best sushi I’ve had in the area.”
What: Two cooks who wrote an award-winning cookbook open a breakfast and lunch cafe in a beautiful, historic railroad station.
One Yelper says: “This place is dynamite! Had all the omelets, sandwiches, sides, coffee…I’m picky as hell and they blow myself and my fiance away every time after multiple visits! Finally a quality and consistent restaurant in Milford! Menu a tad limited but perfection every time!”
What: The N.J. outpost of an award-winning NYC sushi spot known for its hand rolls.
One Yelper says: “There really isn’t any sushi place comparable in Jersey City, so I think it’s a great place for higher-end sushi or for omakase when you don’t want to head into NY.”
What: Traditional Turkish dishes, including kebabs and kofte (Turkish meatballs), in downtown Hackensack.
One Yelper says: “We had the stuffed eggplant and lentil soup for appetizers. They were delicious! For main courses we had a vegetarian spinach, peppers, onions and tomato dish over rice and the chicken kebab. Both were outstanding. The restaurant is in downtown Hackensack within walking distance of stores and parking.”
What: A BYOB serving modern American cuisine, plus a popular Saturday and Sunday brunch.
One Yelper says: “Coffee was hot and strong. Grilled cheese was nice and toasted and cheesey, gooey goodness. French fries were hot and fresh. The standout was the crispy chicken sandwich, juicy inside and crispy outside, really fantastic for a hungover morning. The vibe is great, nice staff, lots of sunlight, big windows, nice bar to sit at. “
What: West Indian cuisine from a “Chopped” champion who used to be the executive chef at Porta.
One Yelper says: “I don’t know much about West Indian food, but this was out of this world delicious. We started with fish cakes that came with a homemade remoulade (just enough spice) that made for a perfect combo. The oxtail stew was so tender, the chicken stew fall-off-the-bone goodness.”
What: Wood-fired pizzas in a date-worthy space — also it’s BYOB.
One Yelper says: “Who doesn’t love a good BYOB?! We have been to this restaurant twice and cannot wait to go back again! The pizza is fantastic! If you’re in the mood for a classic margarita pizza, Grindstone has the best! My personal favorite is the white pie. The Brussels sprouts are a must!”
What: Polish favorites the way grandma would make them — and it’s BYOB.
One Yelper says: “These were hands down some of the best pierogies I have ever had. Our table shared the potato & cheddar, sauerkraut, potato & onion, and sweet strawberry pierogi.”
What: A seafood boil spot, but in a chic space. You choose the flavor and the spice level; also it’s BYOB.
One Yelper says: “I’m always looking for Cajun and/or Creole, and usually when I find it outside Louisiana I am disappointed. Not so with Nauti Cajun Crab, they do a great job. Four of us went, and we ordered the Sea Festival, which for $149 includes a giant pot of King Crab, Dungeness Crab, Snow Crab, Lobster, Mussels & Shrimp, along with Andouille sausage, potatoes, bread and lemonade. It was terrific.”
What: A new Peruvian restaurant serving up ceviche, chaufa, pisco sours (and tiki cocktails, too) — from the owners of beloved Casual Habana in New Milford.
One Yelper says: “We had the papas a la huancaina, ceviche mixto, jalea and the quinoa chaufa. While all the food was great, there is something in the quinoa chaufa that makes it flipping addictive! We were stuffed and still spooning that stuff in our faces.”
What: “Scratch-made comfort food” — and it’s one of Yelp’s top 15 new restaurants of 2019
One Yelper says: “On a cold, icy rainy day today, I found a cure for winter … It came in the shape of a takeout meatloaf dinner from Pren Kitchen. Juicy, perfectly seasoned meatloaf, with caramelized onion draped over, buttery mashed potatoes with Grandma-whipped texture, and Brussel sprouts roasted into sublimity… Yum!”
What: Authentic Filipino food in a casual space — open since the end of November and already earning rave reviews.
One Yelper says: “Definitely your go-to spot if it’s your first time trying Filipino food or if you’re Pinoy and simply miss the taste of home. From takeout, to sitting down for a main course, or topping it off with dessert; this gem embodies the true delicacies of the Philippines.”
What: A new location of the N.J. steakhouse (plus seafood) in a gorgeous space — from the Harvest Restaurant Group.
One Yelper says: “We were seated next to the jaw-dropping fireplace and couldn’t get over the details imprinted in the dining room. … We split the Tuna Tartare and Spicy Crispy Lobster for the table and the flavor BURSTING from each of those dishes was amazing. The Spicy Crispy lobster had the perfect kick of spice without taking away from the fresh lobster. The mains then came out, which included the Cauliflower Steak, Specialty Risotto (shrimp, asparagus and CHEESE) and Kobe Slider.”
What: An “automotive-inspired” cafe in an old gas station, complete with a Porsche Targa inside.
One Yelper says: “They currently are offering lighter fare such as avocado toast and specialty treats, all of which are superb. But the real draw for me is the coffee! It reminds me of Italy, since I think that’s the last time I enjoyed coffee so much! It is fantastic! My favorite right now is their cappuccino.”
What: A teeny tiny reservation-only sushi speakeasy (it’s inside Ani Ramen) serving a $50 12-piece omakase that you have no more than 60 minutes to eat — a concept from N.Y.C. sushi chef David Bouhadana.
One Yelper says: “I love a good speakeasy, so I really enjoyed the experience. Our chef for the night was Kevin, and he took excellent care of us. All 12 sushi pieces were amazing, but my absolute favorite was the tuna with pickled wasabi and the torched fatty tuna.”
What: A vegan Turkish cafe, the first standalone location from the popular food market vendor.
One Yelper says: “A delicious addition to Englishtown’s Main Street whether you’re vegan or not. I love Turkish food already and there are quite a few amazing options within a quick drive but none are completely vegan.”
What: Small plates, artisan grilled cheese sandwiches and other cheesy delights, like sizzling fresh fig and toasted almond brie.
One Yelper says: “Great place! My husband and I went for the first time this weekend and it was delicious. We started with the baked goat cheese and then I got the brie, fig & apple grilled cheese and my husband got the skirt steak, both very good. A lot of people had the tomato basil fondue on their table and I’m tempted to try that next time.”
What: New American cuisine in a sleek and stylish space. Offerings include “classic dishes, seafood and prime cut meats infused with Latin and Asian accents,” plus an expansive bar and handcrafted cocktails.
One Yelper says: “Second time dining here. The service was excellent. The Caesar salad was unlike any I have ever had before. It was unbelievably good. The pasta with lobster and uni, out of this world.”
What: An 18-seat, French-inspired BYOB “dining experience.”
One Yelper says: “We’ve been to Paris and came back wishing there was a French bistro restaurant where the atmosphere is casual, comfortable, fun, and, best of all, fabulous food! … Some of our favorite appetizers are Oeufs Sur Oeufs (Deviled Eggs), Mushroom Toast, and Frog Legs to name a few. All the entrees and sides are delicious. “
What: New American cuisine in a stylish but casual space, plus brunch on the weekends.
One Yelper says: “One of my favorite new spots in Princeton. Great room, music, vibe, etc. Have been for brunch with kids and dinner as a group. Both experiences were first rate.”
What: A Turkish deli and panini shop that also serves smoothies — and is earning rave reviews by the day.
One Yelper says: “This place is a real winner! From the great service from the owner to the amazing sandwiches (the everything is an absolute must!) this Turkish deli with great smoothies too is now my go to spot whenever I am near.”