Wednesday, December 21, 2022

New Jersey’s 25 Best Restaurants of 2022 from New Jersey Digest


Reposted from New Jersey Digest

New Jersey’s 25 Best Restaurants of 2022

top restaurants in nj

From the Ramapo Mountains all the way down to the southernmost tip of Cape May, New Jersey exists as one of the greatest food states in the nation. Between those landmarks are cities rife with everything from old-school, no-frills joints to the upper echelons of high-end dining— spanning an array of cultures and styles. Truthfully speaking, some restaurants simply stand out from the rest. These 25 restaurants define New Jersey’s thriving food scene and continue to shape its future. What you won’t find here, though, is a list born out of nepotism or favoriting paid partners. Rather, an objective observation of the best restaurants in New Jersey of 2022, leaving the participation trophies and geographical appeasement to other publications.

SLA Thai

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Chef Meiji at the kitchen pass at SLA Thai in Montclair | Photography by Arielle Figueredo

Chef Meiji’s take on contemporary Northern Thai cuisine took Upper Montclair by storm nearly seven years ago when she first opened. Besides location, not much has changed— SLA features hard-to-find Thai dishes that propel it far beyond that of your standard Thai spot. If you have only dabbled in the take-out spots, then forget everything you thought you knew about Thai food.

Along with her husband, Wanat, and brother, Yanin, SLA has three chefs with decades of combined experience under their belts. Curry puffs, Sai Ua (a Northern Thai sausage) and the cardamom-infused Massaman short rib are just some of the dishes found at this trendy and colorful spot. I often sneak away from work to dine alone at SLA just to get another hit of the immensely flavorful cuisine.

Old trinkets like vintage rotary telephones and colorful wallpaper adorn this quaint yet vibrant space. Cookbooks and old-school Coca-Cola memorabilia dot the remainder of the venue, completing what is one of the most uniquely-designed restaurants I have ever dined in. SLA stands as a casual BYO with uniquely delicious food and an immaculate and friendly vibe to back it up.

The Circle

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Heritage Pork Chop with McIntosh Butter and Smoked Maitake | Photography courtesy of The Cricle

Sitting in a snug corner of this restored 1720 farmhouse on a small town road in Newton, you’ll feel like you’re visiting your relatives in the countryside. Relatives who just happen to be Michelin-trained culinary geniuses and Jean-Georges alums, one of the world’s most revered chefs.

Helmed by Brendan Ullmann and Tyler O’Toole, The Circle is perhaps the most intimate dining experience in the Garden State. The intrigue begins the moment you park. You might even find yourself gazing out into the open fields, which is undoubtedly an ideal location for a restaurant that boasts a hyper-seasonal menu drawing from the nearby farms of Sussex County. Inside, a labyrinth of candle-lit corners and charming hearths leave you feeling like you’ve jumped back a century (in the best way possible).

Expect to choose between a contemporary American à la carte menu and a six-course tasting. Dinner at the Circle always kicks off with an amuse-bouche, anchored by a delightful slice of fried fingerling potato. Pro tip: the crispy rice with Jersey bluefin tuna and ponzu aioli might be our favorite app of the year. Pasta and ice cream are house-made, but you literally can’t pick a bad dish. The Circle is proof that New Jersey’s culinary sprawl is expanding to the far reaches of the state.


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Chef Antonio De Ieso plates at the pass at Fiorentini in Rutherford | Photography by Arielle Figueredo

Chef Antonio De Ieso burst onto the NJ dining scene in late 2021 with his elegant approach to farm-focused Italian cuisine at his a-la-carte BYO in downtown Rutherford. Fiorentini quickly became one of the best new Italian restaurants in the state. With sustainability at the forefront, Fiorentini focuses on hyper-local ingredients in its mission to reduce food waste in the restaurant world. With this thinking in mind, Brenda and Antonio flaunt their Tuscan roots at Fiorentini, which literally translates to people of Florence. 

At Fiorentini, though, you won’t find a menu overblown with Italian imports. The De Iesos are anything but complacent, boasting new seasonal menus every three months that strike the perfect harmony between Tuscan cooking and local Jersey produce. “People want to do organic, but it doesn’t matter if they forget to respect the [local] ingredients,” says Antonio of cooking. That philosophy is clearly displayed in the house-made pastas, made-to-order risotto and ably done desserts.

Complete with recycled vines hanging from the ceilings, simply elegant table settings and a beautifully vast marble kitchen pass, it is clear that Fiorentini’s progressive approach to dining will only evolve with time. As many restaurants fall to comfort and complacency, Fiorentini will continue to grow as a restaurant that is immensely important to the NJ dining scene.

Cellar 335

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A Zombie gets the blow torch treatment at Cellar 335 | Photography by Peter Bonacci/Cellar 335

In 2016, Cellar 335 redefined everything we thought we knew about Jersey’s restaurant scene. After taking Saddle River Inn to new heights, Jamie Knott and his co-owners turned a literal basement on the outliers of Jersey City’s downtown into the hippest restaurant in New Jersey by a mile. Cellar 335’s dimly-lit Newark Ave space—literally beneath White Eagle Hall—is electric with tiki-inspired thematics, colorful murals and dimly-lit corners with tufted black and red leather. Think exotic island vibes meets Hawaiian noir.

Cellar 335 pushes sharable Neo Asian-influenced fare and the state’s most original (and vibrant) cocktail list. Chef and industry vet Christopher Abbamondi took the reins in the kitchen in 2020, continuing long-time Cellar favorites such as the avocado fried rice, large-format bao and Korean-style wings (which slap harder than Koa Viernes). Cellar’s cocktail list is what you get when you mix fresh pressed juices and top-shelf liquor into tiki and skull mugs. There’s seriously no cooler drinks anywhere in the Garden State.

In November, Knott and his partners opened Madame—a modern French bistro and cocktail parlor that pays homage to the formerly closed Madame Claude Bis—just a few steps away from Cellar 335. It just might be 2023’s hotspot.


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Pasta-making magic at Corto in Jersey City | Photography by Peter Bonacci

Chef Matt Moschella highlights cucina povera, or cuisine of the poor, at his cushy, inviting restaurant in the Heights of Jersey City. This type of cooking was born out of necessity but results in something as equally magical as it is resourceful.

Handmade pastas are expectedly the biggest draw for curious diners, but Moschella’s expertly-crafted entrees and appetizers are not to be missed. Braised lamb shanks and the Calabrian-chili-laced “Angry Chicken” dot the main portion of the menu, while comforting braised greens and bagna cauda—an umami-laced anchovy and garlic dip— are available to start.

Exposed brick and natural wood highlight a dining room complete with a straight line of sight into the kitchen. Art and shelves overflowing with knick-knacks bedeck the walls. In the back, a charming patio makes for perfect late-night dinners in the summer. All things considered, Corto is one of the most comforting places to dine in the Garden State with its numerous cozy quirks.


Branzino at Viaggio

Branzino with Blood Orange and Braised Fennel shines at Viaggio Ristorante | Photography courtesy of Viaggio

In Passaic County, where you can throw a stone and hit ten Italian restaurants drunk and blindfolded, none are even close to Viaggio’s caliber. From the moment chef/owner Robbie Felice opened in 2016, it was abundantly clear that this creative young chef possessed a food IQ far beyond his years. Felice, a Sussex County native, drew much of his early inspiration from family cooking and stints at multiple Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe. Fast forward to 2022, the James Beard Rising Star nominee has carved a path in Jersey’s booming culinary scene, propelling him to chef stardom across the country. That national journey started with Viaggio.

Viaggio’s location, wedged between a jeweler and bagel shop in an ordinary Wayne strip mall, contradicts the chic 78-seat Tuscan farmhouse aesthetic inside. But at Viaggio, it’s the casual elegance of Felice’s rustic Italian cooking with a modern twist that thrills. The Calamari Fritti—fried calamari with silky lemon butter, pickled shallots and chili—is a euphoria of flavor that bounces between sweet and tart. A tinge of heat on the back of your palate ties together what is the best calamari in New Jersey.

The current seasonal menu exudes farm-to-table vibes highlighted by the Francobolli di Zucca with kabocha squash, brown butter, sage and Amaretti macaron; as well the Ricotta Cavatelli with spicy pork sausage, rapini, and parmigiano. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the utter genius of Viaggio’s housemade pastas and house-cured salumi. BYO.


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Chef Ryan DePersio firing up the oven at Fascino | Photography by Arielle Figueredo

New Jersey’s food scene caught fire in the last couple of decades and never looked back— and chef/owner Ryan DePersio is the spark that lit the fuse when he opened Fascino in 2003.

20 years later, Fascino’s candle-lit ambiance and ricotta gnocchi still shine bright in the heart of Montclair’s downtown. The modern Italian BYO’s longevity is a testament to the staff’s undying love for the craft. DePersio might’ve trained at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Florence, but he’s never been shy about blurring the lines of classic Italian cuisine. This fall, the kitchen showcased eccentric seasonal handmade pastas like Japanese sweet potato and taleggio agnolotti with sweet onion brown butter sage, striking the perfect balance between sweet and savory.

At its heart, Fascino is a family affair, with DePersio’s mother and pastry chef, Cynthia, still serving up classics like homemade biscotti. Pasta often steals the show, but don’t miss out on menu staples like mascarpone polenta fries or creamy Jersey Girl burrata. With a special menu popping up in January 2023—an ode to DePersio’s grandmother Rose Martino and her authentic Italian cooking—it seems one of New Jersey’s hardest-working chefs continues to fall in love with his flagship restaurant all over again.


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Mind-blowing Galbi Jjim For Two | Photography by Peter Candia

Ondo is one of the newest additions to what is undoubtedly becoming one of the great food cities in the country. Chef Brian Kim’s Michelin-level restaurant puts on a show from all corners, and perhaps more importantly, it is progressing the NJ fine-dining scene forward.

Focusing on contemporary Korean fare, Ondo finds itself settled on the shimmering waters of the Hudson River. Inside, a minimalistic approach to design draws the eye, while bold flavors define the food and drink. Playful dishes like Korean fried chicken dot the menu, highlighting Kim’s heritage. The short rib for two, on the other hand, exemplifies Kim’s approach to modern cooking— French and Korean techniques are married to create a short rib so tender and savory that it will leave you flabbergasted. The drink menu offers innovative cocktails as well as a full wine and Korean spirits list.

Ondo might be a drop in the bucket as far as restaurants go in the food-rich Jersey City, but conceptually speaking, it is totally unique. Each factor—from the design to the food—makes up what is a truly remarkable restaurant.


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Night vibes at Hearthside in Collingswood | Via @hearthsidebyob

A wood-fueled hearth burns at the center of Hearthside, which has come to define its concept. Chef Dominic Piperno and wife, Lindsay, focus on local ingredients and products to help create their definition of American food. Located in downtown Collingswood—just a short drive from Philadelphia—Hearthside is the heart and soul of its community.

Floor-to-ceiling windows adorn the walls, while a Chef’s counter with a front-row view of the legendary hearth decorates the windows opposite. These details are just an added bonus to your meal; which will contain the likes of dry-aged steaks, half chickens, ceviches and a chocolate rye cake for dessert.

Chef Piperno’s thrilling menu is combined with a thoughtfully designed space— together, these aspects have become the source of many diner’s obsession with this allaying joint.

Hearthside feels like a destination restaurant to me. One that is worth a trip. As Piperno and the team continue to hone in on what makes Hearthside so special, it is no doubt that it adds value to a city that is already dotted with legendary restaurants.

Heirloom at The St. Laurent 

Heirloom at The St. Laurent exterior

Neon signage sets the mood outside The St. Laurent in Asbury Park | Photography by Peter Candia

If you’ve dined at Neilly Robinson and Dave Viana’s Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge, NJ, then you know that this duo knows how to put on a breathtaking meal. Earlier this year, Robinson and Viana opened up their second restaurant together— located inside the boutique Asbury Park hotel, The St. Laurent. First established in 1886, the hotel has been carefully updated to preserve its historic beauty and has come to be known by its neon signage which simply reads: The St Laurent. 

Like Heirloom before it, the food is masterfully crafted with an emphasis on good ingredients and artistic plating. However, unlike the original, Heirloom at The St. Laurent is open five days a week for dinner, plus lunch and brunch, and is complete with a full bar and wine list.

Every aspect of this restaurant is spectacular, from the Oloroso Sherry-spiked espresso martinis to the pan-roasted duck and mahi-mahi. Additionally, the desserts, like the citrus olive oil cake, are some of the best you can find in the state. All of these parts add up to make this the Jersey Shore’s hottest new restaurant. Run, don’t walk.


Kimchi and hamachi at Mistral in Princeton, NJ

House-Made Kimchi and Hamachi Crudo | Photography by Peter Candia

This swank restaurant finds itself at home in Princeton’s historic downtown. The white brick facade encases a beautifully open dining room, complete with tree trunks decorating the walls and natural wood tables. At night, the room is illuminated by the glow of the open kitchen. Chef Scott Anderson’s approach to culturally diverse and progressive cuisine at Mistral offers a memorable experience from start to finish. An impressive cocktail program and wide-ranging wine list start off your meal, while each course of the carefully crafted menu takes it to the next level.

This a-la-carte spot is casual and fun. House-made kimchi, chicken wings, arepas, grilled half chicken, the list goes on— Anderson pulls inspiration from a variety of cuisines without over-saturating his menu with unnecessary combinations, while flashes of his extended time spent in Japan as a child shine through.

Whether for a special occasion or just a simple date night, Mistral is guaranteed to deliver an enduring meal.


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Manhattan ambiance at Faubourg in Montclair | Photography by Kirra Cheers

I’ve always said that Faubourg is the restaurant New Jersey didn’t know it needed until it arrived. A few years after its opening in 2019, there’s still nothing in the Garden State quite like this modern French brasserie (and there might never be). The brainchild of longtime Daniel Boulud alums Dominique Paulin and chef Olivier Muller, Faubourg is a stunning well-oiled machine. When I look around on a bustling Saturday night, I’m in awe at how flawlessly this massive operation runs.

From the moment you enter Faubourg’s stunning Bloomfield Ave space in Montclair, you’re inundated with a hip Manhattan vibe (minus the tolls and traffic). Exposed Edison bulbs hang overhead as you pass through the verdant patio bar. Inside, Faubourg literally takes Jersey restaurants to new heights with 20-foot ceilings and massive fixtures.

Faubourg offers New Jersey diners a fun, approachable introduction to French cuisine. Look for menu staples like the Coq au vin made with braised chicken, red wine, bacon, mushrooms and späetzle, as well as the beef duo featuring an oxtail/bavette combo over creamy soubise. Its bar program is laden with French wines and rotating seasonal cocktails. Faubourg’s biggest secret isn’t its hidden upstairs cocktail lounge— it’s how it instantly became one of the best brunch destinations in the state. Order the French toast and thank me later.

Osteria Crescendo

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Plum and Aperol spiked margarita; Felice’s signature Paradiso Ravioli | Photography courtesy of Osteria Crescendo

Three years after Viaggio landed Robbie Felice among the state’s elite, New Jersey’s rockstar chef turned up the heat with his second restaurant in Westwood. But let’s be clear, Osteria Crescendo is not Viaggio 2.0. Rather, the next evolution of artistry that Felice and his team are capable of. The first thing you’ll notice about Osteria Crescendo’s alluring corner space is its swanky modern vibe, but if you look deeper, the white marble tabletops and glassware are all callbacks to Italian craftsmanship.

If you’re expecting a menu filled with an abundance of Italian-American clichés, you can check that assumption and your delusions of parm variants at the door with your coat. The pasta at Osteria Crescendo is groundbreaking, and that’s an understatement. The Paradiso Ravioli, stuffed with six different imported Italian cheeses and drizzled with Calabrian chili oil zig-zags, is easily the best pasta dish in New Jersey. The bar is equally impressive, featuring a housemade pizza with soppressata and prosciutto and creative craft cocktails. What makes the restaurant’s wine list unique is its devotion to Italian wines, particularly an abundance of Piedmontese grapes.

Osteria Crescendo raises a proverbial middle finger to anyone who thinks you can’t do a big city restaurant in a small Bergen County town. Felice’s nationally-acclimated pop-up, pastaRAMEN, is set to open in Montclair literally any minute now. It seems this young chef simply can’t miss, and we’re just trying to keep up.


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Delightfully somber vibes at the kitchen pass at Zeppoli in Collingswood | Photography by Peter Candia

This tiny BYO that lives on a corner in Collingswood, NJ is one of Philly’s best Italian restaurants. No, seriously. Chef/Owner Joseph Baldino’s seamless approach to comforting Italian cooking serves as a reminder that while the big names and fancy lights are cool, sometimes the best food is found where you least expect it.

Zeppoli’s jam-packed and dimly lit dining room is special. As your meal progresses, it becomes obvious why this restaurant has such a die-hard base of loyal customers.

House-made sausage, braised rabbit and handmade ricotta gnudi pulled me in, but the atmosphere is what kept me dreaming of my meal for weeks. The complimentary struffoli which completes your meal is Baldino’s way of inviting you back. Zeppoli, in a way, feels like home. For many in North Jersey, it may seem too far to justify, but truth be told, Zeppoli would be worth it even if you’re traveling from Italy itself— it’s that exceptional. Anyone who says Zeppole has lost its touch has just become complacent to its greatness.

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen

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Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen inside Morristown’s historic Vail Mansion | Photography by Michael Scivoli

Jockey Hollow is what happens when you cross a 1918-built Palazzo-style mansion in the heart of Morristown with world-renowned restaurateur Chris Cannon. I first visited on the heels of the space’s opening in 2016, where I found myself more spellbound by the food and architecture than when I asked out my first girlfriend in the 7th grade (she said yes). Since then, Jockey Hollow has been helmed by talented chefs, each bringing something new to the table in the 15,000-square-foot Morris County landmark.

This time, industry legend Tom Valenti captains the ship. The former executive chef of Midtown Manhattan’s fabled Le Cirque, Valenti’s vision for Jockey Hollow’s menu is the restaurant’s most approachable to date. He keeps with its thematic raw bar, adding familiar dishes like the best Steak Frites we’ve tried in recent memory. That’s not to say that the new menu doesn’t have panache. The crispy octopus with new potato, chermoula (a North African marinade relish), onion yogurt and almond might be the most flavorful octopus app of 2022.

Jockey Hollow still showcases its four iconic four dining spaces, including the aptly named 1920s-style Vail Bar; its living Oyster Bar, located in its main dining area; The Rathskeller beer hall and wine cellar; and its stately Washington Room, just a short walk up the marble staircase. Ultimately, it’ll take a hell of a lot more than a few chef changes and a global pandemic to stop this giant.

7 Doors Down Ramen Co.

Chef De Cuisine Luis Blasini at 7 Doors Down Ramen Co. | Photography by Leigh Soriano

This might be one of the most enticing restaurants in the Garden State. Executive Chef Lawrence Talis and Chef De Cuisine Luis Blasini dig into the cultural history of Nikkei cooking—a Japanese-inspired fare that’s prevalent across Peru—at this tiny (but trendy) Bloomfield storefront.  But what it lacks in size, it delivers tenfold in creativity and originality. Blasini picked up the skills required to cook Nikkei cuisine as a child learning from his family who immigrated from Huancayo, Peru. Since then, he has been in love with the complexities that go into making it.

Naturally, you will find ceviche in abundance here. Fresh takes on classic mahi-mahi and hamachi ceviches flow out of the kitchen like water at 7 Doors Down, but for Talis, this idea was also an opportunity to convey Peruvian flavors through everyone’s favorite noodle dish: Ramen. We are quite lucky that Talis lets his intrusive thoughts become reality, as 7 Doors Down produces what I consider to be the best ramen in New Jersey. Bowls like the Tokyo Style combine expertly crafted chicken and pork stock with a shoyu tare and slow-roasted pork belly, while the mushroom ramen presents a vegetarian option that won’t leave you missing meat at all.

In addition to ramen, the menu exudes other Nikkei-inspired mains like Talis and Blasini’s take on a classic Lomo Saltado or a chicken katsu meal. For the particularly curious diner, a Chef’s Counter is available to book, which features a unique-to-you menu unavailable to the rest of the dining room. 7 Doors Down brings a unique concept to New Jersey by blending the expertise of two decorated Chefs with a culturally significant cooking style that many people are oblivious to.

Summit House

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Chef Justin Antiorio plates at the pass inside Summit House’s airy kitchen | Photography by Summit House

Summit House stands out as the neighborhood’s definitive restaurant in a town rife with heritage and history. The nostalgia-filled journey begins as you pass the metal, flame-lit lanterns adorning the facade of its Springfield Ave corner location in Summit’s downtown. Inside, Edwardian-style coffered ceilings, triple-pane Victorian windows and weathered brick give you the impression that you’ve hopped in your DeLorean and gunned it back to the 1800s. Thanks to old-time relics such as the family’s framed American flag commissioned in the 19th century, the past is never far at Summit House.

The space is steeped in old-world, colonial elegance, but the food is very much New American. Chef Justin Antiorio—a 2012 “Hell’s Kitchen” finalist and Lyndhurst native—helms the kitchen at Summit House following his stints at Hoboken’s Anthony David’s and Bin 14. Playful options like a sambal-spiked pork belly banh mi and a gnudi with soppressata pesto are perfect to start off your meal, while handmade pastas, expertly cooked chicken and braised lamb shanks are commendable entrees. Antiorio’s menu focuses on locally-sourced seasonal fare no matter the time of year. Behind the bar, director Bobby Frascella and his team serve up some of the state’s most refined cocktails.

Turtle + The Wolf

Turtle + the Wold pork chop

Pork chop with grain mustard jus | Photography by Peter Candia

Opening in 2015, Turtle + The Wolf instantly became a hidden gem for curious diners in the Montclair area. In many ways, it was the first of its kind in Upper Montclair, which is amply packed with restaurants along the intersection of Bellevue and Valley. Still, despite the food-dense area, Turtle + The Wolf stands out. 

Named after two of the clan symbols for the Lenape people who are native to Essex County, Turtle + the Wolf promises a dining experience that is constantly evolving. The duck confit pot pie and pan-roasted chops are distinguished in their own right, but it is the family-style entrees like the large-format Lo’s Famous Fried Chicken (must be ordered ahead of time) that puts Turtle + the Wolf on the map. 

Turtle + The Wolf puts forth a chef-driven menu without coming off as pretentious. It is the perfect place to casually dine on some of the most impressive food. Order the chicken, bring your favorite wine or beer and sit down for what will no doubt be a tremendous meal. 


Dining Room at Sofia

The Sofia Dining Room | Photo by @retrogreen

This list would be incomplete without a classic steakhouse. Located in downtown Englewood, Sofia offers steakhouse staples like slab bacon and broiled chops served on a sizzling plate, as well as a menu that is rife with Italian and Italian-American fare like fresh pastas and chicken parmigiana. 

The perfect respite from the bustling Bergen County town, you’ll quickly forget where you are shortly after checking in with the valet. The food and drink menu are both large, but this is not to say that Sofia values quantity over quality. Instead, the menus are packed with incredible options from front to back, making for a restaurant perfect for large groups that like options. 

While the food and service alone have earned their spot in the conversation with some of the best, the whisky and cigar tastings offered to bring a burst of elegance unique to Sofia. After reveling in a cigar and some of Jersey’s best steak, you’ll discover that many of the finer things in life can be found at Sofia. 

Jardin at The Hugh

Surrounded by the Delaware Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, this high-end dining experience lives at New Jersey’s southernmost tip. Chef Michael Schultz’s Jardin works to create a meal that champions environmental care while leaving none of the glamor out of the equation. Stints at some of the world’s great restaurants like Alinea, The French Laundry and Astrid y Gaston no doubt shaped Jardin, but Schultz’s unique approach to dining comes naturally in Cape May where he began his cooking journey at just 14 years old.

Jardin offers an elegant tasting menu experience to diners who are looking for something a tad more luxurious than Cape May’s normal offerings. The menu, of course, is hyper-seasonal— boasting options like fermented acorn squash and a black truffle granola bar as “snacks” to start your journey, while local scallops and produce make up a middle portion of the menu. All in all, you will find yourself enjoying between 10 and 15 courses at Jardin.

Like many great restaurants across the globe, Jardin only does one seating a night at 6:30 p.m. Rather than a meal focusing on individualism, the dining room as a whole enjoys the menus available, leaving the traditional restaurant experience to other spots in the area. As artistically plated courses slide in front of you, you will discover that Schultz’s eye does not discriminate between visuals and flavor.


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Lower Manhattan views at Battello in Jersey City | Photography by Maged Samuel

Lower Manhattan views on the shores of New Jersey’s hottest foodie destination—Downtown Jersey City—Battello is what every waterfront restaurant wishes it could be. Reclaimed barn wood and exposed beams define the space’s rustic-meets-nautical ambiance that’s truly unique from any restaurant in the state. Though it’s been a tumultuous few years battling pier reconstruction and pandemic woes, there was truly no stopping this group of expert partners and directors from staying on top (and maintaining their status as one of New Jersey’s premier wedding venues).

Chef/owner Ryan DePerio earned his chops at Fascino, but Battello is his tour de force. The multidisciplinary menu explores DePersio’s coined “Italian without borders” concept, bursting at the metaphorical QR code seams with an abundance of fresh seafood dishes and homemade pastas— which DePersio and his team have long since mastered. Order any scallops entree they put on the menu blindly, it’s never missed since opening nearly a decade ago. Don’t skip the Short Rib Taleggio Triangoli while it’s on the menu (you’ll be thinking about it for days after you’ve dined and gone). The bar’s stacked. Leave the bottle at home.

James on Main

James on Main, Hackettstown, NJ

Sautéed baby calamari and Pecorino frico | Photography by Peter Candia

This quaint restaurant is nestled within historic downtown Hackettstown. Chef/Owner Bill Van Pelt focuses on local ingredients to create his version of New American cuisine. Van Pelt centers his culinary vision around a real wood-fired grill, which is used to cook an array of dishes off of the menu. 

Utilizing smoke and natural wood, Van Pelt is able to establish a terroir in his food that has become a signature of James on Main. Dishes like the Char Siu pork belly allow the wood-fired grill to shine, while something like the apple and frisee salad provides a contrasting and tart addition to the dinner table. 

It is easy to get lost in the ambiance of James on Main. The interior is cozy and the partially-open kitchen allows diners a glimpse into the fast-paced action of a working kitchen. These points create a restaurant that feels impossible to leave and this inviting BYO is without a doubt one of our favorite discoveries of the year. 


Chef Scott Anderson’s Elements is perhaps one of the most exquisite dining experiences you can find within our state’s borders. Located upstairs from fellow Top 25 Restaurant, Mistral, Elements is an upscale culinary adventure that focuses on local ingredients that are executed in a modern way. 

Just nine tables make up the Elements dining room— which surrounds an open kitchen so that you can watch as the masterful cooks complete each course of your meal. Like many of the World’s famous chefs-table-style restaurants, the cooks and chefs in the kitchen serve the food directly to you while describing each course with no shortage of detail. Creativity shines in Anderson’s cooking. Moss and branches decorate the plates of certain courses exemplifying that Elements is a terroir-driven restaurant. This is an experience to get lost in. 

There are two menus available, but we recommend going with the Chefs Tasting, which comes with over ten courses and will bring you on an unforgettable dinner expedition. The courses constantly change with the seasons, but Anderson’s concept is clear as day no matter the menu. 

Common Lot

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Beef Crudo with fermented shiitake shines at Common Lot in Millburn | @common_lot

If you are someone who is mildly interested in the ever-growing NJ food scene, you have probably heard of Common Lot. The inner workings of this fun spot are a result of the duo, Ehren and Nadine’s expertise. 

Ehren, who was born in Australia, has several world-renowned restaurants on his resume, while Nadine studied hospitality management in her home country of Austria. This worldly knowledge and profound experience shine through in the fare. Common Lot boasts a prix-fixe menu for diners to enjoy on the weekends— complete with inspiration from cuisines across the globe. Coriander-laced chili noodles, risotto, curries and pan-roasted branzino are just some of the dishes you might encounter when dining at Common Lot. 

For the particularly adventurous, an exclusive Kitchen Pass Tasting is offered occasionally, which brings a completely separate menu from the normal display. These dinners fill up fast, so keep an eye out for the next one. 

Nami Nori

If anyone knows how to create ambiance, it’s Nami Nori’s new Montclair space | Photography courtesy of Nami Nori

Sometimes, style points count. An earshot from the iconic concert venue, The Wellmont Theater, Nami Nori is continued proof that New York City’s restaurateurs are waking up to Montclair’s exponential culinary growth. With two other successful locations in Williamsburg and the West Village under their belt, partners Taka Sakaeda, Jihan Lee and Lisa Limb bring temaki-style sushi to Essex County in a big way.

Outfitted with two sushi bars and an airy beach house vibe, Nami Nori offers diners an intimate (and delicious) introduction to temaki’s taco-shaped sushi hand rolls. And though the cuisine isn’t something you’ve never tasted before, the sushi (and experience) is a cut above the rest— and with a certain flair unlike most of what you’ll find in Jersey. Choose from one of two “sets” which is essentially five rolls. The tuna poke with crispy shallots should be your go-to, but the coconut shrimp with green curry steals the show as you work your way through your set. 

Don’t skip the kitchen apps, namely the Tuna Crudo and the Crispy Calamari with yuzu soy. Order the Mochurros (churros with mochi dough) with lemon curd for dessert. Bring a good bottle of Riesling and book ahead. If you’re surprised that you’re not rolling yourself out the door, then you’ve missed the point.

Please see bottom of post to learn more about the two authors of this post.


Mark Slade Keller Williams 917.797.5059 Good Homes Selling a Maplewood/South Orange/West Orange area home involves many steps and having an experienced Maplewood New Jersey Real Estate Agent and Realtor®, specializing in the Bedroom Communities of New York City in Essex/Union County— Millburn, Short Hills, Montclair, West Orange, South Orange, Livingston, Maplewood, Springfield, Summit, Madison, Chatham, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Cranford and Westfield--by your side will make the transaction run a lot smoother. I would love to be your Maplewood/South Orange New Jersey Area Real Estate Professional! I assist both buyers and sellers in the Bedroom Communities of New York City, mostly served by NJ Transit’s Mid-Town Direct Train Lines, offering commutes of 45minute or less to NY Penn Station, with either the purchase and or sale of residential real estate.  



As an Accredited Buyer’s Agent (ABR), I have received special training to guide and educate you through the entire home buying process. From start to finish, I listen to your needs and desires in what you would like and take the information you give me to find you home. My GO-TO team can provide you the best in Real Estate advice with regard to attorney choices, Home Inspectors and Mortgage Loan Officers  

I am also a Luxury specialist (CLHMS), I have received special training to guide and educate you through the entire home buying and selling process. Not only does this extra training help me better understand this upper echelon in real estate, its benefit include a special luxury website: www.njluxhomes.com and a corresponding worldwide luxury network that helps to put luxury buyers and sellers together. 

As your Maplewood/South Orange/ West Orange New Jersey listing agent I am well versed on as your local expert in all things in the West Orange, Maplewood and South Orange area Real Estate Market. You can expect personalized service that includes a detailed consultation on how to best position your Mid-Town Direct home to be competitive in today’s market with training to provide my clients with an in-depth Advanced Comparative Market analysis, and advice on staging. As my office’s technology officer as well as both a Zillow Platinum Premier and Trulia Premier agent, I use the latest and most up-to-date marketing methods to get your home in front of as many buyers as possible. Being your New Jersey Real Estate Agent and Realtor ® not only involves just finding the home or selling the home, but being your guide, negotiator, advisor and advocate and making sure that your needs and goals are met. Being your New Jersey Essex/Union County area Realtor® (with a little bit of Morris County thrown in for good measure) is one of my truest passions, and “Helping You Find Your Dream Home” is my number one priority. Don’t forget These Helpful Sites: 






Let's work together to find you your Dream Home!

A picturesque town in Essex County, Maplewood is located on the East Branch of the Rahway River. Originally consisting of farms, mills and orchards, Maplewood is now a great mix of residential and commercial areas, culminating in the jewel of a downtown village and coming together to create a charming, tight-knit and diversified community. Maplewood has predominantly Colonial and Tudor style homes with sprawling porches and ample greenery, but you can also find some Victorians and a range of more modern style construction on its beautiful tree lined streets. Maplewood is a diverse town with 6 elementary schools and prominent municipal building designed by famous architects, Guilbert and Betelle. In the center of town, famed landscape architects, the Olmstead Brothers, created the breathtaking Memorial Park; not to be overlooked is Ricalton Square, nestled between the train station and the downtown shopping; this area is frequently used for events including a Halloween Parade with hayrides and petting zoos, as well as featuring replica homes during the Winter Holiday Season. The town offers many activities to its residents from camps in the summer, arts and crafts classes, a public pool (with 4 pools ranging from a “baby” pool to toddler pool to large lap pool and a diving tank) and a farmers market when in season. There is even an annual musicalpalooza--Maplewoodstock—featuring a variety of bands and musical styles, showcasing local and national bands with booths for local businesses to set up. The Village, also known as Maplewood Center, is a quaint, downtown shopping district with everything from restaurants with foods from all over the world, bakeries, dance studios, gyms, bookstores, a movie theater and bookstores. With its large variety of cuisines to choose from, Maplewood recently started a yearly town-wide Restaurant Week with over 30 eateries participating. Easily accessible by its throughways and the New Jersey Transit, it's no surprise Maplewood has been ranked several times as one of the most desirable places to live in America by a number of surveys. Let's work together to find you your Dream Home!



About the Author/s

Michael is the Editor-in-Chief of New Jersey Digest, COO of X Factor Media, and an avid writer. Growing up in Bergen County, he discovered his passion for words while in Friday detention. Michael loves kayaking, a fat glass of Nebbiolo, and over-editing.

Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for food journalism midway through his schooling and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. Peter never stops learning and he is always in the weeds.


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