1. Porter Collins, Hoboken
Back in 2012, Hoboken chef-restaurateur Anthony Pino (Bin 14, Anthony David’s) signed a lease on a building in the northwest corner of Hoboken that had been home to an auto repair shop and cabinet maker, and he initially considered opening it as a gastropub. One economic recovery later, Pino finally opened the doors on Porter Collins last month. It’s a glam mid-century-inspired restaurant with all the trappings: table-side Caesar ($12 per person), a Scotch cart, oyster platters with an intriguing choice of mignonettes (saffron and tomato; chorizo and cilantro, frozen rose, $22 for six oysters), and the piece de resistance, a 30-day dry-aged porterhouse For two with green peppercorn sauce ($86). There is also live music or a deejay most nights. Pino says his wife and partner Liz helped inspire the sophisticated concept: “I love her so much and I want to be able to take my wife out on a date — not just to eat, on a date.”
Tools of the Trade….handmade agnolotti. #handmade #pasta #freshpasta #italian #wemakeitinhouse #stella
2. Stella Artisan Italian, Ridgewood
From the owners of Ridgewood’s acclaimed pizzeria S. Egidio and executive chef Heather Bertinetti-Rozzi, a pastry veteran of many of the top destination restaurants in New York, comes this charming bistro and gourmet market with a well-curated and seasonal Italian menu, freshly-made pasta (“If I can make bread dough, I can make pasta dough,” Bertinetti-Rozzi laughs) and absolutely killer cannoli (try the pistachio). In the mornings, Stella does brisk bakery and coffee business with commuters (it’s next to the train station). At lunch, there are pressed sandwiches, and at night, the juicy pork porterhouse with potato puree and glazed carrots ($28) is winning raves, while the vibrant and veggie-friendly saffron fusilli, squash blossoms, almond and poppy seeds ($22) is a favorite of the chef.
3. Riverview Restaurant, Burlington
Is New Jersey’s next foodie destination this small Colonial-era downtown by the Delaware? The hip restaurant group Smith opened a branch of its popular Brickwall Tavern here in late 2015, and now the old Cafe Gallery has been turned into a chic and airy destination restaurant and bar with a farm-inspired menu and housemade butter (flecked with shallots and thyme on my visit) and a rotating assortment of breads that will be the best $6 you can spend. The restaurant, which opened in February, currently offers lunch and dinner Thursdays through Saturdays with Sunday brunch. Chef Ross Scofield is still finessing the menu, but expect the grilled 22-ounce ribeye with demi-glace ($49) and towering Riverview burger with Cabot cheddar and housemade bun ($15) to stick around, says co-owner Adrian Turner. He also expects to open a coffee roastery in the back of the building soon for both wholesale and retail sales.
4. Criminals and Tacos, New Brunswick
The year-old Criminals and Tacos (named for an apocryphal underground taco shop at Alcatraz) has a short menu that is already on the culinary fringe: the House Arrest, with tequila-marinated chicken, cashews and cranberries, is a best-seller, and the Life Without Parole features carne asada and scorpion tails (“three times the protein,” says chef-owner Andrew Schiff). But the taco shop is known for going rogue, with daily experiments such as the recent barbecue shrimp tacos with grapefruit and jalapeno guac, and plenty of vegan options as well. Tacos are $4 each. The small storefront is decorated with infamous mug shots, and you can pose for your own on the mug shot wall.
5. The Buttered Biscuit Cafe, Bradley Beach
Think again about ordering that extra biscuit at Jersey Shore brunch favorite the Buttered Biscuit — now it’s open for dinner, too, Wednesdays through Saturdays. Co-owner Liz McAllister’s favorite dishes are the buttermilk fried chicken with a popover and honey butter ($18) and the seared pork belly with cabbage chow chow ($12; she’ll be swapping the cabbage with fresh peaches in season). And yes, there are still the cafe’s trademark biscuits, with smoked butter and house-made pickles ($6). They don’t take reservations and it’s still a BYOB, but McAllister says they will soon be offering margarita makings and mixers.
Be safe out there everyone! Stay positive because the weekend is almost near and you will get to order some shrimp!
6. Aja Asian Cuisine, Montgomery
Brothers-in-law Jason Lin and Chuan Tan run New Brunswick’s Aja Asian Cuisine & Lounge and Matawan’s Ganga Asian Bistro, both known for their terrific sushi and high style. They’ve outdone themselves at their brand-new Aja in Montgomery, turning the cavernous restaurant formerly occupied by Tusk into a jaw-droppingly sexy space, with communal tables of glowing stone, lushly-upholstered banquettes and womb-like red leather chairs. The menu is the same as the New Brunswick location, with creative small dishes (yellowtail ceviche with jalapeno, $17), curries, noodles, grilled and wok-fried entrees (tangerine-roasted duck with lychee and sticky rice, $26), and over-the-top sushi that is delicious but definitely not for purists.
7. Cooper House, Pennsauken
The long-stalled replacement to the Lobster Trap in Camden County’s Cooper River Park, Cooper House finally opened last summer with a more upscale menu and sophisticated but still comfortable atmosphere. Share a plate of deviled eggs with smoked trout and salmon roe ($5) or the charred octopus with chimichurri ($15) as you take in the views of the river from the expanse of windows in the back of the restaurant, or, as the weather warms up a bit, enjoy a selection from the long list of mostly local beers on tap, including Shamong’s Brotherton, Pennsauken’s Double Nickel or Mount Holly’s Spellbound Brewing, in the outdoor beer garden. Just remember, friends don’t let friends canoe drunk!
8. O Bistro Francais, Red Bank
Marc Fontaine, the owner of Red Bank’s late and lamented Bienvenue, is back with an large but inviting French BYO that has everything you’d expect — pate de campagne and cornichons ($11), steak frites ($33), coquille St. Jacques ($33), and Edith Piaf over the speakers — and a few dishes waiting to be discovered, such as the crepe with duck confit, black currants, pine nuts, and spinach in a port wine sauce. Fontaine and his co-owner, the solicitous Frederic Chirol, are also transforming the front of the barn-like building into a French cafe and market that should be open around June.
9. Munchies by Antonio, Newark
Munchies by Antonio, the six-month-old fast casual spot near NJIT, specializes in arepas, the addictive Venezuelan stuffed corncake sandwiches — the best-seller is the pabellon, with shredded beef, black beans, white cheese and sweet plantains, $8 — but the other offerings are equally hard to resist, particularly the hamburguesas, “very big and loud,” according to Antonio Dinis, who also runs the acclaimed pizzeria Porto by Antonio in North Bergen and Livingston. If you dare, try La Doble — two times the beef, ham, bacon and egg, plus avocado, corn, cheddar, potato sticks, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, mustard and ketchup ($13.50). There’s also overloaded hot dogs, flaky empanadas and healthy-ish wraps.
10. Tower Dogs, Lawrenceville
Bring your appetite and your bib to Tower Dogs, the outgrowth of chef Jim Forkel’s decades-long quest to build a better weiner. Opened since last summer, the counter-service restaurant in Quakerbridge Commons offers an insane array of gloriously messy toppings for Forker’s signature all-beef hot dog, from the BLT (American cheese, chopped bacon, Buffalo mayo and a fried egg atop a bacon-wrapped dog, $8.99) to the Cuban (melted Swiss, yellow mustard, pulled pork and dill pickle, $8.49). You can also order chicken sausage, bratwurst, and even falafel dogs, plus burgers, chicken sandwiches and even salads (but why would you?).