5 Best Restaurants That Define North Jersey Dining

New Jersey’s landscape is just as diverse as its population, ranging from open farmland and coastal villages to sprawling suburbs. The state’s culinary culture is sometimes overlooked because of its proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, but those who do pay attention are rewarded handsomely.

Chefs in the “Garden State” have enough to work with thanks to the abundance of farm-fresh vegetables and seafood available along the state’s 130 miles of coastline. All of this contributes to a diverse dining scene that is on par with that of its more well-known competitors, whether one looks to the state’s traditional cuisine (yes, classic red sauce Italian is alive and well) or to more out-of-the-ordinary options (Aghan food in a casino town, anyone?). NJ dining is as shocking to outsiders as the realization that life is more than just the gym, tan, and laundry, but for locals, it’s business as usual: they’re just eating well.

Today, dining out in New Jersey is synonymous with these restaurants.

The Saddle River Inn (Saddle River)

The Saddle River Inn
Image: northjersey

The Saddle River Inn has been serving up gourmet fare since it first opened its doors in 1981. Restaurant owner and chef Jamie Knott keeps the food modern while paying homage to the restaurant’s historic 18th-century barn location. Whether it’s a maple-chipotle coating over perfectly roasted chicken or mint chimichurri on a plate of Colorado lamb chops, it’s not uncommon to find an international twist on classic American dishes. BYOB means that you can bring your own alcohol to the restaurant.

Dining at the restaurant: The Saddle River Inn has limited indoor seating and a heated, covered tent for riverside dining. While you wait to be seated inside or out, you can warm up by the fire pit.

Takeout: At this time, the restaurant does not provide takeout service.

Hunan Taste (Danville/Montclair)

Hunan Taste (Danville/Montclair)
Image: hunantaste

Hunan Taste, voted best Chinese by New Jersey Monthly readers for multiple years running, is where the locals go when they’re craving authentic Hunan, Sichuan, or Mandarin cuisine. The first facility, in Danville, debuted in 1986; it was housed in a former suburban roller skating rink that had been transformed to resemble a traditional Chinese pagoda. Soup dumplings that melt on your tongue, mapo tofu, and spicy twice-cooked Sichuan pork are just a few of the many items on the extensive menu, which also includes hard-to-find regional cuisines and Chinese-American standards.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor eating is available in a limited capacity at both the Denville and Montclair sites. The eatery does not accept bookings in advance.

Takeout: You can order from different third-party delivery apps.

La Isla (Hoboken)

La Isla (Hoboken)
Image: OpenTable

After more than 20 years of bringing a flavor of Havana to downtown Hoboken, La Isla’s original Washington Street location grew so popular that chef and owner Omar Giner opened a second, fancier site higher up the hill. Giner made sure that the Cuban staples like croqueta de Jamon (ham croquettes), empanadas, and the Cubano sandwich—all of which he ate as a child—remained on the expanded menu. Always inquire about the day’s specials, which may include anything from bacalao, a stew made of codfish and potatoes, to ropa vieja, a meal made of shredded, stewed beef that is a national specialty in Cuba.

Dining at the restaurant: You can make a reservation at the uptown La Isla, but stroll right in at the downtown location.

Takeout: The restaurant’s website allows customers to place takeout and delivery orders from either location.

Felina (Ridgewood)

Felina (Ridgewood)
Image: Herecomestheguide

Felina’s location, in a converted bank, has an atmosphere as full of intricate details as its menu of authentic Italian fare. The owners converted the bank’s grand lobby into an event space and set up the eatery in the former offices, creating a small back room that they illuminated with clusters of globe lights and furnished with salvaged wood. The menu is seasonal, but staples like the “pizzette,” a tiny pizza that was most recently topped with Brussels sprouts, provolone, crème fraîche, and Meyer lemon, remain on the books. Try it with a cold brew negroni, a twist on the classic that adds coffee liqueur to the traditional mix of Italian liqueur, vermouth, and gin, or any of the other four negroni offerings from the bar.

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is available inside Felina to a limited extent.

Takeout: On Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, diners can place takeout orders through the restaurant’s website.

Serenade (Chatham)

Serenade (Chatham)
Image: Tripadvisor

For more than two decades, Serenade, a gourmet dining establishment in Chatham, New Jersey, has been consistently voted the best restaurant in the state. The durability of the restaurant, which is run by husband-and-wife pair Nancy and James Laird and serves contemporary American cooking in a stylish grey dining room with bright yellow seats, can be attributed to Laird’s ability to successfully combine traditional dishes with modern technology. Classics like clams casino sit alongside modern takes on Asian-inspired glazed braised short ribs, roasted apples, and sticky rice.

Dining at the restaurant: When the weather is nice, customers can dine outside under a tent set up in the restaurant’s parking lot, where heaters are given.

Takeout: The website for Serenade also allows you to place orders for takeaway and delivery. The restaurant offers both a la carte and a “steak night” package, the latter of which includes four courses of steakhouse standards like shrimp cocktail, prime bone-in sirloin, truffle twice-baked potato, and chocolate mousse.

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