Timothy DeLaGhetto and David So Light Up Houston's Hops n' Hot Sauce Festival
This spacious, wood-floored Shore roadhouse specializes in steak and seafood, but don’t skip the apps; the yellowfin tuna poke, with sushi-grade tuna, seaweed salad, pickled ginger, and wasabi chips, is excellent. Good craft beer selection, too. Other great options include oysters on the half shell, the superlative ribeye, or the OC burger. Next door is sister restaurant Mud City Crab House, with its Airstream-turned-bar in the parking lot.
It’s not a bakery, despite the name. This small, no-frills space just minutes from Route 1 offers first-rate Vietnamese sandwiches, pho, and other dishes. My favorite sandwich is the lemongrass beef and BBQ pork with oyster sauce, sesame oil, and carrots. Wash it down with one of the bubble teas or a fruit shake.
A former auto parts store -- you’d never know looking at it -- transformed into a casual Italian restaurant with a great wine selection; whites on one side, reds on the other. The beef braciole is one your Italian grandmother would approve of. Another solid move is the gnocchi in sage brown butter sauce.
Located in a town most Jerseyans have never heard of, the Blue Monkey is a beer-centric restaurant with an outstanding, eclectic craft brew selection. The burgers are classic, simple, and superb -- get yours medium rare with Monterey Jack. The Thai mussels are a great app.
This Shore-casual restaurant was an immediate hit when it opened four years ago. I recommend the Jersey Bennie, an eggs Benedict with Taylor ham; or the Nova Scotia scramble, an omelet with smoked salmon. And obviously make sure to get a homemade biscuit. Bradley Beach, just south of Asbury Park, is fast approaching its sister city as a dining destination.
The Committed Pig is a hip and casual eatery, with another location down the Shore, in Manasquan. The baked Brie burger, with Brie, fig preserves, and bacon, is the stuff burger bliss is made of. At the Morristown location, grab a table outside for a front-row people-watching seat across from the park known as The Green.
Owner Drew Araneo’s former location in town was a victim of Hurricane Sandy; the new space is twice as large. The cuisine is Gulf Coast-/Low Country-influenced and made with locally sourced produce. The affable Araneo loves his pork; there’s always a pork du jour dish. Be sure to try the super-spicy city jambalaya.
A small, friendly restaurant -- the name is a reference to owner John Stewart’s wedding date -- decorated with local artwork. The menu is all over the map, with salads, sandwiches, tacos, seafood, and more. Undecided? Go with one of the burgers; the Lunacy burger, a special, uses an IPA from nearby craft brewer Lunacy Brewing. The fried pickles and drunken oysters are also great choices.
Fang Peiyan is the funny, personable owner of this suburban sushi joint. If Fang’s not behind the sushi bar, he’s going table to table chatting up customers. And his creations are always at once delightful and daring. Try the tender tuna sashimi roll -- tuna wrapped over more tuna, and terrific. There’s a second Mr. PI’s location in Metuchen.
If you like Southern fried chicken, you’ll love Korean fried chicken, deep-fried twice to render out the fat. The result: fried chicken with superior crunch. Peck Peck -- tiny, with four tables -- is run by an elderly couple; rock music provides the unlikely soundtrack. Must-try: the pickled veggies.
The state’s most iconic hot dog landmark, a brick-walled roadhouse open since 1928, with no-nonsense countermen up front and a time-warp dining room out back. Get a “Ripper” -- a deep-fried hot dog so named because it splits apart during cooking. If you’re brave, get a “Weller” -- a well-done hot dog, or a “Cremator" -- a dog that’s pretty close to burnt.
Al Santillo is the lovably nutty pizza professor at this house-turned-pizzeria (walk down the driveway, open the screen door). Don’t be surprised if he invites you behind the counter to check out his ovens. His pizzas are based on styles popular in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and beyond, and they’re by far the best in the state. It’s takeout only, but there are several nearby bars where you’re allowed to bring your pizza in.
One category Jersey falls woefully short in is Greek restaurants; there are just not enough, or not enough good ones. This is my favorite -- a friendly, unstuffy place with fine food and attentive service. I recommend the lamb chops. Just down the street is Holsten’s, the ice cream parlor where the last scene in The Sopranos was shot.
New Jersey, with 600 or so diners, is the diner capital of the world, and no diner does it consistently better than this glittery retro jewel across the river from Newark. It closes for just a few hours every night -- hey, the staff needs to take a breather! -- and pumps out good food in prodigious quantities. Get the meatloaf.
Great food in a mall? I’m not kidding. Located next to JC Penney, Viet Bistro is a welcome alternative to chain-dominated, and often forgettable, mall dining. The spicy lemongrass with chicken was the single best dish I sampled in a 50-restaurant statewide mall-food showdown I tried -- and survived -- last year.
A stylish hangout, with Day of the Dead-inspired artwork, house-made tortillas, and tacos unequaled for creativity and variety. Get the carnitas tacos, with cola-braised pork belly, corn, cotija, and morita (a kind of chipotle). The menu also includes such antojitos (“little cravings’’ or street food) as octopus ceviche, tuna tostadas, and a beet & arugula salad.