Best restaurants in NJ: Thrillist, you’re wrong

Really, Thrillist? 

After proclaiming that “suburban dining outside of NYC is better than ever,” you could only come up with four restaurants in New Jersey, in a list of “20 Best Suburban Restaurants Outside NYC.”  

Actually, make that North Jersey (none were south of Jersey City). 

Honestly? I would have expected more from a well-known food website such as yours. I would have expected a thorough, thought-out, substantive, illuminating list.

I’m not saying that the four Garden State spots you chose aren’t good. I love Razza’s pizzas in Jersey City. I’m a big fan of Jack’s Lobster Shack‘s lobster rolls, which I’ve devoured in its Edgewater location.  And, while I have yet to dine at Sushi Aoki in Fort Lee (I’ve managed to secure two seats at its 10-seat counter in two weeks) or Bread & Salt in Jersey City (meeting a cousin there this Sunday), I know how popular and respected these BYOBs are.   

Food or art? Artsy delicious food at Osteria Crescendo in Westwood.

But Thrillist, your list is, in a word, paltry.

I’m the food editor for The Record and NorthJersey.com. My job is to suss out the best restaurants in the region, and you barely scratched the skin of this tomato.

Let me help you out. 

Here is my list of some of the “Best Suburban Restaurants Outside of NYC” that are in New Jersey, which, yes, include a few south of JC (that’s Jersey City, for ahem, outsiders).  

Saddle River Inn, Saddle River

Saddle River Inn.  "Maribar."

Chef-owner Jamie Knott rarely misfires. His food is outrageously good. Ever tried his Szechuan noodles enveloped in a heavenly peanut sauce and flecked with bold spicy beef?

Or his Spanish octopus with a garden-fresh chimichurri sauce? Or his tender as a broken heart center-cut filet mignon dripping with a Bearnaise sauce? If you did, Thrillist, you would have had Saddle River Inn on your list. 2 Barnstable Ct, Saddle River, 201-825-4016, saddleriverinn.com.

For subscribers:North Jersey restaurants of 2020 that impressed us the most

2019 picks:North Jersey’s best new restaurants of 2019

Cafe Panache, Ramsey

Cafe Panache's signature filet mignon ravioli

How does one take over a highly acclaimed, top-notch, fine-dine restaurant after its beloved chef-owner of 36 years dies? If you’re Michael Matonti, you don’t fix what isn’t broken — you just enhance what’s already really good. If you loved Kevin Kohler’s food — and who didn’t? — you can rest assured it’s in skilled and talented hands now. For proof, order a serving of Kohler’s signature filet mignon ravioli. Dare I say it may be even better than ever. 130 E. Main St, Ramsey; 201-934-0030, cafepanachenj.com.

Osteria Crescendo, Westwood

Raw fish at Osteria Crescendo in Westwood

I’m hardly the only one who thinks Robbie Felice, chef-owner of this modern Italian restaurant, is a whiz. The James Beard Foundation nominated him for a Rising Star Chef award, but then COVID-19 happened. But Felice doesn’t need awards to prove his cooking chops. He’s as passionate about what he does as LeBron James is about basketball. You won’t find chicken parm, penne alla vodka, calamari in marinara sauce or garlic bread at Osteria Crescendo or for that matter at his other terrific restaurant, Viaggio in Wayne (yes, it should have been on your list too). Because you wouldn’t find those Italian-American dishes in Italy. You want authentic Italian food cooked beautifully? Now you know where to go. 36 Jefferson Ave., Westwood; 201-722-1900, osteriacrescendo.com. (Viaggio is at 1055 Hamburg Turnpike, Wayne; 973-706-7277, viaggioristorante.com.)

Chinese restaurant:This restaurant may serve the best Chinese food in North Jersey

Pasta Ramen, secret location

Sesame uni ramen carbonara

A secret restaurant in a secret location by a secret chef. It’s by invite only. I scored an invite. And? I can’t say much (shhhh!), except what I tried. Ever have silky tofu slathered in a house-made spreadable salumi? What about fresh-made sesame ramen coated with cheesy white carbonara, a crispy wild tuna meatball crowned with buttery uni and a gleaming edible gold leaf, or featherweight ricotta cavatelli bathed in a tender pork ragu with threads of pickled ginger? Follow on Instagram and get on the list! 

Bodegon, Cliffside Park

Interior of Bodegon.

Not even a year old, this Spanish restaurant is turning out some stellar Galicia-based dishes. The croqueta de jambon is a must. Ditto the poached Galician octopus, the seared cremini mushrooms on toast and the yellowtail ceviche. Just about everything is delicious. And it’s a party many nights, especially after a couple of coffee(!) Negronis. 631 Anderson Ave., Cliffside Park; 856-521-9135, bodegonnj.com.

New chef:Cafe Panache in Ramsey has a new chef, a protege of beloved founder Kevin Kohler

Faubourg, Montclair 

Tarte flambée with fromage blanc and bacon at Faubourg in Montclair.

Two years ago, two French restaurant veterans (Daniel Boulud alums) opened what may be the best contemporary French restaurant in North Jersey, if not the entire Garden State. If you, Thrillist, had ever tried their thin-as-a-cracker tarte flambee, their light-as-a-summer-breeze gougere, or their out-of-this-world coq au vin, it wouldn’t have been MIA on your list. 544 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair; 973-542-7700, faubourgmontclair.com.

Restaurant Lorena’s, Maplewood

I’m thrilled that this upscale French restaurant now has a liquor license. Its salmon tartare and mushroom crepe, two of the most delicious appetizers anywhere, deserve to be enjoyed with a cool glass of white wine. For the heavenly rigatoni with short ribs, get a glass of red. 160 Maplewood Ave, Maplewood, 973-763-4460, restaurantlorena.com.

Common Lot, Millburn

The octopus appetizer has been on the menu at the Common Lot since it opened

The chef-owner Ehren Ryan is from Australia. His food is from all over the world. In a good way. Ryan’s eats is not only beautiful but supremely creative and deliciously flavorful. From sashimi to naan to New Zealand venison and Nova Scotia halibut, you can happily take a trip around the world dining here. 27 Main St., Millburn; 973-467-0494, commonlot.com.

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, Morristown

Blueberry olive oil cake at Jockey Hollow in Morristown

Come for the wine (owner Chris Cannon is a wine fanatic). Stay for the eats (Joe Mooney, formerly with venerated Mistral in Princeton, heads the kitchen now). 110 South St., Morristown; 973-644-3180, jockeyhollowbarandkitchen.com.

Trisha Anderson

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