Newark Restaurant Wows With Japanese Bites and Hip Ambiance

by Peter Candia
Kinjo newark

My first visit to Chef Jamie Knott’s latest restaurant Kinjo was back in November for their soft opening. The Newark restaurant is the brainchild of Knott and Head Chef Bill Sanders. It was an impressive dining experience—accented by bold flavors and concepts. Still, there is always room for improvement, especially considering the restaurant was so green my first time there. My second visit to Kinjo exceeded expectations, bolstering a feeling I had already assumed to be true: Kinjo is just getting started. If you’re not paying attention, start. 

Kinjo’s seamless approach to modern Japanese cooking is essentially borderless—pulling inspiration from Korean and American cuisines across the entirety of the menu. Perhaps displayed best in the bread service, which comes with a soft steamed bao bun bathed in miso butter, crispy garlic and furikake. Along with a gutsy cocktail list, live DJ and never-ending stream of anime playing on the televisions, the Newark Restaurant is deserving of its praise.  

Cocktails Should Be Fun and Kinjo Delivers

I was happy to see a refreshing highball on the menu, which anyone who knows anything about Japanese drinking culture would tell you is a must for a Japanese cocktail list. Different from the simple makeup of a whisky highball that you might get in any of the bars that make up the network of late-night hot spots in Tokyo, Kinjo’s version combines vodka, shochu, shiso and lemongrass. Served correctly in a cold mug and deemed the “Shi-So Hi,” it donned an herbaceous quality that, when paired with citrus, is quite attractive. Be careful, they go down easy. 

nj beer

Asahi “Super Dry” on draft

Beyond cocktails are ice-cold Japanese beers on draft and a varied sake list. Kinjo decides to scale back the traditional wine offerings in favor of something more unique (at least for New Jersey). I applaud it. 

Borderless Japanese Bites in Newark

I set out to Kinjo with no set plans on what to order. Sure, I was absolutely getting the jam-packed pork dumplings again—with their elastic wrapper and convoluted flavor profile. Similarly, I wanted to revisit the smash burger bao buns, which are a fun addition to a menu that does anything but shy away from fusion. A pillowy steamed bun, a fatty beef patty and a more-than-healthy dose of house burger sauce, AKA “sawwwce.” What’s not to like?

kinjo pork dumplings

Jam-packed pork dumplings

There’s a lot to choose from—especially for appetizers—but diners should absolutely not shy away from the BBQ short ribs, which make a culinary visit to the streets of Seoul. Marinated, Korean-cut short ribs grill over an open fire—the red gochujang glaze burning to the surface. A juxtaposition from the braised, fall-apart short rib you might find further down the menu in the galbi bao bun, the BBQ version is chewy and meant to be gnawed on, leaving the sweet and spicy sauce stuck to your fingers for a second taste. It’s a fun way to eat, allowing guests to loosen up and take themselves less seriously. You’re here to eat.

Other standouts include chewy udon noodles sauced with what teeters the line of being almost too much garlic without ever crossing it. The thick noodles soak up an allium-rich sauce which I can only imagine includes a metric shit ton of garlic. Crispy shallots come to play too in the form of a garnish, along with a zippy chili oil and strips of roasted nori. You have the option to add a protein to the dish such as confit duck or shrimp, but believe me when I say that it does not need anything more. Have it as is and you’ll quickly see that it’s a dish much more complex than it may sound. 

garlic udon noodles at Kinjo in Newark

Garlic udon noodles are chewy and in-your-face

A visit to Kinjo is nothing without a signature Chef Sanders dish: the Shin Ramen fried rice. It’s something I foolishly passed on during my first visit. It’s simple but perhaps hard to master. Instant ramen is broken in the package, added to a pan with the seasoning packet and water to cook. The rest of the fried rice is built on top—rice, cabbage and carrots. The cooked noodles stud the interior of the fried rice and the ramen seasoning packet is spicy enough to make a statement without blowing out your palate. To finish, a sous-vide egg, deemed the “perfect egg,” nestled right in the center. Break the yolk and sauce the rice. Pair it with an ice-cold, malty Asahi on draft and discover why it’s a staple dish. 

fried rice nj

Shin ramen fried rice, a Kinjo staple

Desserts tell a similar story on the Kinjo menu: big flavors and fun concepts. I was happy to see the ice cream cookie sandwich still on the menu, which includes java chip or matcha gelato sandwiched between two miso chocolate chip cookies. I was even happier to see that Kinjo switched from one large ice cream sandwich per order to two smaller ones, making it infinitely easier to share. The cookie is sweet and salty, while the ice cream is utterly smooth and rolled in toasted sesame. Nostalgic mango ice pops with yuzu and strawberry matcha cakes also fill the menu. 

As Time Goes On, Kinjo Continues To Shine

A few months after opening, Kinjo is shining. Whether it be the cherry blossoms painted on the walls or the curated mixes spun by DJ Joey Mazza on Saturdays, Kinjo is proving to be a hip spot that’s about more than just the food. But, that doesn’t mean the bites take a back seat—instead they continue to improve with time. Pair all of this with spacious tables and a stellar bar program, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

ice cream sandwich

Miso chocolate chip cookie with java chip ice cream

The concept seamlessly blends into a Newark neighborhood that finds itself on the brink of a cultural breakout. Like Knott’s Cellar 335 before it, the chef and restaurateur continues to trailblaze, crafting restaurants defined by a rather simple notion: if you build it, they will come. 

Kinjo is no different.

About the Author/s

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Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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