Home Dining The 20 Top Restaurants in Montclair (2021 Guide)

The 20 Top Restaurants in Montclair (2021 Guide)

by Abby Montanez
best montclair restaurants

It’s no secret that Montclair is absolutely packed with dining options. It’s a melting pot of international flavors. Whether you want to sip and slurp on a brothy bowl of ramen. Dig into a pot of feijoada. Or chow down on some Thai street food. It’s what makes naming some of the best restaurants in Montclair a complicated task. And yet, we’ve done it. 

The 20 Best Montclair Restaurants

The last year has forever changed the local restaurant landscape. Although we’re sad to have said goodbye to some of our favorites along the wayLaurel & Sage, Vanillamore, Villalobos, Costanera, Plum on Parkthe good news is, the area’s brilliant food and drink scene continues to prevail. Some eateries are even making their triumphant return. So, we’ve rounded up the top 20 Montclair restaurants, as well as some iconic establishments that have served as anchors within the community. In addition to some new-ish places worth checking out. 

Ani Ramen

Before Ani Ramen had half a dozen outposts across the state, ramen junkies would squeeze their way into its one and only Montclair location. As evidenced by the small yet constantly bustling space, Ani has become a local gem for Essex County diners. The restaurant itself specializes in multiple styles of ramen but aims to capture the true essence of Tokyo. 

Favorites here are the spicy miso with kakuni, cabbage, chives, scallions and roasted chili oil. Or, the uber-rich short rib ramen (if it’s on the menu). You’ll be hard-pressed to find better bao buns in town from pork belly and chicken katsu to fried tofu, panko shrimp and kimchi. Disappoint you, they will not.

best montclair restaurants

Photo by @aniramen

Brick + Dough

After relocating from Union City to Montclair, Brick + Dough is the wood-fired venture from Jason Rosenthal. After shutting the doors on his Hudson County storefront in 2020, Rosenthal linked up with Luisa Bakery owner and “Chopped” alum Menny Vaknin to restart his pizza business. Now, this Walnut Street eatery continues to crank out the baked goods Luisa’s was known for, in addition to Rosenthal’s specialty pies and other savory offerings. 

Made in a wood-fired oven, each pizza starts with a 48-hour fermented dough. The high cooking temperature ensures the exterior gets extra charred while the interior remains light and chewy. While there isn’t a huge variety of pies (check out their array of daily slices), toppings here can sometimes lean into the unexpected. Sesame and stracciatella, anyone?

da Pepo

When conceptualizing da Pepo, Chef Carlo Orrico knew he wanted his restaurant to be all about family. So, he named it after his father and put his Southern Italian recipes on display. If you haven’t dined at da Pepo before, you’ll be surprised to find this hidden gem takes up residence inside Watchung Booksellers. Yes, it’s actually as charming as it sounds. 

While the menu isn’t large, its rustic, Italian comfort food offerings do impress. What? You weren’t expecting a charcuterie board with your paperback? There are meatballs with whipped ricotta, mozzarella in Carrozza, spaghetti carbonara, penne arrabbiata and six or so different paninis in play if you’re in a pressed sandwich kind of mood. 

Dai Kichi 

Dai Kichi on Valley Road is one of Montclair’s oldest Japanese restaurants, opening its doors for the first time back in 1988. While that’s not exactly breaking news, it does stand for something considering the area is known for an abundance of great sushi spots. Here’s the catch: if you want to dine-in at Dai Kichi right now, unfortunately, you can’t. Luckily, you can still pick up any of your faves. 

There are a few different sushi and sashimi platters, but you can also order a la carte. For those who don’t venture far from the California roll, they’ve got the basics covered in addition to specialty rolls. There are also hot entrées the likes of teriyaki, tempura, donburi bowls and bento boxes in a variety of proteins. 

De Novo European Pub

The mingling of European-style plates at De Novo is what helped carve out its identity in the Montclair dining scene. Thanks to owner and restaurateur, Demetri Malki. There are moules frites (steamed mussels and fries). Grilled octopus with chorizo and potatoes. Moroccan glazed sea bass. Steak au poivre. 

You can sip your way through their beer and wine list, or just head straight to De Novo’s lineup of craft cocktails. Their beverage program makes way for seasonal creations like the passion fruit creamsicle frosé. A pina colada martini. Or the farmer’s market with habanero tequila, pineapple-ginger-mint shrub, lime and agave. 

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Photo by @denovomontclair

Fascino

At the helm of this beloved fine dining establishment is one of New Jersey’s most influential chefs, Ryan DePersio. He opened the doors to Fascino in 2003, at the age of 25, with his artfully modern take on Italian cuisine. (And his family by his side.) While their dinner service remains classic with locally sourced ingredients at the forefront, they’ve since added weekend brunch to the menu. 

If you’re a newcomer, you literally can’t go wrong with any of Fascino’s house-made pastas. Favorites are the pillowy ricotta gnocchi or their seasonal agnolotti. Other highlights include the crispy-creamy mascarpone polenta fries with gorgonzola fonduta. And for entrées, the insanely tender buttermilk baked chicken with a black truffle pesto crust. DePersio also serves as chef/partner Battello and Kitchen Step, two local favorites in Jersey City.

Faubourg 

When Faubourg first appeared on Bloomfield Ave in 2019, it was easy to see this spot exuded a more Manhattan than Montclair vibe. Owners Dominique Paulin and Chef Olivier Muller may hail from France, but this Parisian-style eatery no doubt takes cues from their longtime mentor and renowned New York restaurateur, Daniel Boulud. 

That being said, the food here lives up to its French brasserie POV. A welcomed, albeit slight departure, are Chef Muller’s Alsatian-inspired offerings. Seen most notably in the tarte flambée, barbajuans and the coq au vin served non-traditionally with spaetzle. If you’ve got a plant-based bud, they offer an entirely vegan menu upon request. Also great? Their seasonal craft cocktails (as one of the few Montclair restaurants on this list with a liquor license). 

new jersey french brasserie

Photo by Abby Montanez

Fresco da Franco

Visit Fresco da Franco and you might run into a local celeb. From Teresa Giudice to Jonathan Cheban, this well-known spot is known for hosting quite the clientele. And it’s because of the food.

Their famous eggplant stack lives up to its moniker. Essentially a mashup between eggplant parm and a Caprese salad. There are cool riffs on Mediterannean fare like grilled octopus with a port wine reduction. Or the pan-seared branzino with shaved fennel and cherry tomatoes. Traditionalists will find comfort in the veal chop Milanese, Zuppa di Pesce and just about any of their homemade pastas. Fresco is also a popular brunch spot in town and includes everything from Nutella waffles and crunchy croissant French toast to truffled eggs and chicken and waffles. 

Halcyon Brasserie & Bar

A raw bar in this town is hard to come by, but Halcyon makes it easy to slurp down a satisfying dozen on the half shell. Or do yourself a favor and just order the whole seafood platter. Halcyon has no doubt been a favorite hangout for locals, but it recently upped its cool factor with the arrival of an outdoor oasis, adjacent to Egan & Sons. It’s a whole summertime vibe.

The food here runs the gamut from green coconut curry mussels and paella to kimchi fried rice and roasted cornish hen. It’s borderline essential to pair your meal with one of their hand-crafted cocktails. The aforementioned drinks shine with fresh fruit, botanicals and floral finishes. Your friends will thank you later for blessing their Instagram feeds.

Kai Yang

The namesake dish at this neighborhood restaurant is a whole marinated rotisserie chicken like you’d find in Bangkok. And that’s exactly what you should order upon visiting if nothing else. Chef-owner Sheree Sarabhaya took a popular Thai street food and shaped the concept for her restaurant, Kai Yang, around it. Which translates quite literally to “grilled chicken.”

The signature dish is characterized by the marinade and its ingredients, in addition to the method of preparation. The chicken is first coated in a herby rub of garlic, lemongrass, black peppercorns, palm sugar and coriander that have been crushed using a mortar and pestle. Then, the meat is cooked slowly on the grill. Every order is served with papaya salad, your choice of Moo Ping or Nuea Yang, sticky rice, sweet chili sauce and tamarind for dipping. 

Jersey restaurant-goers might be delighted to know that Sarabhaya was also behind Spice II in Montclair, Boon Thai Kitchen in Livingston and is the mother to Ani Ramen owner, Luck. 

Laboratorio Kitchen 

Locally sourced ingredients are the driving force of the dishes at Laboratorio Kitchen. The food is French and Italian-inspired and Chef James De Sisto exclusively features grass-fed meats, fresh seafood and seasonal produce. The proteins tend to lead the menu here, the likes of Idaho rainbow trout with crispy potatoes and paprika butter sauce. NY Strip served au poivre style. Day boat scallops with cauliflower purée. 

Chef De Sisto’s culinary philosophy, which he thanks his grandmother for, remains clear in letting high-quality ingredients speak for themselves. Each plate is the perfect balance of flavors, textures and technique. You have to try the house-made burrata with capers, olives, tomatoes and aged balsamic. No dish here feels overworked. Just perfectly executed upon each returning visit. 

La Rocca Osteria 

Frequenters of the former Osteria Giotta on Midland Ave rejoiced when chef-owner Robert Pantusa announced he’d be reopening the space as La Rocca in 2020. The well-known Montclair eatery closed its doors in 2016 and Pantusa took his business to Church Street with Cafe Giotto. While he’s since parted ways, La Rocca is a welcomed opportunity for Pantusa to revisit Osteria Giotta classics and bring a little something new to the neighborhood. 

La Rocca, which gets its name from a castle in Northern Italy, is an ode to where Pantusa’s affinity for food began. It’s also a culmination of his Michelin background, having spent three years at Il San Domenico, and over two decades of restaurant experience. Most of the recipes here are tried-and-true favorites including the lasagna with homemade pasta sheets, bechamel and bolognese. For seafood lovers, we recommend the Spaghetti alla Chitarra with clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops and calamari.

Le Salbuen

Can we sell you on pulled duck tacos with pickled purple cabbage and a cilantro-lime emulsion? How about a Portuguese version of French toast with Balthazar brioche topped with caramelized figs, farinheira (pork sausage), local honey and a fried egg. That’s just some of what you’ll find at European cafe and market, Le Salbuen. 

Run by husband-and-wife-duo John and Christina Salierno, this restaurant prides itself on its global influences in addition to its organic, farm-to-table dishes. For that reason, you’ll see the menu change with the seasons according to what’s being harvested. Every plate, whether it’s during breakfast, lunch or dinner, utilizes local ingredients from honey to cheese, eggs and meat. Bonus, all three of their menus cater to vegans, vegetarians and those who are gluten-free. 

Mesob

Open since 2003, Mesob continues to be a crowd favorite for Ethiopian fare. Sisters Berekti and Akberet Mengistu took a leap of faith, with no culinary experience. 18 years later, it has paid off as their eatery is still thriving. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Ethiopian food, the cuisine itself is meant to be shared. This is why dishes are often accompanied by injera. A spongy, crêpe-like bread with a distinct sourdough flavor meant to be eaten and used as a utensil. The menu at Mesob is heavy in vegetables, beef and lamb, which are usually piled up in mounds by way of spicy stews or curries. Defined by bright colors and tastes, a meal at Mesob is both a feast for the eyes and the palate.

new jersey Ethiopian restaurant

Photo courtesy of Mesob

Raymond’s 

At Raymond’s, old meets new in the best way possible. This Montclair institution began as a luncheonette in the late ‘80s before Raymond Badach and former manager Joanne Ricci decided to join forces and open a larger version of the restaurant in 2004. Today, it remains as the place to go for elevated versions of all your favorite comfort foodswhether it’s brunch, lunch or dinner. 

Raymond’s menu is loaded with deeply nostalgic dishes like baked mac and cheese, buttermilk fried chicken, club sandwiches, hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows. You can snag a table inside to marvel at their diner-inspired digs or in spring and summertime, enjoy their alfresco setup on a tree-lined Church Street.

best montclair restaurants

Photo by @raymondsnj

Samba 

A lot has changed for Samba and its owner, Ilson Gonçlaves, since first introducing Montclair to Brazilian eats back in 2010. For starters, the restaurant has humble beginnings as a deli and even has its own cookbook. More recently, Samba doubled the size of its Park Street location amid the pandemic and operates as 100 percent gluten-free. None of this is happenstance. It speaks to the type of tenacity it takes to run one of Montclair’s most coveted restaurants.

Here, you’d be mistaken to not order Brazil’s national dish, feijoada. This 24-hour stew is loaded with black beans, pork sausage, pork ribs, bacon and dried beef. It comes served traditionally with collard greens, orange slices and farofa (a toasted cassava flour). As this is considered a “weekend dish,” you can get it on Fridays and Saturdays only. Don’t be afraid to order adventurously here. There’s not a menu item from Samba we haven’t liked.

Salute Bistro

This charming trattoria on Glenridge Ave serves up Italian recipes from the regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Le Marche. Imagine an ambiance inspired by rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves. A menu that pays homage to rustic cooking traditions, relying heavily on seasonal produce, aged meats, homemade bread and more. 

When it comes to handmade pasta, Salute does them in a number of ways. Rigatoni with crumbled fennel sausage and Ceci beans. Fusilli longo all’Amatriciana. Strozzapreti with crabmeat, lobster, shrimp, mint and lemon zest. Make sure to order the rice balls, eggplant parm appetizer and of course, a pizza or two. The pies here are no afterthought, finished in an authentic brick oven. 

best montclair restaurants

Photo by @salutebistro

SLA 

SLA in Upper Montclair specializes in Northern Thai cuisine, with dishes unlike any others found in Thai restaurants across New Jersey. Opened in 2015, SLA is helmed by owner Meiji, in addition to her brother, Yanin, and her husband, Wanat. This family affair shapes SLA into what it is today, just as much as the generations-old recipes they’re cooking with.

That being said, SLA’s entire menu is worth exploring. The braised short rib in Massaman curry is velvety in texture and a dish that Wanat used to cook for the Thai Royal Family. Whole fried snapper is a sight to behold, sprinkled with slivers of shallot, coarsely chopped mint, cilantro and finished with fish sauce. On the more familiar side is their version of chicken wings, a favorite appetizer tossed in a sticky Thai chili sauce.

The Corner 

Tables at this gourmet cafe have been in high demand since their 2015 opening, and for good reason. There’s something about that neon “Good Vibes Only” sign that encourages brunch-goers to stay awhile. You could easily make a meal out of The Corner’s pastry board alone. Think flaky scones, buttermilk biscuits, house-made marmalade. But, we won’t judge you for going a heartier (or healthier) route. 

Some standouts include their dressed-up version of a breakfast sandwich with house-cured bacon, garlic aioli, greens and pickled red onion. Or, a stack of fluffiest pancakes you’ll ever stick a fork in served with poached apricots and cream. No brunch here would be complete without a fresh-pressed juice or a glimpse at their daily specials. The items tend to vary but are always delicious.

montclair outdoor dining

Photo by Abby Montanez

Turtle + The Wolf 

In 2016, Lauren Hirschberg and his partner Matt Trevenen left their culinary posts to open Turtle + The Wolf in the very town they grew up in. The menu continues to emphasize seasonal ingredients with a New American approach. Oh, and a touch of Southern twang. Cue their famous Lo’s fried chicken, baby back ribs, brisket and duck confit pot pie. 

Although these comfort food classics warm the soul, other offerings prove that the kitchen is capable of more than homestyle cooking. The likes of roasted beets with goat cheese ranch and burnt crumbs. Chicken liver mousse with quince, mustard seed, pickled onions. And local burrata with fried Brussels sprouts and charred onion soubise.

As always, don’t forget to make a reservation!

Main image of SLA Thai by Arielle Figueredo

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1 comment

Karen A. Wells July 18, 2021 - 7:21 am

Where is Montclair Diner? One of the best not only in Montclair but NJ

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