Newark, with its busy port and bustling downtown area, is home to a dizzying array of cultures and tastes. Its restaurants offer everything from soul food to Italian and Asian fusion, while the up-and-coming Ironbound district has seen an explosion in new, fashionable restaurants. Here are ten must-try restaurants in Newark, including fine dining venues.
NICO Kitchen + Bar | Image Courtesy of NICO Kitchen + Bar
Part of a wave of fashionable restaurants opening up in the Ironbound district, Mompou serves up traditional Spanish tapas and homemade sangria. The restaurant’s cool-yet-casual décor – exposed brick with copper trimmings – sets the scene for its live music events, and is perfect for drinks or a drawn-out dinner. Steaming tapas dishes are served on stacked trays so you can cram as many onto your table as possible. The tres leches cake (a traditional Spanish sponge cake) and the baby lamb chops both come highly recommended. The restaurant also has a well-stocked cellar of imported Spanish and Portuguese wines and beers.
This eccentric spot in the heart of the downtown area takes its name from the slang name for macaroni – Elbow Pasta. They serve the dish with everything from hamburger to lobster, and a specialty is their Chicken Tinga Mac, inspired by Mexican street food and stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese and chipotle chicken. Make sure to save room for their equally delicious ice cream sandwiches.
The Spanish Tavern is a cozy family restaurant famed for its traditional paella and seafood dishes. Known as the best restaurant in the Portuguese neighborhood, its calamari, shrimp, sea bass and special homemade soup served with every meal draw back customers time and time again. The dining area itself looks like the dining room of a Spanish grandmother, with antique sideboards and thick cloth napkins.
This downtown spot morphs from a highly rated fusion restaurant by day to a lively music venue at night. Its outdoor dining area and patio doors out front allow diners to enjoy the warm New Jersey evenings, and local bands head up live music most nights. Try the signature 27 Mix black bean soup, Tokyo chicken wings, burritos or specialty pizza, and mix cultures through your courses to get the widest range of flavors available. Bar snacks and entrees are equally delicious, so visit for a sit-down meal or a culinary night out.
NICO Kitchen+Bar, Newark | Image courtesy of NICO Kitchen+Bar
Nico Kitchen+Bar serves gourmet takes on Italian classics. Mascapone polenta fries and ricotta gnocchi are two luxurious examples from chef Ryan de Persio’s repertoire, which is both meticulous and creative in preparation. The restaurant is tucked into the city’s Performing Arts Centre and is near two other theaters, making it the perfect spot for a pre-show meal.
Manu’s blends sushi with Mediterranean cuisine in an unusual combination that produces a light menu, ideal for a summer’s evening or a break from a New Jersey soul food. Mediterranean cocktails provide the perfect complement to fresh sashimi or a grilled eel bento box. Asian antiques decorate the elegant dining area, and if you visit in the evening, expect to be serenaded by jazz and reggae bands. Manu’s is a great example of the combinations of flavors and cultures that make Newark so unique.
Allegro is a slice of Portugal in the very heart of Newark. The restaurant’s special sangria recipe is, according to many, the best in town, as are its seafood stews and flambé sausage. An after-dinner walk around the surrounding streets will bring you to a traditional Portuguese bakery and give you a flavor of one of Newark’s most distinctive cultural areas.
Adega Grill is a vineyard-themed Spanish and Portuguese restaurant. Harking back to the old world, the restaurant offers a seasonal menu with fresh, organic ingredients and a rustic, traditional interior. The restaurant is a marked contrast to its Ironbound district neighbours, known for their loud music and young clientele; Adega is romantic and slower paced, with black-tie waiters and many dishes made for two to share. Next to the dining room is the more modern Adega Lounge bar, where guests can relax with an after-dinner digestif.
Brick City is a sports bar with a great restaurant attached: sports are as integral to New Jersey culture as their galleries, museums or theater. 20 plasma TVs line the walls for the authentic all-American sport-viewing experience, while enthusiastic locals are more than willing to explain the rules to American football or baseball novices. The menu is filled with Jersey classics, such as crab cakes, nachos, burgers and meatballs. Don’t miss out on the unique cocktails (the Brick City dirty martini is a must-try).
Visit Vonda’s kitchen for some classic New Jersey soul food. Vonda McPherson, the owner, has been selling her healthy alternatives to comfort dining for years, and she has refused offers to franchise her business – so this may be your only chance to sample her cooking. Specialties include waffles, catfish and grits, all cooked to Vonda’s special recipes, which forefront fresh ingredients in order to minimize fat and sugar. Visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner to get a taste of real New Jersey heritage food. Vonda also hosts local artists-in-residence and runs art and food events, so check her calendar before you visit.