by Millicent Brody

What makes a successful restaurant? Food, service, atmosphere, value—all are crucial ingredients in a winning recipe. The true measure of success, however, can be measured in repeat customers. In other words, loyalty is everything. We asked some of the region’s top chefs and restaurant owners what they would recommend to first-time customers that would be most likely to transform them into regulars…

The Black Horse Tavern & Pub • Sliced Buffalo Sirloin

1 West Main St. • Mendham

(963) 543–7300 •

The Black Horse is one of New Jersey’s oldest restaurants, but features contemporary farm-to-table American cuisine. One of our signature dishes is sliced buffalo sirloin. It’s prepared with a blackberry brandy demi-glaze and served with roasted vegetables, lima beans and grilled pita.

— Kevin Felice, 40North Executive Chef

Café Z • Stuffed Meatball

2333 Morris Ave. • Union

(908) 686–4321 •

At Café Z, we are always trying new ideas and recipes. Our homemade stuffed meatball is a great example. It started out as a “daily special” and quickly became a crowd favorite. We hand-roll each and every one, bake and serve with our homemade spicy marinara sauce. The concept originated from our Bolognese sauce, a three-meat gravy we serve over pasta with a dollop of seasoned ricotta cheese. Both are simply delicious, always fresh and made on premises.

— Patricia Inghilleri, Owner

Chestnut Chateau • Pan-Seared Tilefish

649 Chestnut Ave. • Union

(908) 964–8696 •

Our line-caught tilefish comes from the deepest part of the ocean. It is  pan-seared and served over broccoli rabe, sautéed in garlic and olive oil, and garnished with diced Kalamata olives and roasted red peppers. It’s one of my favorite dishes and our customers savor every bite—truly, it will make you close your eyes and smile.

— George Niotis, Chef

George and Martha’s American Grille • Pork Osso Buco

67 Morris Street • Morristown

(973) 267–4700 •

Our regulars at George and Martha’s really feel like they’re home when they order the Pork Osso Buco. It is paired with savory mashed potatoes and crispy fried leeks. Comfort can be cutting-edge if you are innovative in your technique. I enjoy taking familiar flavors and dishes and presenting them in a new and exciting way that surprises my guests.  

— Kevin Felice, 40North Executive Chef

The Manor • Surf & Turf

111 Prospect Ave. • West Orange

(973) 731–2360 •

I pair pan-seared prime filet mignon with a butter-braised lobster, along with fresh seasonal vegetable accents, which currently include baby carrots, beets, turnips, haricots verts, and wild mushrooms. An airy shellfish emulsion and the creamiest mashed potatoes you will ever taste make for the perfect partners to this classic dish, which has helped the Manor successfully define the art of fine dining for over a half-century.

— Mario Russo, Executive Chef

Mario’s Tutto Bene • Vinegar Pork Chops

495 Chestnut St. • Union

(908) 687–3250 •

Our vinegar pork chops feature three thin-cut Frenched chops that are coated with Italian breadcrumbs and sautéed with sweet vinegar peppers, prosciutto and garlic. They arrive with house-made, roasted or mashed potatoes. Our regulars love this entrée.  

— John Garofalo, Owner

The Office Tavern Grill • Chicken & Waffles

3 South Street • Morristown

(973) 285–0220 •

Our most popular signature dish is the chicken and waffles. The buttermilk fried chicken is served with gruyere and applewood bacon in a maple syrup reduction. The waffle batter is infused with rosemary and thyme with a touch of cayenne pepper and the chicken is crunchy and flavorful. All these flavors—the hearty, sweet and salty—really work together.  

— Kevin Felice, 40North Executive Chef

The Office Beer Bar & Grill • The Wedge Burger

411 North Ave. West • Westfield 61 Union Pl. • Summit

728 Thompson Ave. • Bridgewater

619 Bloomfield Ave. • Montclair 1–7 South Ave. • Cranford

32–34 Chestnut St. • Ridgewood

Our newest burger, The Wedge, combines two classics—the hamburger and wedge salad. A half-pound of grilled beef with blue cheese, beefsteak tomato and cheddar cheese sauce—served between two wedges of iceberg lettuce. The idea was developed when we were looking at a gluten-free burger that had a little creativity to it. Now it’s a signature item.   

— Kevin Felice, 40North Executive Chef

Piattino Neighborhood Bistro • Braised Chicken & Linguine

88 East Main St. • Mendham

(973) 543–0025 •

Piattino is a Manhattan-style restaurant where we can get creative and adventurous with traditional Italian food. Our braised chicken and linguine, which is prepared with a 24-hour red wine glaze, is a very popular menu item that demonstrates how we prepare Italian ingredients—tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, fresh rosemary and oregano, garlic butter—with an American technique and influence. 

— Kevin Felice, 40North Executive Chef

Publick House • Blackened Scottish Salmon

899 Mountain Ave • Mountainside

(908) 233–2355 •

In keeping with our Irish roots, we offer exceptional pub fare. However, we’re best known for our high-quality seafood and meats, including our pan-roasted blackened Scottish Salmon. It’s served with a pine-nut quinoa, and arrives with fresh asparagus, and a creamy carrot purée.

— Bernie Goncalves, Owner

Rio Rodizio • Roasted Meats

2185 Rte. 22 West • Union

(908) 206–0060 •

We offer an “All-You-Can-Eat” dining experience flown straight from the streets of Rio de Janeiro to your tableside—featuring the unique ambiance of a traditional Brazilian Steakhouse. Each customer gets to witness a never-ending parade of freshly roasted meat and poultry. Our authentic Gaucho chefs come to you and carve these melt-in-your-mouth meats to your liking.

— Paul Seabra, Owner

Thai Amarin • Drunken Noodles

201 Morris Ave. • Springfield

(973) 376–6300 •

We prepare a wide range of authentic Thai food that you can’t find anywhere else. Our regular customers love our Drunken Noodles, a stir-fried broad rice noodle dish with a distinct flavor profile. They are sautéed in our special sweet and spicy garlic basil sauce and topped with fresh holy basil. It pairs really well with our fried cheesecake dessert. 

— Amy Thana, Owner