It’s Friday night, you’re hungry, you don’t feel like cooking and you have limited funds and patience. Where to go? Well, here are five restaurants in Central New Jersey that I have chosen through my own personal experience, where you can get exceptional food and exceptional service at a great price. And all the while, you can stay close to home in Central Jersey.
5. Outback Steakhouse, Route 1 South, Edison, NJ
As the only chain restaurant I have chosen, I feel that this Outback deserves some recognition. I have never had a bad experience here. For twenty five dollars a person, you can get a tender filet, cooked to your liking, a fresh salad with an amazing mustard vinaigrette or tangy tomato dressing, a loaded baked potato that is hot, fat and full, and you can even start out with an order of hot, crispy coconut shrimp for an appetizer. For a few dollars more, you can have the smiling bartenders make you one of their unique specialty drinks, like a watermelon infusion martini or a fruity “Great Barrier Punch.” The servers are friendly and thorough, professional and happy, and they offer call-ahead seating, so you never have to wait long for a table. And to top it all off, while you’re waiting for a table (if you choose not to sit at the bar) a server comes around and asks if you want drinks or appetizers. Now, that’s service!
4. Tumulty’s Pub, George Street, New Brunswick, NJ
Nestled in the heart of a busy little city, Tulmulty’s Pub has been a New Brunswick staple for decades. And if you want the best burger you’ve ever sunk your teeth into, this is the place to go! Tumulty’s offers wooden, high backed booths for a supreme amount of privacy, live music and entertainment on the lower level, and a great selection of tap beers. As I previously stated, the burgers are to die for, and before your burger, you can have a unique “heart of lettuce salad” – a crisp, fresh, half-heart of iceberg lettuce with your choice of dressing. (I fully recommend the Caesar.) The servers are mostly friendly college students with ready smiles and casual uniforms, and the managers are friendly and understanding. (In the rare event that you have some kind of problem with your meal.) Not only will you get some great food (they also have a couple of great steaks and some other sandwiches) but once you’re sitting in your booth with your meal and a nice, cold Guinness in front of you for under twenty dollars, you won’t be able to wipe the smile off of your face. And for a more of an old-school appeal, there’s a toy train running around the circumference of the dining room – always fun for the kids to look at!
3. Gavlan’s, Route 18 North, Old Bridge, NJ
This establishment is fairly new and the owners should be proud of their endeavor. Built on the site of the old Stuff Yer Face, this restaurant boasts state of the art televisions at every glance (for all you sports fans out there, this is the place to go!) and a friendly staff. The entrees are inexpensive and unique, like the “Drunken Chicken” – a tequila marinated chicken dish with a kick. You can choose to sit upstairs for a bit more privacy, at the bar for some great conversation and the fastest service, or in the normal dining room with the kids for a smoke-free experience. The servers are helpful and seemingly happy to be working in such a cool place and I think it’s a good thing that I’ve never met the owners because I’ve never had to complain at all!
2. Jakeabob’s Bay, Union Beach, NJ
Union Beach isn’t the nicest beach in New Jersey, but if you want the experience of a seafood/steak place without the extra expense, go to Jacobob’s. At this place, you have the choice of sitting inside in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, or outside on the deck with the ocean swishing under you and the sea air making you even more hungry! Situated right on the beach, this establishment is romantic and affordable, and the food is normal American fare with great taste and quality. The servers have quite a way to run, with the deck outside and the tables inside, but they are still efficient and full of smiles. The best time to go is right when the sun is setting, when you are sitting practically on the ocean and the breeze makes you forget that it was 90 degrees out earlier in the day. Your wallet doesn’t have to be fat to have a quiet dinner on the beach at Jacobob’s Bay.
1. Costa Verde, Route 9 South, Parlin, NJ
Costa Verde is a bit more expensive than the other establishments listed, but well worth it. This hole-in-the-wall Portuguese restaurant has a large wine list, professional and well-dressed servers, and huge meals. If you’re willing to spend the extra thirty dollars (in addition to what you would spend at a place that isn’t as nice and the food isn’t as good) you should take advantage of Costa Verde. I had the lamb the last time I went, and I would recommend it to anyone at all. For special occasions, this place also fits the bill, with it’s semi-formal atmosphere and linen napkins, but you won’t be paying as much as you would if you went to, let’s say, a fancy Italian restaurant in Redbank or a dressy seafood restaurant down the shore. Costa Verde sits minutes away from Route 9, the Turnpike and the Parkway, and you feel as if you’re dining in style without spending too much extra. For my money and my needs, this is the best restaurant in Central Jersey, with the best food, the most courteous service and the most decent prices you’ll find for the quality of the meal that you have. If you’ve never tried Portuguese, go soon! If you have, try it again – you won’t be disappointed.