Our Ratings

We publish reviews of only those places we think are truly special.  Rather than pan a bunch of mediocre stuff, we simply leave it out. We accept no compensation from any institution we review. What we’ve written reflects the truth as we see it, expressed as clearly as we know how.


When we redesigned the site in 2015, we added a measure called “Gravitas” for every review.  What does this mean?  Think of this as rating the contribution to the quality of life for someone who lives or works in Trenton (and its immediate environs).

For example, we’ve rated the Gravitas for the Ted Styles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain, a local park  5-hearts, and the Delaware Water Gap only 3-hearts.  Does that mean the hiking at Baldpate is better than at the Gap?  No, of course not!  But Baldpate is 15 minutes away, and the Gap is 85 minutes.  So the contribution that Baldpate can make to my quality of life is much greater.

With restaurants, Gravitas is strongly influenced by food quality, but also reflects proximity and price as a measure for how much impact it can have on my quality of life.  For example, there’s a wonderful restaurant called Per Se in NYC that will set me back $325 a person for dinner (according to Zagat).  We’d never rate this place in Hidden Trenton, but if we were, we couldn’t rate it more than 3-hearts.  Does that mean Chenche y Chole (5-hearts), where the average meal price is about $10 (yes, really!) is a better restaurant than Per Se?  Of course not!  But for a typical person living in Trenton, it has a damn sight more impact on my quality of life.  Hence the higher Gravitas.

Overall, think of Gravitas as follows:

  • 5-hearts – One of a handful of Trenton institutions. Exceptional.
  • 4-hearts – Makes an outstanding contribution.  A Favorite.
  • 3-hearts – Important contributor. Strongly recommended.
  • 2-hearts – Enjoyable. Try it.
  • 1-heart – Inconsistent but intriguing. Check the review.

Recognize that restaurants which are more than a 15-minute drive away from town generally get bumped down one heart compared to what the same restaurant would rate in closer proximity.


  •   in-town – Close by.  Within the City of Trenton, or on the border.  Many residents or workers will find it walkable.
  • 30min – Near, under a 30 minute drive. Can also cycle.
  • 30min – Under an hour by car.  Hard-core cyclists might try.  This is the furthest distance for a restaurant we’ll rate.
  • 30min – Over an hour’s drive, but typically less than 90 minutes. We don’t rate locations further away from Trenton than that.  We employ this rating only for activities like hiking, cycling, or going to the beach which can reasonably be taken on as a day-trip.

Additional Restaurant Ratings


  • 1-chair – Plain. Generally clean and pleasant, but we do like dives, so be warned.
  • 2-chairs – Nice. You can take your mom there without embarrassment (unless she’s a snob).
  • 3-chairs – Gorgeous. The decor definitely adds to the culinary experience.


An approximate guide to what a meal will cost, per person, excluding tip.  If the restaurant is licensed, we add-in the cost of the least expensive bottle of wine on the wine list split 3-ways.  This allows us to reflect the relative economy of byob in our ratings.

  • $ – Cheap. Possibly under $10. Certainly under $15.
  • $$ – Moderate. Under $35/head.
  • $$$ – Expensive. Under $70/head.
  • $$$$ – Very expensive. The sky’s the limit.

We notionally price a meal adequate to feed a relatively hungry person.  Depending on portion size in the restaurant, this may or may not include an appetizer.  In restaurants that offer both sandwiches and entrees for dinner, we generally price a mid-range dinner entree.

Other Restaurant Information (Tags)

  • Bargain for Lunch – cost rating is generally for dinner (where the restaurant is open for dinner).  If the lunch menu is substantially cheaper than the dinner menu, we will tag it as a Bargain for Lunch.
  • Cheap Eats – restaurants in the $-cheap category where you can get out for <$10, and feast for $15. To distinguish from restaurants where you barely squeak in for under $15.
  • Veggie Friendly – restaurants where ovo-lacto vegetarians will find a good meal.
  • Vegan Friendly – as above, but to a vegan standard.
  • Vegetarian Only – restaurants which don’t serve non-vegetarian food on the menu. They will also be Veggie Friendly, and most will be Vegan Friendly.
  • Bar (full bar including at least house wines).
  • Winelist  Serves more than just house wines. Note some bars will serve very few wines; whereas some restaurants will serve wines from a wine list but not spirits or mixed drinks.
  • BYOB (not licensed, bring your own bottle). Please note that if the restaurant serves Halal food, it is culturally insensitive to byob.
  • Open Late – stays open to at least 10 PM for dinner on at least some nights.  Check hours.

Challenge Ratings

For outdoor activities, including hiking, road cycling, and mountain biking, we also provide a “challenge” rating.  We rate them on a common-sense scale of beginner, intermediate, and experienced, and from a decidedly middle-aged perspective.  Much of the rating is based on pure fitness demands, and younger readers may wish to adjust our ratings accordingly.

However, please read the reviews carefully.  Many hikes are rated for experienced hikers because the trails may be poorly marked and difficult to follow.  Mountain bike trails or road bike routes may require technique as well as fitness.

As in any sport, please exercise good judgement.  And recognize that any such activity is performed at your own risk.  Our reviews and maps are as accurate as we can make them, but they will inevitably contain errors and omissions, and may not reflect current conditions.

3 thoughts on “Our Ratings”

  1. As a new homeowner in the area, I want to support local businesses, but being unfamiliar with the area, I have found it difficult to locate them, because the street signs are missing. How can I find an address if there are no street signs?

    Editor’s Comment:  My suggestion, get involved through your city council member and your neighborhood association.  It shouldn’t be necessary to make a political fuss over stuff like street signs, but in tough times, it’s necessary.

  2. I was inspired when I read about your site in the NY Times and even more so when I visited it. Like you, I and my friends in Orange, NJ appreciate the richness of older cities and are committed to expanding on those unique qualities that are easily lost in the search for “revitalization”.

    I hope you’ll be flattered when we copy some aspects of your site. Meanwhile, visit us at http://www.handsinc.org and universityoforange@pbwiki.com

    I come to Trenton a lot and now I know where some more of the treasures are. Thanks.

  3. Love the site, in particular, the bit about soul-numbing unifority… I live in Trenton and I’m a musician and designer. I’ll be performing at the grounds for Sculpture in November but I’m looking for other venues. I found my place on craigslist and have been transforming it into a great city loft. It takes active individuals to turn a city around as it is not a yuppie spectator sport. I will now be a regular reader. Many thanks.

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A Highly Opinionate Guide to Worthwhile Places