UPDATED August 2013
All of the establishments reviewed in Hidden Trenton are good at what they do. All deliver high quality, and good value. But as this site has grown, some folks may be intimidated by the sheer volume of information here. Hence this “Editor’s Picks” page, where we’ve called out what we believe are some truly extraordinary places. ALSO, check out our restaurant guide, which makes it easier than ever to select some of the great restaurants on this site.
Best Overall Picks
- Best Restaurant in Trenton: Still the champ, Settimo Cielo opened in 2007 downtown. Expertly cooked Northern Italian cuisine in a lovely setting. While not cheap, the food is fairly priced and the wine list (while selective) doesn’t gouge you either. The favored Trenton eatery of the Christie administration, you might catch the governor sneaking into the back room for lunch (Democrats, please don’t hold this against them).
- Best New Restaurant: Hot on D Spot Roti Shop is a superb Indo-Trinidadian restaurant in Hamilton that serves Roti: curries stuffed into homemade flat breads burrito style. Originating among Trinidad’s ethnic east-Indian population, Rotis embody African and American influences. Decor is very basic, but the shop is immaculately clean and the owner is a joy to converse with.
- Best Value in a Restaurant Meal: There are three clear winners, plus an honorable mention. All winners are BYOB places.
- Taqueria El Mariachi and its sister establishment Restaurante El Mariachi serve highly spiced Guatemalan food. Both serve essentially the identical menu. You won’t find a better Mexican/Guatemalan meal at almost any price. You need to be slightly adventurous about the neighborhood you’ll visit, and about communicating with an extremely friendly, but exclusively Spanish-speaking wait staff. Believe it or not, you can stuff yourself on wonderfully tasty, fresh, home-cooked meal for less than $10/head (still, though you can feast for $15).
- Myilai Masala’s Chaat Night is an incredible deal, wonderfully tasty, and fabulous fun, especially with a group. All you can eat, but the Chaat’s are prepared fresh to order as are the uttapams. Only $11.95/head.
- Villa Rosa’s Tuesday Tapas are an incredible deal, and great fun. BYOB makes a good deal even better.
Honorable mention in this category goes to the Mate’s Inn, which surely wins the prize as the Most Interesting Dining Experience (Unrelated to Food). This is a restaurant, open to the public, operated by the NJ Department of Corrections as part of a culinary arts program for inmates in its Youth Correctional Facility. Everyone you come into contact with is a (carefully screened) inmate. The food is surprisingly good, and VERY reasonably priced (no tipping allowed).
Best of Category Picks
- Best Tomato Pie: With Papa’s moving to Robbinsville, there is no longer a superb tomato pie restaurant within the city limits of Trenton. The best local pies are La Villa in Morrisville, just over the bridge, and Mama Rosa’s, about 3 miles east of Chambersburg, in Hamilton. Papa’s, about 8 miles east of its old location, is still outstanding, but now a schlepp.
- Best Bar: Trenton Social has been attracting a diverse group of Trenton movers and shakers for more than a year. Mostly 20-30-something hipsters, but with a sprinkling of Gen Xers and boomers so no one will feel out of place. Black, white, gay, straight, artist or professional, if they’re part of what’s happening in Trenton, they’ll show up here sooner or later.
- Best Vegetarian Restaurant: We mourned the loss of Vasanta Bhavan a few years ago, but it’s been replaced by Myilai Masala which serves similar South Indian food. The lunch buffet at Myilai Masla is a great deal, and I find myself going there nearly every week. It’s actually my favorite Indian restaurant in the area, period, even though I’m an omnivoire, as the quality of the cooking stands out.
- Best Italian Restaurant: Of course the absolute winner is Settimo Cielo, but it’s a little pricy for every day eating. For a lot less money, in extremely modest surroundings, check out Mamma Rosa’s in Hamilton. The food is consistently good and it’s BYOB. Honorable mentions here go to La Villa in Morrisville and Villa Rosa in Ewing. Mamma Rosa and La Villa both do outstanding Trenton-style tomato pies, just a cut below Papa’s.
- Best Indian Restaurant: Also Myilai Masala. Yes, it’s vegetarian food. But it’s rarely greasy, and usually every dish has an exciting and unusual quality to it, unlike so much of the typical Mughlai cooking. Honorable mention in the category is to the new Shahi Palace, which serves a great lunch buffet in a pleasant space that used to be Passage to India. Spicing is not remarkable, but the cooking is solid and consistent.
- Best Chinese: You can’t get really good Chinese food anywhere in the City of Trenton. But just down the road in Hamilton, Szechuan House serves up authentic, adventurous food at a reasonable price.
- Best Polish: Rozmaryn is the pick here. Charming, tiny restaurant in the heart of Trenton’s Polish section on Olden. Make sure you show up early enough as they close early during the week.
- Best Chicken: El Chapin on Cass Street and Lamberton Streets (near Waterfront Park) specializes in rotisserie chicken prepared using authentic charcoal-fired grills. Superb.
- Best Taco: Taqueria El Mariachi wins this one too. Their tacos will never be confused with the Tex-Mex food of the same name butchered by chain restaurants across the US. An authentic taco is freshly prepared meat of your choice served on griddle-warmed soft corn tortillas. Mariachi’s are over-stuffed, and come served with chopped fresh cilantro, wedges of fresh lime, sliced cucumbers, jalapeños, grilled scallions, and home made salsas. Honorable mentions go to Mi Tierra and Guaterico Deli.
- Best Pupusa: If you’ve never had a pupusa, you’re missing one of the great meals on the planet. Think of it as a stuffed crepe, only made with Masa Harina (corn flour) similar to a corn tortilla. Hand-made and grilled, they’re traditionally served with pickled cabbage (curtido, like a cross between cole slaw and sauerkraut) and salsa roja, a mild, reddish-colored sauce. Originally from El Salvador, the Pupusa is now a staple in most Trenton Guatemalan restaurants. Fortunately, there’s no clear winner:
- The best cheese and loroco pupusa (loroco is an edible flower, similar to broccoli) is served by Guaterico Deli. For some reason the loroco is more flavorful here than anywhere else. Superb salsa roja. Honorable mention to Taqueria el Mariachi. Great curtido, but only fair salsa roja. However, the other salsas at Taqueria are superb, even if not tradiitonal with pupusas. Guaterico’s pupusa’s are light and virtually oil free; Taqueria’s are massive and really greasy. Both are fab.
- Best pupusa selection is Jireh, with 8 different varieties. Solid curtido and good salsa roja.
- Best Italian Deli: Porfirio’s proves that 100 local Italian restaurants aren’t wrong about where to buy their fresh pasta, Italian sausage, and much more.
- Best Ice Cream: If you’re buying in bulk, be sure to check out Arctic Ice Cream which has been manufacturing in Trenton since 1931. Available in 45 flavors for a little more than a $1/pint (when you buy a 3 gallon tub). For smaller quantities, check out Halo Farm. If you’re buying by the scoop, check out the homemade flavors at Vincent’s Ice Cream.