Keeping tabs on New Jersey's best ethnic food at EthnicNJ.com is my excuse to sample all kinds of dishes across the Garden State. Like always, 2012 was an excellent year for ethnic eating in Jersey. I definitely ate my fill - from Main Street, Paterson to Edison's Oak Tree Road; from German food in the Skylands to Mexican down the Shore - and then some.
Among the places I visited this year, a few meals stand out from rest. These are my ten most memorable meals of 2012. The common element is good food, but that's usually just part of the story. Each meal on this list brought together food, people and surroundings for an unforgettable food experience.
10. Hamburgão Beef @ Hamburgão - Kearny, NJ
After picking up some tasty Argentinian empanadas at nearby Stella's, my wife and I stopped here for lunch and experienced one of the most amazing, over-the-top sandwiches in all of Jersey.
9. Ceviche Trio @ El Marino - Dover, NJ
Who would have guessed that the best Peruvian ceviche this side of Lima is in Morris County?
8. BBQ Chicken from The Wood Pit - Montclair, NJ
The ribs and brisket were so good here that we ordered two big trays of meat for our oldest daughter's Sweet Sixteen party. Turns out the chopped BBQ Chicken, slathered with North Carolina flavors, is even better!
7. Tapas @ Olé Olé Foods - Belleville, NJ
This Spanish fine food importer opens its warehouse to the public on the first Saturday of every month in the Spring. Sample Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and homemade chorizo. The gregarious proprietor, Conrad, may pour you some wine while you shop and snack.
6. Taco al Pastor @ Taquería La Valentina - Long Branch, NJ
The simplicity of the single taco I ate on my first visit was disarming and delicious. La Valentina became my favorite Mexican restaurant in New Jersey and a featured spot in my article for Edible Jersey magazine.
5. Grilled Lamb Chop and Sausages @ Al-Helal - Paterson , NJ
The centerpiece of my Ethnic Food Tour of Paterson, NJ with Mayor Domenick Stampone of Haledon and and Jersey Bites founder Deborah Smith, Al-Helal offered a glimpse of the rich Middle Eastern fare available in Passaic County.
4. "Mealies" @ Charlie's Pool Room - Alpha, NJ
With my teenage son along for the ride, I stepped into 85 years of backstory, ate two very good hot dogs, and spent a fascinating hour with the Fencz brothers.
3. Pizza @ DeLucia's - Raritan, NJ
My favorite pizza - half cheese, half sausage - tasted even better when my youngest daughter agreed with her dad, as eight year old girls often do, that it was the best pizza she had ever had.
2. Leitão from Casa do Leitão - Elizabeth, NJ
Before launching EthnicNJ.com, I never would have found a source for Portuguese whole roast suckling pig. Arriving at our friends' backyard dinner this summer with a pig in a box made quite an impression, especially after tasting the paper-thin, crispy skin and melt-in-your-mouth pork.
1. Miso Roasted Pork Ramen @ Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
On a cold January Saturday, the whole family ventured to this Japanese supermarket food court in Bergen County, where we enjoyed the most satisfying bowls of steaming broth, meat, vegetables and noodles, contentedly slurping it all up. Happiness is a hot bowl of soup.
Happy New Year New Jersey! May 2013 bring you plenty of Jersey food memories.