Ever since Dale Talde opened his eponymous restaurant, Talde, in Park Slope 5 years ago, his reputation as a chef has been intrinsically tied to Brooklyn—so much so that his cookbook, Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn, even bears its name. But after years of living in Brooklyn, Talde recently decamped to Fort Lee, New Jersey with his wife, Agnes Chung—and he's discovered that, contrary to its reputation as New York's red-headed stepsister, Jersey is a food-lover's paradise.
“For me to move to Jersey, I told my wife, there has to be a food culture,” Talde said. “Like, I could never move to Murray Hill or Kips Bay. Fuck that!”
As with so many city-dwelling couples, Talde and Chung's decision to move was sparked by a discussion about having kids. When they realized they needed more space than was available (or at least affordable) in Brooklyn, New Jersey—Chung’s home state—was on the table. But Talde’s New Jersey isn’t the suburban, monochromatic landscape you may be picturing. It’s a vibrant, diverse state with an eclectic mix of communities and cuisines.
“People don’t know how special it is,” Talde said, of Jin Go Gae Catering, one of his favorite spots. “When I went in here I was like ‘This is fucking dope!’”
When we caught up with the chef at the recent opening of his “Italian-ish” restaurant, Massoni, in the Arlo Hotel in Midtown Manhattan late last year, he told us how great his move to Fort Lee had been—thanks in large part to the great food he'd found. (Not to mention his own: There's now a Talde outpost in Jersey City.)
We wanted to know more. Days before his latest opening—Atlantic Social opens near Barclays Center in Brooklyn this Sunday—we spent a day in North Jersey with the chef and restaurateur, getting his take on the best places to eat, shop, and relax in the Garden State. Here are his go-to spots.
A Jersey City landmark since 1946, White Mana is an old-school roadside burger joint. Stepping inside the building, which was built for the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, is like walking into a memory. A hot griddle is front and center, surrounded by a circular u-shaped counter lined with bar stools. Diners tend to be either on solo expeditions, grabbing a quick cheeseburger that costs just a dollar and change, or are sharing a meal with a friend or family member.
“You see the generations of people in here?” Talde asked on a recent weekend afternoon, gesturing to a father with his teenage son. “This guy, he came with his dad.”
The petite, slider-esque burgers are cooked fast on the griddle and smashed with tiny chopped cubes of white onion. The patties continue to cook with the cheese and top bun in place, creating a package that is almost one thing instead of a combination of ingredients. Talde got two.
470 Tonnelle Ave., Jersey City
Everyone needs a local pizzeria, and it can be difficult to find just the right spot. You know what we mean: the place you call when you can’t think of anything else to eat, the place you order a few pies from to entertain friends when you’re lazy. That’s Hanky’s for Talde.
The pizza is “super ultra-thin” and is best with minimal toppings. Talde’s go-to order? Pepperoni and black olives.
As with all the Jersey spots he loves, Hanky’s is appealing because it’s located inside what appears to be a new storefront but is actually a “hole in the wall.”
435 E. Brinkerhoff Ave., Palisades Park
FilStop (formerly Phil Am Food)
When Talde, who is Filipino-American, began house hunting in New Jersey, he knew the food his mother prepared back home in Chicago could be found in Jersey City, which has a strong Filipino community. The menu at the Jersey City location of Talde is more Filipino-influenced too, he said, than the original Brooklyn location.
Talde’s favorite place for traditional Filipino food is FilStop, a “grocery with a restaurant inside,” he said.
“You can get the Filipino version of meat and three,” he said. “But instead of meat and three, it’s rice and three.”
The food is served from hot trays and when available he orders liver in adobo seasoning, kare kare (oxtail stew with peanuts) and pinakbet (vegetables with coconut milk and shrimp paste).
683 Newark Ave., Jersey City
Talde says that as a chef and business owner, it’s hard to relax. He is always working or conceptualizing projects. So when he can unwind, he takes advantage of it.
King Spa is a traditional Korean spa complete with Jacuzzi tubs, water therapy and saunas. The highlight of King Spa in comparison to other Korean Spas in the area is the bulgama sauna, which reaches a blistering 800 degrees and is said to cure muscle and body aches.
Talde tries to go once a month and will stay for six or seven hours. It’s a family affair too, with his wife’s extended family often in attendance.
“The food is pretty good, and you just chill the fuck out,” he said.
321 Commercial Ave., Palisades Park
So Moon Nan Jip
Of all the Korean barbecue restaurants in Bergen County, So Moon Nan Jip (translation: infamous house) is Talde’s favorite. All the meats here are grilled over oak charcoal, not gas. And good thing, because he doesn’t mess with gas, he said.
Every barbecue place is known for one type of dish; here, the house specialty is the kalbi (galbi) or beef short ribs. So that’s what Talde orders.
238 Broad Ave., Palisades Park
Chung is Korean and her mother introduced Talde to this Korean grocery. There are multiple H Mart locations; when I asked why this was the one to go to, Talde said, “you’ll see.”
And I did. Inside, there were overflowing bins of chives, bitter melon and cabbages the size of two human heads. Aisles upon aisles of spicy soybean paste, rice vinegar, sesame oil and other condiments beckoned. There were live king crabs: so big and fierce as to necessitate their own personal-sized water tanks. And all manner of pork and beef; filleted, marinated and ready for the barbecue, sat in covered, refrigerated containers.
This place, Talde said, “is the epitome of inspiration.”
“The seafood here is hands down superior in freshness and affordability. And the variety of stuff!” he said, adding that king crabs are rarely seen live in tanks like they are at H Mart. “That you’d see that means that someone [working here] really loves it,” he said.
321 Broad Ave., Ridgefield
This place is classic Americana. A roadside hot dog joint with picnic tables out front, Hiram’s has been open since the 1920s. Even Anthony Bourdain called Hiram’s his “happy place” on an episode of “Parts Unknown." The menu features burgers, dogs and fries, but the hot dogs, which are deep fried, are famous.
Talde said after he and Chung closed on their house, they headed for Hiram’s to celebrate. And of course he got two hot dogs: sauerkraut, onions and mustard, and a “sinister looking” chili cheese. “I was like fuck it, I just bought a house!”
“They have everything, but it’s a hot dog joint. Don’t be fooled! It’s a hot dog joint.”
1345 Palisade Ave., Fort Lee
Piccolo Gastronomia Italiana
Talde shops for Italian provisions at this specialty shop where wheels of Parmesan and cured meats hang from the ceiling. The shop is “like a bodega, but imagine it’s been there 100 years,” he said. It features groceries and a large cheese and charcuterie counter in addition to prepared foods. Talde loves the chicken saltimbocca.
“And I never eat chicken breasts,” he said with a grimace.
While he’s known for his unique interpretations of Asian-American food, Italian food is a focus at Massoni, and it’s one of Talde’s favorite cuisines to cook.
“My love for Italian cooking started with 'Molto Mario,’ AKA the best cooking show hands-down,” he said. “Mario, he started me off.”
484 Bergen Blvd., Ridgefield
Jin Go Gao Catering
“For me, it’s such a blessing to have this here,” Talde said as we walked into Jin Go, a storefront on a busy street that’s home to a majority of Korean-owned businesses. He pointed out the dishes he liked or that his mother-in-law would serve at her home nearby: banchan (small dishes) like pickled radish or spicy cucumbers, freshly-cooked japchae noodles, bags of hand-made dumplings.
“It’s dope because someone’s grandma made those!” he said, pointing to the bags of chicken and shrimp-filled dumplings in a freezer.
Places like this, he said, help keep cultural heritage alive. Not everyone has the time to prepare a full traditional Korean dinner, complete with banchan, kimchi and side dishes. Often, he said, his mother-in-law would prepare the main dish, a protein or Korean casserole for example, and pick up other dishes to complement the meal here.
“You don’t ever have to lose touch with your food culture,” he said. “These places are here to preserve it.”
248 Broad Ave., Palisades Park
Edgewater Towne Center Park
This mixed-use development along the waterfront in Edgewater features a Whole Foods Market, Duane Reade, and housing developments, but there’s also a pathway along the Hudson River complete with benches for people to sit down and take it all in. Talde likes coming here because of the “fantastic view of the city.”
“It starts low, all through Washington Heights and Harlem and then the Upper West Side, and you keep your eyes going down the river and it’s like boom! Midtown,” he said. “The best view of New York isn’t in New York.”
Hilliard Ave. at the Hudson River, Edgewater