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Eating Well
The area’s top restaurants continue to evolve and serve up something special for South Jersey diners.

by Peter Proko

We hope you’ve brought your appetite. Because it’s time for our annual Golden Fork awards, shining a spotlight on some of the area’s finest restaurants. These stellar establishments not only serve up amazing food, but also provide the right ambiance to help set the stage for a memorable evening with family or friends. These 23 spots check all the boxes are just another example of how nuanced and extraordinary our local dining scene truly is. 

IL VILLAGGIO in Cherry Hill
With décor inspired by the Old World and a menu full of classic Italian favorites to match, this mainstay is beloved for dishes such as the homemade gnocchi in a blush sauce with jumbo lump crab and the can’t-miss 16-ounce veal chop. 

WANDA in Haddonfield
This coveted restaurant serves up museum-quality dishes that attract local gourmands regularly. Start with the goat cheese croquettes or the decadent foie gras, before moving onto the expertly prepared seared duck breast, or the oh-so tender and flavorful braised short rib.

PARK PLACE in Merchantville
One of the area’s most in-demand reservations, a meal at Park Place is a culinary journey through chef Philip Manganaro’s seasonal tasting menus that showcase a bevy of ingredients hand selected during foraging excursions everywhere from the Pine Barrens to the Shore.

TWO FISH in Medford
This small but mighty restaurant is a haven for seafood lovers thanks to well-crafted dishes that fire on all cylinders. The skate wing has gained its own following—and rightfully so—but you really can’t go wrong with any of the fresh catches dotting the menu. 

ITA 101 in Medford
While the menu changes frequently, one thing you can always count on is having a memorable meal at this dining destination. The fresh pastas prepared with local and seasonal ingredients are immaculate, while the rest of the menu spotlights masterful preparation of inspired Italian cuisine.

THE LITTLE HEN in Haddonfield
Showcasing the great finesse and technique that comes with French cooking, The Little Hen could just as easily be located in Lyon as it is along Kings Highway. The distinguished dishes are simplistic in nature, but complex with flavor and certainly leave a lasting impression.

ALLORA in Marlton
Chef Mark Berenato has been dazzling diners from across the region for years, and for good reason. His straightforward approach to Italian cooking results in scintillating creations like the scene-setting sausage and figs with balsamic glaze and burrata or the rigatoni with a braised short rib ragu.

GASS & MAIN in Haddonfield
Led by James Beard nominated chef Dane DeMarco, this still fairly newcomer to the local scene has established itself as a must-visit. While the menu rotates, it’s always full of refined plates full of creative flair. Think wagyu hot dogs with pickled shallots or beef cheeks braised in red wine for 10 hours and served with red-skin potatoes and vegetable succotash.

No matter if you’re headed for a power lunch or an evening out with a significant other, this polished steakhouse serves up something special. The statuesque seafood tower and the lobster mac and cheese are dynamite, but we absolutely love the kona-crusted NY strip with shallot butter.

ESTIA in Marlton
This seemingly always-buzzing restaurant whisks you away to the Mediterranean for authentic tastes of the region. Think spinach and leek pie with feta wrapped in puff pastry, char-grilled octopus with pickled red onion and capers, succulent lamb chops and a litany of fresh seafood options.

JUNE in Collingswood
Upscale French without being pretentious, June is a breath of fresh air in the local dining landscape. With or without the tableside presentations, the dishes show tremendous flair and a harmonious blend of ingredients. All of this leads to offerings that cascade with flavor and provide depth and character. 

Thanks to quintessential steakhouse ambiance, a hefty wine list, a stellar collection of signature cocktails, and a bountiful menu of prime steak cuts (we’re partial to the dry-aged ribeye), chops and seafood, it’s no wonder why so many routinely flock to Fleming’s. 

NUNZIO in Collingswood
Since taking over the helm here, Michael DeLone has put his own stamp on the menu while maintaining the same high-quality approach as his predecessor. There’s a lot to love, but no visit is complete without ordering one of the decadent homemade pastas that show deference for creativity and fine ingredients.

HEARTHSIDE in Collingswood
You’re in good hands at this overly popular eatery where the four-course tasting menu is replete with appetizing options. Recent highlights include slivers of hamachi ceviche with vibrant blood orange and creamy avocado as well as the wood-fired halibut with butternut squash and mushroom pho broth.

For nearly four decades, this fine dining institution has attracted discerning diners from far and wide. With one of the more respectable wine lists you’ll find, it’s easy to find the perfect bottle to pair with any of the outstanding offerings on the expansive menu where seafood takes center stage.

ZEPPOLI in Collingswood
With only 35 seats, this intimate restaurant tucked away from the town’s main drag pays homage to cuisine deeply rooted in Sicilian tradition. If you’re lucky enough to snag a table, you can expect rustic-yet-elevated plates like the stewed rabbit with tomato and rosemary potatoes or the always satisfying spaghetti with clams.

THE CHOPHOUSE in Gibbsboro
The juicy, mouthwatering steaks are the main attraction here, but don’t overlook the stellar seafood options housed on the menu. Pair your meal with one of the excellent martini concoctions and be sure to leave room to sample one of the sinfully sweet desserts.

GIUMARELLO’S in Haddon Township
A great atmosphere, amazing food and topnotch service all combine to make Giumarello’s one of South Jersey’s finest restaurants. We love diving into a bowl of the mussels with a saffron-infused cream broth, but other standouts include the chicken Francaise with crab, the maple glazed salmon and earthy wild mushroom ravioli. 

VERONA in Haddonfield
In South Jersey’s crowded field of Italian restaurants, Verona separates itself thanks to its modern takes on Southern Italian classics. You’ll find familiar comforts like penne alla vodka and chicken parm as well as other delights like the swordfish steak topped with pine nuts, cherry tomato, raisins and olives, finished with a white wine garlic sauce. 

This high-end seafood chain oozes elegance thanks to its sophisticated décor and star-studded menu. Think tantalizing dishes like the parmesan crusted sole, the bone-in New York strip cloaked with a smoked chili rub or the morel-crusted lamb chops.

AKIRA in Moorestown
Akira is well-known for its inventive sushi creations like the deep-fried roll with salmon and white fish, topped with pepper tuna and tobiko. But it’s equally deserving of praise for items like its complex and flavorful red curry, intoxicating noodle bowls and other Japanese favorites.

This place had our full attention as soon as we read “hummus of the month” on the menu. The mezze selections are always enticing as are any one of the kebabs torched on the grill. And the other worthy entrées show the depths of farm-to-table cooking while also displaying the wonderful influence flavors found in the Mediterranean.

It feels like we’ve been dining at Illiano’s forever, but it’s hard to not be a regular with the enticing variety of Italian food being crafted in the kitchen. We’re always in the mood for the veal piccata or the baked ziti, but more recently we’ve become quite fond of the cappellini with jumbo lump crab, olive oil, garlic and basil. 

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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 20, Issue 11 (February 2023)

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