Even bowls of mac 'n' cheese and sides of cooked cabbage get the gourmet treatment at The Soul Food Factory. Founded in 1998 by two brothers who shared a passion for culinary enterprise as well as soul food, the eatery augments tradition with artful plate arrangements and inventive spice combinations. Even with these more gourmet accents, the kitchen stays focused on the basics. Entrees such as fried or barbecue-brushed chicken, baked turkey, and tilapia are paired with Southern sides such as rice and beans or candied yams.
Though the idea of shared plates most often conjures up images of dainty Spanish tapas, the communal meals at Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant are hardly suitable for passing. Instead, everyone sits around and digs right into a giant platter called a beyainatu, which translates to “a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.” Diners tear off pieces of flat, spongy bread known as injera and scoop up dollops of rich stews. Ethiopia’s signature dish, doro wat, is a mouth-warming union of chicken, traditional berbere spices, and hard-boiled egg. Each entree comes paired with two vegan sides, such as the curried vegetables of tikil gomen or the slow-cooked chickpeas and herbs of shiro. The chefs work particularly well with lamb and seafood, which best show off delicate hints of sautéed herbs and chilis.
A vibrant blue and purple mural dominates a large wall at Soul Terrific—a bright tribute to music splashed with saxophone players, keyboards, and loose notes spinning away into space. The scene isn't strictly musical, and if you look closer, you can easily spot steamed crab there, or a small drumstick here in the hands of a happy musician or concertgoer.
The image sums up Soul Terrific—a spirited scene that ultimately, is all about the food. In the kitchen, chefs fry catfish and chicken, sear New York strip steaks, and grill up pork chops. Each entrée arrives at diners' tables accompanied by a hearty helping of homemade cornbread and two house-made comfort food sides such as macaroni and cheese, collard greens, or Southern-style red rice. Tuesday through Thursdays see fresh chefs' specials, which range from oxtails and cabbage to barbecue ribs and coleslaw. After meals, diners can munch on homemade peach cobbler or double-chocolate cake any day they please, as long as their dentist isn't looking.
Sitting in Harusame Japanese Cuisine can feel like spending an evening in a friend's living room. Plush fabric drapes from the ceiling, scrolls hang from the walls, and soft light fills the space from overhead lamps. That feeling isn't accidental—the restaurant's goal is to make customers feel like family, though its menu could feed a small army. It includes more than 35 sushi rolls and dozens of ocean-fresh, sashimi-grade cuts of fish served à la carte. To sample the full array of aquatic delights, diners can opt for the all-you-can-eat menu, digging into constantly refilled rolls and appetizers. A BYOB policy rounds out the room's hospitality, allowing patrons to tote along their favorite tipple to sip on thorough their meal.
At Pandang, the chefs create a harmonious mix of Japanese, Thai, and other Asian dishes. A full-service sushi bar serves as the source of specialty rolls, such as the Shrek roll, a mix of shrimp tempura, eel, snow crab, and avocado wrapped in green soybean paper. Other options include a list of straightforward sashimi, served à la carte.
Nestled in an eatery near the South Orange Performing Arts Center, Cafe Arugula's chefs curate lunch and dinner menus packed with savory Italian eats doled out in a dining room that seats up to 60. Afternoon eaters can sidle up to a plating of penne toscana, nested in a bologense-based sauce swimming with mushrooms, peas, and onions ($10.95), or chomp into a protein-packed italian hero sandwich layered in ham, salami, and provolone cheese ($7.95). The restaurant's rack of baby lambs ($29.95) tantalizes evening eaters' taste buds with an entourage of sautéed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes. Instead of hailing the next food truck headed toward the coast, guests can settle for the seafood sampler ($18.95), which serves up a school of ocean delicacies, including shrimp, oysters, and clams. Round out a savory dinner with Cafe Arugula's traditional Italian desserts, such as house-made gelato sundaes ($6.95+) and rich chocolate velvet ($5.95) oozing with enough ganache to keep mouths from screaming out the lyrics to "On The Good Ship Lollipop."