Once you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, you’re never the same. Concentration becomes difficult, as you spend hours planning your next vacation and pinning exotic locals to your “inspo” board. There’s no cure, except for a trip abroad or to the islands. But there is a treatment for it, and it is closer than you may think.
Rather than fritter away dreaming of you next trip, let your taste buds transport you to faraway lands. Immerse yourself in the authentic flavors, exotic spices and cultural cooking from a diverse collection of dedicated chefs. Follow this guide for a culinary trip around the world without leaving South Jersey.
Cuba — Cuba Libre
Concept chef and partner Guillermo Pernot’s love of Cuban food is palpable throughout Cuba Libre’s Atlantic City restaurant. From the soft yet savory scent of meat over a wood-burning grill to the exotic spices that ignite your palate, Cuba Libre is a true celebration of Havana. As a James Beard Award-winning chef and the author of multiple cookbooks including, “Cuba Cooks: Recipes and Secrets From Cuban Palandres and their Chefs,” Pernot delivers an enchanting, authentic Cuban experience.
“Cuban food is a tropical cuisine, but there are so many other influences. Spain, obviously, is a big influence, but there’s also a strong Haitian influence and American and even Chinese, because of those that fled the Chinese Revolution,” Pernot explains. Pernot emulates this fusion with Cuba Libre’s dishes such as tuna ceviche with marinated yellowfin tuna, house pickled cucumbers, seaweed, avocado, toasted Macadamia nuts and a pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette or their levanta muerto (raise the dead) seafood soup with a traditional Chino-Cubano broth, shrimp, Baja bay scallops, crabmeat, mussels, coconut milk and truffle oil.
In 2017, Cuba Libre added a wood-fire grill to further add to their authentic offerings. “A lot of cooking in Cuba is done over an open flame, that’s why I wanted to bring in this grill,” Pernot says. With bar seating that surrounds the grill, guests are able to watch the magic happen. To explore this side of Cuban fare try the plato gaucho mixed grill for two, with all-natural Black Angus skirt and bavette steaks, jumbo shrimp, marinated chicken breasts, Cortez chorizo sausage, onion rings, parsley chimichurri, salsa criolla and Cuba Libre steak sauce.
The fun doesn’t end after your meal. Cuba Libre also celebrates Cuba’s rich and passionate culture with a variety of nightlife events, music and traditional drinks including rum and mojitos.
Located at 2801 Pacific Ave. at the Quarter in Atlantic City. For more information call 609-348-6700 or go to CubaLibreRestaurant.com.
Mexico — Taco Shells by the Sea
From Cuba it’s an easy trip to Mexico, where flavors heat up with the spice of chili and cilantro adds a bit of zing. After being a Sea Isle City staple for six years, Taco Shells by the Sea moved to Marmora and is now riding a new wave, where they’ve expanded to a larger, year-round location. Taco Shells makes all of their salsas fresh daily and their cheese is hand-grated. In addition, Taco Shells has several healthy options on their menu. Selections such as burrito bowls, tacos and salads offer authentic Mexican flavor, with options that can accommodate healthy diets including their veggin’ out burrito bowl with grilled peppers, onions, black beans and rice topped with a blend of cheese, corn and fresh pico de gallo.
Located at 4 W. Roosevelt Blvd. in Marmora in the ShopRite Center. For information call 609-390-5757 or go to TacoShellsByTheSea.com
When you’re ready to explore beyond North America, hop the pond to your next culinary adventure. Often prized for its rich history, art and jaw-dropping castles, Europe also happens to be home to some of the most delicious and interesting cuisines in the world.
Italy — Assaggio!
If the pilgrimage to Italy in search of the country’s famed fare is a bit too far to go, journey to Assaggio!,
where they make all of their own pastas and sauces fresh daily. To savor the flavor of Italy try their pasta speziato with sweet Italian sausage, long hot peppers, broccoli rabe and fresh mozzarella served over homemade pappardelle or the Assaggio trio with gnocchi in Alfredo, ravioli in marinara and capellini in rosa.
Located at 500 W. White Horse Pike in Egg Harbor City. For more information call 609-965-3303 or go to Assaggio Galloway.com.
Ireland — Josie Kelly’s Public House
Josie Kelly’s Public House in Somers Point is a truly authentic celebration of Ireland. Owners Dermot and Kathleen Lloyd modeled Josie Kelly’s in memory of Dermot’s grandmother Josie. Born in Ireland, Dermot first came to the U.S. in 2006 to work for Ri Ra Irish Pub. Though he may have left Ireland, he brought the Ol Bia Agus Craic (food, drink and good times) of the fair Emerald Isle with him. Dishes such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash-and-beef and Guinness pie stay true to Dermot’s Irish roots. With an extensive beer menu that features Irish favorites such as Guinness and Smithwick’s Ale; and room a filled with Irish blended whiskeys, you’ll be singing “Danny Boy” before you know it.
Located at 908 Shore Road in Somers Point. For more information call 609-904-6485 or go to JosieKellys.com.
Spain — Amada
Let your taste buds rejoice in the Andalusian flavors of Chef Jose Garces. Saffron, Spanish paprika and cumin punctuate Amada’s authentic tapas-style dishes. Traditional fare such as tortilla espanola, chorizo (paprika and garlic sausage), datiles con almendras (bacon wrapped dates, stuffed with almonds) and albondigas (lamb meatballs with shaved manchego) will transport you to San Sebastian. While you overlook the Atlantic through Amada’s picturesque floor-to-ceiling windows, grab a glass of sangria and continue your journey with Amada’s especialidades de la casa including lobster paella with lobster, fava bean salad, smoked paprika aioli and squid ink. Or try coshinillo asado, a roasted suckling pig served with grilled green onions, herb- roasted fingerling potatoes, garbanzos con espinicas (spinach) and rosemary white beans.
Located in Ocean Casino Resort, 500 Boardwalk in Atlantic City. For more call 866-50-OCEAN or go to TheOceanAC.com.
Greece — Sofia
At Sofia Restaurant in Margate it doesn’t take much imagination to feel as if you are dining in the Hellenic Republic. With wrought-iron accents and byzantine details, the ambiance is fit for Athena. Sofia Papastamelos and her sister Angela Diamantis were born in Greece. As children they immigrated to New Jersey, where their parents owned a restaurant. At Sofia, the sisters (with a little help from their brother Dr. Athanasios Papastamelos) carry on the family legacy with genuine, warm hospitality and authentic foods. Olive oil from Greece, grilled octopus, spanakopita, lamb osso buco, hummus, tzatziki and more bring the Mediterranean to the shore.
Located at 9314 Amherst Ave. in Margate. For information call 609-822-9111 or go to SofiaOfMargate.com.
Now that you’ve worked your way through Europe, it’s time to head to Asia. Mumbai, India, is only about a nine hour flight from Athens. Which, coincidentally, is about the same as the flight from Philadelphia to Athens. Luckily, this tour is flight-free.
Vietnam — Lil Saigon
Lil Saigon in Linwood could be considered the child of Lien Pham’s original Little Saigon. Now closed, Little Saigon was the first Vietnamese restaurant in the area and an Atlantic City establishment for nearly three decades. But, as times change, restaurants do too. Lil Saigon is an updated version of Pham’s first restaurant. The ordering process has been streamlined to fit the 21st century, however the food remains true to its origin. At Lil Saigon, diners are given options. For example, The bowl option breaks the ordering process down into four steps. First you choose your broth, you have the option of the traditional pho beef, chicken, or vegetarian curry. Second you pick your noodle: rice, egg, vermicelli or wheat. Third you pick your protein and finally your fresh greens. Cooking is Pham’s art, though her children do much of the heavy lifting at this location, her recipes speak for themselves.
Located at 2110 New Road in Linwood. For more information call 609-904-2778
Pan Asian — Lillie’s Asian Cuisine
Lillie’s at Golden Nugget Casino, Hotel & Marina in Atlantic City is a fusion of traditional Szechuan and Cantonese Chinese cuisines with hints of Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese fare as well. At Lillie’s you will find very traditional Chinese dishes including egg rolls and General Tso’s Chicken, but you will also find a top-line sushi and sashimi menu, yakitori, pho and braised oxtail soup with kimchi.
Located at Huron Ave. and Brigantine Blvd. in Atlantic City. For more information call 609-340-5040 or go to LilliesAsianCuisine.com.
India — The Nizam’s
Executive Chef Syed Abbas recently moved and expanded his restaurant The Nizam’s to the former Carrabba’s location in Egg Harbor Township. Abbas grew up living throughout a variety of Eastern countries with his diplomat father. Influenced by those cuisines, Abbas went on to become a highly trained chef in India. There he worked in some of the finest restaurants in the world. Locally, Abbas has garnered a loyal following. His authentic, first-class cuisine is exotic yet inviting. Dishes such as his tikka masala with chicken, lamb, goat, shrimp or fish served in an aromatic, buttery tomato sauce are delighting western palates. Also popular are the tandoori selections which feature meats that have been marinated in yogurt and spices, then cooked in a special tandoor clay oven.
Located at 6725 US-40 in Egg Harbor Township. For more information call 609-677-8829.