Before you ask, yes, Central Jersey exists. After a long debate, Governor Phil Murphy formally declared the counties of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset as part of Central Jersey on Aug. 24, 2023. There are so many delicious places to eat, so I'll be sharing some places that I've recently tried and loved!

1. Kona Grill - Woodbridge, NJ

Kayla Gonzales

These appetizers took me by surprise in the best way possible. The spicy shrimp tempura was bite-sized and even had a little kick. It was different from the shrimp tempura I would typically see at a Japanese restaurant, but the combination of batter, garnishes, and sauce worked great. The calamari was a great dish to share amongst friends and was paired with a delightfully spicy Motoyaki dipping sauce. I also tried the steakhouse burger with shiitake mushroom, caramelized onion, and garlic aioli sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed each bite of the fusion restaurant!

2. KPOT - East Brunswick, NJ

Kayla Gonzales

KPOT is a Korean barbecue food chain where guests cook their food right at their table. For 2 hours, you can make a personal hot pot or barbecue, or even both if you would like. As much as I love the hot pot here, my friends and I opted for the barbecue as it was one friend's first time visiting.

Through a provided device, we ordered various quality meat cuts, vegetables, and seafood. They also have a self-service sauce station with dozens of different flavor combinations to choose from. My personal favorite section is the appetizer/side dish area, where you can fill your plate with kimchi, seaweed salad, radish, fries, and even crab legs. The pork belly was the highlight of the night, and I highly recommend going with at least 3-4 people to ensure that someone can help finish the seemingly endless plates after everyone is stuffed.

3. Meet Fresh - Edison, NJ

Kayla Gonzales

I have had my fair share of desserts at this location, but it was my first time taste-testing the boba and caramel pudding soft serve. The trickiest part was not being able to savor the ice cream because it was melting quickly. The slight crunch and chocolate topping were great choices, and it even came with a chocolate wafer stick. After consuming the top half of the dessert, I was finally able to reach the soft and chewy boba. Below was the caramel pudding, and the ingredients were mixed to make the perfect late-night snack. A surprise bonus during this specific visit was the fact that our server accidentally made two identical servings, so my friend got a soft serve for free!

4. Mango Mango - Edison, NJ

Kayla Gonzales

Mango Mango recently opened up its newest location within the Festival Plaza in Edison (located near the aforementioned Meet Fresh). There are dozens of smoothies, drinks, hot/cold desserts, teas, crepes, and waffles! I tried out the strawberry mango juice sago and lychee jelly (seen at the bottom of the photo above). The combination of different flavors and textures made for a refreshing but not overly sweet dish. The mango pancake was filled with fluffy cream and a few bites of the drupe fruit. Pairing waffles with ice cream is always a tasty combination, and adding fruits with chocolate syrup is simply the cherry on top. The yuzu lemon cake was packed with citrus that helped cut through the sweetness of all the desserts. This is a great place to catch up with mango lovers over unique treats!

5. Chongqing Wharf - Edison, NJ

Kayla Gonzales

This all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant is one of the places on this list that my friends and I are constantly talking about. Our first time was a bit of a trial-and-error situation. We started by putting our jackets into bags provided by the staff, tying bibs they handed out, and even putting our hair back with hair ties the restaurant kept on hand.

Similar to KPOT, you order all your ingredients through an iPad. However, our group misplaced our iPad after the first round, and we were unaware of that fact until 45 minutes in. Once we located it, we ordered dishes we had never tried before, such as spicy snails, raw shrimp (eaten sashimi style), and various types of seafood.

This place had unlimited crab legs that you cooked in the broth of your choice, as well as a complimentary lobster for the table. We chose a spicy broth and a coconut chicken-flavored broth. For those with a lower spice tolerance, I would steer clear of the red broth in the photo. Everything was fresh and packed with flavor. The restaurant had a create-your-own sauce bar and unlimited self-serve drinks in bottles. For dessert, be sure to order the fried bread with condensed milk and the frozen durian!

6. Dulce Bakery & Cafe - Somerville, NJ

Kayla Gonzales

With a blend of Vietnamese and Latin culture, this fusion café offers a variety of pastries, cakes, and drinks. I tried one of its most popular drinks, the taro-nese iced coffee. With a small bottle of taro on the side to pour and a strong Vietnamese drip coffee base, the drink was sweetened to my liking and created a beautiful result. Beware to those with a low caffeine tolerance (like me), as this drink kept me up for hours! I would definitely order it again in a heartbeat, but perhaps at a much earlier time in the day. I ordered a chicken empanada to consume as a snack, and it had a satisfying thick crust. The café had a welcoming aura, a decent amount of seating, and eye-catching artwork. It would be a great place to study, and the staff was extremely welcoming and friendly!

7. Wateishoku Kaneda - Edgewater, NJ

Kayla Gonzales

Inside the Japanese grocery store, Mitsuwa, lies a plethora of appetizing Japanese food. Each mini restaurant booth has an extensive menu and life-sized plastic examples known as "Shokuhin Sampuru" to help you visualize what your meal would look like. While my mom indulged in the ramen at one booth, and my dad chose the freshly fried tempura at another, I chose the pork cutlet bowl from Wateishoku Kaneda. The tender meat is paired with egg, rice, ginger, and a mouthwatering sauce that makes each scoop the perfect bite.

Mitsuwa is located farther up north from Central Jersey, but it makes for a fun day trip. Explore the store for snacks and grocery items, visit the bakeries for fresh pastries, try out onigiri, or grab a bite at one of the many booths. Across the street, there are multiple shops, including a Japanese bookstore, a toy store, a boba shop, and my personal favorite, a Japanese version of Dollar Tree known as Daiso.

This is merely a handful of my Central Jersey food recommendations! Each town has so much to offer, and you can start your Summer bucket list by planning a time to explore New Jersey through food and culture.