By CHRISTINA LOCCKE
for Montclair Local
After months of being told to stay home due to the pandemic, outdoor fall dining is the perfect way to ease back into Montclair eateries. Governor Murphy now permits restaurants to allow limited indoor seating, but residents can still take advantage of dining outdoors as weather permits in quaint and creative settings.
Already, some of the town’s more popular restaurants have closed, like Laurel and Sage. But many are attempting to serve their customers in new ways. Villalobos has found more room for tables by extending their outdoor seating in front of vacated shops. Turtle and the Wolf, primarily a dine-in restaurant, is now beloved for its takeout fried chicken dinner. And many others have pivoted, finding safe ways to continue serving inventive meals.
Start with these local treasures, offering a solid outdoor dining experience along with consistently great food. All allow you BYOB, as well.
Cafe Moso is a party — a low key, family focused, very friendly party. If you feel like you’ve been missing something with takeout, then your next meal should be here. Outside the restaurant, diners find a series of canopies lined with string lights and potted palms that separate tables from the street. Like many, Cafe Moso offers takeout, but their outdoor tables are well spaced, comfortable, and festive. Warm greetings and efficient service ensure that everyone from families to couples and solo diners feel at home.
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The kitchen is as capable with lighter salads, as well as more soulful classics. Cafe Moso has nailed their collards, cooked until tender with bits of soft onion and smoky-sweet ham. The Brussels sprouts are nearly as good, roasted to deep brown then served crisp beneath sprinkles of grated parmesan. Their namesake wings, the Moso Loco, arrive lacquered with house sauce that is more spicy than sweet. Blackened salmon is the kind of balanced dish that lets you taste each flavor of the fresh fish and peppery seasoning over a bed of bright and citrusy Basmati rice.
Many swear that Cafe Moso is home to the best mac ‘n cheese in town.
307 Orange Road
Despite having just a few outside tables, their sliding glass doors open wide into the welcoming interior to blend the spaces. Meals here begin with traditional Korean banchan, like tender sticks of lightly pickled potatoes, daikon cubes speckled with red pepper, and pungent kimchi. Pop open a beer, and everything tastes even better.
Their vegetable japchae is one of the best reasons for dining here — each sweet potato noodle is slick and chewy, mixed with a tangle of fresh veggies for crunch. Also try the bibimbap in a hot stone bowl (dolsot) for an enormous treat that cannot be appreciated as takeout. Once the sizzling bowl arrives, wait as long as you can before mixing the layers of spinach, marinated beef, and fried egg down into the tantalizing crust of golden rice that has baked against the bottom. My wiser, more patient daughter let hers crisp to dark brown before mixing the rice into tofu stewed with Korean chili powder.
Don’t be surprised if the friendly staff offers your children individually wrapped Korean chocolate cookies to end your meal.
128 Watchung Ave.
One of Montclair’s favorite dining spots has taken over the former home of Uptown on Valley Road and now offers socially distant, outdoor dining along their private, narrow alleyway.
The menu’s focus is on the cuisine of Northern Thailand, known for heartier fare based on meats, sausages, and curries. These chefs know their way around pork. Be sure to order Gang Hung Ley, a silky and well-spiced curry simmered with rich cuts of pork belly. The culmination of flavors and textures are powerful and very warming.
The pad Thai — which is more of a national dish rather than traditional cooking — is always a crowd pleaser. But those of us who can break from our patterns should venture to sample other Northern Thai specialties. The fact that Khao Soi Gai contains “mama’s secret recipe with a chicken leg” is reason enough to try the dish.
SLA Thai has made an art of customizable ordering online, so those of us with picky eaters can rest assured that those noodles will come without the eggs, peanuts, or bean sprouts that some prefer to skip.
596 Valley Road
House-made, reasonably priced, and always delicious, Uncle Momo’s French-Lebanese bistro cooking has earned its own cult following in Montclair. Their freshly baked pitas are an enormous draw. No matter how many you order, there will never be enough. Each is slender and delicate, just right for scooping up an array of Lebanese mezze. Your best move is to go ahead and order all of the appetizers, with extra pita. The pitzas are popular, whether topped with tomatoes and cheese, or lamb with parsley and spices. Even a simple chicken shish kebab is perfectly cooked and set over a bed of pureed lentils that will inspire you to order more pita, for fear that anything is left on the plate.
Guests will surely vie for their limited indoor tables to sit amid Uncle Momo’s vintage Parisian decor. However, the outdoor seating extends along Bloomfield Ave in front of other storefronts to ensure that everyone is very well spaced.
702 Bloomfield Ave.