When area residents wonder where to find great Italian food, they turn to EthnicNJ.com. The website, founded by Maplewood's Anthony Ewing, maps and reviews ethnic food around the Garden State.
"Since launching EthnicNJ.com in May 2010," says Ewing, "the website has really taken off. Readership has grown dramatically. The site's coverage has expanded to map over 700 restaurants serving 60 different ethnic cuisines."
For Ewing, the website is an avocation and an answer to a problem. Ewing came up with the idea for the site after looking for good places to eat on his way back from soccer games.
"There was a lot of information on the web, but it was hard to sift through," he recalls. The goal of EthnicNJ.com is to put this information all in one place. Ewing also reviews and ranks restaurants, from "my favorites" to "worth a visit" and the tactfully put "I didn't like it, but you might."
An important criterion for these rankings is authenticity. According to Ewing, a restaurant offering a certain national cuisine should serve food that someon of that background would both "recognize and appreciate."
But there are other tip-offs that you are eating in a place that is the real deal. In an authentic Italian restaurant, for instance, you should not only hear Italian spoken but "at least one of the waiters or bartenders should be over 60, and a few of the customers should be dead-on Sopranos casting-call types."
As a fourth generation Italian-American himself, Ewing believes that New Jerseyans are passionate about ethnic food because so many of them are hyphenated Americans. Such identities remain strong "no matter how long they or their families have been in the country."
The new website design allows users to better search for their favorite foods. "Users can filter the EthnicNJ map by cuisine or by location, so you can easily find, for example, all the nearby Peruvian restaurants, or zoom in to see the best ethnic spots along Route 22," explains Ewing. "Reviews and helpful links are better organized, with more pictures, flags and maps."
There are now ethnic restaurants on the EthnicNJ map in every one of New Jersey's 21 counties, from Sussex to Cape May, but Ewing is far from done mapping the state's cuisine.
"Research for the website is my excuse to drag my family and friends all over New Jersey searching for the best pho, tacos and pad thai," says Ewing. "Thanks to EthnicNJ.com I have found a place in Elizabeth to buy whole roasted Portuguese suckling pig, a Middle Eastern grocery in Paterson where you pick a fish and they grill it while you wait, and a Dominican restaurant in Long Branch that serves Ethiopian food."
Ewing is always on the lookout for new, interesting places to eat, but he can't do it alone. "I am thrilled whenever a reader finds or shares a new ethnic restaurant on the site, especially if it's a less common national cuisine," he says. "I'm still looking for an Indonesian restaurant in New Jersey—there must be one out there."
Do you know if there's an Indonesian restaurant in the Garden State? Is there a cuisine you'd like to find in New Jersey? Tell us in the comments or email: MarciaW@Patch.com.