It shouldn’t take the occasional scandal of the lane closures of the George Washington Bridge to lead you through Fort Lee and experience what this city has to offer. The Bergen County community, just under 3 square miles, is packed with history and a rich food scene to explore as well.
Fort Lee was, at the beginning of the last century, the American capital of cinema. New York City was too expensive (even then), and there was also the natural beauty of the palisades for filming. Did you know that’s where the term “cliffhanger” comes from? In 1909, Champion Film Co., a precursor to Universal Studios, built the first studio in Fort Lee.
Speaking of movies, in 1985, bored Fort Lee housewife Roberta Glass, played by Rosanna Arquette, ventures to New York for thrills and adventure in “Desperately Seeking Susan” and finds herself in a SoHo restaurant. Roberta found love there, but could have at least eaten better in Fort Lee today. For fine dining closer to Roberta’s, try the Chillers Grill family restaurant.
Fort Lee is named after a Revolutionary War general, Charles Lee, who was thought to be the one who would lead the Continental Army, a role that fell to George Washington instead, creating a career closure for Lee. After a defeat against the British in November 1776 and the retreat of Washington’s army through what is now Fort Lee, Thomas Paine wrote his famous phrase: “These are the times that try the souls of men. This line may also be relevant today, but Washington and Paine didn’t have Hiram’s Roadstand to stop – a respite from the hard times. One of the best hot dog restaurants in a state known for hot dog restaurants, Hiram’s has been around since 1932, and probably because the GW Bridge opened a year prior. If you don’t like Hiram’s, you really don’t like hot dogs. It was also an Anthony Bourdain favorite, so if you don’t trust our opinion, you can at least trust his. And they also have draft beer.
Lee is the second most common Korean surname, and although coinciding with the name of the general and the community, there has been a thriving Koreatown since before the turn of this century. With a population representing nearly a quarter of Korean descent and hundreds of Korean-owned businesses, Fort Lee could be a destination to explore Korean cuisine on its own.
A craving for KFC? No, not this KFC. Korean fried chicken. Head to Boom Boom Chicken. Bada Story, for Korean-style sushi and seafood, brings some of its fish from South Korea. Sa Rit Gol is where locals eat and meet, communing over classic dishes. Prime and Beyond, open since 2003, is a steakhouse and butcher shop, offering classic and Korean-influenced dishes and sides. Still speaking of films, Obaltan is named after what some consider to be the best South Korean film ever made. Here, away from the main concentration of Korean establishments, you will find top notch Korean BBQ. Dong Bang Grill and Taste 1080 are two other barbecue spots worth checking out. Hannam Chain is a Korean grocery store chain originating from Koreatown in Los Angeles. In the same square, you will find Café Trois, for a good breakfast and Korean pastries.
Other foods can also be found in Fort Lee. Menya Sandaime is an authentic Japanese ramen shop. Sushi Aoki is intimate to say the least, with just 10 popular seats. Sushi Kai offers a daily tasting menu in an elegant setting, and SOMA Sushi, only open since May, is already developing its own suite for accessible prices and dining room size, seating 90 people. Fudgarten’s tagline is “where life meets food,” but easier to understand is the popularity of this fast-paced, laid-back, organic destination with well-prepared, well-prepared food.
Ventanas at the Modern, a Latin American-Asian fusion spot, was named by Open Table as one of America’s 100 best restaurants for a date (we’re guessing take one, not find one). Kuba serves real Cuban dishes with an Asian twist. Since this is New Jersey, there may be few towns without an Italian restaurant – or five. Baggio’s and Franco’s Metro are popular places, not only for their pizzas, but also for an array of pastas and other Italian specialties. While finding good Italian isn’t always difficult in most cities, finding Cajun seafood is, and Dancing Camaron has been happily doubling its customers since opening last fall.
Speaking of movies again, the Barrymore Film Center is set to open this year. A 250-seat theater and museum celebrating the history of Fort Lee’s role in film There won’t be a restaurant, but a large box of popcorn and a soda looks like a great local meal to grab during future film events there.
Hank Zona writes regularly about wine, spirits and a range of other topics such as food and culture. He also pour wine and spirits events of all kinds for over a decade.
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