For Some, Eating Ethnic is a Christmas Tradition
Plenty of Chinese, Japanese, Indian restaurants open on Dec. 25.
Everyone knows the old joke about the traditional Jewish Christmas, complete with movies, bowling and Chinese food.
Rebecca Missel, founder of the northern New Jersey-based Jewish volunteerism and philanthrophy group Jewish Tribe (as well as an occasional Patch contributor), says there's something to it.
"Cliché as it is, this Jew absolutely loves eating Chinese food on Christmas," Missel, a Morristown resident, said. "When I was a kid in predominantly-Mormon Mesa, Arizona, our local Chinese restaurant was literally the only restaurant open."
Her family and a few other loyal customers would be "chowing down on really traditional, and often completely not-kosher, Chinese cuisine and celebrating the holiday in our own way," she said.
Chinese food remains an option for non-Christians (as well as for Christians who veer a bit from the more traditional home-cooked meal). In fact, while it can be tricky to find businesses open on Christmas day, several of the area's ethnic restaurants are ready to serve you.
These days, Missel considers Mr. Lin's on Speedwell Avenue in Morristown her go-to Dec. 25 spot (Christmas hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; 973-993-8668). She said it offers a great blend of authentic Chinese and American Chinese classics.
"For those willing to shlep a bit, Buddha Bodai in Flushing has hands-down, the best kosher Chinese this side of Shanghai," said Missel.
Missel also loves Veggie Heaven (which serves Asian cuisine) in Denville because it not only offers kosher dishes, but is entirely vegetarian.
Doris Wu, owner of Veggie Heaven (Christmas hours are noon to 10:30 p.m.; 973 - 586-7804), which seats 80, said the restaurant is generally busy on Christmas Day, but reservations are still available.
Veggie Heaven's menu includes vegetarian sushi (such as avocado, sweet potato and California rolls), and vegetarian alternatives to beef with broccoli, roast pork, and salt and pepper shrimp.
Wu, who is Buddhist, has been in business for more than 15 years and has designed the menu to fit her belief system.
"We don't believe in killing animals, so we use soy instead. We feel this is the way things should be," said Wu.
She said people are "generally very happy on Christmas day. They seem relieved that the shopping is over and they can just relax and enjoy a meal together–without having to cook."
For Marni Markell, inventor, artist, founder of Nite Glow Industries, and resident of Gladstone, Christmas isn't very different from other nights.
"I love to go out to eat every night," said "I hate to cook. I work hard all day, and for dinner, I like to get out of the studio."
"I really love Mehndi's (Christmas hours are noon to 11 p.m.; 973-871-2323), they have the best Indian food. It's absolutely sumptuous," she said. "I'm not sure where I'll end up dining on the 25th, but I'm certain about one thing – I'm not cooking.
Rattan Ripu, who co-manages Mehndi's Indian Restaurant and Ming II with Goldie Manik, said the restaurants draw a nice crowd on Christmas.
Mehndi's Indian Restaurant is spacious and offers a nice blend of contemporary and traditional Indian style. It seats 120 people.
"Last year the holiday fell on a Friday, and each restaurant had close to 80 customers," Ripu said. He said the restaurant also gets a lot of "walk-ins" on Christmas.
Mehndi's features Tandoori Indian style cuisine, which means it is cooked in a clay oven. The Tandoor oven is fueled by charcoal, which creates an intense heat that cooks meat or seafood very quickly and results in food that is crispy on outside but juicy on the inside.
"We're famous for its lamb chops, which are cooked at 450 degrees, but are extremely tender," Ripu said. "Other wonderful dishes include chicken, mixed grills with catfish, shrimp, and lamb and Indian spices."
Ripu described the décor of Ming II (Christmas hours are noon to 3 p.m., then 5:30 to 11 p.m.; 973-871-2323) as New York contemporary.
"One of our most celebrated dishes is the whole fish with ginger, which the New York Times reviewer said was the best he ever had," Ripu said.
He said another popular dish is the duck with a special soy barbeque sauce.
"My relatives have promised to do all of the cooking this year," said JoAnn Pravata, a resident of Bernardsville and owner of Tailoring by Marco in Berkeley Heights.
"Having just launched our new business, I do not have the bandwidth to cook this year. If my relatives drop the ball, we're going to one of my favorite restaurants in the area—Ling Ling Riverwalk Chinese restaurant in Basking Ridge, said Pravata. "I just want to relax and be served."
Ling Ling Riverwalk (Christmas hours are noon to 10:30 p.m.; 908-580-9588) has seating for 100 and according to its staff, is generally busy on Christmas day.
Still searching for a place to eat on Christmas? Hong Kong Palace in (Christmas hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; 908-850-4212) and Fujiyama Japanese Restaurant (Christmas hours are noon to 10:30 p.m.; 908-850-9400), both in Hackettstown, will be open.
In Morristown, Aikou will be open Christmas Day as well. It serves traditional Chinese favorites such as General Tsao's chicken and crispy orange beef, and also more than 30 varieties of signature sushi rolls, as well as thai noodles and curries.
For more things to do on Dec. 25, see our earlier "Ten Places Open on Christmas Day."