This Jersey Shore restaurant has been named among the best new spots in America

Esquire magazine has released its "Best New Restaurants in America" list, and one in New Jersey made the cut.

Food writers Jeff Gordinier, Joshua David Stein, Omar Mamoon, and Esquire's lifestyle and culture director, Kevin Sintumuang, ranked 50 of their favorite restaurants from California to Maine. In the Garden State, the nod went to Lita in Aberdeen.

"Over the past year, we crisscrossed the nation, sampling some 200 new dining establishments that serve almost every conceivable type of cuisine," they wrote. "After a series of spirited debates, we settled on 50 restaurants that stood out from the rest."

Lita, which opened in April, is an Iberian restaurant from James Beard Award nominee and “Top Chef” competitor David Viana, who is executive chef, and Neilly Robinson of Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge and Heirloom at The St. Laurent in Asbury Park. The concept for Lita and its cocktail lounge, La Otra, was inspired by Viana’s Portuguese background.

Also from Viana and Neilly: Heirloom at The St. Laurent is one of 10 new restaurants that stood out in 2022

Executive chef David Viana prepares pork steak in the open fire hearth oven at Lita, a modern Iberian restaurant in Aberdeen.
Executive chef David Viana prepares pork steak in the open fire hearth oven at Lita, a modern Iberian restaurant in Aberdeen.

“I’m Portuguese, my parents are immigrants, and this entire concept came out of the pandemic … when we were stuck in the house every day,” Viana told the Asbury Park Press earlier this year about the restaurant, which is named for his mother, Rosa Lita. “I started feeling nostalgic for things I haven’t eaten in a long time, stuff my grandma made.

Esquire magazine has released its Best New Restaurants in America list, and one in New Jersey made the cut.

“(What’s important to me) is bringing back flavors of Portugal to all the people here in New Jersey that miss their home," he added.

Esquire's writers praised Lita's charcoal hearth: "It is the thing you least expect to see inside a strip mall in central Jersey next to an old bowling alley, but then again, no one expected that a destination-worthy Iberian restaurant would be here."

They enjoyed fried Manchego, tuna tartare — "one of the most sublime bites you'll have this year" — and the cocktails crafted by bar manager Ricardo Rodriguez.

"By night’s end, as you step out into the parking lot, you half expect the mosaic sidewalks of Lisbon," Sintumuang wrote.

Lita's inclusion on Esquire's list isn't the only national attention they received recently. In a Nov. 24 article from The Wall Street Journal titled "Don’t Send Compliments to the Chef and Other New Rules of Dining Out in 2023," Viana and Robinson discussed the restaurant's business structure.

Employees, all of whom are chefs, are trained for both front and back of house. They all start at the same salary, as well as share all the tips, and alternate between the front and back of house.

“It wasn’t until all the walls got dropped around me (while working with) Heirloom Kitchen, having those real interactions with guests, that I realized how much of an impact my food, smile and knowledge (has)," Viana told the Asbury Park Press. “I believe chefs need to be reminded on a daily basis why they’re doing what they’re doing. Seeing the smile on someone’s face when it’s amazing, seeing a frown if it’s not.”

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Esquire Best New Restaurants includes Lita in Aberdeen New Jersey