If you're familiar with the cuisine in Newark’s famed Ironbound section, you’ll recognize much of the fare at Ria-Mar, a South River satellite of that neighborhood’s Portuguese eateries.
If you're familiar with the cuisine in Newark’s famed Ironbound section, you’ll recognize much of the fare at Ria-Mar, a South River satellite of that neighborhood’s Portuguese eateries. It takes a few twists and turns through a dodgy residential area to find Ria-Mar, an odd, hulking edifice housing a full banquet facility, bar and restaurant. And if you park in the sorely-in-need of-repaving parking lot out back, prepare to walk past a klatch of smokers outside the banquet hall entrance.
Once inside, however, the ambience becomes more inviting. Colorful murals depicting Portuguese fishing villages warm the space, though tables in the main dining room are placed close together and there are no nooks or crannies affording a more intimate experience.
Luckily, the crowd is laid-back and jovial and the servers friendly, so you can relax along with the rest.
A sip of sangria will surely help. The red is fruity and full-bodied and goes down easily, so watch it. Use it to wash down a panful of steamed clams in green sauce. They’re terrific—plump, garlicky, briny and even better with a hunk of the grade-A Portuguese rolls. But you can skip that salad you’ll get shortly after you sit down. It’s standard-issue sog—iceberg (that’s none too crisp), onion and tomato overly dressed in a vegetable oil–based vinaigrette—and unless you have an enormous appetite, it’ll simply spoil you for what’s ahead.
Like the picadinho di chourico, for instance—a big stew of spicy sliced chorizo, sliced onions and ripe black olives. If you’re watching your salt intake, you might want to go easy on the dish; order it for the table (everything practically demands to be shared or brought home to be enjoyed as leftovers for days) and have just a few slices as a piquant complement to your other plates. Certainly, the stuffed mushrooms could have used a bit of pep; oversize button mushrooms filled with a mostly bread-crumb mixture, they were greasy vehicles with little flavor.
Of course, you’ll find the usual array of paelhas (remember, it’s a Portuguese place, so it’s paelha, not paella) and mariscadas. We chose the namesake paelha Rio-Mar, a pot brimming with shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, Alaska king crabs and lobster tails atop yellow rice. Good? Sure! Great? Nah. It was a customary concoction, and unfortunately, the lobster was dry. Far, far better was the bacalhau a Gomes Sa, shredded salt cod stewed with onions, garlic, olives, boiled potatoes and hard-cooked eggs. Dressed with olive oil and a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice, the dish was delectable indeed. Mild, sweet, citrusy, savory—it had it all.
And do make room for dessert. The toasted almond cream cake recalled the famous Good Humor bar in a wonderful way, and the banana coconut cake was a rich, moist rendition with a frosting that was hard to resist. Needless to say, we left full and contented.
Ria-Mar Restaurant & Bar
25 Whitehead Avenue, South River;
Hours Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
What you should know
- Entrées average $22
- Full bar
- Banquet facility
- Reservations suggested
- Major credit cards accepted