Walk into Shanghai Bun in Matawan, New Jersey, and check out the tables filled with locals enjoying dumplings, soups, and other Chinese noodle shop classics. They're exactly who you'd expect to see if this place were in Chinatown—instead of a suburban strip mall. Just look at the menu. Start by getting yourself that Beef Sandwich. You won't regret it. It's a sesame bun with thin slices of braised beef and herbs.
The menu goes on, though, with a whole section of the menu called "Shanghai dim Sum" that lists at least four or five kinds of dumplings, a few buns, and Scallion Pancakes. The menu calls them "Dim Sum," but they're really snacks that originated far from Hong Kong. If you came to Shanghai Bun and ordered nothing more than these, it would be worth the trip—but you'd still be missing the best stuff.
Then there are those bowls of noodle soup. The homemade noodles here are a paragon of the craft and without question, the best in the state. Order the Shredded Pork and Szechuan Radish Soup for a reminder of what noodles can be when skilled chefs prepare them. The texture and flavor of these noodles, supported by the soup, is nothing short of remarkable.
That doesn't mean that I always order noodles, I'll indulge my personal passion for rice cakes here often enough; they're an old favorite and well prepared. It's the same with a whole bunch of other dishes too—soymilk-based breakfast items on weekends, trays of steamed dumplings, and even stir-fry dishes. The quality is high, the kitchen is consistent, and prices are reasonable.
Unlike other small, authentic Chinese restaurants in the area, at least Shanghai Bun has customers. I suspect that there are still huge numbers of people who drive past it on their way to places that aren't quite as good, but within the New York City limits.
It's their loss.
952 State Route 34, Matawan NJ 07747 (map)