DENVILLE — The locals know it, the out-of-towners know it, and now America knows it: Hunan Taste is the best Chinese restaurant in New Jersey, at least according to a recent state-by-state slideshow by The Daily Meal.

You can count me among the locals; I grew up in Denville and lived there for parts of 24 years. And while some of the entree prices — and the seating availability — generally prevent Hunan from being a weekly stop, it has always been a welcome special occasion dinner.

The restaurant opened in 1986, four years before my family moved to town, but I can't imagine the decor has changed much since then. We last ate there about nine months ago, and I don't remember anything being different from a quarter-century prior except for the TVs behind the bar.

If you've never been to a sit-down Chinese restaurant, try referencing that classic 1991 "Seinfeld" episode, from the same era. Hunan still puts out white tablecloths and napkins, not to mention the dining room's signature feature: a series of colorful fish tanks built into the walls. It's impressive.

But of course, what has to impress you most about a restaurant is the food, and Hunan Taste still delivers. It's best to go with a larger group of people, as each entree can conceivably be finished by a single person, but the portions are big enough to eat "family-style," each person at the table sharing a bit of their selection with the others.

Hunan Taste does offer take-out, which my family has taken advantage of many times, of more traditional American Chinese dishes: sweet and sour chicken, pepper steak, Moo Shu pork, and the like. But if you really want to treat yourself, go there, grab a seat (again, you may have to call days ahead), and try one of the house specialties. For me, favorites in recent years have been the tangerine beef and Hunan lamb.

We know people who drive specifically to Denville to keep their regular reservations at Hunan Taste. It is that good. Bob Williams and I have had many hungry, early-morning discussions in the newsroom about how much we enjoy a meal there.

For me, it's always worth a trip home.

The view of Broadway in Denville from the Hunan Taste parking lot (Patrick Lavery, Townsquare Media NJ)

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Do you have a different choice for the best Chinese restaurant in the state? Let Patrick know on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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