Sustainability and Seasonality: Ficus Blooms in Princeton, NJ


One look at the restaurant’s website or social media, and prospective customers will notice the Ficus tagline: “A place for Bon Vivant.”

Bon Vivant is a French term, and it refers to a sociable individual who has developed refined tastes, particularly in relation to food and drink, according to Merriam-Webster. Off the bat, it’s reminiscent of a foodie featured on shows like Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, or Action Bronson’s F*ck That’s Delicious. 

The restaurant’s owner, Quinta Li, explained more about the unique experience she and her team are creating for customers. This Princeton, NJ, establishment—known as Ficus—is a light and cheerful restaurant rooted in sustainability. Ficus features a seasonal menu and provides quality food. The fine-casual restaurant is located on the top floor, and the cafe is on the first floor.

Ficus’s Food

Salmon farro salad

“My favorite is the salmon farro salad,” Li said. “It’s our best-selling salad. The farro is mixed with radish, pear, fennel, parsley, mint, and orange. The warm salmon over the cold salad is very refreshing, especially with the citrus vinaigrette that we make in-house.”

Quinta Li discussed the dishes she was most excited for customers to try this spring.

Bulgogi bánh mì, at Ficus

 “Our most popular sandwich since we launched it last year is our Blugogi bánh mì. It’s a Korean-style marinated rib-eye cooked to perfection. We serve it on a toasted ciabatta roll with mayo, pickled daikon radish, cucumber, carrots, and garnished with cilantro leaves.”

Chef Sam Lim

The food doesn’t seem to be rooted in any one school of thought or culture. Instead, the business owner suggested that the most important thing is providing quality, delicious food made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. To do this, she’s chosen to work with Chef Sam Lim, who recently crafted the spring menu.

Spring menu items at Ficus

Some of their spring menu highlights include duck à l’orange (Crescent Farms duck breast, carrot puree, strawberry marmalade, orange fennel salad) and spring scallops (day boat scallops, spinach risotto, asparagus, beurre blanc). 

An Art-and-Sustainability-Influenced Restaurant

Intertwined are the restaurant’s food and concept. As a result, the menu and offerings change with the seasons, and ingredient availability. 

“We are a community restaurant that focuses on sustainability,” said Li, who also shared that Ficus has committed to being a no-waste kitchen and is part of the Too Good to Go food waste program.

Honey Miso Salmon

 “Everything we use is recyclable and compostable,” she said. “We have local vegetables. Not only are we using compostable products, but our customers are eating in a sustainable way.” 

“Another menu item is chimichurri steak,” she said. “It’s a popular dish that people are asking for, which we are bringing back for springtime. “It is served with shiitake mushrooms, which are a new addition from our previous version of the chimichurri steak.”

Quinta Li is a Chinese native and was born outside of Hong Kong. With her family, she moved to the United States at the age of 14. They settled in Princeton, NJ. From there Li went on to pursue an artist’s education, first in London and later at Columbia University. While Li studied art and education in college, she didn’t leave that behind when her passion for hospitality took center stage.

Korean Bulgogi Tacos

Back to the Beginning

“During COVID, I had to leave the city,” shared Quinta Li. “[I went] back to Princeton. There was an opportunity here and I opened Ficus in 2021. I was always passionate about food and eating different cuisines, and I love cooking. Growing up, my parents banned me from culinary school. My dad said, ‘No you can’t do that.’ He wanted me to study art.” 

Art by Thomas Kelly at Ficus

Today, Li’s art comes to life in the form of a restaurant, and a café. Customers benefit from the Ficus team’s creative mindset when they’re able to try top-notch fusion cuisine in a special setting. 

“Some of the spring items we work with are asparagus, carrots, and zucchini,” said Li, “and lots of citrus, like orange and lemon for spring flavor. We get our meat and seafood from Vrola—it’s a local family-owned vendor with a very long history.”

What’s to Drink at Ficus?

Ficus is a BYOB restaurant however, they’ve teamed up with a local winery to offer wine by the bottle for guests. 

Wine from Old York Cellars

Old York Cellars is based 30 minutes from Ficus, and they’re an award-winning winery in NJ,” said Li. “I taste all their wines and choose the best for my guests. I think our wine selection is very good. We’ve got one fruity white wine and a red wine. The white riesling is very popular. The sparkling wine or fruity wine is made from local blueberries. It’s the most special and best from Old York Cellars. “We also have a new one called DMC. It is a blend of their merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc, syrah, and chambourcin.”

Quality Tea from the Café at Ficus

The Puppy Love, at Ficus

When customers first walk into Ficus, they’ll find themselves inside the comfortable ground-floor café at the restaurant. Customers have the option to enjoy amazing beverages and delicious food made from quality ingredients whether they sit down for dinner in the upstairs restaurant or for a quick lunch in the café. 

“The quality and unique flavor of the food we create brings the customers back,” explained Li. “The second floor is the upscale restaurant. We serve the same high-quality ingredients in the café as well—it’s very elegant for lunchtime.”

Li also shared that her family is in the tea business—bringing classic hot teas and boba tea to the table along with coffee and other café staples.

Boba tea

“We have very high-quality tea,” Li shared. “All the tea we serve is from my family. At Ficus, it’s always freshly brewed and not stored in the fridge for days. For us, if we have leftover tea we will water the plants with it. Most places do not have the quality tea that we have.”

An Inspiring Season

Cider Glazed Chicken

Spring is an exciting time for the Ficus team. The Nassau Street restaurant fills up with professors, faculty, students, locals, and others from Mercer County and beyond who want to have lunch, dinner, or a private catered event at Ficus. 

Li describes her restaurant as fancy but fun, and especially beautiful during a time when the weather is warming up and the flowers are blooming in the Garden State.

235 A Nassau Street
Princeton, NJ