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6. FANCY LEE, Babylon Even jaded palates will (Credit: Jeremy Bales)

6. FANCY LEE, Babylon
Even jaded palates will snap to attention when confronted with such dishes as king salmon carpaccio or a flaky Indian roti pancake with a coconut chicken curry sauce or the delectable ganga duck roll, enfolding roasted duck. The showstopping flaming toban yaki clay pot beef is a must.
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Best Cheap Eats restaurants of 2012

You can taste it in a deeply smoky pork rib. A perfect slice of toro sashimi. A ringing hot chicken curry. And savory noodle soup you can't help slurping. Call it care. Craftsmanship. Pride. It's there in the food because of the people behind the food -- from head chef to line cooks to servers, greeters and managers. Whether a place is richly or simply appointed matters less than the TLC in the house. And that, in the end, is what brings you back for more.

Here are the places reviewed in 2012 I want most to return to in 2013. --JOAN REMINICK, joan.reminick@newsday.com

12. PHAYATHAI, Lake Ronkonkoma Why: The multilayered flavors
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

12. PHAYATHAI, Lake Ronkonkoma
Why: The multilayered flavors of Thailand burst on the palate.

12. PHAYATHAI, Lake Ronkonkoma At this modest strip
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

12. PHAYATHAI, Lake Ronkonkoma
At this modest strip mall spot, chef-owner Veerawat Satsri does justice to a complex cuisine. His chicken-coconut soup packs sly heat as it comforts. So, too, do drunken noodles with chicken.

12. PHAYATHAI, Lake Ronkonkoma Penang salmon -- a
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

12. PHAYATHAI, Lake Ronkonkoma
Penang salmon -- a gorgeous seared fillet served over spinach with a coconut curry sauce, is as complex as you’d hoped, as spicy as you’d requested.
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11. AHUVA'S GRILL, Hewlett Why: Bright, fresh Middle
(Credit: Johnny Simon)

11. AHUVA'S GRILL, Hewlett
Why: Bright, fresh Middle Eastern fare that’s also glatt kosher.

11. AHUVA'S GRILL, Hewlett You don’t have to
(Credit: Johnny Simon)

11. AHUVA'S GRILL, Hewlett
You don’t have to observe the laws of kashrut to appreciate the fine Yeminite Israeli cooking of Ahuva Tsadok.

11. AHUVA'S GRILL, Hewlett There’s adventure in a
(Credit: Johnny Simon)

11. AHUVA'S GRILL, Hewlett
There’s adventure in a daily-changing selection of gratis salads and dips. An appetizer combo includes exemplary versions of hummus, babaghanoush and falafel. Don’t forget to get house-baked lafah bread. Kebabs are juicy, delicious.
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10. CHICHIMECAS, Farmingdale Why: Authentic Mexican cuisine that
(Credit: Newsday / Joan Reminick)

10. CHICHIMECAS, Farmingdale
Why: Authentic Mexican cuisine that rises above the suburban cliche.

10. CHICHIMECAS, Farmingdale This bilevel Mexican spot really
(Credit: Johnny Simon)

10. CHICHIMECAS, Farmingdale
This bilevel Mexican spot really cooks, especially when chef-owner Alejandro (Alex) González is in the house.

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10. CHICHIMECAS, Farmingdale His homey pozole, a pork
(Credit: Johnny Simon)

10. CHICHIMECAS, Farmingdale
His homey pozole, a pork and hominy stew, is a chill-chaser. You’ll also want to try the soft corn tacos al pastor, nuanced pepian de puerco, swell slow-smoked Mexican-style ribs and chicken. The guacamole is knockout stuff.
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9. KAZAN AUTHENTIC CENTRAL ASIAN CUISINE, Port Washington
(Credit: Johnny Simon)

9. KAZAN AUTHENTIC CENTRAL ASIAN CUISINE, Port Washington
Why: Meet the compelling cuisine of Uzbekistan.

9. KAZAN AUTHENTIC CENTRAL ASIAN CUISINE, Port Washington
(Credit: Johnny Simon)

9. KAZAN AUTHENTIC CENTRAL ASIAN CUISINE, Port Washington
Find a culinary kaleidoscope of flavors at this attractive spot featuring the cuisine of a region previously ignored on Long Island.

9. KAZAN AUTHENTIC CENTRAL ASIAN CUISINE, Port Washington
(Credit: Johnny Simon)

9. KAZAN AUTHENTIC CENTRAL ASIAN CUISINE, Port Washington
Get into the loghman, a bright noodle-beef-vegetable soup, as well as the Navruz salad of radishes, cucumbers and scallions in a creamy dill-spiked dressing. Skewered superstars include salmon, shrimp, chicken on the bone and ground beef lula kebabs.
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8. YAO'S DINER, Centereach Why: Authenticity rules at
(Credit: Doug Young)

8. YAO'S DINER, Centereach
Why: Authenticity rules at this nexus for multiregional Chinese cuisine with an emphasis on fiery Sichuan fare.

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8. YAO'S DINER, Centereach Adam Yao, a Stony
(Credit: Doug Young)

8. YAO'S DINER, Centereach
Adam Yao, a Stony Brook student, opened this attractive little eatery to satisfy his yearning for a taste of his native China. Past standouts: West Lake beef soup riddled with surprise flavor bursts, megawatt kung pao chicken, an inspired rendition of fried lamb with cumin. Not for the faint of palate.
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7. DAISHO OF JAPAN, Huntington Why: Discover that
(Credit: Adrian J. Fusssell)

7. DAISHO OF JAPAN, Huntington
Why: Discover that there’s more to Japanese food than sushi, tempura and teriyaki.

7. DAISHO OF JAPAN, Huntington The magical grill
(Credit: Adrian J. Fusssell)

7. DAISHO OF JAPAN, Huntington
The magical grill at this newcomer sends forth skewered meat, vegetables and fish that burst with savory juices. An equally compelling draw is the rich, hearty ramen soup brimming with fresh, pliant noodles and your choice of protein: velvety beef, roast pork or BBQ eel are among the favorites.
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6. FANCY LEE, Babylon Why: A former diner
(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

6. FANCY LEE, Babylon
Why: A former diner is reborn as a family-friendly Asian fusion spot that transcends the everyday.

6. FANCY LEE, Babylon Even jaded palates will
(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

6. FANCY LEE, Babylon
Even jaded palates will snap to attention when confronted with such dishes as king salmon carpaccio or a flaky Indian roti pancake with a coconut chicken curry sauce or the delectable ganga duck roll, enfolding roasted duck. The showstopping flaming toban yaki clay pot beef is a must.
See more photos.

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5. PRETTY TONI'S CAFE, Valley Stream. Why: Soul
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

5. PRETTY TONI'S CAFE, Valley Stream.
Why: Soul food that’s cooked with heart -- and without any pork products.

5. PRETTY TONI'S CAFE, Valley Stream. In a
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

5. PRETTY TONI'S CAFE, Valley Stream.
In a setting both warm and tasteful, chef and co-owner Toni Clifton serves up such deeply satisfying dishes as Cajun salmon cakes, smoky skewered BBQ grilled shrimp and blackened catfish.

5. PRETTY TONI'S CAFE, Valley Stream. Chef and
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

5. PRETTY TONI'S CAFE, Valley Stream.
Chef and co-owner Toni Clifton's twist on a classic -- chicken and waffles -- really rules. Red velvet waffles are sweeter than the common variety, but not cloying. And you can get the fried chicken smothered with old-fashioned gravy and onions.
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4. KUSHI JAPANESE FUSION, Nesconset. Why: Warm welcomes
(Credit: Randee Daddona)

4. KUSHI JAPANESE FUSION, Nesconset.
Why: Warm welcomes and cool sushi define this Japanese strip-mall find.

4. KUSHI JAPANESE FUSION, Nesconset. Why: Chef and
(Credit: Randee Daddona)

4. KUSHI JAPANESE FUSION, Nesconset.
Why: Chef and co-owner Eric Wu, also a co-owner of the highly regarded Onsen in Oakdale, is a raw-fish craftsman and effusive personality. The crew is cheerful, as are the creations such as tuna foie gras, served with homemade honey mustard and eel truffle oil sauce.

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The alluring duck tortilla at Kushi in Nesconset
(Credit: Randee Daddona)

The alluring duck tortilla at Kushi in Nesconset

3. BISCUITS & BARBEQUE, Mineola. Why: Southern Cajun
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

3. BISCUITS & BARBEQUE, Mineola.
Why: Southern Cajun fare -- slow-smoked, richly flavored, homemade comfort food -- in a vintage railroad-car diner.

3. BISCUITS & BARBEQUE, Mineola. Why: This welcoming
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

3. BISCUITS & BARBEQUE, Mineola.
Why: This welcoming little eatery is as far as it gets from health food, unless you count the psychological gratification to be found in a big hot flaky biscuit with andouille sausage gravy.

3. BISCUITS & BARBEQUE, Mineola. Why: Chef Robert
(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)

3. BISCUITS & BARBEQUE, Mineola.
Why: Chef Robert Bouyer's thick slab of fiery, sweet blackened catfish is perfection. And so is the shrimp, smoky and plump, over grits you could easily become addicted to. Swell house-smoked chicken and ribs, too. Warm pecan pie? Try to stop at only one bite.
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2. SUSHI KO, Merrick. Why: A gifted sushi
(Credit: Yana Paskova)

2. SUSHI KO, Merrick.
Why: A gifted sushi chef keeps things fresh and creative.

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2. SUSHI KO, Merrick. Why: At this friendly
(Credit: Yana Paskova)

2. SUSHI KO, Merrick.
Why: At this friendly Japanese-fusion restaurant, James Wang’s truffle white tuna appetizer represents him well: delicate fish inventively plated, the subtlest note of truffle and a voluptuous mouth feel. His rice-free golden egg roll features a paper-thin egg crepe enfolding spicy tuna, eel and vegetables.

2. SUSHI KO, Merrick. Why: From the kitchen:
(Credit: Yana Paskova)

2. SUSHI KO, Merrick.
Why: From the kitchen: a stellar appetizer of crisp-roasted, boneless duck with lime-hoisin sauce. Moist lacquered salmon teriyaki. And, finally, a silky crème brûlée.
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1. SOUTHERN SPICE, New Hyde Park. Why: Chef-owner
(Credit: Yana Paskova)

1. SOUTHERN SPICE, New Hyde Park.
Why: Chef-owner Sridhar Rathinam’s nuanced, electric cooking from the Chettinad region of South India has what it takes to light you up.

1. SOUTHERN SPICE, New Hyde Park. Why: The
(Credit: Yana Paskova)

1. SOUTHERN SPICE, New Hyde Park.
Why: The setting may be modest, but the firecracker cuisine simply sparkles.

1. SOUTHERN SPICE, New Hyde Park. Why: Served
(Credit: Yana Paskova)

1. SOUTHERN SPICE, New Hyde Park.
Why: Served up with elan and enthusiasm: mind-bending goat brain masala. Also, slyly incendiary lamb chops; light, subtly spiced Kerala crabcakes; and rosy pepper-rimmed slices of tandoori duck.
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