Perhaps the most booming of the restaurant categories this year, Cheap Eats delivers an opportunity to explore places that are easy on the wallet. From cheesesteaks to Southern fare, brisket to baba ganoush, here are our top picks for 2016.
Ahuva's Grill(Credit: Johnny Simon)
Ahuva's Grill, Hewlett: Reacquaint yourself with Middle Eastern cuisine at this Israeli-Yemenite (glatt kosher) restaurant. Dips and salads are an exciting start, from the first-rate hummus, to a lively rendition of baba ganoush, red cabbage or a smoky eggplant salad. Move on to the herbal falafel or fried chickpea balls. And enjoy that warm laffa that's more memorable than the whole wheat kubaneh. Be sure to consider the baby chicken kebab with a side of couscous or Ahuva's special steak kebab with meat that's seasoned and marinated, grilled and broiled. (Pictured: Chickpea salad, beets, carrot salad and fresh corn salad).
Shakshuka, poached eggs in a spicy sweet tomato sauce, is served at Ahuva's Grill in Hewlett.
Biscuits & Barbeque(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)
Biscuits & Barbeque, Mineola: A 1940s vintage railroad-car diner is tucked away in an industrial stretch of Mineola. Inside, with Formica counters and stools bolted to the floor, you'll find the setting for a down-home meal of Southern-inspired cuisine. Slow-smoked chicken wings have great depth of flavor. Country biscuits with andouille stick to the ribs. Jambalaya served over rice delivers a marriage of flavors and packs heat. Smoked turkey turns humble collards into something nearly decadent. (Pictured: Peach cobbler a la mode).
Alligator sausage is served at Biscuits & Barbeque in Mineola.
Flour Shoppe Cafe & Bakery(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)
Flour Shoppe Cafe & Bakery, Rockville Centre: Breakfast as well as breakfast-for-dinner is a draw, courtesy of John Maher, former partner/chef at EAT Gastropub in Oceanside. Tartines hit all the savory notes, like the scrambled Florentine, a generous heap of spinach and eggs laced with the sweetness of caramelized onions and a squiggle of Mornay sauce. Served with a side of fruit, it's an elevated version of diner food -- even as it's served on the school lunch trays turned into plates that are so au courant. Say "yes" to the specials, from a crab chowder or cauliflower Parmesan soup and a grilled cheese, to a chicken potpie that billows from the cast iron like a gossamer hat. And save room for sweets like the Kit Kat croissant served on the weekend. (Pictured: Croque Madame).
The green goddess salad with mesclun, romaine, pickled watermelon radish, tomatoes, grapes, cucumbers, pickled eggs and granola is served at Flour Shoppe Cafe & Bakery in Rockville Centre.
Morning Rose Cafe(Credit: Daniel Brennan)
Morning Rose Cafe, Bellmore: Jump-start your morning with hot chilaquiles, an assemblage of tortillas, salsa verde, queso fresco, avocado, scrambled eggs and a choice of veggies, chicken or pork. Those who prefer a sweet breakfast would like the brioche French toast or the fried banana and Nutella crepes. Turn attention to savory dishes during the afternoon, like the Cuban Reuben mash-up, slow-roasted pork shoulder fried pickles, melted Swiss, Dijon and a garlic sauce on grill-pressed rye. Or veer toward an all-American order with the Southern fried chicken breast with Cheddar cheese, bacon, avocado, tomato, greens and honey mustard on a wrap. (Pictured: Voodoo berry pancakes).
The MRC Classic burger, with tomato, red onion jam, sharp cheddar cheese, lettuce and MRC burger sauce is served at Morning Rose Cafe in Bellmore.
The North Fork Shack(Credit: Randee Daddona)
The North Fork Fork Shack, Southold: Samy Sabil and Ryan Flatley, former staffers at North Fork Table & Inn, converted a tool shop for Cessna airplanes into North Fork Shack, a compelling little spot with a chalkboard menu of local ceviche, clam chowder, pulled lamb or fresh-catch sandwiches. Taco and tostadas will please meat lovers and vegetarians, while the gluten-free are not ignored, either. For dessert, chocolate-chip cookies and lemon cupcakes with pistachio buttercream taunt from a cake dish on the counter. (Pictured: Fried cod fish sandwich).
Local clam chowder is served with oyster crackers at The North Fork Shack in Southold.
Pastrami Express(Credit: Newsday / Melissa McCart)
Pastrami Express, Seaford: Offerings here go beyond the name at this Jewish-style deli (that's not certified kosher). With 24 seats, the place is clean and sparse, with tchotchkes on shelves and walls that add grandma-style warmth. As Abe Ahmed tends to meats, including roast turkey, stuffed derma or kishke, chopped liver and thin-sliced beef tongue, his wife, Annie Ahmed, bakes knishes every morning -- spinach, onion sweet potato and meat varieties -- along with potato pancakes and stuffed cabbage. About that pastrami: thin-shaved and pink, with the animated flavor of the spice rub and a hint of smoke. It's why you're here. (Pictured: Pastrami sandwich).
Fried kreplachs with sauteed onion are served at Pastrami Express in Seaford.
Relish(Credit: Jeremy Bales)
Relish, Kings Park: The service here is unfailingly friendly and the surroundings casual-chic. For breakfast, choose among omelets, a "new school" egg sandwich (with house-made maple turkey sausage, tomato, Swiss and spinach), French toast and pancakes, while lunch offers a roast-pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and provolone on a semolina roll and a long list of burgers and shakes in flavors such as maple bacon. (Pictured: A cheeseburger).
Traditional meatloaf is served with mashed potatoes and vegetables at Relish in Kings Park.
Swingbelly's Beachside BBQ(Credit: Juan Cristobal Cobo)
Swingbelly's Beachside BBQ, Long Beach: Fried pickles or tomatoes, rib tips and burnt ends dot the menu for starters at this very good 'cue restaurant serving a fusion of barbecue styles. After a snack, venture into the sandwich options, like the brisket grilled cheese or the pulled pork sandwich. Or go for the smoke pit tacos, whether it's shrimp, fish, pork or chicken -- a value at $4 a pop. Served with a side and cornbread, platters are good for sharing, from baby back or St. Louis ribs to mac 'n' cheese burnt ends. The fried chicken rocks, too -- only available on Tuesday. (Pictured: Fried chicken served with sides of collards, fries, waffles and mac and cheese).
St. Louis ribs are served with salad, cornbread, and mac and cheese at Swingbelly's Beachside BBQ in Long Beach.
Thomas's Ham and Eggery(Credit: Jeremy Bales)
Thomas's Ham and Eggery, Carle Place: There's often a line here for great renditions of classic diner fare. Most egg dishes are served in a skillet, such as the fontina and pancetta frittata or the homemade corned beef hash topped with a fried egg. Stuffed lemon ricotta French toast is surprisingly good, drizzled with blueberry syrup. For lunch and dinner, there are satisfying soups, piled-high salads, overstuffed sandwiches and platters of meatloaf, liver and onions or fried clams. (Pictured: A pulled pork sandwich melt with egg, pepperjack cheese and caramelized onion jam).
A Popeye scramble of eggs, cheese and spinach is served at Thomas's Ham and Eggery in Carle Place.
Tula Kitchen(Credit: Daniel Brennan)
Tula Kitchen, Bay Shore: The beach meets the farmhouse in the new room adjacent to the original dining room at Tula Kitchen. It's a whitewashed space with lots of light and a vegetarian-friendly breakfast, brunch and lunch menus. The fluffy flapjacks (called flap-Jackies, named for the owner, Jackie Sharlup) are some of the best around, while the take on egg sandwiches are elevated, layered with fresh veggies on pretzel croissants or brioche. Greens, bowls and veg-forward pastas showcase the lunch menu, while veggie burgers, falafels and chicken sandwiches wear dressings, charred or caramelized veggies, slaw or cheese. (Pictured: Berry "Flap-Jackies").
Stuffed avocado with carmalized onion, quinoa, sauteed spinach, feta cheese, pine nuts and lemon dressing is served at Tula Kitchen in Bay Shore.