Top 11 Cheap Eats of 2011


Great eating can happen anywhere: A sandwich cafe. A pizza chain. A gastro pub. What matters is that instant when flavors, textures and temperatures come together in a way that stops me in my tracks. Here, in descending order of my preference, are my Top 11 Cheap Eats for the year, places that made me sit back and savor the moment. -- By Joan Reminick

11. La Casa Latina, Westbury At this hot
(Credit: Kathy Kmonicek, 2011)

11. La Casa Latina, Westbury

At this hot new Latin newcomer, style and flavor do a rumba together. Check out the gorgeous fish tacos lined up in a metal holder. House made soft corn tortillas, perfectly fried fish, a topping of micro greens and chipotle salsa. Chef-owner Roberto Herrera, also the chef at Bryant & Cooper Steak House in Roslyn, offers an array of pan-Latin plates prepared with panache. Try the chic, homestyle pork and cheese-stuffed pupusas, followed by the parillada Argentina, a mixed meat plate with grilled short rib, sweetbread and three kinds of sausage. Other hits: roasted semi-boneless half chicken and garlicky shrimp scampi with clams. Finish with lush, milky tres leches cake.

Read our critic's review

10. Relish, Kings Park Wiggle your way into
(Credit: John Dunn, 2011)

10. Relish, Kings Park

Wiggle your way into a capacious booth upholstered in faux leather the color of Bartlett pears. Life seems all the better after a meltingly good plate of roasted sweet potato pancakes topped with pecan butter. Chef-owner Steve Cardello sources ingredients with an eye toward the local and sustainably raised. At breakfast and lunch, ethereal ricotta pancakes score highly, as do inventive omelets made with organic eggs from a Kings Park poultry farm. Also try the sandwiches, burgers and hand-cut fries. Dinnertime, linguine with clam sauce features house-made chorizo. Have a Butterfingers milk shake and forget calories.

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9. Frankly Thai, Franklin Square Thirteen years ago,
(Credit: Uli Seit, 2011)

9. Frankly Thai, Franklin Square

Thirteen years ago, Frankie Perrone fell in love with Jintana Lauchalermsuk after tasting her pad Thai. You'll understand why after you've eaten those life-changing noodles and more at this Thai charmer. Frankie Perrone is an effusive host while his wife Jintana Lauchalermsuk commands the kitchen, working her wonders on such dishes as a complex duck salad, light curry puffs, nuanced pineapple curry and well-spiced "drunken" noodles with chicken. And where else are you going to find Thai-style zeppoli -- warm fried nuggets of dough drizzled with icing -- for dessert?

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8. Vinoco Wine Bar & Tapas, Mineola You'll
(Credit: Yana Paskova, 2011)

8. Vinoco Wine Bar & Tapas, Mineola

You'll probably get to know the couple at the next table rather quickly, squeezed in as you are, but who cares? Just pass the steamed Asian pork belly buns, take another sip of sangria and enjoy the party. This hot little wine bar and tapas cafe serves up an array of global small plates. Order some wine or sangria and have the crisp truffled mushroom and cheese empanadas, potato timbales with three kinds of seafood fillings, and flavorful dark meat chicken skewers. Check for multicourse meal deals, too.

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7. Pepe Rosso 24, Port Washington Thin slice
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara, 2011)

7. Pepe Rosso 24, Port Washington

Thin slice of raw meat with lemon, arugula and truffle oil are pretty standard in Italy, but in this land of mesclun and balsamic, it seems like a gift. This airy and colorful pizza-pasta place rises above the suburban cliche, thanks to the skill of chef Sergio Macancella and co-owner Michael Tizzano. The bresaola salad is one case in point; another is the pitch-perfect classic rigatoni Bolognese. Co-owner Massimo Gammella is responsible for the ultra thin-crust Margherita pie. Conclude with Tizzano's delicate pear-and-ricotta torte.

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6. Bistro 25, Sayville On weekends, this big,
(Credit: Doug Young, 2011)

6. Bistro 25, Sayville

On weekends, this big, bustling spot seems to draw everyone in Sayville. A savvy lot, taking advantage of a caliber of cooking one would expect at a restaurant with loftier prices. Chef Brian Shuren offers a repertoire of well-crafted dishes priced to please at this friendly, stylish spot. Standouts include braised pork belly over corn pudding, truffled mac and cheese, lamb “porterhouse” and pork au poivre. Finish with a blackberry lemon tart Tatin.

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5. Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, Carle Place Truly
(Credit: Yana Paskova, 2011)

5. Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, Carle Place

Truly unexpected: a loud, crowded chain where one culinary comfort follows another. The coal oven at this Florida-based franchise turns out some enticing meals. Don't scoff until you try the homey roasted pork ribs with vinegar peppers, the lush meatballs and the lightly charred chicken wings topped with caramelized onions. Roasted cauliflower pizza is a sweet seduction, its crust gorgeously crisp and charred. The downside: the noise, the wait.

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4. Roast Sandwich House, Melville A hole-in-the-wall kind
(Credit: Heather Walsh, 2011)

4. Roast Sandwich House, Melville

A hole-in-the-wall kind of place that proves lunch fit between two pieces of artisanal bread can be a feast. The humble sandwich rises to great heights at this well-appointed little counter-service spot. Chef co-owners Joe Cordaro and Matthew Doyle make virtually everything in house -- roasting meats, using artisanal breads and combining ingredients with skill and innovation. Standouts include the California BLT with roast beef, the tuna salad with potato chips, the meatball sandwich and the Cuban. On the side: roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots and hand-cut fries. And now breakfast has joined the roster.

Read our critic's review | Video: Go behind the scenes at Roast Sandwich House


3. Lawson Pub, Oceanside It's packed in here,
(Credit: Chris Ware, 2011)

3. Lawson Pub, Oceanside

It's packed in here, and rightfully so. If you've never had a lobster salad-topped burger, you'll want to catch it here. At this reincarnation of a long-gone bar, chef-owner Joseph Bonacore honors both past and present. Share some truffled house-made potato chips and a trio of seafood-filled tacos. Other standouts: butternut squash salad, a surf and turf of short ribs and spiced barbecued shrimp, and a pig's "butt" sandwich. Finish with a mini dessert, such as nutella panna cotta on a spoon.

See our critic's review | Go behind the scenes at Lawson Pub

2. Old Fields, Greenlawn The warmth of the
(Credit: Heather Walsh, 2011)

2. Old Fields, Greenlawn

The warmth of the restaurant comes as much from its owners welcoming ways and homey cuisine as from its fireplace. Some nights, you may be given a gratis demitasse of soup after you order. Or a mini ice cream soda in a shot glass before you leave. Last year, David and Christine Tunney bought this 50s steakhouse and renovated it to preserve its historic character. Chef Luke Desanctis' cooking keeps getting better as its anniversary approaches. Burgers, both beef and turkey, excel, as do innovative sandwiches, like ahi tuna steak with olive tapenade and one of Long Island's top BLTs. Extra allure comes from weeknight blue plate specials, preceded by a first-rate house salad and followed by old-fashioned chocolate icebox cake.

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1. MP Taverna, Roslyn While there are no
(Credit: Yana Paskova, 2011)

1. MP Taverna, Roslyn

While there are no murals of the Aegean at this sophisticated Greek gastro pub, one bite of the octopus salad and you wonder whether this is what they served on Mount Olympus. Star chef Michael Psilakis, who gained fame and a Michelin star in Manhattan, returns to his native Long Island with a stellar version of Greek cuisine that incorporates both the innovative and the traditional. At this bi-level gastro pub, he sends forth ethereal dumplings with lamb and a perfectly grilled pork chop rubbed with lemon zest. His lamb burger is a revelation. Finish with a galaktoboureko parfait or apple baklava.

Read our critic's review

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