Long Island’s best hidden restaurants
You've driven up and down the same street 10 times, but, still, no sign of that kebab house you're looking for. Hungry and frustrated, you consider calling the authorities to report a missing restaurant. Just then, your GPS announces you've arrived at your destination. "Wrong!" you shout.
Instead of throwing the entire navigation system out the window, you'd do well to understand that it wasn't built to handle Long Island's best-hidden dining spots. Some are tucked away in parking lots, office buildings and apartment houses. Others are secreted away in alleys without proper addresses.
All are worth seeking out, but trying to find them will drive you crazy -- unless you know exactly where to look.
Selections by Newsday's food staff.
Osteria Leana(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)
Osteria Leana, Oyster Bay: Stylish staff work the room in this low-lit cosy restaurant, serving unfussy Italian fare that displays the work of a skilled chef and an eye toward seasonality. Find it: The entrance to Osteria Leana is in the back of the building, in the restaurant's parking lot, across from the White Spinnakers sign that's visible from South Street.
Uova in purgatorio is a display of fried polenta, a duck egg, tomato, soffrito and salsa verde at Osteria Leana in Oyster Bay.
Jema(Credit: Daniel Brennan)
Jema, Huntington: This stunning but subdued four-level space, owned by Miracle Mop impresario Joy Mangano, is a welcome respite from Edison light bulbs, pork-belly everything and the same tired broccoli and carrots served with every entree. Chef Franco Sampogna, Brazilian born and French trained, is making Long Island produce his own - even if that means no salad in the winter. The small menu changes from week to week. Jema is at the very priciest end of the LI restaurant spectrum, but adventurous diners will not be disappointed. Find it: It's only a block off of the village's main drag, New York Avenue, but this easternmost stretch of Gerard Street could be in Yahpank as far as Huntington is concerned. Avoid the traffic by approaching Jema from the cross street, Stewart Avenue, which is one block east of New York Avenue.
Smoked Black Angus strip steak with potatoes done three ways is sauced tableside at Jema in Huntington.
Toro Tapas & Tequila(Credit: Doug Young)
Toro Tapas & Tequila, Patchogue: Toro Tapas & Tequila is a warm neighborhood spot with a bright dining room, an expansive bar and interesting food. Find it: The eatery tucks back from East Main Street in Patchogue, a few steps from a handful of Latin delis and a gym; look for the red and black lettering above the entrance on Rider Avenue.
Seafood paella at Toro Tapas & Tequila in Patchogue includes mussels, clams, shrimp, lobster and calamari.
Farm Country Kitchen(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)
Farm Country Kitchen, Riverhead: In a small house overlooking the Peconic River, you'll find chef-owner Tom Carson offering a daily-changing lunch menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps. There's also dinner, with such dishes as boneless marinated sliced Crescent Farms duck breast and pan-seared sea scallops over linguine. Ingredients are carefully sourced and mostly local. In fine weather, you can eat on the veranda. Find it: Take Exit 72 (Route 25) from the LIE; go almost 3 miles. When you see a Dodge dealership, look right; there should be a chalkboard, brown Colonial and yellow barn. Park in the gravel by either structure; follow the path to the restaurant.
Farm Country Kitchen in Riverhead has a menu that changes daily, depending on what's fresh at the market.
LOL Kitchen & Grill(Credit: Daniel Brennan)
LOL Kitchen & Grill, Centereach: This spot serves Northern Chinese street food in a stylish, minimalist dining room with a windowed open kitchen. Go for the Chinese chives, the Taiwanese sausage and wings from the grill. And be sure to try the Northern Chinese hot pot, with pork belly, potatoes, eggplant and green beans for a bowl that delivers comfort and complex flavor. Find it: Tucked in the back of a newish strip mall in Centereach, the restaurant perches behind a vape shop and a KTV karaoke spot at 2545 Middle Country Rd.
Cumin lamb with peppers is served at LOL Kitchen & Grill in Centereach.
West End Cafe(Credit: Jeremy Bales)
West End Cafe, Carle Place: This eatery is a reliable stop for New American fare, with some Euro and Asian side trips. Good choices include the pan-seared halibut with spring-vegetable hash; the grilled pork chop with crisp white polenta, broccoli rabe and mostarda; lobster-and-shrimp ravioli; the salmon club; and the house burger. Find it: Look for the inside corner of the Clocktower Shopping Center, on the east side of Glen Cove Road, north of the Long Island Rail Road trestle.
An appetizer on the early bird menu of West End Cafe in Carle Place is Asian crispy duck tacos.
Verde Wine Bar and Ristorante(Credit: Daniel Brennan)
Verde Wine Bar and Ristorante, Deer Park: This eatery delivers New World wines and compelling dishes from executive chef James Ahern in a renovation of what used to be Joe's Pizzeria. For appetizers, try the roasted clams with smoked pork belly or the veal sweetbreads. Among entrees, pastas are crowd pleasers and the rabbit leg could be one of the best dishes on the menu. Heads up on Tuesdays, when it's half-price wine for bottles over $90 at the bar. Find it: Next to a gym and a sports store on an industrial stretch, Verde sits in an unassuming location at 450 Commack Rd. in Deer Park.
A cured meat-and-cheese board with condiments is served at Verde Wine Bar and Ristorante in Deer Park.
Pita House(Credit: Randee Daddona)
Pita House, East Setauket: The East Setauket spinoff of a long-standing Turkish Medford spot serves up savory dips -- such as spicy-hot ezme and tahini-tinged hummus -- as well as juicy, well-marinated kebabs, among them, lamb and chicken. Finish with kazandibi, burnt-sugar-topped custard. Find it: Hard to believe such a large restaurant could be so well hidden. The place is in the Heritage Square strip mall, which is more like a building off a parking lot -- well behind Wild by Nature market. Find the market, and you should be able to find the restaurant.
The mixed kebab platter is served with grilled red and green peppers and salad at Pita House in East Setauket.
Biscuits & Barbecue(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)
Biscuits & Barbecue, Mineola: In an atmospheric 1940s vintage railroad-car is a diner specializing in satisfying Louisiana fare as well as slow-smoked chicken and ribs. Not to be missed is the flaky hot biscuit with andouille sausage gravy. Or fiery-sweet blackened catfish. Shrimp and grits, mac and cheese and a warm peach cobbler all add up to major comfort. Find it: The place is secreted away in an industrial section of Mineola. Although the numerical address is correct, it's easy to drive right past, since the place faces sideways.
Peach cobbler is served a la mode at Biscuits & Barbecue in Mineola.
Sombrero's Southwest Grill(Credit: Sombrero's Southwest Grill via Facebook)
Sombrero's Southwest Grill, Kings Park: At this Tex-Mex eatery under the same ownership as Dixie's Smokehouse, you can eat surprisingly well, despite much of the food coming from steam trays behind the counter. The pork carnitas work especially well in a taco, burrito or a burrito bowl. Find it: Like Dixie's Smokehouse, the place is situated off Meadow Road, on the other side of a large municipal parking lot.
Sweet potato chipotle soup is garnished with tortilla strips at Sombrero's Southwest Grill.
Joe's Garage and Grill(Credit: Randee Daddona)
Joe's Garage and Grill, Riverhead: Joe's is a hip race car-themed place that scores from-scratch cooking and in-house smoking. Try the Tokyo Drift sliders, steamed Asian buns, enfolding succulent house-smoked pork belly, kimchee and cucumber salsa. Or the smoked turkey potpie, served in an iron skillet with a cornbread topping. Find it: The restaurant is not quite on Peconic Avenue but, rather, embedded in a building that fronts the Riverhead municipal parking lot on the side closest to Peconic Avenue.
The beef brisket platter at Joe's Garage and Grill.
Turkuaz Grill(Credit: Daniel Brennan)
Turkuaz Grill, Riverhead: At this charming spot, you can look out at the Peconic River from a table on the front porch or a picnic table on the lawn. But the real draw is the Turkish food: a vibrant shepherd's salad, an assortment of lively meze (small plates), as well as fine grilled marinated kebabs. Find it: The restaurant is situated off the municipal lot that fronts the Peconic River. It's at the end closest to the Riverhead Aquarium.
The mixed kebab plate includes lamb and chicken shish kebab, chicken adana, meatball, gyro and lamb chops at Turkuaz Grill in Riverhead.
La Plage(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)
La Plage, Wading River: French, Italian and American influences mark chef Wayne Waddington's menu at La Plage, which takes in dishes such as smoked beef carpaccio, English pea-and-mint ravioli in lamb's shoulder ragu, duck leg confit with chive risotto, gold-and-red beet salad with goat cheese, braised short ribs. Find it: Long Island Expressway exit 68 for William Floyd Parkway to Wading River. County Route 46 merges with the parkway. Keep right to reach Route 25A. Turn left onto Randall Road, right on North Country Road, left on Sound Road, left on Creek Road to the beach. La Plage will be on your left, across the street from the beach.
Strawberry-rhubarb bread pudding, topped with buttermilk ice cream, is a seasonal dessert at La Plage restaurant in Wading River.
Swell Taco(Credit: Newsday / Joan Reminick)
Swell Taco, Babylon: This adorable, jaunty little spot offers both soft and hard corn tortillas, along with soft flour tortillas. You can get a fine fish taco as well as a "crunch and munch" ground beef taco featuring a hard corn tortilla wrapped in a soft flour one. Great margaritas, too. Find it: The place isn't on Deer Park Avenue but behind it, reachable via an alleyway next to Fitness Incentive. It faces a municipal parking lot and is situated between the rear entrances of Fitness Incentive and Mary Carroll's Bar & Beer Garden.
A taco trio -- shredded chicken, fried fish and carne asada -- at Swell Taco in Babylon.
Massa's Pizzeria(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)
Massa's Pizzeria, Huntington: At Massa's, pizzaiolo Bill Massa bakes pizzas in a coal-fueled oven at temperatures exceeding 900 degrees. Pizzas are strictly by the pie, not the slice. There also are a few appetizers, salads and entrees, such as chicken Parm. Find it: Although the address is on East Main Street, the pizzeria is around back, facing the municipal parking lot on Gerard St. GPS 80 Gerard St, and you'll be directed there. You also can get there through a passageway that leads through a building fronting Main Street. Confusing, no?
The white pizza at Massa's Pizzeria in Huntington is made with fresh mozzarella, scallions, pancetta, scamorza cheese and truffle oil.
Thai Angel(Credit: Doug Young)
Thai Angel, Islandia: Incongruously planted in a sprawling strip mall is this excellent Thai restaurant. Given its narrow entrance, you will be amazed at how spacious the interior is. It's the skillfully prepared food, though, that's the real attraction. Find it: It's in the Islandia Shopping Center, a few stores down from TJ Maxx.
Thai Angel in Islandia's version of orange duck is prepared with roasted orange peels, ginger and cashew nuts.
The Clubhouse(Credit: The Clubhouse)
The Clubhouse, Bellmore: The Clubhouse sneaks up on you, hidden away in a residential neighborhood along one of South Nassau's many canals. Since the place shares ownership with Amerrickana Tapas & Bar in Merrick, it also shares its chef, Howard Fay. Fay's fish tacos with grilled mahi mahi and pickled red cabbage show his culinary skill, as do his crab-intense crabcakes. Find it: The Clubhouse is located at 134 Clubhouse Rd. in Bellmore.
Izumi(Credit: Randee Daddona)
Izumi, Commack: A cavernous house of hibachi and sushi, Izumi keeps the knives clanging and the vegetables flying. The hibachi menu ranges from single item choices (chicken, shrimp, lobster, calamari, filet mignon, Chilean sea bass) to more ornate combinations. You'll also find a full sushi menu, as well as Japanese kitchen items. Find it: The place looks absolutely minute from the outside. In fact, the entryway is barely visible, squished into a corner of a Commack strip mall perpendicular to Five Guys Burgers and Fries (with whom it shares signage). Stepping inside, you'll gasp to find a lobby with a pond and Buddha statue. The rest of the place is the size of a hockey arena.
Akbar(Credit: Yana Paskova)
Akbar, Garden City: This handsome spot specializes in northern Indian fare. You'll enjoy that and a lot more. Recommendations include the samosas, tandoori chicken, tandoori lamb chops, lamb vindaloo, rogan josh; vegetable pakoras; channa masala or chickpea curry; sauteed yellow lentils; and simmered black lentils. Find it: Akbar used to have a central location on Ring Road in Roosevelt Field. Now, Long Island's most opulent Indian restaurant requires a few quick turns. Take the Meadowbrook Parkway exit M3W to Stewart Avenue. Merge onto Merchants Concourse. Take a right on Stewart Avenue, then right on South Street.
The Metropolitan Bistro
The Metropolitan Bistro, Sea Cliff: New American dishes bring you to this spot, a spirited restaurant with real personality. Try the beluga lentil salad with andouille sausage, filet mignon sliders, crabcake with sauce remoulade, pan-seared Chatham cod with lemongrass beurre blanc and roast duck with cashews. Find it: Long Island Expressway Exit 39, Glen Cove Road, northbound. Turn right at Cedar Swamp Road and then a quick left at the first traffic light onto Sea Cliff Avenue. Stay on Sea Cliff Avenue to Roslyn Avenue.