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The best bistros on Long Island

The Ramen Carbonara is made with peppered bacon,

The Ramen Carbonara is made with peppered bacon, garlic, onion and parmigiano-reggiano and topped with a soft boiled egg at Off the Block Kitchen and Meats in Sayville. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Cozy, comfortable, familiar--yet inventive. That's what you'll find at Long Island's best bistros, which are just as likely to turn a great, simple burger as they are to surprise their regulars with a one-night-only special of inventively prepared local scallops.

317 Main Street (317 Main St., Farmingdale): Chef Eric LeVine is a mercurial sort, as evidenced by a menu that features everything from ramen to lobster rolls, duck tacos to chicken paillard. Inevitably there are missteps along the way, but also successes of note include salads served in shakers, a unique duck ramen (its meat from Crescent of Aquebogue), dumplings that burst open with an enthusiasm that Main Street in Flushing would happily embrace, mouthwatering burgers, chicken sandwiches and more. LeVine, a winner of the Food Network’s "Chopped," frequently trawls the dining room for feedback when he isn’t manning a kitchen with more variety than many food courts, or going mano a mano with guests at the chef’s table, or offering still more dining options from rotating themed menus (Taste of Portugal anyone?). A similar grab-bag style prevails at the bar, which stirs up a roster of fine and unique cocktails. Of special note is a large and brand-spanking-new event space capable of hosting live band concerts and more. More info: 516-512-5317, 317mainstreet.com

Almond (1 Ocean Rd., Bridgehampton): It doesn’t require much effort to have a memorable night at Almond; you really just have to show up. This spirited bistro never seems to lose its spark, nor its commitment to imbuing local produce and seafood collide with irreverence (think street corn with kimchi mayo) and ample humor. Tin ceilings, bold wallpaper and a handsome bar lend a relaxed, slightly retro vibe, and the food from executive chef (and co-owner) Jason Weiner — whether heritage pork Milanese or yellowfin tuna over wax beans and fingerling potatoes — has a casual elegance. The raw bar is epic, too, whether scallop-fennel crudo, local oysters or lobster lettuce wraps — and on the other end of the spectrum are three (yes, three) versions of steak frites, a reminder that a love of French cooking is an underpinning here. If you fall in love with some of the accents on your plate — especially that kimchi — you might be able to pick them up in the adjacent L&W Market. More info: 631-537-5665, almondrestaurant.com

Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails (3026 Merrick Rd., Wantagh): Even in the midst of COVID-19’s sweep across the state, chef Chris Perrotta managed to keep his kitchen at the very top of its game, boxing up takeout, such as glossy jerk chicken or house-made pasta, that filled homebound diners with gratitude. Pandemic or not, Blackbird has long been known for its inspired cocktails, too (now available in to-go bottles), and old-fashioned menu is worth working through, visit by visit. The kitchen’s resolutely seasonal dishes might include stracciatella cheese with nectarines and arugula or local sea scallops with sugar-snap peas, roasted garlic and mint. The perfected classics that rarely leave the menu — such as the house cheddar cheeseburger or a comforting spaghetti cacio e pepe — help set Blackbird apart. More info: 516-654-9200, blackbirdli.com

Copperhill (234 Hillside Ave., Williston Park): Got a hankering for cacio e pepe ramen? No? Well, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Chef Gregory Kearns has a knack for showcasing the unfamiliar familiar, as evidenced by a menu that persuasively argues for, among other things, poutine with short rib gravy, devils on horseback, soft-shell crab tempura. and any of several toasts, to include crabmeat with lemon aioli, The attractive, classy-meets-inviting dining room, carved from a 125-year-old Victorian farmhouse and the capacious, softly-lit porch, are equally fine perches from which to enjoy any of a number of fun cocktails, along with entrees such as hanger steak laced with cipollini onions, grilled lambchops, roasted cauliflower and other veggie mains. Sunday brunch is a popular option and understandably so, arguably, thanks to an eclectic approach featuring everything from buttermilk biscuits to blistered shishitos, seared salmon to salmon-and-avocado salad, mac ’n cheese to mimosas. More info: 516-746-1243, copperhillny.com

Eat Mosaic (418 N. Country Rd., St. James): Stepping out of one’s comfort zone may be a theme of 2020, but Eat Mosaic has been romping on that playground for years leading diners on five-course, evening-long culinary treks through unexpected flavor combinations. Chefs Jonathan Contes and Tate Morris met at the venerated Mirabelle (also a Top 100 pick) and later struck out on their own to create what was at first a charming, slightly quirky bistro, and with time, one of the island’s culinary oasis. Each day, the chefs hit up the local farmer, fishmonger and butcher for the night’s feast, which might wend through fresh pasta, seared meats and seafood, creative vegetables and an always interesting dessert, such as buttermilk-pear panna cotta. You don’t necessarily get to choose the courses, but the kitchen fields dietary requests beforehand, and Contes will likely drop in on your table to check in; his charms are part of the experience. A heads-up for wine lovers: These chefs are wine adventurers and it shows in their artful list, one of the most interesting on Long Island (the cocktails follow suit, too). More info: 631-584-2058, eatmosaic.com

Five Ocean (5 New York Ave., Long Beach): This flip-flop-friendly dune-side eatery belies packs serious culinary firepower: Chef-owner Craig Attwood made his name running a number of high-end East End restaurants (East Hampton Point and Jedediah Hawkins Inn, among them). He brings his all experience and passion to bear on the modest surroundings. The menu reflects the seaside location, with local seafood pitched high (tuna tartar, roasted whole fish on a bed of caponata), low (fish tacos) and high-low (butter-poached lobster nachos). Any dish featuring clams is going to be a winner, as is the distinctly non-pescatarian fried chicken, two mahogany-crusted boneless thighs that share a big, low-sided galvanized steel bucket with a peppy slaw and hand-cut fries dusted with Old Bay seasoning. There’s a burger at lunch a strip steak at dinner, and good cheer all day long. More info: 516-517-2828, fiveoceanlongbeach.com

Gatsby’s Landing (1362 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn): The more things change, the more they stay the same at this Roslyn stalwart. An even greater commitment to a farm-to-table ethos informs its prodigious salad offerings, including terrific Caesar and spinach numbers, and equally terrific sides like fingerling potatoes and broccolini. The homey pond-side dining room, featuring a long pass in the middle, where dishes are plated with flourish, remains a top destination for pasta. Perennial favorites include a comforting cacio e pepe finished with mint, a squid-ink tonnarelli studded with blue crabmeat, saffron and bottarga, and a tagliatelle with pork ragu. The brick chicken continues to be excellent as well (currently with Okinawan sweet potatoes), as are the lamb chops accented by pistachio, yogurt and cherries. And if calamari is your thing, don’t miss Gatsby’s version, in which fresh and lightly breaded squid meet a tongue-tingling nuoc cham sauce. More info: 516-277-2318, gatsbyslanding.com

Lola (113 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck): When it opened in 2009, the menu blended New American cuisine with global influences, but over the years it has become more focused on the cuisine of owner Michael Ginor’s parents’ homeland, Israel. Ginor wears another hat as a partner in Hudson Valley Foie Gras and it’s down to executive chef Lenny Messina to turn out such as roasted cauliflower salad with lemon and tahini, flakey-rich malawach (Yemenite flatbread), "skewer plates" based around grilled duck, lamb kofta or beef sirloin. If Lola only served hummus, it would be enough. It's made to order and can be topped with roasted mushrooms, falafel, shawarms, ground lamb, schnitzel or roast chicken. Great wine list and cocktails and, new for 2020, an open-air courtyard out back. More info: 516-466-5666, restaurantlola.com

Lost & Found (951 W Beech St, Long Beach) and Lost at Sea (888 W. Beech St., Long Beach): Alexis Trolf was among the chefs who spear-headed the West End’s post-Sandy culinary efflorescence, opening Lost & Found in 2015 (and, two years later, his seafood restaurant, Lost at Sea). Since the onset of COVID-19, the tiny bistro-tapas-wine-bar can barely contain his creative impulses: he’s added "market," "butcher" and "greengrocer" to its list of attributes. Trolf’s team dry ages its own beef, grinding scraps into burgers and ragus which are sold alongside foie gras, onion soubise and other homemade condiments, Vermont Creamery’s tiny Bijou aged goat cheese, local fruits and vegetables. There are sandwiches and skewers for lunch; for dinner (the only meal with waiter service), the ever-changing menu might feature roasted cauliflower with smoked almonds and aioli, grilled spatchcocked quail, a bone-in veal short loin with that onion soubise. One advantage of the cramped quarters is that customer can see everything the cooks are doing. Call it dinner and a show. It’s essential to reserve ahead at Trolf's marine-focused counterpart, Lost at Sea. Larger plates change with the tides but you shouldn’t miss the smoked fish dip with crostini. More info: 516-442-2606 and 516-632-5263

Off The Block Kitchen & Meats (501 Montauk Hwy, Sayville): Is it a market? A steakhouse? A dinner counter? It’s hard to characterize Off The Block, which is somehow all of these things. In the front is a butcher shop of sorts where you can buy dry-aged steaks and craft beverages; just beyond that, a counter overlooking a kinetic open kitchen led by chef-owner Stephen Rizzo. Pick out a chop from up front and the crew will gamely slap it onto the grill — but they also plate up things such as pork-belly steamed buns, clams steamed in a coconut-corn broth or ramen carbonara. The all-American cheeseburger has a perennial spot in our hearts, as do the fries. (Due to covid-19, the counter was closed at press time, but the restaurant had added outdoor dining for the first time). More info: 631-573-6655, offtheblockmeats.com

Salumi (5600 Merrick Rd., Massapequa) and Plancha (931 Franklin Ave., Garden City): When Lily Kanarova and Josh Kobrin moved to Massapequa, they couldn’t find the kind of restaurant they liked to eat in: a place with a friendly, casual vibe; a menu featuring the best cheeses and cured meats the world had to offer as well as true Spanish tapas; a wine list that ranged far beyond standard-issue pinot grigio and California cab. So, in 2011, they opened Salumi and discovered that there were other Long Islanders with the same gustatory desires. Salumi fulfills those desires with a passionate staff eager to help customers expand their palates and with terrific tapas, sandwiches and larger "chef’s plates" such as shrimp and grits, seared scallops and Iberico pork ribs. In 2013, the couple opened a sister restaurant, Plancha, in Garden City, and, in 2015, the original restaurant expanded into the adjacent storefront, where Salumi Café and Market sells many of the homemade and imported ingredients that distinguish the restaurant’s dishes, as well as baked goods and expertly made coffee. More info: 516-620-0057, salumibarli.com and 516-246-9459, barplancha.com

Small Batch (630 Old Country Rd., Garden City): The term "farm to table" has been bandied around so often it can elicit eye rolls, but chef Tom Colicchio — the superstar restaurateur, head judge of Bravo TV’s "Top Chef" and Mattituck homeowner — walks the walk. Locally grown vegetables, locally produced wines and beers and of course, locally harvested seafood are the bedrock of the food cooking in the open kitchen here, one that looks out over a sleek, farmhouse-inspired dining room. You don’t need to have business inside the mall to indulge a languid meal of grilled octopus with roasted red pepper, chorizo and cranberry beans or agnolotti with ricotta, sweet corn and pickled peppers. On the meat front, Small Batch’s chicken thighs — braised and served with soppressata, cured olives, roasted tomatoes and garlic confit — is ultra-cosseting, while a Wagyu cheeseburger, draped in melted black-truffle pecorino cheese, just might calls for lap around the mall afterward. That is, if you haven’t recently polished off the bar’s riff on Long Island iced tea, made with early-grey-infused vodka, reposado tequila, aged rum and limoncello. More info: 516-548-8162, smallbatchrestaurant.com

Stone Creek Inn (405 Montauk Hwy., East Quogue): The very definition of a country restaurant, this year Stone Creek has been doubling down on its bucolic setting with expanded outdoor dining and a food truck serving tacos, lobster rolls and other casual bites as well as takeout versions of some of the kitchen’s greatest hits. The dine-in-and-out menu remains true to the refined, French-inspired American approach that chef-owners Christian Mir and Elaine DiGiacomo established when the opened in 1996. Menus change with the season but look for such classics as seared foie gras with roasted figs and a Port reduction; traditional caviar service with crème frâiche and blinis and Provencal rack of lamb, as well as more grilled octopus with lemon confit, local fluke ceviche, butter-poached lobster with lemongrass broth. cavatelli with veal ragù. More info: 631-653-6770, stonecreekinn.com

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