A Classic chicken sandwich at Ruby's Coop in Deer Park.

A Classic chicken sandwich at Ruby's Coop in Deer Park. Credit: Randee Daddona

Newsday's food critics eat out almost every day of the week in pursuit of Long Island's best restaurants and food news. Here is their annual list of the dishes and drinks that topped their year:

Scott Vogel

Chicken malai boti at Karahi Adda, Westbury

The contraption emerging from the Westbury kitchen resembles nothing so much as a hangman game, the server ferrying it to the table so carefully a pair of suspended kebabs swing only gently from side to side. The morsels of chicken — marshmallow-sized, faintly golden, singed black at the points — appear proud of their tandoor scars, and proud too of the marinade that gets them there, a clever combination of cream, pulverized cashews, ginger and garlic that owner Imran Moeen first tasted on the streets of Lahore’s Old City. And while matchless malai boti is a standout starter, Moeen very properly named his Pakistani restaurant for the karahi, a wok-like pan used all over the Indian subcontinent. He himself presides over a fleet of them in his kitchen, stirring up fine versions of chicken keema and baby goat karahi, before setting each in a heat-tolerant basket for servers to deposit tableside. More info: 467 Old Country Rd, Westbury; 516-303-9399, karahiadda.com

Rye vodka at Twisted Cow Distillery, East Northport

Bursting to life from a former five-and-dime in East Northport, John Pawluk’s expansive facility — part cocktail lounge, part state-of-the-art spirits factory — might have been little more than an elaborate second act for its owner, a former Wall Street accountant. But the elixirs hailing from his massive mash cookers scream otherwise, none louder than Twisted Cow’s Series 19 rye vodka (a tribute to the NY Islanders’ 19 consecutive playoff series victories over five seasons). The spirit is creamy and complex, with flavors of malted grain that are delicate but lingering, and a finish so soft and sweet it begs for poetry. Maybe it’s beginner’s luck, or maybe it’s Pawluk’s insistence on using only Long Island grains in his spirits, in this case rye from Foster Farm on the East End. In any case, he achieves something Big Alcohol almost never does: a clear spirit that doesn’t taste like hand sanitizer in a fancy bottle. More info: 13 Hewitt Square, East Northport; twistedcowdistillery.net

After 25 years of commuting from Long Island to Wall Street, John Pawluk opened his own distillery and tasting room in East Northport. Newsday's Scott Vogel stopped by the distillery to see how the spirits are made.  Credit: Yvonne Albinowski; Newsday archive

Dum ka murgh at Jazeera, Hicksville

Blessed though Long Island is with fine restaurants celebrating several of India’s food-fascinating regions, few are dedicated to one of the most food-fascinating of all — Hyderabad. And while that fact alone makes this Hicksville arrival a noteworthy event, it’s the eatery’s mastery of the above curry and other regional specialties that's truly something to cheer. Marinated chicken slow-cooked in a nutty, yogurty slurry augmented with multiple aromatics and a pumpkin seed or two might seem like nothing special, but Jazeera’s meat is so juicy and perfectly tender, the gravy in which it arrives so heavenly, you find yourself ordering naan after naan just to mop it up. It’s just one of several dishes that make this eatery a standout from start to finish, the finish in one case being a dessert of qubani ka meetha, a sweet and tarty compote of stewed dried apricots wonderfully balanced by drizzles of cream. More info: 37 W. John St., Hicksville; 631-229-3646

Andi Berlin

Baked Alaska at Arlo Kitchen & Bar, Northport

Perched in an old manor at the top of a woodsy hill, Arlo is old New York seen through the eyes of an Instagram-savvy millennial. But the multilevel restaurant saves its biggest showpiece for last. Months before the famed Delmonico's Steakhouse reopened its doors this year, Arlo presented its signature achievement: the baked Alaska on roaming carts with servers wielding blowtorches. A chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream that's infused with bourbon-soaked cherries ($16) arrives at the table covered in a puffy white cloud of bourbon meringue. The server pours high-proof spirits atop the cake and lights it all on fire, then places a glass dome over the top until it fills with smoke. After a couple minutes, your spoon dips into the seared edges and in one bite you've got something hot, something cold, something new and something very old. More info: 1036 Fort Salonga Rd., Northport; 631-491-2756, arlokitchenandbar.com

Baked Alaska is the star of the dessert menu at...

Baked Alaska is the star of the dessert menu at Arlo in Northport. Credit: Newsday /Andi Berlin

Smashburger and dumplings at Kai Burgers & Dumplings, Great Neck

This unassuming one-room pub makes one of the best smashburgers I've ever consumed, and also, one of the best Chinese dumplings. Together, they are a powerhouse of comfort foods, and a testament to what makes Great Neck, well, great … Half of the menu at Kai is devoted to Chinese dishes like Sichuan cold noodles and pan-fried dumplings, the type of pot stickers that are still connected by a diaphanous crispy shell on the bottom. When you crack off each dumpling (the shrimp and egg with baby chives being my favorite), marvel at how soft and supply steamed it is. Then turn your sights to the burgers, with their thin patties of freshly ground beef, perfectly seared on the grill. The Kai Burger ($18.99) is a simple double cheeseburger on brioche, with the addition of Canadian bacon. But boy does it go well with some soy sauce and a crisp Sierra Nevada beer. More info: 7 S. Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck; 516-304-5398, kaiburgers.square.site

Hot chicken bao at Bird & Bao, Patchogue

Bird & Bao has been a Newsday favorite since it opened it in 2019, but the bao creations have only gotten more extraordinary over the years. Kimchi smashburgers, golden falafel patties and sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches all fit into the neat little confines of these puffy white Asian buns. At first glance they appear to be gimmicks, but former Brooklyn chef Conor Swanson takes an exacting approach to the little presents of varying proteins. They're all different and fun, but none reach the same glorious heights as the fried chicken, which requires a painstaking process to create that shattering crust with the soft, voluptuous meat. Chicken thighs are marinated for 24 hours in a soy sauce spice mix before getting dredged in potato starch to silken them up, and fried two different times. The hot chicken bao ($6.50) is also dunked in a togarashi pepper oil and finished with chile mayo and black vinegar pickles. The spice makes it just, sing. More info: 58b S. Ocean Ave., Patchogue, 631-447-2200, birdandbao.com

The Nashville hot chicken bao at Bird & Bao in...

The Nashville hot chicken bao at Bird & Bao in Patchogue. Credit: Newsday/Andi Berlin

Marie Elena Martinez

Double cheeseburger at Gimme Burger, Oyster Bay

Though Jesse Schenker is better known for swank restaurants with lavish tasting menus, the man also makes a mean burger. At his Gimme Burger in Oyster Bay, there are only six sandwiches to choose from — a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a bacon cheeseburger, a crispy chicken sandwich, a grilled cheese (served creatively on inverted burger buns), and a veggie burger. But the burgers, which can be ordered as singles ($6.95) or doubles ($8.75), are a plump 4-ounce custom blend of chuck, brisket and short rib, and ground in-house daily. Perfectly cooked, pink in the middle, they sit atop fresh, fluffy, housemade buns sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds, and garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and special sauce. Served via a pass-through window, the '70s-themed spot hits every mark when you're simply craving a killer burger. And some fries! More info: 39 E. Main St., Oyster Bay; 516-922-3200

Literally every single thing at Jaydsiri Thai Bistro, Great Neck

When the first experiences you have with Thai food come in northeastern Thailand itself, you don't expect to replicate those flavors on Long Island. Surprise, surprise — they await in Great Neck at the excellent Jaydsiri Thai Bistro. The delicate crepe dumplings melt into your mouth, readying you for the papaya salad's cool, crisp kick, plus the herbaceous pork laab's crumbly texture, and the many grilled meat dishes that differentiate Isan Thai food from that of the rest of the country. Each dish presented by Sirikanya Suworrapan's kitchen is vibrant — steaming examples of how wonderful simple food can be. Don't sleep on the spicy, fragrant basil pad kraprao — with sliced steak, ideally — which highlights Thai basil mixed with peppers, onions, and a soy chili sauce that can transport diners to Thailand with one bite. More info: 23 S. Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck; 516-696-3654

Isan vegetable soup and Isan steak at Jaydsiri Thai Bistro...

Isan vegetable soup and Isan steak at Jaydsiri Thai Bistro in Great Neck. Credit: Linda Rosier

Revuelta Pupusa at Pupusa City, Middle Island

Before Iris Viera settled into her brick and mortar in Middle Island, she was slinging pupusas out of her food truck on Route 347 in South Setauket. Fast forward a year, her storefront sells rice flour pupusas — as opposed to cornmeal-based handhelds — and is a bustling center for those craving the Salvadorean snack. With a recipe from her grandmother, Viera's pupusas are crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside and come in a variety of classics like beans, beans and cheese, chicken, and loroco (a variant of zucchini), but it's the revuelta that did us in. Loaded with steak, chicharrón, beans and cheese, the melty, meaty must-have is “the” order to really get to know how special a pupusa can be. More info: 833 Middle Country Rd., Middle Island; 631-448-8907 

Erica Marcus

Chicken sandwich at Ruby’s Coop, Deer Park

The owner of three LI butcher shops, Justin Aronoff is usually occupied with the beefier end of the meat spectrum but, at Ruby’s Coop in Deer Park, he devotes himself to chicken, specifically, chicken sandwiches. Working with chef-cookbook author Will Horowitz (formerly of Anker in Greenport), he developed six fat sandwiches featuring fried chicken thighs in various guises. It’s hard to beat the Classic, topped with “coop” sauce and pickles. But it’s not impossible — I had a hard time choosing among the Viet-Nashville, which takes its inspiration from the Vietnamese banh mi, with pickled carrots and daikon, roasted peanuts and jalapeño mayo, and the Koreatown, featuring the flavors of soy, garlic, gochujang, pear kimchi and lettuce. More info: 528 Commack Rd., Deer Park; 631-667-2017, rubys-coop.com

A Classic chicken sandwich at Ruby's Coop in Deer Park.

A Classic chicken sandwich at Ruby's Coop in Deer Park. Credit: Randee Daddona

Unagi don (eel rice bowl) at Youta Ramen, Mineola

It goes without saying that the ramen at Youta Ramen is among the best on Long Island. But this new Mineola eatery, the brainchild of chef Thanontuch Tyler Laiamnuay and general manager Pat Boon, excels in a much wider range of homey Japanese specialties, among them, five “donburi.” The rice bowls come topped with fried chicken, sliced pork, shrimp and vegetable tempura, or freshwater eel. This last bowl, “una don,” is a real triumph, the tender, barbecued eel arranged in a checkerboard with gossamer-light shreds of cooked egg and cucumber. More info: 58 Old Country Rd., Mineola; 516-447-6995, youtaramen.com

Doughnuts at Flourbud Bakery, East Moriches

Every day is delicious at Flourbud, but only on Sundays will you find Cristina Tovar’s doughnuts — and you better arrive early. Every week brings another expression of the baker’s inventiveness and mastery of flavor, though there are usually only two or three varieties at a time. Pillowy buns might be filled with blackberry or raspberry jam, or banana or almond-cinnamon cream. The “crème brûlée” doughnut is filled with custard and then topped with a caramelized shell. Crisp, twisted crullers can be glazed with pomegranate or chili-chocolate or spiced apple. More info: 130 Montauk Hwy., East Moriches; 631-621-6563, flourbudbakery.com

Pomegranate-glazed crullers at Flourbud Bakery in East Moriches.

Pomegranate-glazed crullers at Flourbud Bakery in East Moriches. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

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