Newsday critic Joan Reminick reviews Cheap Eats restaurants (generally, a spot where two people can eat for $30 or less) year-round. From Nassau to Suffolk, she finds the good, the no-so good, the great. Here are the best Cheap Eats eateries reviewed in 2014.
Morning Rose Cafe
Morning Rose Cafe (317 Bedford Ave., Bellmore): This charming little breakfast and lunch cafe, with its pretty pastel interior, has a calming bed-and-breakfast vibe. But it's the culinary skill of chef Roberto Baez that has people lining up at the door. In the morning, Baez offers hot chilaquiles (pictured), a rousing Mexican egg scramble with steak, chicken or pork. And fluffy lemon-poppy "voodoo berry" pancakes served with a bright berry compote. Later in the day, standouts include a lush Cuban Reuben sandwich, delicate Alaskan tea sandwiches done with house-cured salmon and a crusty-juicy-fiery-smoky blackened picante burger accompanied by first-rate hand-cut fries. All worth the wait.
Joe's Garage and Grill
Joe's Garage and Grill (40 Peconic Ave., Riverhead): True, a mini-racetrack runs above the bar and a car lift doubles as a stage. But Joe's Garage and Grill rises way above its gimmicky race car theme. Credit chef Brian Burner's from-scratch cooking and slow-smoking for making it a pit stop for serious gastronomes. Start with grilled shrimp over plush apple-wood bacon grits or seductive Tokyo Drift sliders -- steamed Asian buns stuffed with smoked pork belly, kimchee and cucumber salsa. There are meaty dry-rubbed St. Louis ribs, tender brisket, juicy-smoky burgers and a homestyle turkey potpie with biscuit crust. Finish with Burner's s'mores chocolate mousse.
EAT Gastropub (2823 Long Beach Rd., Oceanside): At this hip-casual newcomer, an on-site greenhouse is used to grow herbs and produce that often end up in the dishes turned out by chef and co-owner John Maher. Maher's assortment of dips and house-made chips pairs well with creative cocktails and craft beers. Not to be missed: watermelon salad, chicken potpie, meat loaf "TV dinner" and crunchy fried chicken with thick homestyle waffles. Other lures: house-made bacon, hand-cut fries. From talented pastry chef Christine Gangitano, a mind-blowing chocolate dessert sampler and an outstanding olive oil cake topped with house-made vanilla ice cream.
Magic Taco Corp.
Magic Taco Corp. (3321 Sunrise Hwy., Islip Terrace): The magic is in the food at this bare-bones shack with indoor seating for six and no restroom. Plan to go during off-hours, and if you opt for takeout, know that it's never the same as food eaten on-site. While dinnerware may be foil, paper and plastic, gustatory rewards from chefs and co-owners Steven Scalesse and Devin Delgado compensate. Try the knockout vegan black bean soup with marinated tofu and pickled red onion or the nuanced vegan kale salad with cauliflower and almonds. Other successes include soft corn tortilla tacos with seared marinated tofu and scrambled eggs (pictured), steamed Chinese buns with juicy seared flank steak, as well as rice flour kimchee pancakes with pickled vegetables. Note that plans are in the works to open a larger, more comfortable location.
Manka Peruvian Kitchen
Manka Peruvian Kitchen (216 Glen St., Glen Cove): From chef-owner Boris Torres, trained as both an architect and a chef, comes a repertoire of artistically plated Peruvian dishes both modern and classical. Among standout starters: cold green mussels capped with a bright Peruvian relish as well as a refreshing grilled shrimp and calamari tiradito, a raw fish dish. A colorful main dish octopus salad is rife with flavor-texture-temperature contrasts. Try Torres' exemplary rotisserie chicken, bronze and juicy. The dish called "aeropuerto" combines Peruvian-Chinese fried rice with lo mein noodles and seafood, to comforting effect. And there's ceviche, a lustrous mix of flawless raw fish pickled by its citrus marinade. (Pictured: Steamed mussels topped with Peruvian relish.)
Pho Maxia Vietnamese Restaurant (817 Carman Ave., Westbury): Brothers David Yu and Hoa Kevin Du have opened this Westbury storefront, a modern reprisal of their Bethpage Vietnamese spot from nearly two decades ago. Chef Yu makes an exceptionally aromatic bowl of pho, or rice noodle soup. Try his crisp, delicate spring rolls with fresh mint wrapped in lettuce leaves. Or a banh mi sandwich featuring grilled hash pork with lettuce, pickled carrot, cilantro and cucumber. A specialty here is banh hoi, angel hair pasta woven into little patties, steamed and presented with grilled beef, pork or shrimp (pictured) plus pickled vegetables and fresh mint. Similar toppings work well over rice vermicelli in the dish called "bun." Finish with creamy French flan with caramel sauce.
Corazon de Cuba
Corazon de Cuba (26 E. Park Ave., Long Beach): This bi-level Cuban spot boasts much more than a booming bar scene. Cuban-born chef Oscar Juarez wins you over with flaky empanadas, smoky ham croquettes and juicy, tender grilled steak bocadillos, or sandwiches. Try his salpicon, a simple and impeccable seafood salad. Or his meltingly delicious Cuban sandwich. A showstopper is sizzling lime-and-garlic-marinated roast chicken (pictured). Less flashy but just as alluring: lechon asado, moist and juicy roast pork. Finish with empanadas stuffed with creamy rice pudding -- excess that works.
Ra-Kang Thai Cuisine
Ra-Kang Thai Cuisine (895 W. Beech St., Long Beach): Vibrancy informs the highly genuine Thai cuisine at this attractive newcomer. Here, shrimp tom yum soup exemplifies the classic Thai interplay of spicy-sweet-sour-salty. There's startling flavor in shrimp-basil rolls featuring shellfish wrapped first in a Thai basil leaf, then in a crisp spring-roll wrapper. Also irresistible are pot stickers with chicken and cabbage, as well as flaky little chicken curry puffs. On a cold day, try an entree-size bowl of bracing beef noodle soup (pictured). Shrimp in red curry are plump and succulent, a Panang curry with vegetables bright and fresh. Making the mouth tingle: chicken with green peppercorns.
Green Tea Restaurant (1015 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook): You'll hear Mandarin and Cantonese at this multiregional Chinese restaurant within walking distance of Stony Brook University. Here, both authenticity and gratification quotients run high. Start with shrimp dumpling soup, a hearty spinach-chicken broth with a perfect shrimp dumpling at its center. A complex layering of flavors and textures characterizes the fisherman-style fish fillet, fried flounder tossed with chilies, cilantro, black beans and dried pork. Stealing the scene is cumin tofu (pictured), crisp cubes cloaked in velvety spices. There's also that well-rendered classic, walnut shrimp with mayonnaise. And, for comfort alone, noodles with braised vegetables starring shiitake mushrooms and bok choy.
Grillmark (1008 Willis Ave., Albertson): Fast food that's simple, flavorful -- and good for you -- is the rule at this Mediterranean counter-serve spot. If you're willing to settle for paper and plastic dinnerware, the reward is savory marinated and skewered poultry, seafood and meat, grilled to juiciness and served as a platter or in a pita wrap. A top pick is the juicy, citrusy house-made gyro, both chicken and pork versions. Winning skewers include moist chunks of swordfish (pictured), velvety filet mignon and juicy pork. Even white meat chicken works. Sides, such as Mediterranean rice and quinoa, are augmented by seasonal vegetables. You can also go with a salad entree, such as the lively Thai shrimp with fennel, pineapple and peanuts. Finish with lush, creamy rice pudding.