Del Fuego's platter of surf and turf fajitas — beef and...

Del Fuego's platter of surf and turf fajitas — beef and shrimp — is served with the classic fixings of guacamole, salsa and sour cream. Credit: Doug Young

St. James is a town that knows how to eat. A wealth of restaurants, bakeries, cafes and pizzerias clusters along its northern border on Route 25A (aka North Country Road) but also extends down Lake Avenue to its southern tier, a stretch of Route 25 dotted with car dealerships.

Here are some of the standouts among the many eateries in this food-dense burg:

Basil Cafe & Restaurant

413 Lake Ave.

This snug, romantic bistro dubs itself “Persian-Italian.” The spice profile runs to saffron, pepper, turmeric, coriander and sumac, with occasional hits of mint, barberry and parsley — plus lots of garlic — and kebabs share the menu with pasta, rack of lamb and flatbreads. Perfumed basmati rice complements many dishes, such as masterful zereshk polo, marinated chicken breast with buttery, saffron-laced onions, crumbled pistachios and tart barberry seeds. More info: 631-862-4444,

BLT Cafe 

521 Lake Ave.

If there were a “Cheers” among luncheonettes, BLT Cafe would be it. The place hops from breakfast through lunch with diners who banter with each other as they tuck into scrambled eggs, French toast or hulking Cubano sandwiches. More info: 631-584-4229

French toast served with fresh fruit at BLT Cafe in...

French toast served with fresh fruit at BLT Cafe in St. James. Credit: Heather Walsh


418 North Country Rd.

Even after 15-plus years, there’s still nothing like a cozy evening of adventure devised by Jonathan Contes and his partner, chef Tate Morris. Their five-course menu often changes radically from night to night, and sometimes from course to course. Adding to the intrigue: Mosaic makes the food choices, not you (although dietary restrictions are honored). Trust is key, and trust is rewarded by a, well, gorgeous mosaic. One evening a buttery salmon omelet and pretzel baguette gave way to tuna crudo with ginger jasmine rice, curry swordfish with peach compote, charred filet mignon with mushroom ravioli, and finally, coconut jasmine pudding accompanied by a surprisingly tasty PB&J coffeecake. Every meal is a production, impossible without a cast of thousands (of ingredients), and epic in every way. More info: 631-584-2058,

Del Fuego Tex-Mex 

430 North Country Rd.

This casual, saloon-like temple to Tex-Mex emphasizes the fresh and the housemade on a menu that travels from fajitas to filet mignon, dry-rubbed ribs to fish tacos, as well as burritos, quesadillas and the usual Tex-Mex players. The prices are moderate, the tequila is plentiful and the place is often filled to the brim. More info: 631-963-6900

Del Fuego's platter of surf and turf fajitas — beef and...

Del Fuego's platter of surf and turf fajitas — beef and shrimp — is served with the classic fixings of guacamole, salsa and sour cream. Credit: Doug Young

Garguilo’s Bakery 

503 Lake Ave.

Inside this unassuming brick building near the railroad tracks is carb heaven: Racks loaded with breads and baguettes, plus cakes, cookies and doughnuts, as well as a counter cornucopia of focaccia, danishes and Irish soda bread. The butter cookies and chocolate meltaways (a chocolate-coffee ring with the nickname “crack cake”) have devoted followings. Those in lunch mode can go the savory route with chicken potpie or quiche Lorraine. More info: 631-584-9400, 

Husk & Vine Kitchen & Cocktails 

655 Middle Country Rd.

The small-plate menu changes every Wednesday inside this spot, where the barroom feels like a stylish roadhouse and the dining room, more formal. Dishes hopscotch around the world, from Asian-style Kobe beef meatballs to tuna poke to a tender Wagyu burger layered with bacon, smoked Cheddar and tomato jam. There’s a lengthy craft beer list, hearty whiskey cocktails and plenty of wine, too. More info: 631-250-9616,

The Wagyu burger comes with bacon "candy," as well as...

The Wagyu burger comes with bacon "candy," as well as smoked Cheddar, tomato jam and the usual toppings at Husk & Vine Kitchen & Cocktails in St. James. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Pietro Cucina Italiana 

404 North Country Rd.

A certain aura clings to this old farmhouse on the edge of town on North Country Road, where Restaurant Mirabelle got its start in 1984 and, later, Kitchen A Bistro spent 20 years. Its latest tenant is a buzzy and atmospheric nouveau Italian spot with a tiny bar, witty service and occasionally long waits for a table. More info: 631-862-6129,

NoCo Kitchen Wine and Cocktails 

429 North Country Rd.

This polished New American restaurant serves a dedicated eat-at-the-bar clientele who sip wine and cocktails with starters such as Spanish octopus, crispy oysters and buttermilk-sriracha chicken wings. Those throwing down for a more formal meal might tuck into Crescent Farm duck breast or veal Bolognese. More info: 631-250-9600,

Seared breast and leg confit of local duck with chanterelle...

Seared breast and leg confit of local duck with chanterelle risotto is served at NoCo Kitchen Wine and Cocktails in St. James.  Credit: Daniel Brennan

Soul Brew 

404 North Country Rd.

Take loads of coffee (both hot and cold-brewed), plenty of smoothies and pastries and a menu dense with scrambles, pancakes, panini and melts; combine those with funky artwork, occasional live music and a marble bar that serves beer and wine, and you have Soul Brew: a kinetic place that seems perpetually filled and festive, as well as highly caffeinated. More info: 631-250-9238,


420 North Country Rd.

St. James has its fair share of Italian places, and each seem to fill a specific niche. For Spuntino, that role would be something akin to Italian diner: An airy, vibrant space with a coal-fired oven turning out lots of pizza. That, in turn, is sold by the slice on one side of Spuntino, while the other is a comfy dining room with plenty of booths, warm service and a menu that covers all of the Italian bases: thin-crust pizzettes, namely, and dozens of pasta dishes, from the traditional (fettuccine carbonara) to the less so (zucchini noodles with eggplant and tomato sauce). More info: 631-686-6700,

A muffaletta panino at Spuntino in St. James.

A muffaletta panino at Spuntino in St. James. Credit: NEWSDAY/Daniel Brennan

Vintage Prime Steakhouse

433 North Country Rd.

This is the neighborhood steakhouse, a friendly place with a clubby, almost theatrical dining room and plenty of tender chops: Porterhouse, T-bone, filet mignon. You can bookend the meal with shellfish cocktails and augment it with creamed spinach and potatoes — this is about as classic as it gets. More info: 631-862-6440,

The Trattoria 

532 North Country Rd.

"Great things come in small, hard-to-find packages" could be The Trattoria’s motto. Carved out of the back end of a hidden strip mall, the modest dining room accommodates fewer than 25 diners, and yet the kitchen packs more culinary firepower than those of most huge, opulent local Italian palaces. (Happily, the pandemic occasioned the erection of a tent in the parking lot, more than doubling capacity.) Chef-owner Stephen Gallagher isn’t doctrinaire about tradition — you might encounter Manchego cheese or spiced yogurt as well as polenta and Bolognese ragù. But his emphasis on clarity of flavor, seasonality and the primacy of vegetables gets to the very heart of Italian cuisine. The menu changes frequently here, but you’ll always find classic versions of lasagna and pappardelle Bolognese, bucatini carbonara and spaghetti all’Amatriciana. In addition to its gentle prices, The Trattoria offers BYOB with no corkage fee. Cash only. More info: 631-584-3518,

Lasagna Bolognese at The Trattoria in St. James.

Lasagna Bolognese at The Trattoria in St. James. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

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