Once upon a time in the restaurant world, price and quality were tightly woven together — the fanciest places usually had the best food. With formality on the outs in most things, though, it’s no longer a maxim that you need to dine at a white tablecloth, or spend a fortune, to eat exquisitely. Some of the island’s most talented chefs are now found in decidedly casual settings, wrangling the best ingredients they can find into memorable meals.
That’s what we call a bistro, and here are Long Island’s 10 best.
Note: Most dishes mentioned are samples of the restaurants’ menus and may not be available at all times. Seasonal changes and dish substitutions are common.
Almond (1 Ocean Rd., Bridgehampton): French and New American cooking fuse together with flair at Almond, a spot with an old-school Hamptons vibe: tin ceilings, ample subway tiles and vintage wallpaper, plus a handsome bar and excellent service. Start with the raw bar, then place your trust in any of the dishes from chef Jason Weiner and chef de cuisine Jeremy Blutstein, from duck ramen to clams casino to Korean-style barbecued short ribs. These chefs work tirelessly, and with unending humor (check out their respective Instagrams) to make sure every green, chop and filet that hits their kitchen is shown off in the best possible way. Even Almond's simpler plates -- such as pork ravioli with broccoli rabe, the burger or "le grand" macaroni and cheese -- come with thoughtful twists. Finish with chocolate pot de crème. More info: 631-537-5665, almondrestaurant.com
Halibut with Beatrice's heirloom squash, romesco negro and aji limon oil, as served at Almond in Bridgehampton.
Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails
Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails (3026 Merrick Rd., Wantagh): Food and drink hold equal weight at this stripped-down New American bistro on a busy stretch of Merrick Road. The first thing you'll encounter inside is a bar with dozens of offbeat spirits, manned by award-winning bartender Jonathan Gonzalez. Don't pass it up -- Gonzalez renders nine riffs on the Old Fashioned, spikes drinks with Fernet Branca or house-made cordials, and is a veritable lightning storm of imagination. Self-taught chef Chris Perrotta picks up where the bar leaves off. You might spy him through the pass as he plates unfussy yet soul-pampering dishes such as roasted maitake mushrooms over farro risotto; supple pappardelle with wild-boar sauce; corn-stuffed agnolotti; or a luscious burger ground from grass-fed brisket and short-rib, then sheathed in melted Gruyère, which will rival the best you've ever had. More info: 516-654-9200, blackbirdli.com
Brisket and short rib blend burger with gruyere cheese and fries at Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails in Wantagh.
Cove Hollow Tavern
Cove Hollow Tavern (85 Montauk Hwy., East Hampton): This raftered former farmhouse has been transformed into an elegant saloon by Lisa Murphy Harwood and Terry Harwood, the couple behind Shelter Island's much-loved Vine Street Café. At Cove Hollow, they draw on seasonal ingredients culled from both the North and South forks for plates such as garlicky squid-ink spaghetti tumbled with minced snails and pine-nut gremolata, a Peconic Bay scallop crudo drizzled with grapefruit and spicy olive oil, and a barely sweet pear and parsnip soup. Daily changing plates evoke the bistro concept -- pulled pork bollito and lobster cioppino both make weekly appearances -- and steaks, ribs and seafood are wood-fired. Whatever you eat, don't miss the extraordinary cocktails. More info: 631-527-7131, covehollowtavern.com
Parsnip and pear soup with parsnip chips and thyme and a roosters tail cocktail with London Dry Gin, amaretto honey, muddle lime and black pepper from Cove Hollow Tavern in East Hampton.
Lost & Found
Lost & Found (951 W. Beech St., Long Beach): Anchoring the West End's burgeoning dining scene, Lost & Found brings Brooklyn-style rustic-chic to Long Beach. The tight quarters feature a communal table, a few stools at the bar and a handful of small tables, all with a view of an open kitchen. It's casual in the extreme, but chef-owner Alexis Trolf's cooking is highly refined and imaginative. The dozen-odd small plates change frequently; look for a perfectly rendered Niçoise salad or seared scallops with sauce vierge, saba and fennel pollen. Two "large-format" dishes -- a dry-aged rib-eye and a Spanish-spiced roast chicken -- can each sate a couple. Cash only. More info: 516-442-2606
Charred octopus with charred lemon and chickpeas is a served at Lost & Found in Long Beach.
Market Bistro (519 N. Broadway, Jericho): This sharp, smart New American bistro has an informal style, upbeat mood and a seasonal menu from chef Chuck Treadwell. Come for the elegant market greens, shrimp and octopus tagliatelle or skillet-roasted chicken with spaetzle (which seems to grace half the tables) and then return for the MB burger, a rib-eye-brisket-short-rib winner with garlic aioli. The bar is a lively place for solo dining, or imbibing a craft cocktail such as the Bourbon Smash: Michter's Bourbon, Grand Marnier, lime and simple syrup. More info: 516-513-1487, marketbistroli.com
Blue crab claw salad is served with avocado and scallion at Market Bistro in Jericho.
Meritage Wine Bar
Meritage Wine Bar (90 School St., Glen Cove): Meritage may have wine bar in its name -- and more than two dozen wines by the glass, from txakolina rose to Napa cabs -- but this romantic spot hits a higher octave under the deft hand of chef Howard Fay. Start with a charcuterie board of, say, manchego cheese and New York State Capocollo, then segue to small plates like snappy quinoa salad with roasted vegetables, crunchy rice balls laced with speck, mozzarella and fontina, or rich roasted bone marrow with gremolata and grilled bread. This kitchen also turns out one of the best paellas on Long Island. More info: 516-801-0055, meritagebar.com
Sherried shrimp with ancho chili, garlic and sherry is paired with Campo Viejo Cava Brut Reserva at Meritage Wine Bar in Glen Cove.
Perennial (990 Franklin Ave., Garden City): At this petite, spare spot, chef Peter Mistretta's cooking highlights the essence of mostly local and often organic ingredients, with a bias toward vegetables. He cures his own organic pork belly -- with spices such as fennel and coriander -- and then crisps it until the outside crackles for the don't-miss house bacon. Purple and gold carrots are roasted to the apex of sweetness, then piled on pureed goat cheese and showered with hazelnuts; and spaghetti is tumbled with a toasty, crunchy and thoroughly inventive cauliflower ragu. Perennial's cocktails, created by bartender Harrison Chedd, mirror the kitchen's botanical bent, such as the foamy sour called the Heart Beet (beet juice spiked with vodka, then gussied up with elderflower, orange juice and liqueur and a few beet greens). More info: 516-743-9213, perennialrestaurant.com
House-cured bacon, with apples, mustard seeds and cabbage served at Perennial in Garden City.
Rustic Root (7927 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury): The farm-to-table fare in a New American spot in Woodbury Village shopping center goes far beyond vegetarian dishes. A dining room of reclaimed wood accents and cushy banquettes overlooks an open kitchen turning out of-the-moment bistro classics such as unfussy fish fillets and vegetables coaxed to maximum flavor. Don't miss the signature halibut paired with bacon, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and fava beans; comforting pierogies with potato, Cheddar and onion jam; or roasted carrots with burrata, basil, raisins and pistachios. Mushroom tacos are a winner, too, as is bucatini with guanciale, peas and mint (at least in spring). More info: 516-364-5041, rusticrootkitchen.com
Rustic Root in Woodbury serves a local tomato salad.
Salumi (5600 Merrick Rd., Massapequa): Salumi and sister restaurant Bar Plancha (931 Franklin Ave., Garden City) have similar menus of gutsy but refined small plates, well-chosen cheeses and cured meats, and eclectic, well-priced wine lists -- which the knowledgeable staff is happy to walk you through. "Plancha" refers to the Spanish-style flat-top grill that gives a great sear to the sea scallops served with spring onion soubise and charred pineapple, or a strip steak with black garlic sauce. For dessert, it's hard to top the traditional Galician almond cake, which is gluten-free. More info: 516-620-0057, salumibarli.com
Bocadillo with soy braised bacon, kimchi, cilantro, and sesame mayo served on a house baked roll at Salumi in Massapequa.
Verde Wine Bar & Ristorante
Verde Wine Bar & Ristorante (450 Commack Rd., Deer Park): Papa Joe's pizzeria occupied this workaday location for 20 years before Anthony Carcaterra, the owners' son, transformed it into a New American restaurant and bistro in 2014. The architectural bones of the pizzeria are still visible (and there's still eggplant parm on the menu), but chef James Ahern's menu is also exceedingly modern. He's got a thing for offal: veal sweetbreads and pork skin Milanese with frisee, radish, pecorino, shallot are fantastic, as are the roasted clams with sarVecchio cheese and pork belly; rabbit leg with bacon, mushrooms, anchovies, Tarbais beans, broccoli rabe; and halibut with fregola, broccoli rabe and olives. The encyclopedic list of beers, wines and spirits are all American produced and some, decidedly offbeat. More info: 631-242-8902, eatdrinkverde.com
Verde Wine Bar & Ristorante in Deer Park serves a meat and cheese board.