Time was, in the restaurant world, there was a strong link between price, formality and quality -- the fanciest places had the best food. But talented chefs are increasingly kicking it down a notch, cooking their hearts out in casual settings suitable for everyday dining -- no jacket (or home-equity loan) required. 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 come together with flair at Almond. The decor emits an old-school Hamptons vibe: tin ceiling, subway tiles and vintage wallpaper, as well as a handsome bar and excellent service. Start with the raw bar, then trust that you'll be in good hands with any of the dishes from chef Jason Weiner and chef de cuisine Jeremy Blutstein, from clam chowder and steak tartare toAl Korean-style Berkshire pork chop, hanger steak frites, New York strip steak au poivre or flat iron steak with chimichurri. Even the simpler plates hit the mark -- such as roast chicken with crushed red bliss potatoes, the burger or "le grand" macaroni and cheese. Finish with chocolate pot de crème. More info: 631-537-5665, almondresturant.com
Halibut with heirloom squash, romesco negro and aji limon oil is 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, where you can sometimes watch mixologists craft and photograph brand-new cocktails at the overlong bar. Self-taught chef Chris Perrotta picks up where the bar leaves off, serving simple yet satisfying plates such as tender pappardelle (made fresh daily) with wild-mushroom Bolognese; braised Berkshire-pork carnitas tacos with house-made tortillas, shaved radishes, pickled onion and salsa roja; and an unadorned grass-fed, brisket-and-short-rib burger, topped with melted Gruyère, that will rival the best you've ever had. More info: 516-654-9200, blackbirdli.com
Butternut squash raviolini is served at Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails in Wantagh.
Café Buenos Aires
Café Buenos Aires (23 Wall St., Huntington): When Hugo Garcia opened his singular Huntington restaurant in 2007, his goal was to introduce Long Island to the cuisine of his native Argentina, from seafood ceviche and plump, golden empanadas to parrillada mixta (mixed, grilled meats). In the ensuing decade, he's also made Café Buenos Aires one of the Island's most dependable spots for classic tapas (tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers, shrimp in garlic sauce, serrano ham with Manchego cheese) as well as Spanish and Latin American specialties such as paella and tacos. The spacious restaurant takes in a dining room, bar and, in season, tables outside on Wall Street. More info: 631-603-3600, cafebuenosaires.net
Oysters stuffed with spinach bechamel, marscapone, bacon and breadcrumbs are offered on the tapas menu at Café Buenos Aires in Huntington.
Gatsby's Landing (1362 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn): Pastas are the star of the menu inside this elegant, clubby, yet comfortable space, where chef Juan X. Pareja's dishes exude his experience at high-level New York City restaurants. Go for peppery, comforting cacio e pepe; squid-ink tonnarelli studded with crabmeat and laced with saffron and bottarga; tubes of busiate dressed with heirloom tomatoes, basil and Parmigiano. For the carb-shy, the kitchen turns out an excellent brick chicken or lamb chops. Either way, the staff injects the experience with drama via a long pass in the middle of the dining room where dishes are plated with flourish. More info: 516-277-2318, gatsbyslanding.com
Brick chicken with broccolini and lemon is served at Gatsby's Landing in Roslyn.
Lost & Found
Lost & Found (951 W. Beech St., Long Beach): Anchoring the West End's burgeoning dining scene, Lost & Found brings some 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 the 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, but look for a perfectly rendered Niçoise salad, and seared scallops with sauce vierge, saba and fennel pollen. The two "large-format" dishes, serving two, are dry-aged rib-eye and a Spanish-spiced roast chicken. Cash only. More info: 516-442-2606
Vitello tonnato, chilled veal with tuna sauce, is 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 and grilled octopus salad, braised-duck pappardelle with wild mushrooms and spring peas, the pan-roasted chicken with spaetzle (which seems to grace half the tables) and the MB burger, a rib-eye-brisket-short-rib winner with garlic aioli. The bar is a great place for solo dining -- or imbibing a craft cocktail such as the "Just in Thyme," with gin, thyme simple syrup, fresh-squeezed lemon and ginger ale. More info: 516-513-1487, marketbistroli.com
The baby beet salad with beets, grilled romaine, smoked blue cheese and toasted pistachio at Market Bistro in Jericho.
Off The Block Kitchen & Meats
Off The Block Kitchen & Meats (501 Montauk Hwy., Sayville): This is a butcher shop and restaurant with a tiny open kitchen where meat stars. Kick off a meal with the littleneck clam starter, with thin-shaved nubs of pastrami atop shellfish peppered with chives. The "pastruben" offers a mountain of corned beef and pastrami, along with all the condiments you'd find on either sandwich, which includes 'kraut, Swiss cheese, arugula and a take on horseradish that's doctored with honey and Dijon. And the burgers, ground in-house, are definitely lookers. For a grand gesture, buy a porterhouse at the counter and have it cooked to order at the restaurant. More than 20 bottled craft brews and a handful of wines by the glass are available. More info: 631-573-6655, offtheblockmeats.com
The Pastruben sandwich is made with pastrami, corned beef, swiss, sauer kraut, arugula and honey dijon horse radish at Off the Block Kitchen & Meats in Sayville.
Salumi (5600 Merrick Rd., Massapequa): Salumi and sister restaurant Bar Plancha ( 931 Franklin Ave., Garden City) have similar menus of gutsy-refined small plates, well-chosen cheeses and cured meats, and a solid, well-priced wine list -- which the friendly, 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 stinging nettle purée and fingerling potato salad, or the flat iron steak on a bed of hazelnut romesco sauce with charred scallion vinaigrette. For dessert, it's hard to do better than a teacup of melted chocolate and Nutella, with olive-oil drizzled toast for dunking. More info: 516-620-0057, salumibarli.com
Dark chocolate fondue with nutella and is served with house baked bread toasted with olive oil and sea salt at Salumi Tapas and Wine Bar in Massapequa.
Schout Bay Tavern
Schout Bay Tavern (118 Plandome Rd., Manhasset): This sexy gastropub does American classics right -- and often, with a twist -- on an ever-changing menu that might include PEI mussels steamed in chardonnay broth laced with Dijon mustard and tarragon; duck-confit tacos; or the pitch-perfect SBT burger topped with bacon, smoked Vermont Cheddar, pickled green tomatoes and special "tavern sauce." The crispy, salty, superhot fries are to die for, and don't overlook sides such as chargrilled asparagus with manchego or a pork-belly-topped mac-and-cheese. During Sunday brunch (not available during summer months) avocado toast takes center stage. More info: 516-627-2190, schoutbaytavern.com
Cedar-planked salmon is served at Schout Bay Tavern in Manhasset.
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 every entree still comes with a free salad -- old habits die hard), but chef James Ahern's menu is exceedingly modern. He's got a thing for offal: veal sweetbreads and pork ear "carbonara" are both recommended, as are the roasted clams with sarvecchio cheese; pork belly; rabbit leg with fennel and trumpet mushrooms; and halibut with fregola, broccoli raab and olives. The eclectic beers, wines and spirits on hand are all American produced. More info: 631-242-8902, eatdrinkverde.com
Charcuterie and cheese is served at Verde Wine Bar & Ristorante in Deer Park.