"Mediterranean and Middle Eastern" is a catch-all term describing the cuisines of such nations as Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Israel and Egypt. The region is a hotbed of flavors.
The Mediterranean alone rolls from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Turkish coast, splashing onto North Africa and southern Europe. The inland sea reaches three continents and more than 20 nations and states. At its grandest length, the Mediterranean goes 2,700 miles. At its widest: 800 miles.
That's a lot of food. Numerous restaurants on Long Island trace their cuisines to the Mediterranean and Middle East. These are the best. (Selections by Joan Reminick and Peter M. Gianotti.)
Mazi, Riverhead: After a fire destroyed his previous restaurant, Athens Grill, John Mantzopoulos has returned with this more casual and moderately-priced Mediterranean-Greek spot, which has a sleek industrial look. A major strength is house-made gyro from a chef committed to making virtually everything from scratch. Other items you won't want to miss are braised giant butter beans, panko-crusted crab fritters, moussaka, spinach pie and a mixed grill platter with chargrilled skewered pork and chicken and a lamb chop.
Ahuva's Grill, Hewlett: Chef-owner Ahuva Tsadok offers a compelling repertoire of Yemenite-Israeli dishes that both ignite and soothe the palate. Follow the gratis dip assortment with an appetizer combination platter (pictured), ideally ordered with a side of lafah, a warm, flaky, house-made bread. Other standouts: savory Yemini chicken soup, kibbe, or fried ground beef balls, and shakshuka, poached eggs in a spicy-sweet tomato sauce. From the grill: baby chicken shish kebab, made with boneless marinated dark meat, and kaufta kebab, spiced ground beef sausages that ooze when cut.
AlaTurca Mediterranean Restaurant
AlaTurca Mediterranean Restaurant, West Babylon: The Turkish newcomer's interior is simply appointed but still evolving. One bite of chef Akin Ay's house-baked bread slathered with spicy eggplant salad or hummus will win you over. Also recommended: chicken kebabs that come off the grill moist and tender and infused with the flavor of its marinade, manti, delectable little meat-stuffed ravioli with garlic-yogurt sauce, and whole sea bass, fresh, simple and nicely grilled.
Alexandros, Mount Sinai: Greek cuisine, with its seafood emphasis and grilled steaks, make Alexandros a Mediterranean surf-and-turfer. The homey restaurant also excels with spreads made with roe, eggplant, or potatoes and garlic, as well as stuffed grape leaves; and main dishes including moussaka, pastitsio and giouvetsi, or baked lamb. Grilled whole fish highlight the seafood, along with cuts of swordfish, tuna and salmon; filet mignon, rib eye, New York strip and porterhouse steaks, the beef. Tender lamb chops, too. Baklava, rice pudding and galaktoboureko, or custard in phyllo with honey, lead the sweets. (Pictured: horiatiki, a Greek country salad.)
Ayhan's Fish Kebab
Ayhan’s Fish Kebab, Port Washington: Tops in restaurateur Ayhan Hassan's Long Island empire is this Mediterranean seafood-centric restaurant with a classic Greek portico out front and a fresh fish display inside. Here, you'll find fresh fish on ice and stellar options including salmon kebabs (pictured).
Azerbaijan Grill, Westbury: The cuisine at this spot goes beyond the Republic of Azerbaijan to include Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Iran. The list of options is long, from a starter of tabbouleh that's dotted with pomegranate to anything with lamb, such as the highly seasoned adana kebab and lamb shank stewed in tomato paste. Also recommended: grilled whole striped bass; crunchy crusted spinach pie and chicken chops; butterflied, grilled and marinated drumsticks; and jujeh kebab (pictured), pieces of Cornish hen marinated with lemon and saffron.
Bosphorus Cafe Grill
Bosphorus Cafe Grill, Port Washington: A highlight at the Turkish restaurant includes lavas, a seed-sprinkled, golden bread that's the ideal vehicle for the many dips. You also can't go wrong with the juicy chicken kebab platter (pictured), served with carrots, pickled cabbage, red onions, rice and grilled tomato. Also recommended: shepherd's salad, spinach-feta pide, lamb Adana kebabs, house-made gyro kebab, kofte kebab (grilled lamb and veal patties), char-grilled whole tilapia, kazandibi (caramelized milk pudding), rice pudding, flan.
Ephesus, Massapequa Park: Chef-owner Funda Duygun's culinary skill catapults this simply appointed Turkish restaurant into elevated territory. There is so much comfort and clarity of flavor in her assortment of dips — hummus, ezme (a spicy vegetable salad) and baba ghanoush — to be spread on warm, house-baked bread. Find further gratification in pide, a well-crafted pastry that may be had with any number of fillings, among them cheese, potatoes and Turkish sausage, and manti (pictured), tiny beef-filled dumplings. Kebabs are savory and juicy, whole fish perfectly grilled. Finish with fragrant baked rice pudding.
Ethos, Great Neck: Ethos focuses on Greek fare, carefully prepared. The kitchen sends out fine char-grilled octopus (pictured), grilled haloumi cheese, spanakopita (spinach-feta pie) and zesty loukaniko sausage. Tsipoura (royal dorado), swordfish, tiger shrimp and charcoal-grilled Maine lobster highlight the seafood. You'll also enjoy the rib-eye steak with fried potatoes and the roasted chicken with lemon-scented spuds. Ethos offers a savory cheese course with manouri, kefalograviera, feta, metsovone and, going beyond the isles, Gorgonzola. Karidopita, or walnut cake, and baklava top the desserts.
Grillmark, Albertson: This is that rare restaurant you can feel good about frequenting more than once a week: Surroundings are sleek, prices moderate and the menu skews healthy. All skewers are recommended, though particularly good is the swordfish (pictured). Also: house-made chicken and pork gyros, salmon kale salad with quinoa and avocado, baklava, rice pudding.
Istanbul Cafe, Centereach: At this strip mall Turkish spot, chef-owner Sinan Yagci makes the most of the restaurant's brick oven, which turns out delectable pides (stuffed Turkish pizzas). To spread onto freshly baked bread: a meze assortment featuring three different eggplant salads, hummus and ezme. From the grill come well-marinated lamb chops, chicken Adana kebab, chicken shish kebab, house-made gyro and lamb shish kebab. Yagci's profiteroles are a strong point, as is his kazandibi, a burnt sugar milk custard. (Pictured is a Turkish take on moussaka.)
Kabul Afghani Cuisine
Kabul Afghani Cuisine, Huntington: Serving food from specific areas of Afghanistan, this restaurant focuses on the cooking styles found in Kabul before the late-1970s invasion by the Soviet Union. Owner Manila Rahimi makes sure diners feel cared about and feeds them well with standout items including aushak (pictured), tender triangular Afghani dumplings filled with leeks and scallions and topped with a meat sauce, house-made garlic yogurt and chopped mint. Also: Grilled marinated cubes of lamb, threaded onto skewers, burst spicy juices when bitten. And its hard to stop spooning away at the creamy rice pudding.
Limani, Roslyn: Opulent and extravagant, Limani is a grand setting for very fresh seafood and Greek specialties. Whole, charcoal-grilled fish for two include fagri, similar to pink snapper; red snapper; and black sea bass. They're rivaled by grilled Arctic char, Dover sole and halibut. The raw bar is very good, as are the grilled calamari and seppie. The carnivorous should be satisfied with lamb chops and porterhouse steak. Notable starters include kolokiphi, fried zucchini and eggplant chips (pictured); saganaki, or pan-fried kefalograviera cheese; grilled octopus; grilled sardines; and grilled or fried calamari. Try the Greek yogurt with thyme, honey and walnuts.
MP Taverna, Roslyn: Chef Michael Psilakis puts an inventive spin on Greek cuisine at his bi-level gastro pub, which, since opening, has spawned two metro-area spinoffs. Virtually every dish is a standout, from the tender, lemon-kissed octopus to the supernal meatballs in tomato and olive sauce to a salad of dried fruits, cheese and young greens. Ethereal dumplings with lamb sausage are punctuated by the crunch of bread crumbs and a subtle jolt of citrus. If you've never had a lamb burger, this one (pictured) is juicy and herbal enough to make you a convert. Conclude with apple baklava, galaktoboureko parfait or the opulent chocolate brownie made with halvah.
Mavi Grill & Deli
Mavi Grill & Deli, Mount Sinai: Located within a charming house, the place appears to have jumped out of the pages of a glossy decorating magazine: white wainscoted walls, contemporary glass-topped tables. Red lentil-carrot soup proves robust, comforting; lemon chicken orzo soup, velvety and rich. A forte here are the kebabs -- the adana, with minced meat (pictured), the most white meat chicken -- all served with rice and bulgur wheat pilaf and lovely grilled vegetables. The house-made gyro is a treat, as is the shrimp pita. Finish with the fine house-made baklava or creamy rice pudding.
Opa Grille, Williston Park: For those who judge a Greek restaurant by its taramasalata (pictured), know that chef-owner George Labos makes a roe dip with just the right briny depth. There's also no fault to be found in the flaky spinach pie. Classic and comforting are both moussaka — layers of eggplant, ground beef and potatoes — and pastitsio, the Greek version of lasagna made with ground beef and ziti, each topped with a rich béchamel. To finish: The sweet, flaky baklava or the rich phyllo-wrapped pudding known as galaktoboureko. Or both.
Pita House, East Setauket: The dining room boasts a stone bas-relief sculpture of a Trojan horse by an artist from Turkey, but it's the well-crafted Turkish food and caring service that bring us back. Spinach pie juxtaposes crisp layers of phyllo with tangy feta and grassy spinach. Recommended: the assertively spiced red lentil soup and all manner of meze (cold appetizers), from garlicky hummus to the smoky patlican salatasi (charred eggplant and vegetable salad). Other attractions include house-made gyro, in both lamb and turkey versions, moist kebabs (pictured is the mixed kebab platter) and whole grilled sea bass. Finish with kadayif, shredded wheat pastry with honey and pistachios.
Ravagh, Huntington and Roslyn Heights: These Persian siblings offer an enticing interplay of the homey and exotic. Try the burani bademjan, fried sliced eggplant with a vibrant tomato sauce, and mirza ghasemi, char-grilled eggplant with scrambled egg. Lamb figures prominently, whether as grilled chops or kebabs or as a stewed shank. A perennial favorite is jujeh kebab, bone-in Cornish hen marinated in lemon and saffron and grilled (pictured). Basmati rice may be had any number of ways, all delicious. Finish with pistachio baklava.
Turkuaz Grill, Riverhead: Good looks and charm are only part of the allure of this Turkish restaurant near the Long Island Aquarium. Eat indoors or on the porch or at a lawn picnic table and you get a view of the Peconic River. But the real draw is the food: a vibrant shepherd's salad, an assortment of lively meze (small plates), as well as fine grilled marinated kebabs (including the beyti lamb kebab, pictured). The house-made gyro, done with marinated lamb, is another standout.
Yevma Authentic Greek Cuisine
Yevma, East Meadow: This ambitious restaurant features an attractive dining space, a display of imported groceries and solid Greek cuisine. The excellence of the food is clear from the moment you sink your teeth into the grilled octopus (pictured): Bathed in extra-virgin olive oil, it's exceptionally meaty and tender, subtly smoky. Other fine starters include the taramasalata (whipped roe spread) and kalamakia (grilled pork); to get an overview of the menu, try the pikilia Kreaton, a mixed grill for two. And finish with kormo (brandy-spiked chocolate cake).