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This year's top 20 restaurants

Despite the recession, notable fine-dining restaurants grew in Nassau and Suffolk in 2008. Similarly, we've found a wealth of excellent-yet-affordable restaurants serving up a wide range of cuisines this year.

Here are the best fine dining and cheap eats restaurants of 2008, a boom year on Long Island.

FINE DINING

1. Palio Ristorante : 399 Jericho Tpke., Jericho, 516-433-9100, palioristorante.com

Food: ; Cost: $$-$$$

Palio is numero uno for excellent, handsomely presented Italian food with a sense of style. Best: lasagna, red wine-blueberry risotto, striped bass with olives and preserved lemons.

2. The Delano Mansion : 1 Southwoods Rd., Woodbury, 516-921-5707, thedelanomansion.com

Food: ; Cost: $$-$$$

This mansion is an elegant, confident, New American restaurant for grown-ups. Best: crab cakes, rack of lamb, steaks, duck breast, monthly specials, crème brûlée.

3. Osteria Toscana : 69 Wall St., Huntington, 631-549-7074, osteriatoscana.com

Food: ; Cost: $$

Exceptional pastas are the favorites at this rustic spot. Best: pici, plump spaghetti; gnudi, like ravioli filling; cheese raviolo with soft egg yolk; tagliatelle Bolognese.

4. Limani : 1043 Northern Blvd., Roslyn, 516-869-8989, limani.com

Food: ; Cost: $$$$

Lavishly appointed and equally expensive, Limani specializes in Greek-style seafood. Best: whole pink snapper, skewered swordfish, lamb chops, salads, spreads.

5. Jin East : 988 Franklin Ave., Garden City, 516-877-0888, jineast.com

Food: ; Cost: $$$

Nouveau Japanese with a hint of Thai at a place that makes competitors seem old. Best: striped bass with hot sesame oil, traditional sushi, creative sushi rolls, sweet-hot deep-fried rock shrimp.

6. La Tavola : 183 Main St., Sayville, 631-750-6900, latavolasayville.com

Food: ; Cost: $$-$$$

Rustic design and flavorful Italian fare boost La Tavola. Best: burrata, crudo, gnocchi, rice balls, duck confit, apple brown Betty, chocolate-hazelnut torte.

7. pastaVino : 149 Mineola Blvd., Mineola, 516-294-1715, pastavinobistro.com

Food: ; Cost: $$

Italian home cooking simmers here. Best: sausages with broccoli rabe and peppers on polenta, pork braciola, lasagna, tagliatelle Bolognese, strufoli.

8. Almoncello : 290 Montauk Hwy., Wainscott, 631-329-6700, almoncello.com

Food: ; Cost: $$$

Almoncello, successor to Almondito, is a breezy, year-round trattoria. Best: salt-cod croquettes, eggplant antipasti, spinach-and-goat cheese ricotta malfatti.

9. Brooks & Porter : 16 Merrick Ave., Merrick, 516-379-9400, brooksandporter.com

Food: ; Cost: $$$

The year's top surf-and-turf, with very good red meat, shellfish, finfish. Best: porterhouse, filet mignon, sesame tuna, shrimp and crabmeat cocktails.

10. Wild Harvest : 64 Forest Ave., Glen Cove, 516-676-0056, wildharvestrestaurant.com

Food: ; Cost: $$

New American cooking with a Southern accent marks Wild Harvest, a spirited offshoot of Wild Honey in Oyster Bay. Best: cornmeal-crusted oysters, barbecued pork quesadilla, shrimp-and-grits, buttermilk pie.

CHEAP EATS

1. Tel Aviv : 613 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-466-6136, tlvrestaurant.com

Food: ; Cost: $-$$

It's a godsend, this informal Israeli cafe where chef-owner Michael Ginor and crew turn out dishes vibrant enough to startle. Standouts include red and yellow heirloom tomato salad on Yemeni fry bread, green eggplant salad, chicken shawarma and nondairy rosewater panacotta with berry coulis and pistachio foam.

2. New Chilli & Curry Restaurant : 106 Woodbury Rd., Hicksville, 516-932-9180

Food: ; Cost: $$

An exciting Asian choice for food that's spiced to specifications. Revel in the spicy Malaysian coriander soup, delicate mo-mo (Tibetan dumplings), mellow goat pasanda and incendiary Thai chili and curry noodles. Cool off with fragrant rice pudding.

3. Brasserie Persil : 2825 Long Beach Rd., Oceanside, 516-992-1742, persilrestaurant.com

Food: ; Cost: $$

Chef and co-owner Julio Velasquez, born in Salvador, presides over a mostly French kitchen with the proficiency of a native Parisian. Say oui to the smoky grilled octopus, plump mussels Provençale, steak au poivre and dark chocolate mousse.

4. La Volpe Ristorante : 611 Montauk Hwy., Center Moriches, 631-874-3819, lavolperestaurant.net

Food: ; Cost: $$

At this sophisticated, authentic Italian trattoria, enjoy pan-seared fresh artichoke hearts, bucatini chi sarde (pasta with sardines) and orange roughy in a light Sicilian curry sauce. While prices have gone up a bit since March, the restaurant remains a great value.

5. Izumi : 440 N. Wantagh Ave., Bethpage, 516-933-7225

Food: ; Cost: $$

This hip Asian spot serves up carefully composed maki rolls and kitchen specialties. Tops are the "fantastic" roll, rock shrimp tempura and fiery Malaysian chicken curry.

6. Pita House : 100-27 S. Jersey Ave., East Setauket, 631-675-9051, pita-house.com

Food: ; Cost: $$

Secreted in an office park is this suave Turkish spot. Choose dips from a wheeled meze cart, then try the house-made gyro, Adana kebab or grilled whole fish.

7. Circa : 348 E. Jericho Tpke., Mineola, 516-280-2234

Food: ; Cost: $$

Lofty ambitions and moderate prices define this snazzy ristorante. Top picks: the crisp, flavorful pizza, rustic chicken scarpariello, spaghettini with big, soft meatballs and pan-sauteed branzino.

8. Sri Thai : 14 New St., Huntington, 631-424-3422

Food: ; Cost: $$

At this pretty Thai storefront, I love the warm, spicy ground-chicken salad called nam. Other attractions include drunken noodles and "splash," whole striped bass, deep fried and topped with ginger, ground chicken and vegetables.

9. La Bottega : 147 Nassau Blvd., Garden City South, 516-486-0935, ilovepanini.com

Food: ; Cost: $ to $$

At this flagship trattoria of a burgeoning chain, the Italian menu changes weekly. Past hits include pan-seared swordfish with blood orange, risotto with sea scallops and the "Ascoli" suckling pig panino.

10. Istanbul Cafe : 2139 Middle Country Rd., Centereach, 631-738-6704

Food: ; Cost: $$

Food eclipses ambience at this Turkish strip-mall cafe. Try the savory stuffed pide (baked pastry), manti (meat-filled dumplings) and any of the juicy grilled kebabs. Skilled pastry chef Sinan Yagci's finales should not be missed.

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