Call it the year of the gastro pub, the kitchen & wine bar, the trattoria, the cantina.

If ever there was a silver lining to 2009's cloudy economy, it was in the rise of affordable chef-driven restaurants, along with a welcome new wave of authentic ethnic eateries.

Bottom line: a banner season for epicureans Islandwide.

1. KITCHEN A TRATTORIA
532 N. Country Rd., St. James, 631-862-0151, kitchenatrattoria.com

Food: 3.5 stars
Cost: $$
Service: Very good
Ambience: Good

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Chef de cuisine Eric Bolyard and executive chef Eric Lomando take you for a gustatory thrill ride at this stellar Italian offshoot of Kitchen A Bistro (see Peter Gianotti's top-10 list). Ingredients are carefully sourced and seasonal; wine is strictly BYO, good news for the thrifty oenophile.

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Essentials: Grilled octopus with marinated chickpeas, seasonal pasta preparation (like bucatini with squash, shiitakes and spicy bread crumbs), seasonal meat, fish and poultry dishes, vegetable "contorni," fruit crostada with gelato.

2. THE BRASS RAIL
107 Forest Ave., Locust Valley, 516-723-9103

Food: 3 stars
Cost: $$
Service: Very good
Ambience: Very good

How forward thinking of chef Kent Monkan to transform the pricey restaurant Heirloom into an affordable gastro pub whose menu leans toward "small plates." The theme here is comfort - in the food, the vibe and the prices.

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Essentials: Oxtail sloppy Joe sliders, king crab salad, tuna tartare, sirloin burger au poivre (one of the Island's best), Anjou pear cherry cobbler.

3. BARRIQUE KITCHEN & WINE BAR | photos
69 Deer Park Ave., Babylon, 631-321-1175

Food: 3 stars
Cost: $$
Service: Excellent
Ambience: Excellent

The former Emerson's has been remade as a rustic-chic wine bar, the kitchen commanded by former Emerson's owner Pierre Rougey. His beautifully executed "small plates" are for sharing as well as pairing with well-chosen wines by the glass.

Essentials: Cracker-thin Margherita pizza, roasted baby octopus, prosciutto-wrapped pork loin, meatball slider, short ribs, polenta fries, mini desserts in shot glasses.

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4. PUBLIC HOUSE 49photos
49 E. Main St., Patchogue, 631-569-2767

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Food: 3 stars
Cost: $$
Service: Very good
Ambience: Fair

Operatic tenor Richard Desmond hits one high culinary note after another at this hip new gastro pub where the decibel level can deafen. Wear earplugs and indulge.

Essentials: Trio of turnovers, mac 'n cheese, roast pork belly with Bing cherry sauce and pan-seared scallops, an over-the-top Kobe beef hot dog, seasonal fruit and nut torte.

5. MAIZE CANTINA
1141 Jericho Tpke., Commack, 631-864-2777

Food: 3 stars
Cost: $-$$
Service: Very good
Ambience: Good

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At his creative Latin-fusion spot, chef Michael Merida makes even the tortillas. He recently upgraded the innovative assortment of pupusas, arepas and salads, adding some knockout appetizers and entrees while earning three stars.

Essentials: Lobster quesadilla with bacon, egg and truffle vinaigrette, "remolacha" salad, El Puerco roasted pork shoulder pupusa, El Griego Greek-inspired chicken arepa sandwich, El Pastor soft corn pulled pork taco, warm cinnamon sugar churros.

6. SRIPRAPHAIphotos
280 Hillside Ave., Williston Park, 516-280-3779, sripraphairestaurant.com

Food: 2.5 stars
Cost: $-$$
Service: Good
Ambience: Very good

At this handsome offshoot of a Woodside temple of authentic Thai cuisine, the range of choice is mind-blowing, the level of spicing true. You'll want to return multiple times to experience it all.

Essentials: Larb (ground pork with mint, chile and lime), bbq pork tenders, crisp Chinese watercress with chicken, shrimp and squid, papaya salad with dry shrimp and peanuts, tom-zap (hot and sour soup) with Cornish hen, barbecued chicken, stewed beef over rice.

7. WILDFISHphotos
507 Guy Lombardo Ave., Freeport, 516-442-0565, wildfishli.com

Food: 2.5 stars
Cost: $$
Service: Very good
Ambience: Very good

Bargain-priced prix-fixe dinners are the rule, not the exception, at this pretty waterside spot away from the Nautical Mile. Chef Brad Rubano puts a fresh spin on surf-and-turf classics.

Essentials: Crab cakes, smoky New England chowder, delicate sauteed sole, a lunch salad of teriyaki grilled salmon and scallops, seasonal fruit cobbler, chocolate bread pudding.

8. THE CATCH SEAFOOD TAVERN
111 W. Broadway, Port Jefferson, 631-642-2824, thecatchtavern.com

Food: 2.5 stars
Cost: $-$$
Service: Very good
Ambience: Good

This scenic bi-level seafood spot is where executive chef Eric Miller and team get fresh with more than just fish. Just check out the breadbasket, filled with hot flaky biscuits and moist cornbread.

Essentials: Surprisingly light "stuffies" (baked clams with sausage), classic lobster roll, fried oysters, fresh raw oysters and littlenecks, pan-seared day boat scallops in lemon basil sauce, marinated skirt steak, brownie sundae.

9. HIZIR BABAphotos
40 McDermott Ave., Riverhead, 631-591-3067, hizirbaba.com

Food: 2.5 stars
Cost: $
Service: Very good
Ambience: Fair

The allure of Turkish cooking is manifest at this hospitable spot, whose name may be translated as "godsend."

Essentials: Assorted appetizers (meze) with house-baked bread, pide (puffy-crusted baked dough with various toppings), house-made gyro, spiced chopped or ground meat dishes (Adana kebab, tavuk Adana, beyti kebab), chicken and lamb shish kebab, kazandibi (baked pudding).

10. ZIM ZARI CALIFORNIA COASTAL GRILLphotos
4964 Merrick Rd., Massapequa Park, 516-809-6960, zimzari.com

Food: 2.5 stars
Cost: $-$$
Service: Very good
Ambience: Very good

A hip upbeat spot (whose name is surfer lingo for "sand between one's toes") where sprightly Cal-Mex cuisine comes at bargain prices.

Essentials: "Bang-bang" shrimp, Laguna Beach lettuce wraps, habanero edamame, Southwest steak salad, steak fajitas, "Napa" bowl (soba noodles with chicken and peanut sauce).

>>Find more Long Island restaurants serving up cheap eats

>>View the top 10 fine dining restaurants of 2009