There are certain things people grow out of, like Hey Arnold!, blankets with names, and beds shaped like anything besides a bed. Then there are other things you never really get too old for, like aquariums, beach boardwalks, and amusement parks with rides called Thunderbolt. Coney Island has all of these things, and it also has a bunch of places where you can get some good food after winning bumper cars (yes, it’s possible to win bumper cars). Here are our favorites.
When Totonno’s first opened, Prohibition was in effect, and it took several days to cross the Atlantic. Nearly a hundred years later, this place still makes some of the best pizza in the city. The pies here have a thin, crispy crust topped with a sweet sauce and just the right amount of cheese - and if you don’t live nearby, this place alone is worth a trip to Coney Island. Just bring friends (they don’t do slices) and tell your friends to bring cash (they don’t take credit cards).
Ruby’s is kind of like Coney Island in a nutshell. This counter-service spot is on the boardwalk, just a few feet from the amusement park rides and the beach. The big, bright indoor space has a giant American flag hanging from the ceiling and loud music playing from a jukebox, and the picnic tables are usually packed with people drinking beers in plastic cups while their kids eat corn dogs and funnel cakes. This can be fun, but it’s also pretty crowded, so we prefer getting a drink and something fried, then sitting at the umbrella-covered tables right on the boardwalk.
Paul’s Daughter is a huge spot on the boardwalk that has just about anything you might want to eat after watching your friend win a giant stuffed animal by beating a six-year-old at Whac-A-Mole. You’ll find everything from pizza and hot dogs to sausage heroes and fried clams - the lobster roll and fried jumbo shrimp are our favorites. After eating some of these things with a beer at a standing table on the boardwalk, get some soft serve and eat it on the beach a few feet away.
Long before they made competitive eating a televised sport, Nathan’s Famous had this spot in Coney Island. It’s been in this location for over 100 years, serving all-beef hot dogs at a big counter-service space a block off the boardwalk. We’re not crazy enough to tell you how you should eat your hot dogs, but we will say that you should probably pair whatever you get with a cold beer and sit at the picnic tables outside. The lines can get really long, so consider checking out their less crowded outposts in Luna Park and on the boardwalk.
Just to the side of the main Nathan’s Famous location on Surf Ave, there’s a takeout counter called Nathan’s Clam Bar that serves raw clams and oysters. There usually isn’t much of a line here, so if you’d rather not wait for a hot dog, grab a little cardboard tray of shellfish to eat on the boardwalk.
Doña Zita is a takeout counter down a little side street behind all the rides at Luna Park. Up front, there’s a taco station, and on the other side there’s a grill where you can order things like quesadillas, flautas, and gorditas. But what you really want is an enormous torta or cemita stuffed with meat, cheese, and vegetables. It’ll be one of the best things you eat in Coney Island.
Kitchen 21 is right on the boardwalk, and it’s roughly the size of a small airplane hangar - which is mostly why you come here. It’s a great place for when you want to grab a drink with a big group, and there’s some fairly decent bar food like burgers, pizza, and nachos. There aren’t any servers, just a counter up front and a bar where you can order. If the roof is open, hang out there - it has couches, tables, and a great view of the beach.
Plenty of people will beeline straight for Nathan’s upon arriving in Coney Island. But consider walking a couple blocks over to Feltman’s instead. The founder allegedly invented the hot dog more than a century ago, and these dogs, which are juicy and snap when you bite into them, are at least as good as the more famous ones at Nathan’s. Get one (or several) topped with onions, sauerkraut, and housemade mustard.
After a day full of hot dogs and fried things, you may just want Tums and a nap on the beach - or you may be in the mood for something sweet. If you’re the kind of person who knows that desserts go to a different part of the stomach than other types of food, go to William’s Candy Shop. This small spot next to Nathan’s is full of colorful cotton candy, various types of candy apples, and soft serve ice cream.
Gargiulo’s has been around since 1907, and it’s the most formal place to eat in Coney Island. So if you plan to end your beach day here, you’ll probably need a change of clothes - they don’t allow shorts, white t-shirts, or hats. But assuming you have acceptable attire, you can get some good Italian food at this old-school spot. After the huge complimentary bread basket and some appetizers like baked clams, try a few different pastas, like the fettuccine with chicken breast and prosciutto (half-orders are plenty of food). When the bow-tied servers bring you the check, they also shake up a jar filled with dice labeled 1-90. If you guess the number they pull out of the jar, your dinner is on the house.
You were busy riding the Cyclone or seeing Eddie Money perform at the amphitheater, so maybe you didn’t eat much today. Before you leave, grab some food at Pete’s Clam Shop. It’s a block from the subway, and there’s rarely a wait. Get a basket of fried clams (ask for extra lemon) and a beer, and eat at the picnic tables outside before spending the next hour in a subway you’re praying has working AC.
This Caribbean spot doesn’t feel too beachy - it’s in a dark space across the street from a giant roller coaster - but it’s a good spot for a fun group dinner, especially on the weekends when they have live music. The food, which includes things like barbecue glazed shrimp and curry goat, is packed with spices and is quite affordable - a large portion of jerk chicken with rice, peas, and plantains is less than $10.
From the outside, the Coney Island Grimaldi’s seems like a tourist trap. Maybe it’s the big rotating sign that looks like it was borrowed from a car wash, or maybe it’s the picture of the New York City skyline above the entrance. Either way, don’t be scared off - it’s actually a good place to sit down and eat a crispy-crusted pizza. They don’t do slices, so be sure to come with at least one other person. Also, it’s cash-only.
If you’re in Coney Island with a group that’s more interested fish bowl cocktails than the fish in the actual aquarium, go to Place To Beach. It looks like all the other stands serving lobster rolls and beers right on the boardwalk, but this place has a full-service back patio with an expanded menu of seafood-focused bar food, like fried calamari and fish and chips. They also have Happy Hour during the week, nightly drink and food specials, and DJs and live music on the weekends.
The original Tom’s is a old-school diner in Prospect Heights, and it’s mostly known for its brunch. But at the Coney Island location, you can drink a frozen margarita on a second-story rooftop overlooking the boardwalk. There’s also a big dining room where you can get many different varieties of pancakes - or a burger or wrap for lunch. The food isn’t anything fancy, but this a nice place to sit for a few minutes while you eat something with a side of fries, and there’s a small patio out front where you can sit and look out on the beach.
There isn’t any food at Coney Island Brewing Co., but there’s beer, and you can drink it at one of the many picnic tables on the outdoor patio. This is a great place to sit outside with a group, and there’s also a little indoor bar area for those days when it feels like you’re living on the surface of a small star or a large hotplate. If you want a guided tour of the brewery, they give those every few hours.