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 16 favorites.
This restaurant has been temporarily closed since March 2020.
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).
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 going 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.
Nathan's Famous - Clam Bar
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.
The Coney Island boardwalk has an abundance of cotton candy stands, hot dog vendors, and soft serve machines, but there aren’t a lot of sit-down spots with rooftop lounges. That’s where La Tombola comes in. This massive Italian restaurant serves dishes like buffalo chicken pizza, veal parm sandwiches, mozzarella sticks, and other snacks you might nostalgically associate with a sunburn on a partially-covered terrace overlooking the bay. Plus, they’ve got a large indoor dining space (formerly home of a candy factory) with high ceilings, arched windows, and the exposed brick walls of a 17th-century castle. If it’s hot out, we suggest sitting getting drinks at the bar downstairs, watching whatever sport is playing on their giant flatscreens, and sitting within range of a powerful AC unit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 an 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 is 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.
Maybe you have your heart set on eating exactly one large mound of crispy pernil after riding the Cyclone in Luna Park. There aren’t a lot of restaurants in the area that can make this happen, but fortunately, there’s Mi Candileja. It’s a counter-service Dominican spot where you can point to a few different dishes from behind thick glass, and it has everything from roast chicken and a steak sandwich to tres leches cake and papaya juice. Fill up a round foil container here with everything your heart desires, and take it all with you to eat on the beach.
Juice & Tacos
Right across the street from Mi Candileja is a Mexican restaurant, and a perfect example of setting clear expectations, called Juice & Tacos. It’s a great counter-service spot to know about if you happen to be eating in Coney Island with someone who’s looking for blended veggies, fruit salad, or oatmeal. But unlike most juice bars in NYC, this spot also serves plump beef empanadas, thick cubanos, and tacos filled with everything from carne asada to longaniza. Since Juice & Tacos has no indoor seating, you’re best bet is to pick up a few tacos and find a sunny spot to nourish your body with tortilla-wrapped protein.
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.