NYC beaches might not be full of chartreuse-colored water, palm trees, and groups of ambitious snorkelers, but they have their own special, concrete-adjacent charm. For one thing, you don’t need a car to spend a summer day at places like Coney Island, Brighton Beach, and Orchard Beach. And, if you’re going to the Rockaways, you have the added perk of a glorious ferry ride accessible from lower Manhattan or Sunset Park.
The next time you take a trip to the Rockaways with your kids, some friends, or a person who loves hot dogs and fried clams as much as you do, prioritize these restaurants and bars.
Rockaway Bagels is on the north side of the island, within close walking distance from the ferry and the Rockaway Park - Beach 116 Street Subway. Therefore it’s both convenient and logical to lay down a based of gluten here before your full day in the sun. The BECs are stellar, as are the plain old bagel sandwiches.
Tacoway Beach operates out of a shipping container in a fenced-off yard filled with picnic tables, and they’re only open during the summertime months. When you’re here, you should order fried fish tacos with the singular decisiveness of a person who only ever consumes fish tacos. Each order arrives with two tacos battered and fried, then topped with cabbage slaw, chunky guacamole, and a spicy cilantro lime salsa. These are some of the best fish tacos in NYC, and we dream about them more than we dream about becoming retirees who look for buried treasure on the beach. Expect crowds on summer weekends.
Uma’s is one of Rockaway’s livelier sit-down spots, and focuses on Uzbek food. Specifically, they specialize in fresh pirozhki, filled with anything from egg and scallion to green cabbage to beef and rice. Kebabs are another big fixture on the menu, in addition to a bunch of other dumplings, salads, and rice-based dishes. But more than anything, their yogurt sauce has a cult following, and for good reason. It comes adds a special tang to just about every dish, especially the baseball-sized manti and the hot pink borscht.
For all those looking for seafood on Beach 97th Street, don’t let Whit’s titular pizza stop you from coming here. Granted, they still make some of the best pizza you’ll find in the area, but most of the daily-changing menu is dedicated to seafood like scallops, tuna tataki, and a whole roast fish. Bring beer and sunscreen. It’s BYOB, and there isn’t much shade in their big backyard.
If you’re hanging out on the eastern end of Rockaway Beach, rely on Rippers for all of your standard beach cravings like hot dogs, burgers, and fries. This place will keep you from having a heat-hanger meltdown while you walk the boardwalk or make your children bury you in the sand.
Cuisine by Claudette is a counter-service Mediterranean place on 116th Street, and it’s a great spot to pick up some food to bring over to the beach. They have a huge menu with everything from juices and smoothies, to loaded pitas, spinach-feta turkey burgers, and protein bowls. If you want to make your friends down at the beach worship you for the afternoon, add on an order of battered cauliflower wings and sweet potato fries.
This NYC staple has an outpost at the beach, located on the boardwalk at Beach 106th St. It’s a great place for a quick arepa, they have A+ frozen drinks, and you’ll probably make some friends in the busy picnic area.
Connolly’s is an old-school Irish bar steps from the beach hub of 96th Street. Their specialty is frozen drinks, which come in styrofoam cups - and if you’re coming to Rockaway, a Connolly’s piña colada needs to be part of your experience.
A cool coffee shop by the Beach 90 Street Holland subway stop to remember when someone in your group gets cranky. In addition to caffeine boosts, they make excellent pastries, juices, and smoothies.
Sayra’s is a nice little Black-owned wine bar that also serves some great small plates. It’s one of the area’s slightly more upscale options. Grab a glass of wine or sangria, a jalapeño grilled cheese, and sit out in the back in their shaded patio. If we were trying to impress a date in Rockaway, Sayra’s would be our first stop.
If you’re momentarily uninterested in sunlight, and you just want to eat ribs, drink a beer, and watch sports in a relatively dark room, go to RBQ. It’s a barbecue spot in the old Playland Motel space, and it’s perfect for when you want to eat something that’ll force you to take a nap on the beach afterwards.
Pico is a big indoor/outdoor sit-down Mexican restaurant. They make excellent margaritas, the space is great for big groups, and the Mexican food is good enough (and comes out in large enough portions) that it’ll more than get the job done after a long day of sitting out in the sun while friends and/or family try to get you to swim in the ocean.
Callie’s opened up right across the street from Pico in the summer of 2020, serving a menu of fish and chips, soft serve ice cream, and hot dogs. The most alluring part of this casual, counter-service spot is the big backyard, where you’ll see families and swaths of friends hanging out at picnic tables. That, plus they have regularly scheduled outdoor movie screenings you can keep track on via their Instagram page.
While the beers are actually brewed in LIC, Rockaway Brewing Company has opened a cool tasting room on Beach 72nd Street. It’s a little further away from the main beach area, but it’s a worthy destination if you’re into craft beer and picnic tables.
Post-Sandy, Bungalow Bar did a really nice job renovating their old divey space. They have an amazing setup on the bay looking out at the Manhattan skyline, the food is decent, and the crowd is pretty social. Hit this place for a drink overlooking the water.
BEACH 97TH STREET CONCESSIONS
Head over to the boardwalk at Beach 97th Street and you’ll find a large outdoor space filled with vendors, picnic tables, and occasionally live music. Here are our favorite places to pick up food and drinks there.
Red Hook Lobster Pound
The 97th Street beach bazaar has the widest variety of concessions on the boardwalk, including a location of this Red Hook-based lobster spot. They sell both cold, mayo-swiped Maine lobsters rolls as well as Connecticut-style versions with warm butter. Plus, some hot crispy fries that some nearby seagulls will rightfully be interested in stealing.
As far as we’re concerned, there’s almost no better beach food than cold, citrus-bathed fish. And since this Peruvian stall sells excellent, sub-$15 ceviche directly on the boardwalk, it’s extremely easy to realize your beach fish-consumption dreams here. We particularly like the refreshing ceviche mixto, which comes with big hunks of Peruvian corn, lime-marinated red onions, and tons of acidic white fish and squid.
Sand Shark Bar
Most of the concessions at Beach 97th Street don’t sell booze. And, like an airplane exit door, we find it important to be able to locate your nearest place to buy a margarita or cold beer when you’re spending a day at the beach. Sand Shark Bar is that place around this part of the boardwalk. And you can even pre-order your drinks while you’re still on the beach (assuming your phone’s wifi is better than ours).
Riis Park Beach Bazaar
The southern section of the Rockaway’s, Jacob Riis Park, is always fun, often crowded, and historically NYC’s most prominent queer beach the queer beach. Even still, there aren’t as many eating and drinking options down here. Most of the restaurants and stalls are huddled together in Bay 9. There’s plenty of seating, and bathrooms nearby.
Rockaway Clam Bar comes to us from the people behind Red Hook Lobster, and they serve seafood for less than $20 like fried clam strips with tater tots, fried fish sandwiches, and a lobster roll that has fried clam strips in the sandwich. You’re an adult who can make your own decisions but ordering this hybrid sandwich is one we firmly believe in.
When the urge for cheese fries and chicken tenders becomes unavoidable around 3pm, walk up to this classic American beach spot and manifest your destiny. Unlike what you’ll find at a lot of places selling burgers on the boardwalk, The Dropout serves several vegan and vegetarian options using Beyond meat and the like. You can always take your beach takeout containers to the picnic area in front - there are plenty of places to sit.
Oddfellows ice cream
After several hours or minutes on the beach, you’ll inevitably want ice cream. That’s why Oddfellows exists. Get several scoops on a cone, and start the race against the melting clock. Sometimes they have soft serve available.