Breaking news: you don’t need a car to get to the beach in NYC. In fact, you don’t even need to leave the five boroughs. You can take the subway, the NYC Beach Bus, or a ferry to the part-tropical, part-concrete oasis otherwise known as Rockaway Beach. OK, it’s mostly concrete, and a car is definitely helpful - but the beaches are great, and so is the food. Start planning a weekend here, and do your best to eat and/or drink at every one of these spots.
You need to lay down a base before your full day in the sun, and Rockaway Bagels is the place to do it.
The cool coffee shop in town, Rockaway Roasters is your caffeine move, your pastry move, and also your health move, as they have some pretty serious juice and smoothie offerings.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: you need to go to Tacoway Beach. They operate out of a shipping container in a fenced-off yard filled with picnic tables, and they specialize in large fish tacos that you’ll occasionally dream about. We think they’re the best in NYC. There are also a few other kinds of tacos, including a few vegetarian ones, and there’s an indoor area with a bar for when you want to be under a roof. Expect crowds on summer weekends.
Whit’s End now has a location on Beach 97th Street. They still make some of the best pizza you’ll find in the area, and if you don’t feel like pizza, they serve a burger and a lot of seafood - which is half the reason you come here. Get the steamed clams, and bring beer and sunscreen. It’s BYOB, and there isn’t much shade in their big backyard.
Located right on the beach, Rippers serves your standard snack bar fare: hot dogs, burgers, and fries. At the very least, it’ll keep you from going hungry while you walk the boardwalk or make your children bury you in the sand.
Cuisine by Claudette is a counter-service 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 falafel to a great turkey burger, and there are plenty of healthy and less-healthy options.
Uma’s is one of Rockaway’s more modern, cool, and lively restaurants, 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.
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.
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 busy picnic area.
Sayra’s is a nice little wine bar that also serves some great small plates. It’s one of the area’s slightly more upscale options.
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.
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.
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.
Post-Sandy, Bungalow Bar has done 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.
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’s where you should get your food.
97th Street has the biggest variety of concessions on the boardwalk, including a barbecue place (Breezy’s), a ceviche stand (La Cevicheria), a full service bar (Low Tide Bar), and our top pick, Lobster Joint. Get a lobster roll, and eat it at one of the picnic tables.
If you’re feeling uncomplicated and all you want is a burger or a piece of fish on a bun, go to High 97. They also serve fries and grilled cheese, in case you have a child who only eats potatoes, bread, and cheese.
Super Burrito makes San Francisco-style burritos - which essentially just means that they’re cylindrical, wrapped in foil, and very good.
Riis park beach bazaar
The Riis Park Beach Bazaar has made the Riis Park Beach a destination well worth your summer Saturday. The main area, known as “Bay 9,” is the place to be - that’s the main hub that has ample seating and lots of action.
The main Pizza Moto location is in Red Hook, and it’s one of the busiest places in the neighborhood. But they also have a stand at the Riis Park Beach Bazaar, and it’s where you should be eating pizza on this end of the beach. Get a few, then find yourself a picnic table.
If you’re looking for something a little healthier, go to the Cuisine by Claudette stand. You can get something like a beet salad or a falafel bowl with hummus and cauliflower. Or you can just get a few cookies and eat those instead.
Fletcher’s is a good BBQ spot in Gowanus, and they have an on-site smoker at their Riis Park Beach Bazaar outpost. They do pulled pork very well, so focus your attention there.
Ed & Bev’s does is a “Detroit-style Coney Island diner,” which means they make beach-friendly food like hot dogs, fries, and chicken fingers. Unlike your standard frozen-patty beach burger shack, though, the food here is actually high-quality - and the Detroit-style Coney Dog is the main attraction.
After several hours or minutes on the beach, you’ll inevitably want ice cream. That’s why Ample Hills exists. They make some of the best ice cream in NYC, and there’s a location in Bay 9 of the Riis Park Beach Bazaar. Get several scoops on a pretzel cone, and eat them before they melt all over your hands.
Rockaway Clam Bar comes to us from the people behind Red Hook Lobster, and they now have a stand in the Riis Park Beach Bazaar. They serve reasonably-priced seafood like chowder, fried clam rolls, and some lobster clam sliders that need to be part of your beach experience.