If you've ever been in New York City during the summer, then you're doubtless familiar with the near-daily struggle to escape the sweltering heat and humidity. Luckily, one soporific wait on a subway platform is all that stands between you and the crashing waves of the Atlantic, but you must take the A train, not to Harlem as the song suggests, but instead bound for Rockaway. Or you can, you know, drive. Regardless, Rockaway isn't just clean, spacious, and conveniently located—the wealth of food options alone make it our top day-trip choice over Coney Island, Jones Beach, or any far-flung Long Island shore.
We based this guide not only on deliciousness, of course, but also on proximity to the Cross Bay Bridge (for drivers) and public transportation (for the rest of us). There are surely a number of excellent spots elsewhere in the area, but this guide is all about the uniquely great cuisine near the well-known stretch of beach along the Hammels and Seaside neighborhoods. Whether you already visit regularly, haven't been since Sandy, or are hitching your very first ride to Rockaway Beach, your next visit certainly won't be your last. With a menu this broad, there's no reason every weekend shouldn't be a beach weekend.
For Baja Beach Bites: Rockaway Taco
With its array of Baja-style tacos and Mexican street food staples, Rockaway Taco is an essential stop on any visit to the neighborhood. In fact, many credit it with raising the bar for the quality eateries that occupy the area's beachside concessions.
Either way, colorful, laidback, and almost always mobbed with beach-goers, the sidewalk taco joint is certainly a summertime fixture. Go ahead and try some golden, queso-laden fried sweet plantains ($3) or a serviceable, if overcooked, elote ($3.50). But the fish taco ($3.50; $4.50 with guac) is the uncontested star of this chalkboard menu. Crunchy fried tilapia, tangy cabbage slaw, sharp cilantro, fresh slivered radish, tart lime, and spicy aioli combine for a real powerhouse of Mexicali flavor, especially considering that it's all coming from an East Coast purveyor. Though it may not change your life—I can hear the West Coast dissenters already—this taco will definitely make your beach day that much more transportive.
For Perfect Piña Coladas: Connolly's
Once you've spent some time frolicking in the Atlantic and basking in the hot sun, your beach brain will more than likely begin coaxing you towards the realm of all things frozen, boozy, and sweet. For this affliction, there exists only one true remedy: a frozen piña colada ($6) at Connolly's Bar on Beach 95th Street. Yes, this means a quick jaunt away from the sandy shore, but this is Rockaway Beach, not Cabo. Suck it up (that's what the straw is for).
I will admit that I actually have no idea what I'm talking about—alas, the law is the law. Luckily, Associate Editor Niki Achitoff-Gray enthusiastically volunteered a tribute:
"Nothing says day-drinking-at-Rockaway-Beach-BECAUSE-I-CAN like an icy-cool piña colada from Connolly's. It's one of the few occasions I'll actually delight in a maraschino cherry, but let's be real—the true star is the rum. In that it exists in pineapple-coconut slushy form. With rum. Did I mention that there's rum in there? Yeah. It's what we in the food world might call 'damn delicious.'"
Beach 97th Concession
For more variety than you'll likely ever see by the sea, look no further than the Beach 97th Concession. One meandering countertop unites some of the best food and drink by the beach, and guests can consume to their hearts' content—or to their stomach's chagrin—at nearby shaded picnic tables. While the range of cuisine available at this concession feels like a short trip around the world, the phenomenon of bringing each different plate back to the same table is delightfully equalizing. There are no frills here, and there really shouldn't be; you're on the beach, so well-made food is reason enough to rejoice.
For Refreshing Seaside Ceviche: La Cevicheria
Bringing a Peruvian tradition to the Beach 97th Street concession, La Cevicheria is anything but your average boardwalk fare. The friendly seafood sorceress behind the counter serves a consistently delicious, refreshing, and undeniably beachy assortment of ceviche dishes.
Their ceviche mixto ($10) marries familiar seafood and citrus flavors while introducing some uniquely Peruvian elements, like crunchy maiz chulpe (toasted Andean corn), juicy choclo (large-kernel boiled corn), and sweet yam. Peruvian yellow pepper anchors the ceviche's seasoned citrus juice base, a mixture of garlic, celery, ginger, lime, salt, and (apparently) love. An acidic marinade and slivers of fresh red onion artfully complement a meaty mixture of shrimp, squid, and local pollock (all "cooked" by the citrus juice marinade beforehand). This bright and refreshing seafood dish will leave a lasting impression...just, thankfully, not on your stomach. If I had to recommend an ideal pre-swim bite, this would be the one. Share an order with a friend before you face the waves and inadvertently swallow a half-gallon salt water (you think you won't, but you will).
For Hearty Uzbek Pieroshki: Uma's
While Rockaway's high standard of eating sets it apart from average East Coast beach food, the classic appeal of a carb-loaded boardwalk bite is undeniable. You won't find funnel cake or corndogs at any Rockaway Beach concession, but the Uma's counter at Beach 97th concession serves up gigantic and doughy Uzbek pieroshki ($4), filled with your choice of egg and scallion, beef and rice, potato, or cabbage.
Your best option, bear with me now, is the cabbage-filled pieroshki, which packs plenty of flavor where the others seem to be lacking, with an airy, fried dough exterior that soaks up their mild tomato hot sauce quite nicely. We found that all the crispy dough encasing the savory-sweet braised cabbage was in need of some saucing, salting, and peppering; after those additions, however, the pieroshki was damn near perfect, though no less shocking in size. Only go for this bite if you've chosen lighter fare earlier in the day, or else the old adage about eating before you swim may prove itself unpleasantly true.
For the Beach's Best Brisket: Bolivian Llama Party
A surprise favorite at the Beach 97th concession is Bolivian Llama Party, an aptly-named fiesta of flavor, exemplified by their take on a slow-cooked brisket sandwich. Unlike Breezy's BBQ a few counters away, the folks at BLP demonstrate a true mastery of the "slow and low" brisket cooking technique; this much is apparent in the crisp char and tender, deliciously fatty meat. The supporting cast in the Bolivian Brisket Chola ($11)—cracked pepper, parsley, pickled onions, diced tomato, carrot, fennel, spicy aioli, and scotch bonnet peppers—provide another unexpected edge over the simple coleslaw accompaniment to Breezy's.
If brisket isn't your bag, then BLP's Triple Pulled Pork Chola ($11) the way to go for pulled pork by the beach. Though the pulled pork at Breezy's is less disappointing than their brisket, it still can't beat the crazy combination of pulled pork, pork cracklins, and bacon that BLP brings together in their chola. Those who prefer sharing should be happy to hear that both the brisket and pork are available over nachos as well, which I would recommend over the saltena ($6) option that attempts to recreate the same big flavor in a small empanada-like package.
Beach 86th Concession
While the Beach 97th Concession boasts a variety of choices, the Beach 86th and Beach 106th concessions are smaller, offering only quality choices from Rippers and Caracas Arepa Bar respectively. While the beach tends to be somewhat less crowded at both of these locations, the lines for each of these eateries can still get long at peak lunch hours.
For a Solid Burger: Rippers
A stroll down the beach to the 86th Street concession will land you at Rippers, a burger-driven collaboration between Roberta's and The Meat Hook. The surfer vibe, friendly staff, and well-curated playlist make Rippers a great spot for relaxing right before you pack up the car or take that long subway ride home.
When you order, make sure you're in a full-meal mindset before you grab a Hardbody Burger ($9; $10.50 with avocado add-on), which stacks two Meat Hook patties with American cheese, pickles, and spicy special sauce for a solid fast food-style burger. Though the Hardbody seems like a burger behemoth already, add on some avocado for the ultimate creamy beach burger experience. Unlike the dives and fast food establishments evoked in the menu at Rippers, the hip staff at this seemingly carefree joint can cook up a proper medium-rare burger if that's your preference. And if the Hardbody doesn't somehow fill your stomach to capacity, go ahead kiss your arteries goodnight with an order of cheese fries ($5).
Tell us about your favorite Rockaway bites in comments!