New York has some of the best beaches on the Atlantic seacoast, with every borough but Manhattan sporting at least one. But exposing yourself to sand and surf also engenders a commensurate need to wolf something down—whether a full-blown picnic, some fried clams from a kiosk, or a more elaborate sit-down feast nearby. Here are a few suggestions, organized by borough.
Our favorite beach in Staten Island is Midland. Though badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, the beach is being refurbished and is scheduled to reopen May 31. Much of the dining action is on nearby Hylan Boulevard, including Nunzio’s (2155 Hylan Boulevard, 718-667-9647), one of the borough’s most celebrated pizzerias. In the Staten Island style, the pies are thicker-crusted and doughier than the regular Neapolitan type. Here, the white clam pie is king—pale, briny, and cheesy—but you could also dine nicely on a smothered rice ball, Sicilian-style, or some fiercely hot Buffalo calamari. A few blocks away, Alba (1880 Hylan Boulevard, 718-667-1343) peddles Balkan bureks, a thick phyllo pastry layered with either cheese or meat, plus dips such as baba ghanoush and labne that could form the basis of a picnic. Lobster House Joe’s (1898 Hylan Boulevard, 718-667-0003) is a good bet if your beach visit demands seafood, from fried local fish to chowders to raw clams, the last offered at bargain prices.
Brooklyn’s Coney Island beaches (Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach) are famous for their food. The default at Coney Island is Nathan’s Famous (1229 Riegelman Boardwalk), which has a shack right on the boardwalk while the Surf Avenue mother ship is under repair from Sandy damage. But consider hiking a couple of blocks to Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano (1524 Neptune Avenue, 718-372-8606) for the city’s best coal-oven pizza, since 1924. For cotton candy, candy apples, or marshmallows dipped luxuriantly in dark chocolate and nuts, go to Williams Candy (1318 Surf Avenue, 718-372-0302), an ancient institution that recovered spectacularly from the hurricane and is now better than ever.
Brighton Beach has a Russian accent, and you can do worse than savoring a few shashliks (shish kebabs) with a glass of kvass (made from fermented rye bread) right on the boardwalk at Tatiana (3152 Brighton 6th Street, 718-891-5151). For beer and burgers, you can’t do better than Kebeer (1003 Brighton Beach Avenue, 718-934-9005), which also features a post-Soviet menu that includes chicken tabaka flattened and paved with garlic, plus all sorts of pickled fish. For a walk on the wild side, head to Kashkar (1141 Brighton Beach Avenue, 718-743-3832), which offers lush soups and mutton dumplings from China’s remote Xinjiang Province. The best picnic carry-out, with over 100 serve-yourself selections, comes from Brighton Bazaar (1007 Brighton Beach Avenue, 718-769-1700).
Despite utter devastation from Sandy, Queens’ Rockaway Beach will be open this summer, minus much of its boardwalk, but still unbowed. No visit to these gloriously pristine ribbons of sand would be complete without a stop at the now-legendary Rockaway Taco (95-19 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, 347-213-7466), whose Baja-style fish tacos come highly recommended. Right next to the Cross Bay Bridge, and sporting an outdoor deck with spectacular sunsets and live music, Thai Rock (375 Beach 92nd Street, 646-455-3991) offers Siamese food of a predictable sort, including cooling yum meat salads and satays with peanut sauce, good post-beach finger food.
The Bronx has only one beach, crescent-shaped Orchard Beach on Long Island Sound. Ringed by Pelham Bay Park and quite beautiful, it offers only one dining opportunity, the Orchard Beach Snack Bar, offering the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, and ice-cold beers. So head to the adjacent Pelham Bay neighborhood to Louie & Ernie’s Pizza (1300 Crosby Avenue, 718-829-6230), ensconced in a white frame house on a residential street, which serves up distinguished Neapolitan pies, of which the sausage-and-onion and white pizzas are favorites. For real New York coal-oven pizza, head southward to the isolated Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. Tosca Café (4038 East Tremont Avenue, 718-239-3300) was founded on the site of an ancient coal-oven bakery, and uses that appliance to turn out excellent thin-crust pizza and baked pastas. Both would make comforting and soothing choices, as your skin gradually turns the color of tomato sauce, and you remember you forgot to apply sunblock. Ouch!