A day at the beach requires sustenance. You can only spend so much time romping in the waves or baking on the sand before you find yourself wandering, sun-dazed and ravenous, in search of a snack and an icy drink. Luckily, this is New York, where the beach eats options include everything from crab feasts to coal-fired pizza. Here’s where to find great food near four of the best New York City beaches.
Rockaway Beach is best known as a surfer’s haven, being the only beach in New York where it’s actually legal to ride the waves. It draws flocks of hip Brooklynites in the summer, but a laid-back community of surfers and creative types lives there year-round, supporting a surprisingly diverse spread of restaurants — the options range from Brazilian to Uzbek — alongside the seasonal food stands.
If you like to get an early start, consider Rockaway Beach Bakery for a quick breakfast. It’s run by Tracy Obolsky, a skilled pastry chef who spent time at North End Grill and Cookshop before opening this spot on her home turf. (She’s also a surfer.) Croissants, in flavors like salted honey or everything with ham and cheese, are the specialty.
For a light lunch, try Beach Bistro 96, a breezy Brazilian café serving fresh juices, chewy tapioca crepes, and plump meat- or cheese-filled pastéis. If you’re not inclined to stray far from the sand, Rippers is a perennial favorite among the seasonal stalls that dot the boardwalk. Run by the people behind Roberta’s and the Meat Hook, it offers homemade hot dogs, cold beer, soft-serve ice cream in creative flavors, and the best burgers around.
When it’s time for a break from the heat, head to Connolly’s, a friendly old Irish pub not far from the beach. It serves its frozen piña coladas in Styrofoam cups so they can be ferried (discreetly) back to the beach.
Before calling it quits for the day, stop in at Chicks to Go, a Peruvian spot just a block from the Beach 98th Street subway station. A whole rotisserie chicken is just $13 and, along with some fried plantains and avocado salad, makes a perfect takeout dinner for the weary beachgoer.
As New York’s most frenetic, attraction-packed beach, Coney Island has no shortage of restaurants. But certain boardwalk eateries tend to be overcrowded, overpriced, and understaffed, and the central stretch of Surf Avenue is rife with chains. No need to visit a chain unless that chain is Nathan’s, which gets a pass for being a local icon.
If you don’t want to venture far from the boardwalk, go to Paul’s Daughter, a quintessential Coney Island spot on par with Nathan’s. Notwithstanding a recent face-lift, this family-owned eatery hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1951, and it’s the best place to cool off with a beer and a plate of freshly shucked clams.
On Surf Avenue, it’s hard to walk by Williams Candy without being lured in by the fat candy apples and bags of cotton candy in the windows. This is another vintage Coney Island treasure, dating back to 1936 and jam-packed with old-fashioned sweets. Fill a bag to snack on while sunbathing or on the train ride home.
A couple of additional long blocks north, on Neptune Avenue, is Totonno’s, one of the city’s all-time great pizzerias. There may be a wait, and service can be gruff, but that’s all part of the experience. The pizzas are piled high with toppings, kissed with char from the coal-fired oven, and perfect for when you’re ravenous after a day of swimming. Just remember: Totonno’s is cash-only.
If all you want is some picnic food to take to the beach, head to New York Bread on Neptune Avenue near Kaiser Park. This Russian bakery and grocery is just a fifteen-minute walk from the Coney Island subway stop, and well worth a pit stop. It specializes in fresh, inexpensive rye breads of every kind, but you can also pick up all manner of pickles, salamis, smoked fish, and fresh cheeses to complete the meal.
With its clear view of the Verrazano Bridge swooping majestically over the bay, Staten Island’s South Beach is one of the five boroughs’ most scenic seasides. The summer crowds are mostly locals, but it’s a fairly easy drive from Brooklyn, and an intrepid devotee of public transportation might even get there by taking the ferry and a bus.
Once you arrive, good food is within easy reach. A short walk up Sand Lane from the boardwalk is La Canasta Deli, a Mexican restaurant and grocery. A stand outside offers quick refreshment in the form of icy horchata and grilled elotes (corn on the cob smothered in mayo, crumbled cotija cheese, and chile powder). Head inside to grab a table and a few generously stuffed tacos (seek out the tender, weekend-only goat barbacoa) or a torta to bring back to the beach.
A slightly longer walk from the beach, or a short drive, is Basilio Inn, a charming 96-year-old red-sauce Italian spot. The rustic menu includes plenty of seafood and expert homemade pastas, plus some homegrown vegetables in the summer. And a sweet, shady patio overlooks the garden those vegetables come from, making Basilio the perfect place for a leisurely late lunch or early dinner after a day in the sun.
If you do have a car, you may also want to visit Lee’s Tavern, a beloved neighborhood bar that serves one of the best versions of the borough’s legendary thin-crust pizza. Take refuge from the heat in the dim, cool bar, have a pizza and a beer, then head to Royal Crown Bakery for a dessert of perfectly crisp cannoli, or more unique options such as “bagels” that are really more like ring-shaped focaccia, studded with ingredients like chocolate chunks or sliced prosciutto, or a triple-layered, chocolate-glazed rainbow-cookie doughnut.
Orchard Beach/City Island
Orchard Beach, a mile-long crescent of sand built in Pelham Bay Park in the 1930s, is the Bronx’s only public beach. Though the waterfront still gets crowded, the vast greenery of the surrounding park keeps it somewhat removed from the usual NYC bustle, and the only dining in the immediate vicinity is a lone snack bar. But luckily one of New York’s greatest unsung neighborhoods, City Island, is just a hop, skip, and jump away. It’s a five-to-ten-minute drive or a straight shot by bus to this sleepy seaside community, which has more than its fair share of excellent seafood spots.
Just off the bridge (and about a mile from the southern end of Orchard Beach, if you’re up for the walk), is City Island Lobster House, a waterfront restaurant offering enormous portions and endless preparations of fresh Maine lobster. The options include simply steamed, stuffed with crab, tossed with pasta, or baked into paella, and none will disappoint. If crab is your shellfish of choice, head farther along the main drag to the Original Crab Shanty. Here you’ll find crab cooked every which way, but the most popular order is one of several “feasts”: At around $80, the groaning platter of mixed seafood that arrives at your table easily feeds a crowd. A more casual option at the far end of the island: Johnny’s Reef Restaurant, a gritty, sprawling counter-service seafood shack dating back to the 1950s. Though the inside looks a bit like a high school cafeteria, the huge outdoor deck overlooking the water is ideal for downing a plate of fried clams and a cheap-but-potent frozen piña colada.
If seafood isn’t your thing, Bistro SK, near the center of the island, is a charming French restaurant serving wonderfully rustic classics like duck confit and braised lamb shank with white-bean stew. Or head to Fella’s, a local dive bar, for a cold beer, a respite from the sun, and a taste of the neighborhood character.