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$20 Dinner

Where to Find the Best Beach Food at Rockaway This Endless Summer

A guide to the finest eats at the city's most magical public-transportation-accessible beach, on and off the boardwalk.

A photo of a fish taco at Tacoway Beach.

A Tacoway Beach taco so nice, we’re going to use the photo twice (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

In the '90s, I was fortunate enough to spend several summers at share houses in Montauk, riding those bouncy old diesel trains out to Ditch on alternate weekends or whatever the schedule was. It was a glorious time, a years-long narrative arc that took me from drug-addled debauchery to the more enduring joys of hanging with my two then-tiny daughters. 

It didn't last, of course, as Montauk in the 21st century joined the rest of the Hamptons in the "are you serious with this shit?" price range—when I couldn't even afford a weekend at the East Deck anymore, I knew it was over for real—but that doesn't mean I quit sunburns and sand. For the last 18 years or so, my "summer house" has been the extremely free beaches of Rockaway. Specifically, the stretch from Beach 86 to Beach 108, with my exact landing spot determined mostly by what I feel like eating that day.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Getting out to Rockaway is cheap and easy via public transportation. Yes, the ferry ride from Pier 11 in Manhattan affords you some pleasant breezes and Brooklyn shoreline views, but there's always something deeply satisfying to me about getting on the A at, say, Utica Avenue and emerging on the shores of the Atlantic freaking Ocean. And though there have been a couple of posh newcomers to the scene recently (looking at you, Rockaway Hotel and Spa and your $75 half-day pool admission), for the most part the neighborhood retains its somewhat ragged, all-are-welcome charm. 

What really seals the deal about Rockaway though, and why I'll make the trip out here about once a week from now through Labor Day, are the many excellent eating options, most owned and operated by Rockaway locals, that have been around for years. Below are my favorites. The more seasoned Rockaway heads among you will likely have already been to them all, but it's the increasingly consistent landscape out here which brings that vacation-home vibe to the place. Year after year, Rockaway feels the same, as if it's all part of one long, glorious summer.

There will be a lot more people here this weekend. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Last Saturday I hit the beach for some pre-season action. The A train wasn't running, so I took the ferry to Beach 108. As you would expect on a cloudy, intermittently rainy day in May, crowds were sparse—but, per usual, the food was great.

My first stop was the OG of the OGs, Boardwalk Bagel on Beach 108 and Rockaway Beach Drive, where Jackie and Danny Foster have been holding it down since 2004. The menu here sprawls like any self-respecting NYC deli, with dozens of different bagels, sandwiches, and wraps, as well as things such as breakfast burritos, burgers, and random entrées. Stick to the basics—my "Shark Attack" hero was loaded with sausage, bacon, ham, eggs, home fries, and cheese, and it was awesome—and you will walk away full and happy. 

Hey, what are you guys getting? (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
The Shark Attack hero (eggs, cheese, bacon, ham, sausage, home fries) from Boardwalk Bagel, $10.95 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Surfers have taken to the waves off Beach 106, so the big boardwalk concession stand here was hopping. One of my favorite places to eat breakfast (ever, in my life) is at Brothers, which Matt Webster, Sarah Peltier, and an ace crew of their close friends have been running for nine years now. The smoothies here are all exceptional—this is literally the only place I ever drink a smoothie. Peltier's pastries will buckle your knees, the English muffin egg sandwich with pesto hits the spot every time, and the kimchi grilled cheese, with optional runny egg, will wake you right the hell up. Plus the vibes, and Webster's playlist, are impeccable.

A small crowd outside of Brothers. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Kimchi grilled cheese, with optional egg, from Brothers, $12 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Also at the Beach 106 concession is Maribel Araujo's venerable Caracas Arepa Bar, heading into its 14th season on the boardwalk. Or, as Araujo put it, "I'm setting up my circus again." The jaw-stretching arepa sandwiches are the thing to get here; I'm partial to the one overstuffed with beef, black beans, cheese, and sweet plantains, which makes for a delicious, and extremely complete, meal, but there are plenty of other good things too, like the empanadas, the Venezuelan cheese sticks, and, I guess, the beer. Araujo's also introducing bowls this year, and a new vegan arepa. This is the last Caracas standing (Araujo shut down her Williamsburg and East Village locations during the early pandemic) so if nothing else, you should come and pay your respects to the legend.

Arepa de pabellón (beef, black beans, cheese, plantains) from Caracas Arepa Bar, $15 

The Beach 97 concession stand is the biggest and, on high-season weekends, the most chaotic spot on the boardwalk, with some 70 free concerts planned for this summer, plus weekly lobster boils, plenty of booze, and 10 different food vendors inside the sprawling space. My two go-tos here are Sean Aiken's superb "sturdy Neapolitan" pizzas at Seany (prior to opening four years ago, Aiken worked the ovens at Paulie Gee's and Speedy Romeo), and Leyla & Ximena Yrala's lovely Peruvian seafood at La Cevicheria. The Yralas have been at Beach 97 for 11 years now, and their tart, briny, generously portioned ceviche bowls are always pure pleasure.  

Pepperoni pie from Seany Pizza, $17 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Meat pelmeni from Uma's, $17 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Going inland for a minute, the once-vibrant corner of Beach 96 and Rockaway Beach Boulevard today sits empty, decrepit, and forlorn, but Uma's Uzbek over on Beach 92 and RBB is still serving one of my favorite dishes in town, an incredible plate of pelmeni, a dozen or so handmade Russian dumplings stuffed with well-seasoned ground beef and lamb and topped with red onion sauce, dill, cilantro, and yogurt sauce. The interior of Uma's doesn't exactly scream "beach day" (there's a surfboard on the wall, but it's mostly just dim and sleepy in here), so unless you need a break from the sun you may want to get your order to go and wolf it on the boardwalk.    

Blueberry yuzu sticky bun from Rockaway Bakery, $6 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

You have three stellar options right off the Beach 90 stop on the shuttle train. Tracy Obolsky's Rockaway Beach Bakery, on Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 98, is one of NYC's absolute best pastry shops, with a stunning array of laminated stuff (the yuzo blueberry sticky bun last Saturday was phenomenal), plus pies, pound cakes, scones, cookies, sandwiches, and, if you get lucky, her homemade ice cream. Obolsky worked pastry at several acclaimed restaurants, including Cookshop and North End Grill, before opening her own place out here seven years ago, and there would be lines down the block if this place was in, say, Greenpoint.         

The Beach 86 boardwalk concession has exactly one tenant, and it's a banger. Rippers, a hamburger joint that opened 14 years ago from the Roberta's and Meat Hook crew also functions as a bar, a cool-kid hangout, and, basically, a total party. The tight menu is all winners. The double-patty "hardbody" is the pro move, but the single Rippers burger, pictured, with pickles, lettuce, tomato, and a nice gloppy sauce, is plenty filling as well. The music is rowdy, and sitting here vibing and sharing a huge pile of fries with your (secret?) summer crush is pretty much total heaven.

Rippers burger, $11, with fries, $6, at Rippers (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
One fish taco, one chorizo taco, from Tacoway Beach, $12.40 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Speaking of bliss: the fish tacos, and the chorizo tacos, and the new carnitas tacos at the Rockaway granddaddy of them all, Tacoway Beach on Beach 87 and Rockaway Parkway, changed the way we think of beach food out here. The most amazing thing is that, even after making hundreds of thousands of tacos over years at the establishment formerly known as Rockaway Taco, which Andrew Field launched 17 years ago, still taste as good as you remember them being back in 2009 or whenever it was you first got here, sitting in that cramped little side yard beneath the broken surfboard at the old place on Beach 96. (And, yes, Field can still be found back there working the fryer.)

Soon, Tacoway, soon. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Awesome. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

It feels like you never left. And that, my dudes, is what going back to your favorite beach town, summer after summer, is all about.  

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