Food vendors and restaurants in the Rockaways have only gotten better over the years. Here’s where to eat this summer, and beyond.
For New Yorkers, hitting the beach on sunny summer days offers some much-needed wide-open, saltwater respite from the urban jungle we call home. But when it’s a beach you can take public transit too, we are rightfully a little smug. Rockaway Beach, right off the A train, the Q22 bus (among other lines), and the unbeatable NYC Ferry, with its gorgeous endless boardwalk, hotel rooftop bars, and great and varied eateries, is the perfect example. Who needs the Jersey Shore with this Queens beach a stone’s throw away?
Don’t get me wrong—I’m a Jersey Shore native. But I’m also a 15-year Queens diehard, and last summer our family finally made the leap to a Rockaway Beach staycation. Renting a bungalow near the beach 35 minutes from our home proved a brilliant idea that let us experience the Rockaways in a whole new way: not as repeat day-trippers, but as neighborhood locals.
Naturally, between hours at the beautiful beach, we ate a lot. We learned that within the span of a few blocks, you can have Jamaican food for breakfast, Nigerian for lunch, and Uzbeki cuisine for dinner. Then there’s the summers-only taco and ceviche spots, the ice cream shop that’s a must, and the hotel rooftop bar with some of the best views in NYC.
But we also learned that the great spots to hit are spread out over some 40-odd blocks, so it helps to have a plan. There is still more we want to explore in this neighborhood, but for now, here’s your roadmap for where to eat in Rockaway Beach.
This is the former Rockaway Tacos many of us knew and loved, and while the seasonal eatery is a 10-minute walk from the beach, the surfer vibes and crispy fish tacos are still fantastic (we also liked the vegetarian black bean, cheese, and sweet plantain taco). Served two to an order with a hefty scoop of guacamole, cabbage slaw, and sliced radish, the tacos are ideal for mixing and matching with a partner.
Our family of four paired four taco orders with chips and guac and a guajillo-flecked cucumber-mango salad for a perfect dinner al fresco in the festive picnic table-strewn yard. Grab your margaritas at the Rockaway Surf Club, open till midnight, which shares the outdoor space. Tacoway Beach; open daily, 11am-8pm; 302 Beach 87th St., map
Is any boardwalk worth its salt without a good burger joint? Ripper’s is here for your carnivorous, hangover-fueled beach cravings with its simple menu of (grass-fed) burgers, (pasture-raised) hot dogs, and fries, all of which can have a gooey slice of American cheese melted on top, if you choose. (Vegan burgers are available too, as well as beers and juices.) This being Rockaway Beach, beer, wine, and cold-pressed juices are also available.
If you’re like me, you’ll come here to feed hungry kids, and then find yourself eagerly downing half a cheese dog. But the classic burgers, with smashed patties, pickles, cabbage, and potato buns, and cheese fries are the things to get after a few solid hours at the beach. Fuel up in the colorful beachfront picnic area, and get back to those sands. Ripper’s; open daily, 11am-8pm, weather permitting; 86-01 Shore Front Pkway, map
Mara’s Ice Cream Parlor
A trip to Mara’s is a Rockaway must. It hits all the notes required of a beachy ice cream spot: homemade ice cream in a wide variety of flavors; a sweet sandy backyard in which to park yourself; a salty-enough location, just a few blocks from the ocean. Oh, and there’s boozy ice cream too!
The decade-old shop changed ownership this spring, so we hope the warm atmosphere and delicious wares remain. I loved the rich and creamy peanut butter pie ice cream. Mara’s Ice Cream Parlor; open daily for summer, noon-10pm; 92-14 Rockaway Beach Blvd., map
Jamaican breakfasts are always a treat, and the saltfish and callaloo we took out from this no-frills corner shop one morning (eaten in our house rental’s patio) was very satisfying. The fried dumplings helped mop it all up, and we snacked on the thick, sweet peanut porridge for days in our fridge. Next time I’ll go for lunch and gorge on curry goat or oxtails. Best Caribbean; open daily, 6:30am-10pm; 91-02 Rockaway Beach Blvd., map
If you live (or stay) nearby, this is your local coffee shop, and it’s a good one. As is fitting for a local surfer-owned spot, the atmosphere is chill and rustic, with a reclaimed wood coffee bar and burlap bean bags on the ceiling. The coffee is Stumptown, and it hits the spot however you like your caffeine. But the food is terrific too. Our kids loved the giant Nutella waffles, while I enjoyed the frozen banana bowl, a clever, honey-drizzled mix of frozen bananas, almond milk, and almond butter, topped with fresh fruit, hemp granola, raw cacao nibs, and coconut flakes. The acai and pitaya bowls look delicious too. I will definitely be grabbing one of these before hitting the beach this summer! Juices, smoothies, pastries, and savory croissant sandwiches round out the menu. Rockaway Roasters; open Mon-Fri, 7am-3pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-3pm; 92-06 Rockaway Beach Blvd., map
The Cradle NYC
**Sadly, The Cradle has just closed on July 16.** Just the bright-painted yellow building of this family-owned Nigerian restaurant brings happiness! Start with the powdered sugar-dusted puff puff and then tuck into a jollof rice bowl—pairing the tomato-cooked rice with sweet plantains, kale salad or roasted broccoli, and your protein of choice—or a traditional Nigerian okele, or swallow. We love the egusi, a deeply flavorful stew of melon seed, greens, locust bean, dry fish, and crayfish, paired with roasted red snapper and pounded yam. Don’t miss the house hot sauce.
There’s some sidewalk seating and fabulous juices and smoothies here, like the very refreshing watermelon-mint-pineapple we tried. The Nigerian drink hibiscus drink zobo is on my radar for next time. The Cradle NYC; open Wed-Sun, 10am-9pm; 194 Beach 96th St., map
If you’ve driven or walked down Beach 95th St. to reach the sands, you’ve likely passed this place many a time. I know we have. And so we finally passed under the maroon awning to enter this iconic local pub, which was established in 1962 but has been a bar since the late 1800s. The thing to get, if you’re getting just one item, is the cherry-topped frozen piña colada. It’s their signature drink, and they’re quite proud of it. We had kids in tow, so we got ours to go in a Styrofoam cup for a roving happy hour.
It’s a piña colada—you know what you’re getting. But it is very tasty: cold and sweet and refreshing. Piña coladas at the beach are always a good idea. And we did note the spacious front patio area (where yoga classes are sometimes held), the DJ and trivia schedule, and the weekend partnership with The Meat Up Grill for food. Connolly’s Bar; open daily, noon till late; 155 Beach 95th St., map
A lively family-owned Uzbek restaurant with a few sidewalk tables (and, randomly, a location in Puerto Rico too), Uma’s makes for a nice change of pace at lunch or dinner. Our family enjoyed the squash-filled manti and the baked lamb samsa, but don’t sleep on the daily specials: We loved a hearty Georgian chicken dish on the specials board called chicken chehambli, stewed with peppers, onions, and eggplant, and served with kasha. Uma’s; open daily, noon-10pm; 92-07 Rockaway Beach Blvd, map
This popular seasonal vendor inside the Rockaway Bazaar food court at Beach 97 specializes in Peruvian ceviche. It might be the perfect summer lunch, light, citrusy, and refreshing—and here you can eat it beachfront, exactly how we always want our ceviche! We loved the regular shrimp variety, and another that paired ceviche mixto (hake and shrimp) over quinoa and causa (mashed potato with ají amarillo), for a more filling meal. A Rockaway Beach must! La Cevicheria; open Mon-Fri, 11:30am-7:30pm; Sat-Sun, 11:30am-8:30pm; 97-01 Shore Front Pkwy, map
The Rooftop at the Rockaway Hotel
Head up to the sixth floor of the pretty, art-strewn Rockaway Hotel to reach this expansive oasis of a rooftop bar and restaurant. The views are phenomenal, stretching across the cottages of Rockaway and Jamaica Bay to the Manhattan skyline on one side and full-frontal Atlantic Ocean on the others. What a special POV.
You’d think it’d be overrun with hipster tourists or raucous day-trippers, but we found the vibe was chill at sunset—an excellent time to visit—and even welcoming to our family (on Fridays and Saturdays, you must be 21 to enter after 6pm). It’s an incredible spot for a cocktail, and the snack-focused menu is surprisingly good too, at least the lone dish we tried (and quickly devoured): a Mason jar of plump sardines served with homemade potato chips and onion dip.
Note that the hotel offers non-guests day passes to its sweet heated swimming pool. Next time! The Rooftop at the Rockaway Hotel; open Thurs, 4pm-9pm; Fri, 4pm-9pm (bar is open later); Sat, 2pm-9pm (bar is open later); Sun, 2pm-9pm; 108-10 Rockaway Beach Dr., map
Caracas Arepa Bar
We’ll shamelessly date ourselves by saying we often ate at Caracas when it was still new in the East Village, in the early 2000s. Venezuelan stuffed arepas were such a novelty in NYC back then, and this place remains iconic for them. While the original location has since closed, Queens folks are lucky that Caracas Arepa Bar is a summertime constant on the boardwalk at Beach 106. The arepas, while a bit smaller and definitely pricier than I recall, are just as delicious, and they’re quite generously filled (and therefore filling). We loved the simple black bean and cheese arepa, and the arepa de pollo, with lots of shredded chicken, plantains, avocado sauce, and pickled jalapenos. This is also the place to try a frozen sangria, a visually pleasing and refreshing twist of slushy white and red wine. Caracas Arepa Bar; open daily, 11:30am-7:30pm; 106-01 Shore Front Pkwy, map
Rocco’s of Roc Beach
We drove a little west to this pizzeria and red-sauce joint on the advice of a friend, who told us it was their favorite Italian restaurant in Queens. We wouldn’t go that far, but it was a fun, tasty, splurgy night. All of the restaurant’s pastas and breads are made fresh in-house, which is pretty special. We loved the meatballs and one of the pasta specials, a pile of seafood over black squid ink spaghetti. Pictured is the bucatini all’Amatriciana—delicious, but served a little too al dente for my taste.
Rocco’s has a clubby vibe to it, with a DJ three nights a week, including during our weeknight visit, but there’s an outdoor garden in back too. During the summer, there’s a handmade gelato bar on the sidewalk. The menu is vast, and the Parm sandwiches look divine, but its pizza was recently voted best in the borough in a new Queens Chamber of Commerce competition, so next time we’ll be trying that. Rocco’s of Roc Beach; open Tues-Thurs, noon-10pm; Fri-Sat, noon-11pm; Sun, noon-9pm; 115-10 Rockaway Beach Blvd, map
Coastal Frozen Yogurt
Near the Rockaway Hotel, there’s a little cluster of bars and restaurants, plus this cute and colorful fro-yo shop! Actually it carries ice cream, milkshakes, and sorbet too, and seems to specialize in sundae cups with many different toppings. We are all about the Reese’s Cup topping in our family. Coastal Frozen Yogurt; open Tues-Sun, 1pm-9pm; 108-19 Rockaway Beach Dr., map
Cuisine by Claudette
Moroccan-born Jewish chef Claudette Flatow opened up her causal counter-service Mediterranean spot on 116th St. in 2012—right before Sandy struck—and the place has become a neighborhood staple, with three locations. The generous, health-conscious menu spans espresso drinks and pastries (including vegan options), juices and smoothies, acai bowls, pita sandwiches, and protein bowls. Talk about a fantastic lunch to bring to the beach! Cuisine by Claudette; open daily, 8am-8pm; 143 Beach 116th St. + 190 Beach 69th St., map
Rockaway Brewing Co.
The beers are brewed in Long Island City, but you better believe there’s a nice big, chill tasting room here in Rockaway (technically this is Arverne), with pool tables, a brewery cat, outdoor seating, and lots of beers on tap. They’re known for their Hawaiian Pizza IPA—it doesn’t taste as crazy as it sounds, don’t worry (low bitterness, juicy pineapple notes, no ham)—and while there’s no kitchen here, there’s usually an onsite food shack of some sort doing BBQ or empanadas or salchipapas. Rockaway Brewing Co.; open Mon-Tues, 3pm-10pm, Wed-Sun, noon-10pm; 415 Beach 72nd St., map
Nutcrackers … on the Beach
While not invented here (that honor goes to a Chino-Latino restaurant on the Upper East Side in the early 1990s), nutcrackers are a Rockaway tradition I’ve always been wary of … who knows what goes in those candy-colored frozen beverages peddled on the sands? A nutcracker, for the uninitiated, is not any one drink; rather, it’s a general name for any sweet, boozy beverage peddled illegally on the street, in bodegas and barber shops, and most definitely on the beach. However, we were lucky to run into a guy working for The Beachtender, apparently one of very few “official” vendors with an LLC. The Beachtender himself is Anthony Robinson—peep his Instagram, so you know who to look for—but he does have a few other guys roaming around.
The gentleman we met (pictured here) explained that they used real fruit and vegetables in their drinks, demonstrating by taking every flavor out and showing us the visible seeds. Passionfruit with Hennessy, a mudslide with mushrooms, strawberry lemonade vodka, peach-mango Maker’s Mark, watermelon tequila, rum punch—we tried the latter two, and they were delicious. Also icy, refreshing, and $10 a pop. Look for the Beachtender!
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of where to eat in Rockaway Beach … we have hit up a lot of spots over the years, but not all of them! We know Thai Rock is well-liked for Thai dining overlooking the bay, while the Bungalow Bar, which we’re way overdue to revisit, is iconic for waterfront food and cocktails. Goody’s BBQ Chicken + Ribs has been on my list for a long time, over in Arverne. Whit’s End, popular for pizza and so many daily seafood specials, is on our list for next time, as is Super Burrito and its irresistible Mission-style burritos, and Tap That seems like a fun place to grab a drink. Sayra’s Wine Bar sounds fantastic too.
I guess you know where you’ll find us this summer!