After a long and brutal winter, New York City's Hot Vax Summer is kicking off right on schedule this Memorial Day Weekend, with all beaches fully open starting on Saturday and, out at Rockaway, a full slate of restaurants and bars ready to serve you. Rain or shine. Here's a look at some of the food highlights you'll find this summer on the peninsula.
It was a tumultuous off-season for Rockaway's hugely popular boardwalk concessions, with both a controversial change of management and a major case of vandalism threatening the good vibes. But now it's time for chill summer vibes, and all three big venues are scheduled to be bringing the party to the beach this weekend.
The by-now iconic Rippers is back at Beach 87th, slinging their first-rate burgers and fries to the most slamming soundtrack on the beach. Up at Beach 106th the hall-of-fame team of Caracas and Brothers have returned for the summer as well, the former with Maribel Araujo's famous overstuffed Arepas, Venezualan Cheese Sticks, and snacky Empanadas; the latter adding former Tacoway Bay chef Sarah Peltier to the mix for a veggie-centric menu and some of the best Smoothies I've ever had. And fingers crossed Peltier makes good on her promise to run a Nacho popup somewhere out here this summer!
The biggest changes on the boardwalk are at Beach 97th, which will host eleven different food vendors under one roof. The hits here include familiar faces like Red Hook Lobster Pound, with its excellent Chowder and Lobster Rolls, and the superb Peruvian seafood shack La Cevicheria, run by longtime Rockaway pros Leyla and Ximena Yrala. There are some intriguing newcomers as well, like the wood-fired pizza spot Seany Slices, and a fried chicken outfit called Chicken Joint, a spinoff of the now-departed Lobster Joint.
Note that all of the boardwalk concessions were still awaiting their liquor license at press time, including old-timers Rippers and Caracas due to the change in management.
More good food news awaits you inland, by which I mean a block or two from the beach. Andrew Field has already opened his legendary taco stand Tacoway Beach at Beach 87th and, in addition to continuing his now-15-year tradition of making us the best Fish Tacos in town, he's added a new vegan option to the menu, a wholly satisfying Mushroom Pepita beauty. And remember to always get the Watermelon or Pineapple drink while you're here.
Beach 86th is also looking good, with the increasingly venerable family-owned Bernadette's holding down on the corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard. The Bacon, Egg, and Cheese is a personal favorite here, but you can order with confidence all over the impressively lengthy menu. And by this weekend the Robinson clan should also be scooping homemade gelato at a new place right next door called Gigi's. Definitely looking forward to trying that.
Going down the row, The Cradle is a West African restaurant that opened in the old Rockaway Taco spot last August. Owned and operated by Babajide Alao, who used to work at Veggie Island, and his partner Pesy Sikyala, it specializes in hefty Jollof Rice bowls, served either vegan or laden with salmon, beef, or chicken marinated in Nigerian stew sauce. Coming this weekend (or soon thereafter): a selection of gluten-free cookies and other pastries from local baker Raquel Confections.
Raquel Confections are also available at the quirky Avoid the Day Bookstore and Cafe near Beach 99th, which, in addition to being a valuable spot if you somehow left your beach-day reading material on the A train, sells sweets, snacks, and wine. My baked goods go-to out here, however, remains Tracy Oblosky's inimitable Rockaway Beach Bakery, now entering its fifth summer and still killing it with deep pleasures like Salted Honey Buns, Chocolate Croissants, Strawberry Almond Financiers, Vegan Carrot Muffins, and, my treat on Saturday, a slab of incredible Lemon Strawberry Cake.
A new Italian restaurant, Rocco's of Roc Beach, opened this spring over near Beach 116th, and seems like a classic neighborhood spot with coal brick oven pizzas, paninis, pastas, and parms. And if you're looking for something fancy after a day on the sand, Margie's at the ritzy Rockaway Hotel, which starts service this weekend, is where all the true players will be, scarfing down plates of $30 pasta, $50 steaks, and a $160 raw-bar tower for six (that somehow only has one lobster tail?) called The Kraken.
Note: You can also get vaccinated at the beach starting this weekend, look out for the mobile vaccine buses to get your jab if you haven't already.