Pre-packing a hamper of soggy, inevitably sand-logged sandwiches for a day at one of New York’s beaches is a definitely a thing of the past. Granted, nothing can ever take the place of mustard and sauerkraut-adorned hot dogs plucked from the well-seasoned rollers at Nathan’s, but now they’re just one option of many from unique, quality vendors spread across the city’s boardwalks. So in lieu of chips and sodas, stock your waterproof duffels with a few extra dollars instead, and enjoy Brazilian sliders at the Rockaways, Puerto Rican mofongo at Coney Island, and chicken and waffle cones at Riis.
Coney Island: What took Smorgasburg so long to conquer Coney Island, Brooklyn’s most popular beach? Along with two bars and street art lining the boardwalk, the weekend outpost features 12 popular vendors, all set up in individual shipping containers. Smartly enough, none of the shops offer hotdogs (although Home Frite’s paper twists of hand-cut fries might give Nathan’s red pitchforked crinkles a run for their money). We’re most excited to see Bon Chovie, which helped kick off the current small bait craze with their briny, deep-fried fishies; Mofongo, serving the traditional Puerto Rican dish of fried and smashed green plantains, topped with savory meat, fish, or vegetable stews; and Excell’s Kingston Eatery, which brings the Caribbean to Coney by way of smoky jerk chicken and ice cold coconuts, with straws driven through the middle.
Atlantic Ocean, from W. 37th Street to Ocean Parkway, Coney Island
Rockaway Beach: Since the destination-worthy Rockaway Taco essentially spawned NYC’s elevated beach eats revolution, it was a shock to learn that the owners parted ways this year. The upside to the split? Two cool concepts instead of one. Chef Andrew Field has opened his own spot in the Rockaway Surf Club called Tacoway Beach, peddling his famous fish tacos alongside corn and cotijo cheese in a cup, while ex-partner David Selig has teamed up with The MP Shift (a design, concept and branding studio) in Rockaway Taco’s old space, to curate a rotating, culinary roster of Latin American talent, including Fernando Aciar of O Café, Camille Becerra from Navy, and Dough’s Fany Gerson. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the OG of upscale beach food; other notable newcomers include Chicks to Go and their Peruvian roasted chicken, as well as Beach Sliders, featuring greasy gut-bomb burgers à la White Castle.
8601 Shore Front Parkway, Queens
Riis Beach: Just a short jaunt a way from Rockaway Beach (and with considerably easier parking), it was a given that Riis would eventually up its concessions game. And they’ve commissioned the Brooklyn Night Bazaar (recently evicted from its Williamsburg home) to do just that; Ample Hills is on board, plying beachcombers with scoops of ooey gooey butter cake ice cream, peppermint pattie and salted crack caramel, and Brooklyn Star is wielding waffle cones too—except they’re filling theirs with mashed potatoes, coleslaw, and nuggets of buttermilk fried chicken, doused with maple syrup, sriracha-honey sauce, or salty streams of bacon-ranch. Court Street Grocers is making an unexpected, but highly welcome appearance, selling all-American sandwiches like the Pork Roll (Taylor ham, scrambled eggs and American cheese on white bread), and even though this is Riis Beach we’re talking about, Coney Shack (a Brooklyn food truck) is ably filling the requisite Asian-inspired taco spot, peddling tortillas stuffed with Vietnamese short ribs, honey-glazed grilled pork, and lemongrass-scented chicken.
157 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Queens
Brighton Beach: While Brighton has always been a nice, quiet alternative to the inevitable bedlam of Coney, the downside has always been the lack of boardwalk food options, save for the stray concession stand selling pre-fab burgers, and a couple of price-gouging cafes. No matter; it’s a great excuse to explore the Eastern European grocery stores and eateries dotting the bustling, surrounding avenues—assemble your own smorgasbord of pickled tomatoes, black currants and cold-smoked turbot from Brighton Bazaar; lamb-stuffed samsa (flaky pastries) from Café Kashkar; and torpedo-shaped loaves of Georgian bread from Berikoni Bakery. Alternatively, you can save your appetite for a post-swim, sit-down lunch at KeeBeer, a Central Asian beer garden serving Silk Road salads, shish kebabs, sausages, and heaping platters of plov—an Uzbek specialty of beef, chickpea and raisin-studded rice.
Coney Island Ave & Brightwater Court, Brighton Beach
Pier 4 Beach: For anyone not living in the Southernmost reaches of Brooklyn, this tiny little beach at Brooklyn Bridge Park is a godsend. Granted, you can’t do much more than dip your toes in the spare waves crashing over the rocks (there’s always the Floating Pool pop-up if you want to bring a swimsuit) but on less crowded days, there’s plenty of room to spread a towel in the sand, in order to take advantage of one of the most spectacular views of city skyline. And the dining options in the area simply can’t be beat — the only tough part is choosing between pizza at the rooftop at Fornino, lobster rolls at Luke’s, General Tso’s seitan sandwiches at No. 7, or goodies from the various Smorgasburg vendors gathered at Pier 5, including bacon on a stick at Landhaus and Filipino spring rolls from Lumpia Shack.
334 Furman Street, Brooklyn Heights