Rockaway Beach Restaurants: Rockaway Taco and Babycakes NYC
A friend introduced us to Rockaway Beach a few years ago, and from the moment we spread our sheet on the (relatively) clean, soft sand, and dove through (relatively) clear, cool waves, we were totally sold. This, we knew, was our new favorite New York City "subway beach". We had heard plenty about Rockaway Beach, of course, from the Ramones, and the surfers who have long known that even in Queens you can get a decent swell. But really, considering this place is three blocks away from a particularly un-lovely subway station, Rockaway Beach has ever since been on our (admittedly long) list of New York City treasures. This is a great daycation–basically: you take the A train to Broad Channel, then get the Shuttle to, in our opinion, either Beach 98 or Beach 105–that, when the subway gods are being kind, takes about 45 minutes, door to sand, from the West 4th Street.*
And then, three summers ago, Rockaway Beach got even better. In 2008, surfers Andrew Field and David Selig put down their boards and opened what was (and still is) not much more than a plywood shack on a crumbling block of Beach 96th Street, and the magnificent Rockaway Taco was born. With a simple menu–a few tacos, a few quesadillas, some "other stuff" like citrusy Cukes salad and Elote, that phenomenal Mexican corn on the cob–ferociously fresh ingredients, and an appropriately mellow vibe, Rockaway Taco is a place to pine for all winter long, and to take advantage of, with a vengeance, when summer finally arrives. Put simply, these are the best tacos in New York City–a minimum, make sure you get a fish and a chorizo–and possibly they best we've ever had, anywhere. You can bring them to the beach, or wolf them right there, perched atop one of mismatched, brightly-painted benches and tables in the "terrace" to the side, which is totally perfect.
And THEN this summer, Rockaway Beach restaurants got even better still! Encouraged by the success of Rockaway Taco, the concession stand at Beach 97th Street has been transformed by Field and Selig into a dream food court, with high-quality, high-deliciousness beach snacks galore. At the Beach 97th concession you'll find, no surprise, a Rockaway Taco offshoot (with an even more limited menu given grill constraints, but still pretty great), as well as Motorboat and the Big Banana, a Vinegar Hill venture that's putting a lot of love and fresh thinking into standard beachy fare like french fries, frozen chocolate-dipped bananas, and battered shrimp. The P&H Soda crew is here too, with their signature homemade fizzy beverages in flavors like ginger, pineapple, hibiscus, cream and lime. And, most exciting to us, Babycakes NYC, who bring their astonishingly good baked goodies (always vegan, if you care) to the Rockaway Beach restaurants, including waffles, ice cream sandwiches, "mounds" (just get one), and seriously satisfying doughnuts. The concession stands at 86th and 106th Streets have also been given a reboot, apparently, with the likes of the excellent Caracas Arepas setting up surfside, but we have no first-hand knowledge of these spots. Yet.
Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Taco, and Rockaway Babycakes Details
Rockaway Beach is located on the Rockaway Pennisula in Queens, and is pretty easy to get to via the A train. Just make sure you get on the Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue A train–rather than the Ozone Park-Lefferts Boulevard A train–and transfer at Broad Channel for the beach shuttle train. As stated above, we get off at either the Beach 98 or Beach 105 stop, with the advantage going to Beach 98 because Rockaway Taco is located on Beach 96th Street, about a block from the boardwalk. Babycakes and company are within the concession stand on the boardwalk at Beach 97th Street.
*If you're really feeling adventurous, take the Shuttle to the last stop and, when when you hit the beach, walk west for about half an hour to the lovely, under-crowded Jacob Riis Park. Taking the public bus is also possible… or, if you have a car, just drive there in the first place. Please learn more on the Rockaway Beach webpage.