Believe it: Rockaway has a Restaurant Row

It may look rundown now, chances are you will be seeking out this street in the near future.
It may look rundown now, chances are you will be seeking out this street in the near future.

It may look rundown now, but chances are you will be seeking out this street in the near future.

Brooklyn has Smith Street, and Manhattan has West 46th Street. And now Rockaway has it’s very own Restaurant Row, which seems to be centering on Rockaway Beach Boulevard from Beach 88th Street, potentially to as far west as Beach 116th Street.

During what can be called the bleak years of the 1980s, 90s and 2000s in Rockaway, the restaurant scene could best be described as utilitarian. Being so isolated from the rest of the city, there was little here to attract foodies. Local residents were limited to the usual mixed bag of diners, pubs, takeout Chinese or pizza and seasonal seaside shacks. While some of these restaurants, most especially the Irish pubs, offered quality fare at very reasonable prices, the menus were quite predictable.

Due to the seasonal nature of the community, to be a successful restaurateur in Rockaway also means being a very skilled businessman. The Good Brothers tried in earnest, in the mid-90s, and the early 2000s, to revitalize the food scene on Beach 116th Street. Their oceanside restaurant, The Beach Club, was a modest success for several years. However, their attempt to maintain the only traditional diner on the peninsula was frustrated by basic economics. When the Sunset Diner was shuttered in 2006, Rockaway was left without the ubiquitous New York Greek diner, which dots the rest of the city’s neighborhoods.

Fast forward to Rockaway in 2013, and it is clear to any resident that the local restaurant scene has vastly improved. Hurricane Sandy notwithstanding, we have seen the opening of Sayra’s Wine Bar, Uma’s, which may be New York’s first and only Uzbeki restaurant, and the hipster hotspot Playland Motel. Slated to open soon is The Rock NYC, another wine-beer-small plates spot. And uptown on Beach 129th Street, Rockaway Seafood is reopening as a traditional Mexican restaurant, Pico RBNY.

Add to that the post-Sandy reopening of local favorites such as Dalton’s, Brisas del Mar, Bungalow Bar, Jameson’s and Thai Rock, and you have a very vibrant, year-round food scene in Rockaway at just about every price point.

So when did all of this take root? Maybe 2007 was the start. Coming on the heels of the closing of the Sunset Diner, a Manhattan businessman opened the seasonal, social media-hyped Rockaway Taco. It certainly did attract crowds and attention to Rockaway, and highlighted the community demand for good, quality food. But it was just a seasonal operation, and it took a few more years for that demand to translate in new year-round establishments. The residents of the newly constructed Arverne by the Sea housing development also contributed to the pent up demand.

Manhattan’s restaurant row was bestowed that honor in 1973 by Mayor Lindsay.  So how about it Mayor Bloomberg?  You only have a few months left in office. Throw some cash at a street beautification program, and maybe for a marketing campaign. It would help the residents and business people of the community alike. Have a chat with the president of your Economic Development Corporation, Kyle Kimball. He was just here for the first time, and hopefully has some good ideas on how to help the community recover and prosper.

Heck, maybe Rockaway Taco would even reopen for the day if you came down to kick off the campaign.