New York City waterfront by night

There are too many amazing restaurants in New York City for any one person to try in a year, maybe even a lifetime. And just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on it, ten more restaurants open up, and you’re back to square one. So it may be helpful to narrow down your choice by using a set of criteria. And what could be better, especially on a summer evening, than sampling delicious food while sitting by the Hudson, East River, or the Atlantic Ocean? There’s something that is at once energizing and calming about sitting by a large body of water, and to do so with good food, good drinks, and good friends is one of life’s greatest pleasures. So we’ve put together a list of some of the best waterfront restaurants in New York City to try right now, from the dive joint to the over-the-top fancy.

The River Cafe

The River Cafe in Brooklyn

This iconic New York City restaurant opened in 1977, back when the Brooklyn docks were no place for polite company. Founder Michael "Buzzy" O’Keefe was widely scorned for taking the risk of building in an area that was basically a giant truck stop. But he turned out to be a visionary. Many large cities in the US have failed to exploit their riverfronts for dining, entertainment, and housing, choosing instead to leave them at the mercy of loading docks or other industrial activities. But Brooklyn has thankfully moved away from that, at least in part, with numerous other dining options, parks, and apartment buildings springing up since the River Cafe’s pioneering exploit.

All this to say that the location of the River Cafe, with its close-up and direct views of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan, is definitely its strong point. But what’s great about this spot is that the food is also top-notch. The River Cafe holds one Michelin star, and the freshness of its ingredients is renowned. In fact, according to the New York Times, a River Cafe chef, Larry Forgione, is widely believed to have coined the term "free-range" chicken back in the 1980s. He needed a new term to describe chicken that actually tasted good by virtue of how it was raised.

Smorgasburg Williamsburg

Smorgasburg Williamsburg

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Smorgasburg is an intentional mangling of the Swedish term "smörgåsbord," which refers to a buffet of small plates. The selection of pop-up restaurants that grace this small corner of the Brooklyn waterfront on spring and summer Saturdays may change periodically. Still, you can always find food you love, often in forms you’ve never seen or heard of. For example, there are deliciously greasy smash burgers from Smashed, and Bao Tea House’s Lava Baos, which are sweet black sesame buns filled with coconut milk custard.

The waterfront location is not too shabby either. There is plenty of green space for relaxing, including on one of the many picnic tables provided for the occasion. And if the tables are taken, just head over to the rocks, sit directly on the water, and shift your people-watching perspective to the seagulls picking out their own smörgåsbord on the thin strip of beach below, with the Empire State Building looming casually in the background.

Momofuku Ssam

Pork Buns

Chef David Chang’s crowning achievement may be Momofuku Ko, a two-star Michelin-starred restaurant in the Bowery, but if you’re looking for high-quality food with a stunning waterfront view, Momofuku Ssam is your guy. The restaurant, which opened in 2006 in the East Village, moved to Pier 17 in 2021, where it snagged a prime spot with up-close-and-personal views of the East River and Brooklyn Heights.

For great waterfront views, grab a seat on the patio, where you can order half a dozen raw oysters with kombu mignonette and one of Momofuku Ssam Bar’s consistent specialties, the pork belly bun with hoisin sauce and fresh cucumber. For a slightly more formal experience and even better waterfront views, head up to the dining room and partake in the Ssam Set, a tasting menu that includes fish and meat dishes grilled right in front of you at your table.

Carne Mare

Patio at Carne Mare

Read McKendree

If you’re in the mood for Italian instead, head next door to Carne Mare, also located at Pier 17. This Italian steakhouse is headed by Chef Andrew Carmellini, a three-time James Beard Award winner for the likes of Cafe’ Boulud and Locanda Verde at the Greenwich Hotel. In other words, the food will not disappoint. You can order from a plethora of cuts of beef, including the lofty Wagyu ‘bavetta’ filet, and a slew of small but carefully concocted snack plates, like the mozzarella sticks topped with generous scoops of caviar.

The food is so good that you might end up forgetting about your surroundings, but you’d be missing out. The internal ambiance is dominated by warm caramel colors, leather accents, and wood-paneled ceilings, which, together with direct views of the Lightship Ambrose, a mobile lighthouse built in 1907 to assist navigation through New York and New Jersey ports, makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time.

Grand Banks

Raw oysters

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Oysters somehow taste even fresher when you’re eating them right on the water. That’s why a stint aboard New York’s largest wooden schooner, the Sherman Zwicker, should not be missed. This is the location of Grand Banks, a floating oyster bar inspired by the oyster barges that used to glom onto Manhattan piers in the 18th and 19th centuries like barnacles.

Much like the days of yore, the oysters available at Grand Banks are sustainably sourced and accompanied by appetizers and entrees made primarily with seasonal ingredients. You’ll also find a good selection of oysters spanning a wide geographical reach, from local Montauk Pearls to far-flung Pebble Beach oysters from Pickering Passage, Washington. Wash down your oysters with a nautically-inspired cocktail that will hit the spot on a hot summer day. If you think oysters and spice go well together, because they do, opt for the Get On Up, a blend of tequila, lime, habanero, and strawberry.

Randazzo’s Clam Bar

Clams from Randazzo'z Clam Bar

Heading to this long-standing family joint in Sheepshead Bay is like returning to the small seaside village you used to go to with your family when you were a child, except the food is better. The recipes, particularly the family’s ubiquitous red sauce, are born of five generations of Italian family cooking, spanning over a century. That’s staying power.

It’s no surprise you will find good seafood in an area of New York City that was named after a fish. The sheepshead, commonly found in waters along the eastern coast, is known for having teeth that look eerily human. But don’t worry; you won’t find it at Randazzo’s. Instead, you can stuff your face with stuffed shrimp served with french fries, a simple but delicious broiled tilapia, and a shrimp parmigiana that effectively recalls the owners’ Italian roots. And all this while enjoying the popping atmosphere along Emmons Avenue, Sheepshead Bay’s main waterfront road.

The Rooftop at The Rockaway Hotel

The Rooftop at the Rockaway Beach Hotel

For a view that is a little fancier, head to The Rooftop at the Rockaway Hotel by Rockaway Beach. You will find unobstructed views not only of the Manhattan skyline but when you look straight out at the Atlantic Ocean expanding before you, it’ll feel like a dream. Meanwhile, the food is a little less dreamy but still worth a trip. The basic fare includes bar staples like pizza and quesadillas, and the cocktail list makes you tempt fate every time you order a Shark Bite, a drink made up of ghost pepper tequila, cucumber, watermelon, lime, and Tajin seasoning.

This area of Queens goes from zero to sixty overnight as soon as the first warm rays of sun hit the sand, with summer hoards rolling in on the A-train and quickly filling up bars, restaurants, and prime beach spots. The Rockaway Hotel opened in September 2020, after the area was finally revamped following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, giving beach-goers the option to stay overnight in a world-class hotel for the first time in decades.

The Frying Pan

The Frying Pan New York City

Located a short hop from Grand Banks, this is another eatery aboard a historical boat. The Frying Pan was built in 1929 and equipped with a lighthouse and fog horn to warn off ships approaching the shore in inclement weather. After it was decommissioned in 1965, it lay abandoned at a dock in Virginia and eventually sank to the bottom of the port. After it was restored, it sailed to New York City, where it was docked at Pier 66 and turned into a restaurant because that’s what you do with sunken ships.

As for the food, expect burgers, beers, seafood, and other typical bar fare done competently. And don’t forget to take a stroll over to the 100-foot observation plank to work off your burger — it’s one of the best vantage points you’ll get on the Hudson.

Peak Hudson Yards

Peak Hudson Yards

The dining scene at Hudson Yards — a 28-acre development on the West Side that opened in 2019 and is slated to be completed in 2035 — did not start out well, but things have been looking up. Speaking of up, Peak Hudson Yards is located on the 101st floor of 30 Hudson Yards, above the level of the highest observation deck in the Western Hemisphere, and provides sweeping views of Manhattan, the Hudson, and parts of New Jersey. This restaurant is perhaps one of the most romantic dining spots in New York City.

The food is just as elevated. The more modest lunch menu contains rare gems such as purple sweet potatoes and rhubarb pine nut chutney, while the dinner offering is positively rarified with a prix-fix menu containing quintessential high cuisine items like Maine lobster and filet mignon. Many a roof-top establishment has boasted of making you feel like you’re on top of the world. This one really pulls it off.

Westlight

Westlight at the William Vale

Perched at the top of the The William Vale hotel in Williamsburg, Westlight is primarily known as a cocktail bar, but it also serves some bites that can hold their own. The crispy brussels sprouts contain a delightful complementary blend of lemongrass honey and sesame brittle, while the entrees make creative use of a wide range of spices, including harissa and salsa verde. Likewise, the cocktail menu contains some real rarities, like shiitake mushroom-infused cognac and Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto.

Yet the first thing you’ll notice when you walk off the elevator is the view. It is not for the faint of heart or those who suffer from vertigo. Although the William Vale is located about a block away from the East River, when you step out onto the balcony at Westlight, it’ll feel like you’re moments from plunging into its dark blue waters. Look away, and all you’ll see is the rest of Brooklyn, sprawling out toward the Atlantic starting from the tips of your toes.

Celestine

Celestine Restaurant Patio

New York City waterfronts are a sight to behold, in part because of their magnificent bridges. Celestine is another bridge-adjacent restaurant with great food and views. This time, you’ll be looking at the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges from a beautiful, minimalist dining room ensconced in greenery (as long as it’s spring, summer, or fall).

The Mediterranean-inspired menu uses seasonal ingredients as much as possible, and while it is certainly sophisticated, it remains largely unpretentious. The team behind the restaurant, headed up by Chef Julian Brizzi of Italian restaurant Rucola, wanted to create a space that would feel as accessible as a neighborhood haunt on a regular weeknight. Be sure to head there for an early dinner — that way, you can see the bridge and lower Manhattan in the warm glow of the dying sun as well as at night when city lights come alive again against the pitch black sky.

Caracas

Caracas at Rockaway Beach

With locations in the East Village and Williamsburg, Caracas is one of the best places in the city to sample Venezuelan arepas, hands down. Luckily, thanks to its summer-only outpost in Rockaway, you can also enjoy them right on the beach. And if there were ever a perfect summer beach food, it’s the arepa, a sandwich-like creation made with ground maize flour and stuffed with a selection of spiced meats, seafood or vegetable medleys.

Plus, they pair beautifully with rum, which as we all know, is the favorite drink of pirates, the consummate seafarers. And Caracas has plenty of rum.

The Rockaway outpost of Caracas serves some of the most popular menu items from their other locations, plus some summer specials such as last year’s matcha coconut panna cotta, served with blueberries and mint — a feast for the taste buds as well as the eyes. In the true spirit of summer, live music accompanies your dinner on weekends and can be heard for a while as you walk away down the recently minted boardwalk.

Anable Basin Sailing Bar and Grill

Anable Basin Sailing Bar and Grill

To get a different view of the city, including Roosevelt Island, head to Anable Basin Sailing Bar and Grill in Long Island City. This cash-only, outdoor-only, summer-only patio establishment is located within the Sound River Studios event venue. But unlike many other city venues, this restaurant is anti-chaos and anti-stress. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed, which is exactly what you want if you’ve just headed out of Manhattan or Brooklyn in search of calmer shores.

Even looking at the menu can elicit a sigh of relief. Every item and ingredient is recognizable, and when you get up and place your order at the bar, you’ll know exactly what you’ll be getting in return. But this doesn’t take away from the quality. The food is good, simple bar fare that spans the spectrum of dietary needs, from hearty burgers with sesame buns to light salads with mixed greens.

Fornino at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Menu from Fornino's at Brooklyn Bridge Park

The Brooklyn Bridge park location of this casual but quality mostly-pizza joint is ideal for both pizza lovers and anti-pizza iconoclasts. Fornino’s pizza menu is short but thorough — every ingredient has been carefully chosen and combined to make the perfect creative-but-not-too-outlandish pizza. You might not see figs as a pizza topping very often, but when combined with prosciutto, it becomes almost savory in nature, giving it a sweet kick while steering well clear of the dreaded Hawaiian pizza experience.

If you’re not in the mood for pizza, or if you hate all that is wonderful in this world, check out the salad, sandwiches or antipizza menu (which is probably a riff on antipasto, but antipizza sounds better), which consists of such fine items as Italian corn on the cob complete with truffle aioli. Wash it all down with a seasonal draft ale or a local canned brew. Whichever meal you go for, you’ll be able to enjoy it while sitting ensconced in the greenery of Pier 6.

Liman Restaurant

Dish at Liman Restaurant

On the whole, Sheepshead Bay may seem more casual than the Upper East Side, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a fancy meal there. For one such meal, head to Liman Restaurant, a Turkish seafood eatery with white linen tablecloths and views of the harbor. Fish doesn’t have to be complicated to be sophisticated, and Liman’s embodies that spirit to a T. A simple grilled branzino filet or a whole red snapper paired with an easy house salad and a fine glass of white wine, all while looking straight out at the docks, is the epitome of understated elegance. And don’t forget to sample some of the Turkish specialties on the menu. The Turkish Ezme spread is a light and fresh option for a hot summer evening, or if you’re looking for something more substantial, a Borek, or cheese roll, will likely do the trick. The meat selection also has some great Turkish stalwarts, such as Lamb or Chicken Shish Kebab.

Johnny’s Reef Restaurant

Lobster roll at Johnny's Reef Restaurant

If you’ve had enough of Manhattan, head out to City Island for an entirely new vibe. Johnny’s Reef Restaurant sits in a far corner of the Bronx, directly on the water and overlooking the beginnings of the Long Island Sound. And the menu reflects it. The ingredients are so fresh that the prices of the fish might even change daily, depending on the market rate from that morning. And the selection is wide: shrimp, whiting, red snapper, clams, crabs, oysters, and even frog legs all make an appearance, mostly in fried or steamed form. Such a vast and interesting array of fish will make you forget that the beer selection of mostly Buds and Coronas is a little on the short side. But no matter. This is a casual joint, and anything fancier might take away from the laid-back island feel that makes this place special.

Marina Cafe

Oysters on ice

If you want to feel like you’re completely off the map but technically stay in New York City, there’s Marina Cafe on Staten Island. Overlooking Great Kills Harbor, this restaurant has been going strong for over 40 years, expanding from restaurant to banquet hall to Tiki Bar. And unlike many other establishments that are right on the water, this restaurant is open year-round, even offering heated outdoor tents to anyone who might want to brave a New York winter for a spot on the water.

The menu is suitably fish-forward. The lobster bisque, zuppa di pesce (fish soup), and seafood stuffed shrimp are all fine choices. And since we’re in Staten Island, expect plenty of Italian options, including arancini and real, live brick oven pizzette. For the best views of the water, spend some time at the Tiki Bar, where you can order some of the same dishes available on the menu inside.