Where to Eat During Your JFK Layover – Culinary Backstreets

John F. Kennedy International Airport is the gateway for many tourists entering and leaving New York City. If your international flight is the first leg of your journey, you may have a scheduled layover lasting up to six hours.

You’ll probably be tempted to spend some of that time exploring. Hitting the tourist highlights of Manhattan might be a stretch, however – from the airport, which sprawls over the southernmost reaches of Jamaica, Queens, you should allow at least three hours roundtrip travel time. (If you travel to any destination, you may need to clear customs and immigration as well as security.

Staying in Queens is a smart use of your time.

If you’ve looked out the window on a previous flight into JFK, you’ve probably seen the long, narrow Rockaway Peninsula, edged with sand and washed by the Atlantic Ocean. The Ramones’ most iconic lyrics will remind us that the most popular neighborhood on the peninsula is located just across the causeway from the airport. “not hard, not far to reach”Rockaway Beach. It’s a year-round destination, although some businesses are open only during the summer months.

It is not a good idea to leave the airport if you have a layover of less than three hours. You’ll probably spend much of that coming or going, and anxious about the prospect of missing your next flight. It’s better to grab a beverage or a bite inside JFK, make your way to your departure gate, and relax.

You might consider a nearby hotel if your layover is longer. “beach” that’s on the way to the Rockaways, but where you’re unlikely to see any sand. The close-knit mini-neighborhoods that make up Howard Beach are crowded with many low-rise houses – some, along waterways, sit on stilts – and are home to old-school Italian-American eats. New Park PizzaYou can enjoy delicious slices and whole pies indoors or outside at a picnic table. Lenny’s Clam Bar is more polished – the entryway is lined with autographed photos of its many celebrity customers – and its menu is much more extensive. We’re drawn to the seafood, especially the combinations of shrimp, scallops, calamari and scungilli.

From the airport, New Park and Lenny’s are 15 minutes or less by taxi or hired car. Cross Bay Blvd will take you another 15 minutes. You will reach Rockaway Beach by going through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It’s also possible to reach the Rockaways by mass transit – but on most days you’ll need to take the JFK AirTrain to the Howard Beach-Airport subway station, transfer to a southbound A train and travel one stop to Broad Channel Station, then transfer to a shuttle train and travel one further stop to Beach 90th St. A taxi is much faster, less confusing and almost certainly less frustrating, too.

Rockaway Beach BakeryIt might be your best choice for your first stop. Locals and tourists alike visit this place for their danishes, which include seasonal fruit, sandwiches made from house-made biscuits, croissants, and cake by the slice. There are many other baked confections available that disappear quickly, but they change daily. Arrive later than mid-afternoon and you’ll probably find a rolled-down security gate and the legend “gone surfing.”

Rockaway Beach Surf Club’s entrance is marked with a surfboard. The club boasts an indoor bar and a spacious patio as well as a Mexican food stand. Tacoway Beach (summer only). You’ll want to arrive here early, too, and place your food order before queueing up at the bar – cocktails come quickly, but fried-fish tacos can’t be hurried.

Tacoway Beach is a few blocks away from the ocean. RippersSummer only. This is within earshot to the water and a surfers section of the beach. It anchors one the many vending concessions that line the five-and a-half-mile boardwalk. Fries and burgers are its reason for existence; they taste better when there is a salty breeze blowing onshore.

Another concession, the Rockaway Bazaar, is a short walk to its west. It houses two fistfuls food vendors under one roof. Our favorite is the Red Hook Lobster PoundSummer only: The lobster rolls can be ordered in one of two ways: warm with butter or cold with lemon mayo (Maine style). Perhaps you’ll be traveling with a dining buddy and can try both.

Rockaway Beach Blvd. is just a short distance from the beach and boardwalk. You will find many restaurants and cafes along the streets. Many of these businesses are rooted in Latin American cuisine. But steps off the boulevard, you can pair smoothies with hearty Nigerian chow – made, when possible, with local produce – at The Cradle NYC.Consider efo Riro, a spinach stew.

A few blocks away – and a welcome haven, après-beach, if the heat and sun have been too much – is the shaded interior of Uma’s. A cool Uzbek salad might be just the thing, but don’t let us dissuade you from the manti, steamed dumplings plump with ground beef or butternut squash. We’re also partial to the house-made halva ice cream, topped with more halva as well as black and white sesame seeds.

If you prefer ice cream from the Northeast U.S. to Central Asia, Mara’s Ice Cream ParlorYou will find it right across the street. There are more than 30 flavors waiting for your enjoyment. Cup? Cone? Shake? Sundae? Even when the line stretches out the door, usually there’s room to sit in the shady, sand-filled backyard.

Even when every table at Bungalow BarThe outdoor deck is packed, but not as raucous than the local surfer spots. This casual restaurant – think soups, salads, sandwiches and mains, with or without seafood – sits on the sheltered bay side of the Rockaway Peninsula, and offers a panoramic waterfront view of Jamaica Bay and the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. You’ll also catch sight of air traffic arriving and departing JFK – a reminder that you have a plane to catch. Too soon, too quickly!

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