There are some things in life that are worth the trip. A food-lover will occasionally go to great lengths to find some exotic ingredient, explore a famous market or eat at an acclaimed restaurant off-the-beaten path.
Rockaway Taco was more of a trek than a trip, considering I made my journey not by train or automobile, but on bicycle. From Manhattan. 45 miles from my apartment door to a snack shack in the center of a Queens beach and back again. And it was plenty worth it.
Having heard so much about it from the media and acquaintances, I offhandedly mentioned the taco shop to my friend when we decided to plan a day at Rockaway Beach, and it was a subway weekend from hell and the unadulterated blue sky that convinced us we should bike to our destination.
21.5 miles later (not including the detour to my friend’s Brooklyn home), after a very-pleasant-except-for-that-highway-part ride, we had reached the beach promenade. And then we checked the map. Still a mile away from lunch, I was starting to waver in my devotion to always seeking out the best dining options available. But my companion knew me better than that, and made a convincing case, à la “we’ve already come this far.”
Finally, we rode up to a white shack with a manageable line and the stereo turned up. There are three separate windows that appear before you, and the building owners have positioned them well; as tired and thirsty bikers we wanted nothing more than cold drinks and frozen treats. The first sells the former—grab a spicy lemonade sweetened with beet juice before committing to the line. Order the latter from the second window: an Italian ice from DiCosmo’s, which were unlike any I have ever had. There were bits of grapefruit in mine I could actually bite, and the texture wasn’t slush but ice, light and flaky and sweet.
At the third window, you get to the main attraction. I recognized the cashier as the bartender of another restaurant around town, and he was as equally welcoming and efficient here as he was at the other joint during Sunday brunch, clearly used to hungry, jostling crowds—a great casting decision by the directors.
We ordered fish tacos: at $3.50 each (plus another $1.00 if you’ll be wanting guac), the price bumps right up against what you’d be willing to pay for a taco from a roadside stand, and the tacos themselves are just big enough to help you not feel like a sucker. The batter was crisp even after five minutes of walking a block to the beach and finding a place to park our bikes and sore behinds. A slick of creamy sauce, slices of crisp radishes and crunchy slaw were tasty and appreciated. A side of chili-marinated sliced cucumbers, jicama and mangos ($4.00) brought a considerable amount of heat; they come in a plastic ziplock bag, which is a genius idea for a beachside food business.
Could there be anything better than this? It may be the cynic in me these days, but there’s something so surreal about having an idea of a day in your mind and then getting exactly what you want. Eating cheap, delicious food on a clear summer afternoon, at a beach that’s just far enough outside the city to feel like an escape, is not something New Yorkers can take for granted. Everyone needs to try this.
“Hipstas!” an older man shouted at us as we zoomed by on the return trip. Hardly: I’m wearing to-the-knee spandex exercise pants and the dorkiest bike helmet outside of elementary school; my ride is a 24-speed, not a “fixie.” But at the end of the day, I’ll have biked over 5 1/2 hours to eat a single, locally-sourced, critically-acclaimed taco, so perhaps he was on to something.
Looking at the 23-mile ride home, I turned to my friend:
“We should have gotten more than one.”