Long Island City owed much of its growth in the 19th century to the East River, which forms its western boundary. Barges carried goods to and from the locale’s docks and warehouses, and ferries carried commuters to Manhattan during the day before whisking them back to the relatively bucolic LIC at night. For much of the 20th century, however, the neighborhood’s riverfront was neglected. Fortunately people since came to realize that the beauty of the riverfront is one of LIC’s greatest assets. Restaurateurs are among those number. Below is a virtual food tour, from north to south, of Long Island City eateries that dot the waterfront and offer views of the river and the Manhattan skyline.
808 Queens Plaza South
Nestled alongside the Queensboro Bridge—or as it is now officially called, the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge—the boutique Ravel Hotel has two restaurants. The Garden Grill is strictly alfresco. Dining tables and chairs sit on a lawn elevated a few stories above street level, as do roomy armchairs arranged around coffee tables. The drink and food menus are carefully curated, as befits a spot that is open only from noon to 8 p.m., weather permitting. What is available, however, is ideal for a sunny lunch or early dinner: lobster rolls, spinach-and-strawberry salad with walnuts and Gorgonzola, fish tacos, burgers, grilled skewers of chicken, vegetables, or shrimp. Wash it down with one of the several IPAs on tap or a pitcher of margaritas as you bask in the sunshine.
808 Queens Plaza South
Whether you are seated inside this rooftop restaurant (whose ceiling is strung with lights that mimic those of the Queensboro Bridge at night) or on its terrace, you will have an unobstructed view of the East River, the bridge, and the Manhattan skyline. The second of Ravel Hotel’s eateries, Penthouse808 specializes in what it dubs “Pacific Rim fare.” Its take on bouillabaisse is a medley of jumbo shrimp, clams, and scallops in coconut milk with sweet curry, chili threads, and cilantro; Thai-roasted salmon is served with a yuzu-tequila sauce; the 24-ounce rib-eye steak is glazed with teriyaki sauce and served on a tabletop cast-iron grill. Signature cocktails, available by the glass or the pitcher, include Ring of Fire made with jalapeño-infused Patrón Reposado tequila tempered with pineapple and pomegranate, and Pacific Sangria, featuring sake and sparkling rosé.
4-40 44th Drive
Anable Basin is located behind a chain-link fence. Image: Maki Maki/Flickr
If Anable Basin were any closer to the river, it would be in the river. This casual eatery has seating inside a loftlike space, but you will want to sit outside at the picnic-style tables that are separated from the river only by a nonobtrusive fence. The tables have umbrellas to provide welcome shade during the dog days of summer, though the breeze off the water will help keep you cool as well. The menu is, like that of Ravel Garden Grill, limited: beef, bison, and veggie burgers; four types of sausages, including chorizo and kielbasa; beer, wine, soft drinks, and cocktails. But as you admire the sparkling waves during the day and relish the silvery reflection of the moonlight on the water at night, you likely will not care.
4540 Center Boulevard (between North Basin Road and 46th Avenue)
In addition to terrace seating for 60, Blend on the Water has a dining room that can accommodate 160 more, with oversize windows that ensure you do not miss out on the view. The Latin fusion menu includes a bounty of small plates that include chorizo macaroni-and-cheese, crispy cauliflower with salsa macha, and tequeños stuffed with lobster, crabmeat, and manchego, menonita, and pepper jack cheeses. Try not to fill up on those, however, as the entrees are just as enticing. Among the standouts are pan-seared tilapia with coconut sauce; churrasco served with rice, beans, chimichurri, and red-onion escabeche; and berenjena rellena, an eggplant dish featuring menonita and ricotta cheeses with tomato sauce. Brunch options include torrejas, a sweet Cuban take on French toast; butternut-squash soup served with walnut crème fraîche, shallots, and a pomegranate reduction; and of course, huevos rancheros.
4610 Center Boulevard (between 46th and 47th Avenues)
Not only is the Manhattan skyline visible from the terrace of Maiella, but so is the back of the landmark Pepsi-Cola sign. In addition to seating more than 90 people outdoors, the Italian restaurant can accommodate 180 guests inside the dining room, whose coffered wood ceiling and rustic furnishings bring a Tuscan grace to the loftlike space. You can begin your meal with a charcuterie plate, a seafood tower that includes calamari salad along with lobster, oysters, clams, and mussels, or such time-honored favorites as stuffed eggplant and grilled octopus. The primi include several risotto options, including risotto all’anatra, a creamy confection of rice in a duck ragù flavored with orange, gooseberries, and saffron. Among the secondi, the strip steak is served with prawns, potato puree, and asparagus; the Atlantic salmon is accompanied by a roasted bell-pepper puree. A variety of pizzas, including gluten-free options, are available as well. Save room for a bread pudding made with panettone and vanilla sauce, topped with cinnamon gelato and warm caramel sauce, or a classic affogoto—vanilla gelato served amid a shot of hot espresso.
4720 Center Boulevard (between 47th Avenue and 47th Road)
Shakshuka is among the brunch options at BLVD. Image: Calliopejen1/Wikimedia
Though the bar and lounge area make up much of BLVD, it is a full-fledged restaurant as well, with an eclectic curation of dishes to accompany the more than 20 wines available by the glass, the 60-plus available by the bottle, the myriad craft beers and ciders, and other beverages. A Mediterranean influence is apparent in dishes such as the mezze plate and the grilled octopus served with fingerling potatoes, oyster mushrooms, and capers. Other options include fire-roasted tomato soup served with brioche grilled cheese made with aged Irish cheddar, spicy Thai curry pork sliders, and lobster mac-and cheese. Weekend brunch choices range from the sweet (chocolate-chip French toast) to the spicy (shakshuka).
4720 Center Boulevard (between 47th Avenue and 47th Road)
In the same building as BLVD, this pan-Asian restaurant takes advantage of its proximity to the river with outdoor seating in summer and floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding its dining room. SHI offers a full sushi and sashimi menu—and much more. It would be easy to fill up on starters and soups—rangoon, pot stickers, steamed bao, fried tofu, udon with chicken, pho with raw beef—but then you would be missing out on the likes of mango chicken with jumbo shrimp, sake-infused Chilean sea bass, and marinated steak cubes. The chai-flavored crème brulée is the perfect end to any meal.
2-01 50th Avenue
In warm weather seats on Riverview’s garden terrace are in high demand, but so is seating by the bar when the local teams are playing on TV. At such times a view of one of the myriad screens may trump a view of the skyline. (And both Yankees and Mets fans are welcome.) While you’re watching the game, your noshing options range from a BLT with avocado to oysters on the half shell to burgers. Seafood plays a starring role in the dinner menu, as is appropriate for a riverfront eatery; in addition to a raw bar, options include scallop ceviche with jalapeños topped with caviar, tuna tartare, pan-seared scallops, grilled red snapper, and both seafood fettuccine and seafood risotto. Italian dishes make up much of the rest of the offering, which includes a half-dozen pizza options (including seafood pizza) spaghetti Bolognese, and saffron risotto.
1-50 50th Avenue
The streetfront entry in unprepossessing, but inside Piatto boasts the weathered brick walls and wood-fired oven of an Italian trattoria—albeit one with views of the Empire State Building across the water. The wood-fired oven gets put to good use making a variety of pizzas. Vegetarians will be delighted with the option that comes with zucchini, peppers, eggplant, olives, spinach, and mozzarella, just as carnivores will love the charcuterie pie, which is topped with prosciutto, speck, sopressata, goat cheese, and pepper sauce. Pasta options are heavy on the stalwarts such as penne vodka and lasagna Bolognese, with dishes such as quinoa gnocchi adding an element of surprise. Braised lamb shank over barley cooked in red wine and octopus cooked in red wine and spicy tomato sauce with olives and capers are failsafe entrees. Piatto has a children’s menu as well, though given that the main menu includes Nutello pizza, the kids’ menu may be superfluous.