Top spots for waterfront dining on the Sound Shore

Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar at Rye Playland.

Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar at Rye Playland. (June 27, 2012) (Credit: Faye Murman)

Westchester's waterfront on the Sound Shore, a 17-mile craggy coastline from roughly New Rochelle to Port Chester, boasts some surprisingly fine beaches -- relatively wide, sandy and clean. And along with the summer tide comes a raucous seasonal institution: the waterside restaurant. We cruised the coast in search of the best, primarily for the views, but also food, presented below from south to north.

P.D. O'Hurley's the Waterfront

Formerly called On the Waterfront, this vast, two-tiered restaurant with two wide dining decks jutting into the New Rochelle Municipal Marina recently underwent a complete overhaul and has changed its name to P.D. O'Hurley's the Waterfront (2 Pelham Rd., New Rochelle; 914-365-1556; thewaterfrontnewrochelle.com). The owners also own some of the best Irish pubs in the city, like Kennedy's on West 57th Street and O'Casey's Restaurant & Irish Pub on East 41st Street.

Post-renovation, P.D. O'Hurley's will remain a family-friendly place serving grilled seafood, salads, surf and turf, steaks and the like. A new downstairs oyster- and cocktail-bar stays open late (until 3 a.m. daily). The restaurant will offer dock and dine later this summer and is also slated to add live music on Thursdays and Saturdays.

La Piccola Casa

This popular northern Italian spot recently moved into a large clapboard home, circa 1792, that is said to have once been the residence of author James Fenimore Cooper (410 W. Boston Post Rd., Mamaroneck; 914-777-3766; lapiccolacasa.com). The new location offers a better view of a busy marina, however, only from a handful of tables. Ask to sit outside.

Owner Walter Ricci went all out in the ornamentation department -- marble floors, crystal chandeliers, black and white photos of Italy, comfortable chairs and carnations on white tablecloths. Despite this leap upward, La Piccola Casa remains largely a local attraction.

The kitchen plays it safe, turning out suburban standards like pastas with red and white sauce, seafood and veal (a recent special: "veal chop surprise stuffed with prosciutto and Fontina cheese"). Servers are capable and small-town friendly.

Seaside Johnnies

At Seaside Johnnies, which rises out of the sand, you'll see more pink flesh than a Chicago abattoir (94 Dearborn Ave., Rye; 914-921-6104; www.seasidejohnnies.com). There are several large dining rooms, all but one being T-shirt casual; the other is just a notch above. Predictably, you'll find a large roster of wacky drinks and lots of fried foods. Best bets are shellfish and lobster.

Be forewarned, every weekend here is Pamplona, so you might want to arrive on the early side. On Wednesdays and Fridays there are fireworks at nearby Rye Playland starting about 9:15 p.m. Reservations are accepted for eight or more.

Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar

It's not Waikiki, but as far as Westchester beaches go, it's about as close as you'll get. From its location on the boardwalk at Rye Playland, Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar has the best water view of any dining room in the county (1 Playland Pkwy., Rye; 914-969-1020;  pierrestaurantandtikibar.com). The large center room is wrapped in windows, so there are vistas from three sides. Outside is a wide patio with tables and umbrellas and a thatch-roof Tiki bar, boasting drinks like the Bellini Tiki (vodka, peach schnapps, pineapple juice and Champagne) and a sugary shipwreck called "Life's a Beach!" (Jack Daniel's whiskey, sour mix and Tiki red sangria, topped with Sprite and garnished with a cherry, a lemon slice and edible gummy candy fish).

The food is more or less what you find at ocean-side resorts from Cape Cod to the Florida Keys: shellfish, salads, lobster rolls, grilled fish, and anything they can shove into the deep fryer.

bartaco

This party barn is not exactly on the beach. Rather, it sits above the narrow, winding Byram River that wends its way to the nearby Long Island Sound (1 Willett Ave., Port Chester; 914-937-8226; www.bartaco.com). The large main dining room -- whitewashed walls, color photos and an enormous beach mural -- is anchored by a giant, teeming bar. Outside, you'll find an expansive white deck tended to by exceedingly sociable bartenders. The menu is small, consisting of a dozen miniature soft tacos (pork belly, spicy chorizo, Thai shrimp and more) for $2.50 each, and a number of tamales and other Mexican fare.

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