Are you craving a lobster roll overlooking the water, Korean dumplings served al fresco, Croatian wine and sausage, Japanese sushi (whether traditional, innovative or to-go), classic French cakes or your choice of either coal-fired or wood-fired pizza? Look no farther than Port Washington.
Picture a map of Long Island. The westernmost peninsula jutting out of Nassau's north shore is Great Neck and, just across Manhasset Bay, is Cow Neck. Of course, no one calls it Cow Neck anymore—this is Port Washington, an admittedly out-of-the-way hamlet that is also one of the most vital on the Island. Port, as the locals call it, is home to a handful of dining destinations that are known far and wide: Louie’s, 118 years old and still shucking; Ayhan’s Shish Kebab, one of Long Island’s pioneering Mediterranean restaurants; Salvatore’s, our first coal-oven pizzeria and still one of the best; Yamaguchi, a bastion of traditional Japanese cuisine.
But the last few years have also seen the rise of new establishments that even the locals haven’t had time to explore. You’d need more than a week—or a succession of weekends—to do the place justice and, luckily, there are plenty of nongustatory activities to fill your time between meals. Landmark on Main Street is a community center with a 400-seat theater that hosts musical performances, from classical piano recitals to folk and rock concerts. There are parks everywhere, from waterfront strolls and urban oases right in town to the 200-acre Sands Point Preserve, where you’ll find hiking trails, formal gardens and three historic “Gold Coast” mansions—Hempstead House, Castle Gould and Falaise—that embody the grand early 20th-century summer retreats F. Scott Fitzgerald described in “The Great Gatsby.” (In Fitzgerald’s telling, West Egg was Great Neck, East Egg was Port Washington.) Want to channel your own inner big spender, even if on a budget? Get yourself to the tiny House of Crystal—its ceiling drips with vintage chandeliers (they also rewire) and the massive Safavieh Outlet that boasts three and a half acres of discounted rugs and furniture.
If you’re starting out in the morning, one strategy is to approach from the east, Port Washington Boulevard, so you can grab breakfast at Jacques Le Guelaff’s beloved Saint Honoré Pastry Shop. In addition to croissants and brioches, scones and muffins and an amazing array of Danish—cheese, prune, raspberry, cinnamon-raisin, pineapple, lemon, apple, blueberry, pecan and peach—you won’t want to overlook the Saint Honoré cake, named for the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. The ring of puff pastry is filled with vanilla custard, surmounted by caramel-dipped profiteroles and topped with fresh whipped cream. Another classic: the light, luxe marjolaine—three layers of almond meringue filled with chocolate mousse and whipped cream, iced with mocha buttercream and paved with sliced almonds.
Behind the strip of shops that houses the bakery is a large free parking lot—a good place to stow your car since most of Port’s other lots and spaces are metered. Plus, you might well decide to return here for dinner. Two doors south of Saint Honoré is Ikedo Ramen, one of Long Island’s best ramen shops. (For a less traditional take on the Japanese noodles, try MB Ramen, across from the LIRR station.) And, at the northern end of the block, is Waterzooi Brasserie & Oyster Bar, the three-year-old offshoot of a Garden City Belgian spot that’s been slinging moules frites and saison ales since 1998. Waterzooi’s gleaming tilework and vintage light fixtures lend its two dining rooms a movie-set glamour; the patio is landscaped well enough to obscure that free parking lot, and the lavish zinc-topped bar practically compels you to order a selection of raw shellfish. Who needs company when you can pass an hour ranking a half dozen oyster varieties? Waterzooi always has good showing from Long Island but, on a recent visit, I grudgingly gave the nod to the Canadian challenger, Beausoleil from New Brunswick, sheer heaven with a glass of Sancerre. The wine list here is equaled, if not exceeded, by the beer list. Owners Ed Davis, Chris Werle and Jeffrey Piciullo also own Croxley’s, a regional powerhouse with five craft-beer bars that give the organization a lot of buying power when it comes to rare beers; you’ll find no better selection of Belgian and Belgian-style brews on Long Island. Of course, there are mussels (the Belgian national mollusk) prepared in ways classic or inventive, but also fondue, escargot, burgers, steaks, lobster rolls, paella and the dish that bears the restaurant’s name, a pan roast of lobster, shrimp, littleneck clams, mussels, potatoes and corn in a creamy tarragon-fennel broth.
Press on to Main Street and it’s time to address the elephant in the village: You have never seen so many sushi places. Within two blocks of the train station are four, each of which has its local partisans—Akio, Aki, Bonsai and Ruka—plus three standouts: Yamaguchi, Tiga and Hana.
When Yasuko and Akira Yamaguchi opened their restaurant in 1988, it was one of a very few sushi bars on Long Island. A fire destroyed Yamaguchi in 2013 but it reopened two years later and a few doors down with its spirit, menu and unswerving focus on pristine fish intact. No other Long Island sushi bar hews more closely to tradition—a dragon roll of eel, avocado and tobiko is about the most newfangled thing on the menu, and daily specials may include fluke usuzukuri, squid with cod roe, salmon roe with grated yam or the tremblingly delicate steamed egg custard, chawanmushi.
Tiga, established in 2019, is as imaginative as Yamaguchi is orthodox. Indonesian-born chefs Roy Kurniawan and Dhani Diastika take an approach to sushi that is cross-cultural, modern and, at times, experimental, but never veers into chaos. You could get a spicy-tuna roll here, but why not go for the Grandwazoo—spicy scallop with avocado, lime zest, tobiko (flying fish roe) and torched squid? (Kurniawan has a thing for using a blowtorch for caramelizing.) Hana splits the difference between tradition and innovation and is the most luxurious of the Big Three, with a large, serene dining room and separate sushi bar. You can dine on classic or modern Japanese—everything from teriyaki and tempura to miso-braised black cod or an A5-grade Wagyu rib eye. But I can usually be found at the sushi bar, which is furnished with plush, fat-cushioned, thoroughly un-Japanese chairs. If I’m feeling flush, I’ll order the omakase (chef’s daily pick of the best sushi) or otherwise the pristine chirashi (slices of raw fish on a bed of seasoned rice).
Port has a fourth Japanese treasure: Tominaga Shouten, which is one of only a few Japanese grocers on Long Island. The narrow aisles are lined with Japanese sodas and snacks, seasonings and sauces, sacks of rice and packets of tea leaves, frozen dumplings and exotic sea creatures, and a small but impressive selection of Japanese produce—mizuna, komatsuna (spicy greens), shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves) and big Japanese scallions. There are some imported housewares and toiletries and, at the back of the store, a kitchen produces sushi and Japanese homestyle dishes to go: bento boxes, ramen, udon and the delectable seaweed-wrapped triangular rice balls called onigiri.
Main Street is also home to the wildly popular Wild Goose, run by one of the Island’s leading New American chefs, Kent Monkan. The menu, which neatly splits the difference between cheffy and crowd-pleasing, satisfies virtually every culinary desire, from ladies’ lunches or date nights to family celebrations, takeout and full-scale off-premises catering. And it’s only a few yards around the corner on Irma Street, but it’s easy to miss Narinatto, a modest Korean restaurant with looks that belie its ambition and a patio that offers a tranquil respite from Main Street. The place excels with dolsot bibimbap (a scorching-hot bowl filled with rice, vegetables and meat), japchae (stir-fried sweet-potato noodles over rice) and mandoo (dumplings) as well as a few Japanese dishes: ramen, udon, chicken katsu and tempura.
Heading west, you’ll discover some exciting newcomers. Tiny Ivory Kitchen offers a singular and refined take on Chinese food. Yes, chef-partner Jeff Li makes soup dumplings and fried rice, but don’t leave without sampling less-familiar preparations such as smoked duck breast, braised whole fish in hot bean sauce, stir-fried lamb and sautéed lotus root with black beans and green chili. This is the only place on Long Island to sample the cuisine of Li’s native Yunnan province.
And thanks to Daniel Pedisich, there is a place on the Island to dip into the diverse cuisine of Croatia. The Olive Room Meeting Pointe has a small-plates menu that pulls from Croatia’s neighbors—Greece to the south, Italy to the west, Austria and Hungary to the north—but proudly offers the national skinless beef-lamb-pork sausage, ćevapi, as well as a flatbread topped with Adriatic figs and prosciutto. Pedisich, a former importer of Croatian wines, and co-owner Tony Vidakovic have also created a wine program that enables you to sample three- or six-ounce pours from a terrific list.
Ready for something sweet, you say? Meet Smusht ice cream and its owner Steve Edelson, who, for decades, had a vision for a shop where homemade ice cream would be smushed (smusht!) between homemade cookies and then rolled in the topping (siding?) of your choice. In May, that vision became a reality. Choose chocolate chip or funfetti cookies and fill them with any one of a score of flavors such as Aztec chocolate, blueberry or dulce de leche. (Vegan cookies and ice creams are also available.)
At the intersection of Main Street and Shore Road, let’s pause for a bit of culinary history. The street sign here says “Ayhan’s Corner” marking the spot where Ayhan Hassan opened his first business, Ayhan’s Shish Kebab, in 1980. (Back then, he once told Newsday, customers needed “kebab,” “gyro” and even “yogurt” explained to them.) His Mediterranean Marketplace, opened in 1996, sells prepared foods and imported groceries, and also boasts a dining room with a spectacular view of Manhasset Bay. Across the street, Ayhan’s Lobster & Fish House splits its time between restaurant and private event space.
Another way to wrap your head (and arms) around Port is from Shore Road. This being Long Island in the summer means another parking tip is in order, and I’d suggest the waterside lot just past Columbia Place. This is smack in the middle of a mile-long landscaped walk by the water with the storied Louie’s Prime Steak & Seafood at the southern end. Founded in 1905 by Louis Zwerlein as a cocktail-serving barge in Manhasset Bay, it moved shoreside during Prohibition. Current owner Jerry Sbarro, of Rothmann’s Steakhouse in East Norwich, has a renovation in the offing, but, for now, the dining room retains its ye-olde-oyster-bar charm and its deck offers peerless views of Manhasset Bay.
South of Louie’s is another icon, Sweet Treats on the Wharf, where for 30 years, Douglas Shepardson has produced ice cream, soft-serve, frozen yogurt, Italian ice, sorbet and even shave ice. They all taste even better as you saunter onto the adjacent Inspiration Wharf for one of the best views on the North Shore.
If it’s Saturday morning, hit the all-organic Port Washington Farmers Market, one of Long Island’s first, finest and most picturesque, right on the Town Dock, which is also the launching location for Port’s water attractions. Long Island Boat Rentals offers everything from fishing expeditions, water sports and sightseeing tours (“Gatsby homes” and more) to sunset cruises and luxury yacht charters. The Angler Fleet specializes in fishing outings (both public and private), and Port Washington Water Taxi will ferry you to and from any local waterside restaurants as well as any accessible dock on Manhasset Bay. For a delightful, if incongruous, taste of the islands on The Island, Port Tiki is a little seagoing hut, complete with thatched roof and tropical vibe. It’s BYOB and BYO food and can accommodate up to 10 guests. (Outings fill up quickly.)
From the Town Dock, ramble north past the town ball fields along Bay Walk Park. At the end is a small marina and across from the marina is a little unmarked building that is occupied by Jia Dim Sum, a modern Cantonese spot serving exquisite dim sum and other Chinese specialties such as seafood fried rice and tea-smoked chicken made with a heritage bird.
The part of Port Washington that borders the top of Manhasset Bay is the village of Manorhaven and two restaurants at its threshold are well worth exploring. Bosphorus Café Grill is a reliable Turkish spot with baked goods that deserve special commendation. Fresh homemade pide (flatbread) comes with almost everything, but don’t let that dissuade you from ordering the lavas, which starts out flat but extravagantly puffs up in the oven, reaching balloonlike proportions before being whisked to your table. For dessert (or instead of a meal), go for the kunefe, a golden disk of shredded phyllo enclosing melted cheese and topped with pistachios and aromatic syrup. And then there’s Salvatore’s Coal Oven Pizza, Long Island’s first coal-oven pizzeria, established in 1996 and the only pizzeria to have graced every one of my Top Pizza lists (since 2012). The pies issuing from the 900-degree oven are a soulful combination of char and creaminess. The crust is crisp yet pliant, the topping, a balanced meld of fresh, milky mozzarella and chunky chopped tomatoes. There are no designer pies here, just your choice of classic toppings to be enjoyed in a retro room where the soundtrack is 50 percent Sinatra.
As of last year, Port Washington became the only town on Long Island with two pizzerias on the list. The newcomer is Serra Provisions, which is located just across from Manhasset Bay Marina in a low-slung, shipshape building complete with a front patio that accommodates a half dozen picnic tables. Former New York City chef Jesse Olson makes great neo-Neapolitan pizza, and the “provisions” end of his business encompasses housemade fresh and dried pasta and sauces, a thoughtful selection of groceries (including Rancho Gordo dried heirloom beans), prepared salads and sides, and sandwiches.
Dirty Taco and Tequila is slated to move into the Manhasset Bay Marina space that had been La Motta’s Dockside since 1994; as of this writing, the restaurant is scheduled to open in early July. Meanwhile, at Safe Harbor Capri marina you’ll find two divergent dining experiences. Butler’s Flat Clam Shack is the quintessential New England–style clam shack. It features clam chowder, stuffed quahogs and fried Ipswich (belly) clams plus lobster rolls, fried fish sandwiches and griddled hot dogs; craft beer and wine (and ice cream sandwiches) are available, too. At the other end of the marina is Nino’s Beach, a sparkling-new venue owned by Franco and Michael Vendome. The brothers gutted the much-churned location, which had partially disintegrated since its last tenant, Marco’s Waterfront Grill, closed in 2017.
You can see the water from three sides of the 9,000-square-foot restaurant but even without the views, the place is a stunner, a harmonious blend of alabaster, marble and brass. The main room has a long cocktail bar and a smaller dining area devoted to the oyster bar. A third dining room has windows that open onto a dining deck that, when you’re on it, appears to float above the water. The setting puts you in the mood for raw seafood and Franco Vendome, the chef, obliges, with oysters, clams and shrimp and crab cocktails as well as his own signatures such as suave hamachi crudo set off by cider gel and shavings of Honeycrisp apple and pickled fennel. Don’t miss the beef tartare, which is served with a mayonnaise made from puréed oysters. Franco makes all his pasta in-house, from textbook linguine and clams to a more fanciful bucatini topped with a half lobster, Cognac-lobster cream, tomatoes and spinach. Likewise, Neapolitan pies range from a simple Margherita to one topped with parsley pesto, apples and smoked bacon. (All pastas and pizza are available gluten free.) From the grill come steaks and chops from Snake River Farms as well as salmon, branzino, tuna and halibut.
Save room for dessert and, as you savor your coconut-infused panna cotta with lime curd, remember to look up from your plate and catch the sun descending over the bay.
Eating in Port Washington
AYHAN’S SHISH KEBAB: 283 Main St.; 516-883-9309, ayhansrestaurants.com
BOSPHORUS CAFE GRILL: 138 Shore Rd.; 516-321-9999, bosphoruscafegrill.com
BUTLER’S FLAT CLAM SHACK: 86 Orchard Beach Blvd.; 516-883-8330, butlersflat.com (open May–Oct.)
HANA: 14 Haven Ave.; 516-883-4262, hanaportwashington.com
IKEDO RAMEN: 983 Port Washington Blvd.; 516-441-5780, ikedoramen.com
IVORY KITCHEN: 87 Main St.; 631-604-7800, ivorykitchenpw.com
JIA DIM SUM: 84 Old Shore Rd.; 516-488-4801, jia-dimsum.com
LOUIE’S PRIME STEAK & SEAFOOD: 395 Main St.; 516-883-4242, louiessince1905.com
MB RAMEN: 57 Main St.; 516-690-8166, mbramenshop.com
NARINATTO: 5B Irma Ave.; 516-883-1913, narinatto.com
NINO’S BEACH: 43 Orchard Beach Blvd.; 516-502-0441, ninosbeach.com
THE OLIVE ROOM MEETING POINTE: 172 Main St.; 516-734-5612, theoliveroommp.com
SAINT HONORE PASTRY SHOP: 993 Port Washington Blvd.; 516-767-2555, sainthonorepastry.com
SALVATORE’S COAL OVEN PIZZA: 124 Shore Rd.; 516-883-8457, salvatorescoalovenpizzeria.com
SERRA PROVISIONS: 7 Sintsink Dr. E.; 516-321-9393, serraprovisions.com
SMUSHT: 158 Main St.; 516-234-0580, smusht.com
SWEET TREATS ON THE WHARF: 405 Main St., 516-708-1706
TIGA: 43A Main St.; 516-918-9993, tigany.com
TOMINAGA SHOUTEN: 169 Main St., 516-883-1836
WATERZOOI BRASSERIE & OYSTER BAR: 1029 Port Washington Blvd.; 516-472-7484, waterzooi.com
THE WILD GOOSE: 75 Main St.; 516-441-5505, thewildgooseli.com
YAMAGUCHI: 49 Main St.; 516-883-3500, restaurantyamaguchi.com
Being in Port Washington
THE ANGLER FLEET: 405 Main St.; 718-659-8181, theangler.com
HOUSE OF CRYSTAL: 268 Main St., 516-944-6606
LANDMARK ON MAIN STREET: 232 Main St.; 516-767-6444, landmarkonmainstreet.org
LONG ISLAND BOAT RENTALS: 403 Main St.; 516-761-0840, liboatrentals.com
PORT TIKI: 405 Main St.; 516-297-9296, porttiki.com
PORT WASHINGTON FARMERS MARKET: 347 Main St.; 516-883-0887, pwfarmersmarket.org
PORT WASHINGTON WATER TAXI: 347 Main St.; 516-767-1691, portwatertaxi.com
SAFAVIEH OUTLET: 2 Channel Dr.; 516-945-3868, safavieh.com/retail
SANDS POINT PRESERVE: 127 Middle Neck Rd., Sands Point; 516-571-7901, sandspointpreserveconservancy.org