Rockville Centre is South Nassau’s undisputed restaurant hub, with scores of eateries lined up cheek by jowl along the central blocks of Park and Village avenues, Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road.
And it’s been that way for a long time. RVC (as its residents call it) is not an up-and-coming downtown; it up and came decades ago, as the longevity of George Martin The Original (1989), Dodici (1994) and Dario’s (1997) attests. But it doesn’t rest on its laurels: The village boasts one off the Island’s swankiest speak-easies (Cork & Kerry), most innovative noodle bars (8 Ramen) and, new for 2019, Sugarberry, a late-night bakery serving hundreds of single-serving desserts and coffee from For Five.
There’s a wide variety of choices, and choices within each variety: Pizza ranges from old school (Blue Moon, Nick’s) to authentic Neapolitan (Vulcano 081, a fixture on Newsday’s top pizza list) to vegan (3 Brothers) to late night (Za Late Night Pizza, open from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.). There’s a quartet of Italians (Dodici, Dario, San Remo, Tony Colombos), a trio of Mexicans (Mesita, Cabo and Salsa Mexicana).
The town is equally well fixed for sweets: You can enjoy ice cream at the classic parlor, Five Pennies, or at the over-the-top gelateria, International Cafe. During the hot-beverage season, Kookaburra Coffee Co. will satisfy your jones for joe, or treat yourself to a full-on afternoon tea at Chat Noir.
Maybe because Rockville Centre is so well served by public transportation, drinking establishments have also flourished here, with Croxley’s Ale House, MacArthur Park, The Dark Horse, North Village Tavern, Monaghan’s and Dunns River Lounge among the holes where people get watered. If you’re looking to be fed after being watered, late-night eateries include the Golden Reef Diner as well as the new Cherry Valley Sandwich Shop, open 24 hours.
If you’re driving to Rockville Centre, build in a little time to search for a parking spot. Most spots are free after 6 p.m., but despite the presence of multiple municipal lots, spaces are at a premium and many restaurants offer valet parking.
We’ve concentrated here on the walkable downtown, but two of RVC’s best eateries are a short drive away: The Flour Shoppe Cafe & Bakery at 486 Sunrise Hwy. is one of Long Island’s best bets for artisanal breads, and the iconic, incomparable Bigelow’s, at 70 N. Long Beach Rd., has been frying up Ipswich clams since 1939.
Snaps (13 N. Park Ave.): Snaps' original location has flourished on a Wantagh side street since 2004, but for Scott and Patty Bradley’s second act, they chose a spot smack in the middle of Rockville Centre, just across from the AMC Fantasy 5 cinema. For now, the two menus are almost identical — American comfort classics elevated with international twists such as a 24-hour braised beef short rib “sloppy joe” on focaccia with Cheddar cheese sauce, or a crab empanada with mango and coconut — but executive chef Scott said that, at twice the size, the RVC kitchen will give him some room to experiment. The restaurant takes over the space that was occupied by The Tavern by George Martin and neither the roomy bar nor the upscale-barn décor has been altered. Cost: $$-$$$. More info: 516-517-2525, snapsrestaurant.com
Dodici (12 N. Park Ave.): One of Long Island’s most durable Italian restaurants, Dodici calls to mind a picture-postcard version of Italy with vaulted ceilings that are painted sky blue and flourished with cherubs and ocher walls that are hung with reproductions of Michelangelo and Raphael. Chef Segundo Inga’s highlights range from a humble white bean soup to the maiale Milanese, a massive bone-in pork chop pounded thin, breaded and fried, and topped with just the right amount of spinach, prosciutto and Fontina to complement and not overwhelm the meat. Cost: $$$. More info: 516-764-3000, dodicirestaurant.com
Press 195 (22 N. Park Ave.): Founded in 2002, this sandwich specialist has just doubled in size to accommodate more diners and parties. The menu features starters, salads, soups, burgers and terrific, hand-cut Belgian-style fries, but the emphasis is on the scores of hot-pressed sandwiches containing everything from roast pork to brisket to fried chicken to black-bean hummus. Heros can be had toasted or pressed, and you can also have a sandwich pressed between halves of a knish. Plus dozens of craft beers and hard ciders. Cost: $$. More info: 516-536-1950, press195.com
8 Ramen (17 S. Park Ave.): One of the village’s prettiest eateries, 8 Ramen is a jewel box containing a handful of bleached-wood communal tables, open shelving for knickknacks and lots of greenery suspended from the walls and ceiling. The menu includes nine noodle dishes, including classic shoyu ramen, miso ramen and tonkotsu ramen along with some less familiar items such as dipping ramen (the noodles are served nude with a miso dipping sauce) and tom yam lobster ramen and ramen by the sea (with snow crab, shrimp, scallops, mussels and squid). Also: gyoza dumplings, takoyaki (octopus balls, no jokes please), shrimp tempura, grilled Chinese sausage and fried oysters. Cost: $$. More info: 516-632-8288, 8-ramen.business.site
Cork & Kerry
Cork & Kerry (24 S. Park Ave.): There’s no sign outside Cork & Kerry, housed discreetly in a vintage Colonial set back on Park Avenue just south of Churchill’s. At the door, you may wonder if you’re about to barge into someone’s home, but inside you’ll find two chambers full of discerning imbibers. This is the second Long Island speak-easy from Doug Brickel and Chris Corbett and it’s the place to go for bespoke cocktails, classic and modern. Drinks are the focus here, but snacks are served as well. Cost: $$. More info: no phone, facebook.com/CKrvc
Village Cheese Merchant
Village Cheese Merchant (28 S. Park Ave.): When longtime resident Chris O’Mara surveyed the RVC scene in 2018, she saw an opening for cheese shop, and so, with the help of veteran cheesemonger Patrick Ambrosio, she rectified the situation. The shop stocks a rotating roster of more than 40 cheeses, both domestic and imported, and Ambrosio goes out of his way to find little-known gems that offer great value, such as French Chartreux or Swiss Le Cousin. Of course, you’ll also find Italian Piave, French Bleu d’Auvergne, English Stilton, Italian Fontina and Spanish Manchego, as well as a good selection of cured meats, crackers and preserves, cheese knives and boards. Stop by for a sandwich on Saturdays. Cost: $$. More info: 516-705-5020, villagecheesemerchant.com
Chadwicks American Chop House & Bar
Chadwicks American Chop House & Bar (49 Front St.): Just opposite the LIRR station, Chadwicks has been a village institution for more than 20 years, and got an upgrade in 2013 when chef-owner Art Gustafson took over. The welcoming restaurant is the place for both family gatherings and intimate dates. Gustafson’s menu covers all the bases, from clams casino and wedge salad to seafood risotto, grilled steaks and chops, and orange-honey-lacquered duck. The Bloody Marys cover a lot of bases, too: The “with the works” is topped with a steakhouse burger slider, candied bacon and shrimp cocktail. Cost: $$-$$$. More info: 516-766-7800, chadwicksrvc.com
Sugarberry Bakery (312 Sunrise Hwy.): You have to wonder why it took until 2019 for someone to open up a sit-down bakery in Rockville Centre that stays open until midnight. Peter Kambitsis did just that, transforming his Freshark juice bar into Sugarberry Bakery, a comfy-chic spot whose “dessert gallery” comprises more than a hundred single-serving desserts, including pastries (éclairs, Napoleons, baklava), cakes (red velvet, seven layer, triple chocolate mousse), cheesecakes, brownies, pies and more. Coffee (brewed, pressed, nitro and cold brewed) is supplied by For Five. Cost: $. More info: 516-764-2881, sugarberrybakery.com
Mesita (212 Merrick Rd.): A rollicking establishment devoted to Mexican eats and drinks, Mesita delivers on all fronts: tableside guacamole, ceviche, nachos, tamales, quesadillas, street-style tacos in soft-corn tortillas, “torta” sandwiches served with yuca fries, mole poblano and fajitas served on a sizzling cast-iron skillet. Plus a handful of more north-of-the-border dishes such as seared salmon and grilled rib-eye steak. Cost: $$-$$$. More info: 516-282-9900, mesitarvc.com
Copper Pot Chicken Co.
Copper Pot Chicken Co. (65 N. Village Ave.): This intimate chicken-centric eatery opened in 2017 but got a shot in the wing a year later when Dean Livingston took over, expanding the menu and improving the service. There are now burgers and shakes, but the soul of the place is still the tender, juicy, well-seasoned chicken, which can be had in buckets ranging from two to nine pieces; boneless it appears in sandwiches, fingers and potpies. Fried-chicken adjacent items such as biscuits, coleslaw and collards are also recommended. Cost: $$. More info: 516-600-9656, copperpotchicken.com
Tum Thai Cuisine
Tum Thai Cuisine (274 Merrick Rd.): Tum Thai’s distinctive, fanciful design — hangings of shimmering gold leaves, crystal chandeliers set within gilded birdcages — is a fitting metaphor for the complex and layered flavors of Thai cuisine. That complexity comes through in the restaurant’s version of the chicken-lime-coconut soup called tom kha gai, as well as in the hot-and-sour tom yum goong, a crimson brew with shrimp and mushrooms, and beautifully nuanced red curry with eggplant, basil and coconut milk. Cost: $$. More info: 516-543-5078, tumthainy.com
Rock a Taco
Rock a Taco (280 Merrick Rd.): Taking over the former premises of Rice Box Chinese restaurant, this modern taqueria is decorated with colorful murals and modern, industrial aluminum tables. There are two categories of tacos here: “Street cart” tacos filled with steak, chorizo, chicken, shrimp or vegetables are garnished simply with cilantro and onions. “Rock’n” tacos are more elaborate affairs: The “chimi” features skirt steak, refried beans, fried onion strings and chimichurri; the fish taco contains fried flounder, red cabbage slaw and guacamole. Also on the menu: quesadillas, burritos, taco salad, taquitos, empanadas and tamales. “Not-cho average fries” come, nacho style, smothered in cheese, pico de gallo and your choice of meats. Cost: $-$$. More info: 516-992-0477
Vulcano 081 (43 N. Village Ave.): Since it opened in 2016, Vulcano 081 has been one of the Island’s most dependable spots for authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. The restaurant is named after Naples' area code, and the pies have the city's signature puffy rim and floppy crust. Unlike a lot of wood-burning ovens on Long Island, it has no "gas assist" and runs solely on wood. The roster of almost 20 pies includes classics such as Margherita and Diavola, ignited with spicy salami and Calabrian chili oil, to the Michele, topped with bacon marmalade, caramelized onions and burrata. Pasta, panini and entrees, too. Cost: $$-$$$. More info: 516-442-5858, vulcano081.com
Burgerology (226 Merrick Rd.): At the nutty-science-themed Burgerology, many of the specialty burgers name-check scientists: the Einstein burger is an eight-ounce patty topped with braised short rib, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and cabernet gravy — just the way the Nobel laureate liked it. But since it opened in 2017, the eatery has become just as popular for the zany “monstrosity” shakes (their term), such as the “Cinnabomb,” vanilla ice cream spun with crumbled cinnamon roll and cinnamon toast and vanilla frosting and topped with a whole cinnamon roll and whipped cream, served, of course, in a cinnamon-toast-coated glass, or the “Campfire,” a graham-cracker-coated glass filled with vanilla ice cream, more crackers, chocolate syrup and roasted marshmallows. Cost: $$. More info: 516-600-9720, burgerologyrvc.com/rvc
The Bowery Bar & Fare
The Bowery Bar & Fare (300 Sunrise Hwy.): From the outside, Rockville Centre’s newest bar looks spare, and almost demure. Inside the Bowery Bar & Fare, however, another world unfurls: a bar made to look and feel like a carnival, with a salvaged carnival tent overhead, a stuffed-animal wall, Sno-Cone cocktails, interactive games and a street-food menu. The centerpiece of the place is an undulating bar stocked with offbeat spirits and whiskeys, 24 taps and a cocktail menu. The food stays rooted in street food and shareable plates with mini-corn dogs, bulgogi tacos, suppli (fried rice balls filled with mozzarella), pulled-pork poutine and zeppoles. Cost: $$-$$$. More info: 516-493-9023, theboweryrvc.com
Aperitif (242 Sunrise Hwy.): In a town long on Italian and Mexican, Aperitif constitutes the sole French eatery. It’s got a classic bistro look — globe lights, dark wood, red upholstery — and a menu of Gallic classics such as steak frites, escargot, mussels mariniere, roast chicken and duck a l’orange. There are dozens of wines by the glass, including a few curated flights, plus French aperitifs such as Pernod, Ricard, Dubonnet and Lillet. Cost: $$$. More info: 516-594-3404, aperitifbistro.com
Cherry Valley Sandwich Shop
Cherry Valley Sandwich Shop (216 Sunrise Hwy.): Cherry Valley sandwich shops have made their reputations in Whitestone (established in 1979) and West Hempstead (2004) serving gargantuan sandwiches 24 hours a day, 363 days a year (you’re on your own on Thanksgiving and Christmas). At the end of 2018, a franchise opened in Rockville Centre, with a cavernous dining room with carefully graffitied walls. About half of the sandwiches are RVC originals, among them the “Chubby Joe” with hot roast beef, mozzarella, bacon and Peter Luger sauce on a toasted garlic hero; and the “Fat Attack” with grilled steak, grilled onions, American cheese, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, bacon, fries and, of course, a fried egg. Breakfast is served all day as well. Cost: $. More info: 516-992-2029, cherryvalleyrvc.com
Front Street Bakery
Front Street Bakery (51 Front St.): Founded in 1946, Front Street Bakery may well be Rockville Centre’s oldest food-service establishment. The moment you walk in, you can tell it's a going concern: The staff seems to know every customers; the shelves are packed with scores of varieties of cakes, pastry, cookies, muffins and breads; most tellingly, it smells great. While the bakery has embraced the current trend of elaborately decorated specialty cakes, many of the recipes are as old as the store: heavily crumbed crumb cakes, superlative black and whites, raspberry tarts filled only with jam and, most famously, dot cookies, little butter cookies decorated with a blob of frosting, one of which is given to any kid who crosses the threshold. Cost: $. More info: 516-766-1199, frontstreetbakery.com
Kasey's Kitchen & Cocktails
Kasey's Kitchen & Cocktails (23 N. Park Ave.): In the two decades that Kasey’s has been serving Rockville Centre, the footprint has expanded out into a neighboring building and up into the rooftop bar, Rooftop 32. The menu has evolved too, from a simple bar and grill to Kasey’s Kitchen & Cocktails, serving everything from burgers and wings to potstickers and king salmon with carrots, mushrooms and sauce vierge. In the warm weather, Rooftop 32 provides as panoramic-as-possible view of downtown RVC; when it’s too cool to drink or dine outside, take refuge in the well appointed bar, lounge or dining room. More info: 516-766-5049, kaseysrvcny.com