Ruth Reichl’s Ultimate New York City Snack Crawl

The food icon tells us about her favorite fried oysters, hot dogs, and more.
the food writer Ruth Reichl stands with her arms crossed, wearing a green outfit, on a dark nighttime New York City sidewalk as cars approach on the street behind her

photo credit: Noah Fecks

When Ruth Reichl has something to say about a restaurant, you drop everything and pay attention. The legendary food writer spent decades sharing her dining adventures and shaping the way we talk about eating in publications like The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Gourmet. And for the past three years, Ruth has fed fans hungry for her writing with her Substack, La Briffe. Subscribers get regular restaurant reports from her nights on the town, republished articles from out-of-print magazines, old menus she's preserved and held onto over the years, and the occasional recipe or ingredient recommendation.

If you've been reading La Briffe, you also know that Ruth seeks out good meals wherever she goes. But just as important as the full dining experience, she says, are NYC's smaller bites, the snacks and treats and one-bite thrills that have brightened her days. Take notes and start planning your subway routes now. These are the Ruth Reichl recommended NYC snacks.


photo credit: Emily Schindler


West Village

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Fried Oysters

"I went with my friend and we looked around the room and realized that we were, by about 40 years, older than anybody else in the place. But those fried oysters are perfect. They were briny little clouds—crisp on the outside and still really hot. And when we liked them so much, I said, 'Oh, we have to have more. Bring us some more!' They came out in two minutes. I do think it's one of the great bargains in New York. I mean, they charge $3 for oysters, whether they're on the half-shell or fried. I do it at home sometimes. It's a pain. It is not something you do: 'Oh, I think I'll fry up some oysters today.'"

Hot Dogs

"I grew up on 10th Street. There was a Grey's Papaya on the corner of Eighth and Sixth. For years, whenever I came home from college, the first thing I would do is go and get a Grey's Papaya hot dog. To me, it is really the taste of home. Now I live on the Upper West Side and I'm very lucky: there's one on the corner of 72nd and Amsterdam.

I like mine with just the onion sauce and mustard on it. And I actually do drink that papaya drink, which I know is all chemicals. But I think if you're a New Yorker, you love that taste. I'll sometimes just walk over to the Hudson and walk up, eating my hot dogs and drinking my ridiculous papaya drink. I really do love that place."

H Mart Asian Supermarket


Octopus Wasabi Salad

"I love everything about this dish. I used to go to Ippudo and that was the thing I wanted there. Then they took it off their menu. I'm sure there are many other Japanese restaurants that have it on the menu, but I have discovered that you can go to [the Korean grocery store] H Mart and they sell them. I literally always have them in my refrigerator because it is a combination of that texture of the octopus, which is really crisp and kind of crunchy, and the wasabi. It's just, to me, a perfect flavor combination. I don't understand why everybody in America doesn't have it in their refrigerator."


"Nancy Silverton was in town a few weeks ago, and said, 'You have to go. I'm sending all my chefs. Their dough is so fantastic.' Nancy makes pizza. If she tells you, 'You've got to go eat this pizza,' you go eat the pizza. And it is really fantastic. I mean, the idea that this guy from Florence decided he was gonna do a kind of hybrid between New York pizza and Neapolitan pizza and do a thin crust, but make the crust really good?

I'm a pizza purist: pizza margherita, do not put a lot of junk on my pizza. I don't love a Hawaiian pizza. I don't even like pepperoni. Just give me the tomato, the mozzarella, a little parm, a little olive oil, maybe some basil. That's it. So I'm so happy that they've opened in Manhattan now, because if Nancy had said, 'You have to go to Brooklyn,' I'm not sure I would have gotten there so quickly. But when she said, 'Look, it's right there. It's down in the Village,' I was on the subway the next day."

Dou Fu Fa

"It's got a sort of sweet ginger syrup on top of it. And I love it. Fong On is one of those venerable Chinatown institutions. They make their own tofu. The difference between really good tofu that's homemade and the stuff that you buy in the supermarket is enormous. I used to go down to Chinatown and there was a guy who sold the dou fu fa out of a stairway on Elizabeth Street and it was 50 cents.

I was sent to China in 1980 by At Home to do an article about a hotel, which when we got there hadn't been built yet. At the time, Taishan was just really very small, and the center of life in Taishan was the tofu skin factory. They had a conveyor belt—they painted soy milk onto the tofu, and then it went through and came out as wrinkled sheets of tofu skin. Next door was the tea shop, where people gathered next to the conveyor belts where they were making the tofu skin. So I have a really soft spot in my heart for tofu."

Masala Dosa

"I discovered this when, at Gourmet, I did a TV show called Adventures with Ruth. One episode of it was Jeffrey Wright and I went and took cooking classes from a Julie Sahni, a very famous cooking teacher in Brooklyn. And we explored Indian New York.

Dosa batter is complicated. It is not something you really are gonna do at home. It is so wonderful. I love texture. The crispness of the Dosa, it's the pancake itself against the softness of the potato filling. And then you have the chilies in there. It's great. Plus, [Thiru Kumar, the owner], he's just a lovely man. I grew up playing in Washington Square Park where the only food you could buy was the Good Humor man, Tippy. So we always went to Washington Square Park hungry, knowing we were gonna get ice cream, and now I go and get masala dosa. There's something wonderful about the evolution of New York."

Rice Rolls

"There are rice rolls all over the city. Joe's Rice Roll, they have a machine that they make it with. Jing Fong, which is on the Upper West Side, if you sit at the counter there and you watch that man make those rice rolls, he doesn't have a machine. It is beautiful to watch. It is such an art. The way he knows exactly when to cover it...I go there just to watch that particular ballet. I happen to love the rice rolls, too. But for me, it's more about just watching someone who has one thing down perfectly."


"I will find any excuse I can to go to Di Palo. Their food is wonderful. Their prices are ridiculous. They own the building and if you're buying mozzarella anyplace else, you're an idiot. I lived on Rivington Street in the Bowery in '70s and it was my go-to place. That was when all the old Italian moms still lived in the neighborhood. You'd go in there and people would be trading recipes. The thing about their mozzarella is that mozzarella should never be put in the refrigerator. It changes. Di Palo is the one place I know where you can get mozzarella that was made that day and has never been refrigerated. To just go in there, and especially if you get it when it's still warm, it is the most delicious thing. And I know it's not made with water buffalo milk—it's made with cow's milk—but it's still really delicious. And then you end up buying all the other things there. You go for the food, but you also just go to be there."

photo credit: Willa Moore



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Oyster Pan Roast

"There's no reason to go to the Oyster Bar and sit anywhere but at the counter. And mostly what you want to eat at the oyster bar are things involving oysters or clams. I happen to love clams. I prefer them to oysters. So I will go and just order a bunch of clams and sit there very happily eating them. But I love to watch those guys make the pan roasts and I love the smell of the pan roast. It's the smell of my childhood. For years, the same guys were there making it. For 50 years, it was the same men who would be standing there heating up the cream and the Worcestershire sauce. Of course you have to go outside and whisper into the wall. I remember taking my son there for the first time—he was four—and saying, 'OK, you stand there, I'm going to stand here, and then I'm going to whisper something to you.' His eyes went huge."

Breakfast Gougères

"That breakfast gougère is just genius. I have a gougère recipe in my first cookbook, which I wrote in 1972, because they're magical and easy to make. But the idea of filling them with warm scrambled eggs with a little bit of cheese in it is such a genius notion. The gougère itself is basically eggs and a little water that you're mixing up and then making into, basically, a popover. But at Daily Provisions, it's eggs made into completely different textures—a perfect way to start the day."


"This is something that I am never without in my freezer. You can buy bags of 50. It's one of the great bargains in New York. When I'm there to pick up my bags, of course I have to get some that are just made. You can get pork and chive dumplings all over the place. Maybe it's just that I've been eating these for so long, but they taste better to me than anybody else's pork and chive dumplings. And [fellow journalist] Bud Trillin was the person who introduced me to them. He comes to Thanksgiving upstate, and he always brings a bag of dumplings from Super Taste. The morning after Thanksgiving, we all gather around and eat these dumplings. It tastes like New York."

Oysters Manhatta

"I don't understand why people aren't crazier about Manhatta. The food is delicious. It's an incredible view. If somebody comes to New York and I want to really show them 'New York' I will take them there at sunset. What could be better than oysters and uni and sabayon sauce? And there's Manhattan at your feet. It's one of the most beautiful views of the city where you don't also have to pay for an arm and a leg. They don't have to have good food, but they actually do."


"I love onigiri and I love Sunrise Mart, too. It's another great resource in this city. You can go there and get the makings for sushi and sashimi at home. But I'm surprised that onigiri haven't gotten bigger. It's one of my favorite snacks in the entire world. It was one of my favorite things to eat when I was an assistant in media, when I only had five minutes or pennies in my pocket. It's basically a healthy snack. Nothing in it is bad for you.

The Japanese have invented these incredible ways of keeping the nori really crisp. There's a separation between the rice and the nori so that you're not getting anything soggy. You're getting this really crisp, wonderfully salty nori. You bite into that and you can hear it crackle. And then you hit the soft rice, and then you hit the filling. The fillings: I know people are making all kinds of crazy things, but I love umeboshi—salty and fruity—and mentaiko. I would have them in my pocket all day."

Pastrami Sandwich

"We are so lucky to have this resource. This is another place I've been going my whole life. When we lived on Rivington Street, New York in 1970 was really rough. The city was bankrupt. We were dirt poor, and we would go to Katz's and we couldn't afford the pastrami. It was just too expensive for us. But we would get a knobbelwurst for 50 cents and just sort of be in there, surrounded by the aroma of the 100-and-some years of pickles and garlic and pepper.

Now it's such a thrill for me, I can afford to have a pastrami sandwich. I can ask them to make sure that it's fat, not lean, because there is no point in going and getting a pastrami sandwich if you're not gonna get the fat. I mean, that's what it's all about. I like the whole ritual of: you give the guy who's carving it a couple of dollars, and you say, 'Make sure you give me some fat.' It's classic."

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