A Times Food Editor Talks ‘Where to Eat’ Newsletter

May 29, 2024
Dining & Wine
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New York City is flavored by all kinds of cultures — and their cuisines. That can make going out to eat thrilling but deciding where to go fairly complicated.

Say you’re in the mood for Chinese food from a specific region. There may be plenty of options, but the best one might seem like it’s a world away — an hour or more on the subway. Perhaps a neighborhood-favorite bagel counter was featured on TikTok, so now the line trails out the door. Or maybe you’re feeling fancy, but all the reservations for that Michelin-starred, splurge-worthy spot were scooped up by scalpers who are reselling them for as much as you were planning to spend on the meal.

That’s where Nikita Richardson, a Food editor for The New York Times, comes in. In Where to Eat, a weekly column and newsletter, she offers both local diners and epicures from afar a taste of the city’s restaurant scene, with suggestions for where to find the freshest fish tacos, alternatives to restaurants with impossible-to-get tables and even a guide to the best hot dogs within the five boroughs.

In an interview, Ms. Richardson talked about her love of food, the city’s evolving dining scene and separating good social media branding from “actually good food.” This interview has been edited and condensed.

How would you describe the mission of Where to Eat, which you started in March 2022?

Since the pandemic, the landscape is very different. I wanted to help people fall back in love with New York City restaurants and going out to eat. The goal was to represent all five boroughs and beyond, like the Catskills.

That was in theory. In practice, it’s very hard to do. Newsletters about a specific neighborhood don’t always do very well, but we found that going deep on a subject does. We want to provide a service.

Your articles — including about the state of pizza in New York and the Jewish deli scene — seem to pique the interest of readers across the country.

I get plenty of emails from people who say, “I don’t even live in New York, but I read your newsletter because I just love dining,” or, “I miss New York.” It’s the only Food newsletter that also runs as a weekly column in the newspaper, which means that Where to Eat is available to read in, say, Madison, Wis. It’s accessible to them, too, whether or not they subscribe to the newsletter.

Do you still enjoy food the same way as before you started writing this newsletter, or does it feel more like you’re occupationally eating?

I always love eating. Whenever anyone asks, “Why are you in food journalism?” I say it’s because I love to eat. That’s where it began; that’s where it’s going to end.

I love the ritual of going to restaurants. I love the idea of having a great meal and a glass of wine with friends. It is really true sometimes, though, that you shouldn’t turn your passion into a job. You can’t go out to eat three nights in a row without feeling like you’re going to keel over. It’s heavy; restaurants use a lot of butter and salt and all those things that make food so good. I can only do so much of that before I need a break — and a salad.

Has your taste changed since you started writing the newsletter?

I now have a much wider view of food in New York City. I try really hard to go all over the city, and it’s made me do a lot of things for the first time. I’ve lived here almost 12 years, and I hadn’t gone to Coney Island until last year. It’s taken me to Staten Island, the Bronx and all over Queens. The newsletter is something that pushed me into pursuing more diverse types of foods.

I think it’s put me off fine dining a little bit. Since the pandemic, a lot of restaurants were, and still are, taking advantage of people’s desire for high-quality dining, but they’re not really delivering on that promise. But there are a lot of the old standbys where the quality is still great and costs half the price.

My favorite places end up being neighborhood places, like Café Camellia in East Williamsburg. I ended up putting them on our Restaurants List for last year, The Times’s list of our 50 must-try restaurants in the United States. I am more interested in finding those places, where your check isn’t going to be $400.

I think my reader, or any New Yorker, just wants to be able to get into a place and have a good meal, a good time and then be home in bed by 10. That’s how a lot of people, I think, are eating now.

Lately social media and newsletters like yours have been highlighting restaurants that don’t appear on a lot of lists, but are still making phenomenal food.

It’s about separating good branding and aesthetics from actually good food. If you’re lucky, those two things can coincide, and you can go into a lovely restaurant with great food.

The restaurant that’s fancy is going to get a lot of coverage. They don’t need my help. If my audience is eager to know if a fancy restaurant is any good, I’ll tell them. But those smaller places really represent that New York is a melting pot. You can get regional Chinese food, or regional Thai food. We have such a breadth of food, and to focus only on the places that are all selling variations of Caesar salad doesn’t represent what New York really is about.

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