Hi, it’s Pete Wells, restaurant critic for the Times and inveterate between-meal snacker. I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, though, have you seen Priya Krishna’s article (with a clever, gamified design by Umi Syam and Aliza Aufrichtig) tracking all the reservations and walk-ins over the course of one night at Semma? The restaurant, serving Vijay Kumar’s interpretation of South Indian food, was number 12 in my ranking of the city’s 100 best, and tables are quite hard to come by. The article explains why reservations are snapped up the way they are and offers hints on how you can get one yourself.
Now for snack time. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one of the most useful categories of savory snack, the ones you can slip into your pocket now — or your literary tote bag, or your secretly lethal fanny pack — and carry around with you until you’re hungry.
I’m not talking about Spicy Pineapple Jalapeño Doritos. These snacks have a little more heft. They come in handy for all sorts of things, but I think they are most useful when you are going some place where you may not see a taco cart for an hour or two.
Here are a few addresses where you can load up for your next urban expedition.
Myers of Keswick, West Village
This is the shop where your friend who lived in London for six months goes to buy imported English Kit Kats because, as you have heard many times by now, “they just taste better.” But Myers of Keswick also bakes some of the city’s finest savory pies and pastry-encased meats: golden sticks of puff pastry wrapped around fresh chipolata sausages; spiced-pork pies, their top crusts shiny with pork jelly that bubbles up as it bakes; Cornish-style pasties filled with an agreeably placid mush of ground beef, peas and potatoes. The Scotch eggs probably have the highest protein concentration, but my first choice would be the miniature terrine of pork and Stilton in a high-sided oval crust. You won’t need mustard. Reeking and insistent, Stilton is its own condiment.
Omusubi Gonbei, Midtown
It’s true that the nori on the omusubi sold at this stall inside the Japanese grocer Katagiri is usually limp by the time you undo the clear-plastic wrap. But what you sacrifice in crisp seaweed you get back in brightly seasoned fillings — spicy tuna, broiled salmon, cod roe with its concentrated fishiness, salty and sour smears of pink umeboshi — wrapped in rice that is exceptionally tender, fragrant and un-gummy.
Immaculée Restaurant, Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Immaculée Bakery, Little Caribbean
The Jamaican patties you find in pizzerias look like soft orange Pop Tarts. The Haitian pâtés at Immaculée, on the other hand, are boxy, squat and pale yellow, the shape of scones. They have the flakiness of rough puff pastry that’s been folded over a few spoonfuls of spiced beef, salt cod or herring.
Malaysia Beef Jerky, Chinatown
You don’t need to be packing for the Appalachian Trail to appreciate a bag of Malaysia Beef Jerky’s chewy, soy-cured planks of dried meat. (The name notwithstanding, the shop also makes pork jerky and chicken jerky.) If you’re just picking up groceries, it’s possible to make half a pound of it disappear on the trip from Elizabeth Street back to your apartment. Their spicy jerky almost demands a round of drinks, but the unspiced variety is an ideal walking-around meat.
Lady Wong, East Village
Visually arresting and polychromatic desserts are the basis of Lady Wong’s fame. The handful of savory snacks tucked away in the display case would be easy to overlook, but they shine when you need a little something to tide you over until dinner. Besides a textbook version of the Malaysian curry puff, a crimped turnover filled with curried potatoes and peas, there are flaky, golden pastries filled with chicken in black pepper sauce or sardines in spicy tomatoes. Rarest of all locally is lemper tuna, a rectangle of grilled sticky rice. Inside its banana-leaf sleeve, Lady Wong’s lemper are filled with spiced tuna that taste of dried shrimp.
Evelia’s Tamales, Corona, Queens, and Chelsea
Evelia’s is busy before the sun comes up, supplying workers on the early shift with tightly rolled tamales that will still be warm when the lunch break comes. The variety of fillings is notably wide; besides the regular cigar-shaped tamales, look out for flat packets of masa steamed in banana leaves, Oaxacan style.