Meet Ryan Sutton, the camera-shy critic who launched his own food media site after layoffs eliminated his job at Eater, all while teaching at CUNY and exploring the Hell’s Kitchen culinary landscape. This is his West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in Queens and raised on Long Island, in Floral Park — right by all those great South Asian restaurants on Hillside Avenue! I did my undergraduate studies in DC and Moscow (Russia), but when I moved back to New York for grad school I knew this is where I wanted to be!
What was your first job? What do you do now?
Back when I was in high school I worked on a boat on Long Island Sound teaching kids how to fish at a camp, but my first “office” job was as a bookkeeper for my abuela while I was back home from school one summer; she did the finances for Guy Pascal’s cafes (the old pastry chef for La Cote Basque).
I was a food critic at Bloomberg and Eater for nearly 18 years combined, but after the January layoffs at Vox Media, I launched my own food media site on Substack…The LO Times, where I’m the chief restaurant critic and editor! I’m also an adjunct professor at CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism, where I teach food reporting and restaurant criticism.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
The hour or so before MoMA closes on a weeknight can be pretty magical. Back during the pandemic, I’d get my writing done at one of the second floor desks a few times a week. And then, as a treat, I’d shut my MacBook and stroll the galleries about 20-30 minutes before everything shut down. It was some real Night at the Museum energy if you know what I mean. I’d get to ogle Picasso’s cubism period or photographs by Gordon Parks or abstract works by Norman Lewis with almost no one around me, save a scattering of security guards or patrons here and there. And I’d just let my mind wander about the art and about writing. I’m not sure it’s that way anymore, but it really gave me a nice little boost during the pandemic, feeling all these works come alive in my head as the city remained quiet.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
I moved to Hell’s Kitchen in early 2015 for a very specific reason: It was the only neighborhood near my office where I could find an affordable, rent-regulated apartment — without a broker’s fee! But the neighborhood quickly grew on me. The sheer breadth of cuisines you can find on 9th Avenue alone is stupefying — as is how late many places are open. I’m a serious night owl. After a long Vox Media Union bargaining session before the pandemic, I remember swinging by Donburiya after 2am on a weeknight (for chicken katsu curry) and I wasn’t even the last person in the restaurant! Most things aren’t open as late these days, but it’s nice to stroll into Guantanamera at 11pm for live music and a crisp Cuban sandwich and realize that it’s so crowded you’ll need to wait a few minutes before snagging a bar seat.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I’m not sure I have any hidden talents, but I was quite proud of my union bargaining efforts during my time back at Eater, and so when I heard about the group of picketers outside the Drew Barrymore show in Hell’s Kitchen (before Drew decided not to return to air) it really warmed my heart — just to see all the good folks out there fighting the good fight.
What else should we know about you?
I really enjoy edibles — especially when they’re super delicious — and I find that a lot of these cannabis shops popping up around Hell’s Kitchen and elsewhere are a nice addition to the neighborhood. They’re happy places (even if, alas, there are a few too many)! So I’m stoked that I’ll be launching a restaurant-related edibles column on The LO Times quite soon — to write about what’s good (and what’s not) and to help with ongoing efforts to destigmatize THC use.
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Ryan’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Corner Slice — 600 11th Avenue at W45th St
It’s one of the best pizzerias in New York City! I go for the Buffalo slice (which is unexpectedly airy).
Sullivan Street Bakery — 533 W47th Street (bw 10th/11th Ave)
I come here for the excellent tomato flatbread pizza and to get my writing done!
Guantanamera — 939 8th Avenue (bw W55/56th St)
Writing can be such a lonely endeavor, so it’s just really nice to come here to surround myself with good live music, good food (vaca frita!) and strong drinks late at night when I’m done writing a column.
Seguidillas Empanadas — 465 W51St Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I’ll take a freshly squeezed morir soñando (orange juice, evaporated milk, sugar) over a cup of coffee any day to help wake me up a bit in the late afternoon.
The Hudson River Greenway
I cycle to about 90 percent of my review meals so this is pretty much my highway to anywhere in Manhattan (or Brooklyn if I’m going over one of the bridges).
Joe Allen — 326 W46th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
A strong gin martini and a cool banana cream pie after 10pm is a very nice way to end any evening in Hell’s Kitchen. My mom took me here after I saw one of my first Broadway musicals (Rent) so Joe Allen has a special place in my heart!
You can follow Ryan on Instagram @thebaddeal and X (formerly Twitter) @qualityrye. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself), please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations.
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.