Signature Foods of the 1980’s

Before the Age of Foodism descended on us like manna from heaven—bringing with it a concern for food excellence rather than just novelty (or so we hope)—we were willing guinea pigs for a succession of food fads, many of them quite weird. Some, like Jell-O and Pringle’s Newfangled Potato Chips, were technology-driven. Others were the work of cagey capitalists trying to wring the last cents (and sense) out of already-overexposed products like popcorn, potatoes, and mayonnaise. Return with us now to the dark culinary days of the ’80s, when food fads dominated the city like invading space monsters—flying into town one day, then leaving just as mysteriously the next. Here are the products we enjoyed sampling back then, but wondered even as we ate them: “Will they persist into the next millennium?” The short answer: Eek! They did!


The biggest book of 1982 (53 weeks at the top of the Times bestseller list!) was a slender volume by Bruce Feirstein called Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. Though partly intended as a parody, the title alone telegraphed the idea that a food fad swiped from France—and a dominant dish of the ’80s—was irretrievably effeminate. Well, quiche has survived, packing tons of fat into small eggy wedges while seeming virtuous and low-caloric. Meanwhile, the author of the book has been consigned to permanent obscurity. At Amy’s Bread, you can still find great quiche; their Swiss-cheese-and-ham is the pie’s quintessential Gallic evocation. 75 Ninth Avenue, 212-462-4338; 672 Ninth Avenue, 212-977-2670; 250 Bleecker Street, 212-675-7802;

Cajun Blackened Fish

Poor hugely fat Paul Prudhomme! In the ’80s, he swept into town in his chef’s whites to establish a branch of his New Orleans classic K-Paul’s in Soho (minus the chilies—what a mistake!), only to have it tank soon thereafter. But the Cajun cooking style he accidentally invented persists: blackening spice-rubbed fish in a wok over fiercely hot flames. You can sample this archetypal ’80s dish at Maggie’s Cajun Grill, 12 John Street, 212-577-2668; Londel’s Supper Club, 2620 Eighth Avenue, 212-234-6114; or Delta Grill, 700 Ninth Avenue, 212-956-0934.

Packaged Ramen

Location Info


Amy's Bread

75 Ninth Ave.
New York, NY 10011

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Chelsea

Londel's Supper Club

2620 8th Ave.
New York, NY 10030

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Harlem

Delta Grill

700 9th Ave.
New York, NY 10036

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: West 40s

Ippudo NY

65 Fourth Ave.
New York, NY 10003

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: East Village

The Rusty Knot

425 W. St.
New York, NY 10007

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: West Village

Dale and Thomas Popcorn

1592 Broadway
New York, NY 10036

Category: Retail

Region: West 40s

Park Slope Ale House

356 6th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Park Slope

Blue Sky Bakery

53 5th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Category: Retail

Region: Brooklyn

Frankies Spuntino Restaurant

457 Court St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Carroll Gardens

Caffe on the Green

201-10 Cross Island Parkway
Flushing, NY 11360

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Bayside

Taro Sushi

244 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Category: Restaurant > Sushi

Region: Park Slope

Carl's Steaks

507 Third Ave.
New York, NY 10016

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Murray Hill

99 Miles to Philly

94 Third Ave.
New York, NY 10003

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: East Village

High Stakes Cheese Steaks

216 Flatbush Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Category: Restaurant > Fast Food

Region: Park Slope

Stinky Brooklyn

261 Smith St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Category: Retail

Region: Carroll Gardens

Oko Frozen Yogurt & Tea

152 Fifth Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Park Slope

The point of ramen used to be its Spartan edge—wickedly cheap, edible raw, unapologetically junky. In a nuclear winter, it would be the cockroaches and the ramen that survived. Improbable as it may have sounded then, the Cold War has given way to the East Village ramen wars. Our choice for the ramen crown is Ippudo, where the long-simmered broth is deliciously porky and the homemade ramen are thin, slippery, and manage to be both delicate and firm. Meanwhile, packaged ramen has evolved. To experience packaged-ramen nirvana, head to Gold City Supermarket, where there’s a long aisle dedicated to nothing but multicolored plastic packs of dried noodles. There are varieties from Japan, China, Korea, and the U.S., all of it cheap as dirt, in flavors like Chinese chive, lobster-abalone, kimchi, seaweed, chicken curry, and “artificial spicy pork.” Ippudo, 65 Fourth Avenue, 212-388-0088; Gold City, 4631 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, Queens, 718-762-7688;

Ranch Dressing

This may be hard to believe, but once upon a time there was a dude ranch named Hidden Valley in California, and that’s where ranch dressing (made with sour cream, buttermilk, mayo, green onions, and garlic powder) was invented in 1954. It reached its apogee of fame three decades later, achieving mass notoriety as a flavoring for Doritos. Ranch dressing and its multiple variants are now, according to Wikipedia, the second-most popular salad toppings next to Italian dressing. At Wimpy’s III in Washington Heights, you can get it on your grilled-chicken wrap, and bottles of it still line supermarket shelves. 1232 St. Nicholas Avenue, 212-928-8085

Wine Coolers

We may never recover from viewing, at an early age, the 1986 Seagram’s commercial in which a lecherous Bruce Willis intones: “It’s wet . . . it’s dry.” Two decades later, over on the West Side Highway, the Rusty Knot is single-handedly trying to pluck the wine cooler out of history’s dust bin. But the best wine cooler is always the one you make at home. 425 West Street, 212-645-5668

The Don’t-Touch-Me-Bruce-Willis Cooler

Yields: 1 large cooler

3/4 cup dry Riesling, chilled
1/4 cup Lillet Blanc, chilled
2 tablespoons Cointreau
2/3 cup bitter-lemon tonic water thin slice orange, to garnish

In a large tumbler filled with ice, combine Riesling, Lillet, and Cointreau. Stir well. Add the lemon tonic water, and float the orange slice on top.

Flavored Popcorn

One of the craziest food fads to hit New York in the ’80s was flavored popcorn. It didn’t come in bags at the deli, but in storefronts scattered throughout the Upper West Side and midtown—at one time, there were nearly a dozen places offering it. Popping flavors that ranged from caramel to tutti frutti to chocolate (along with just plain buttered), these places have long since vanished, but Dale and Thomas Popcorn recently revived the fad in Times Square. 1592 Broadway, 212-581-1872

Fruit Roll-ups

Back when moms and dads were less militant about the food that touched little Johnny’s lips, they sent us to school with these flappy, chewy things that were like Kool-Aid in plastic form. Now you can get virtuous, all-natural fruit leathers at health-food stores—or, better yet, make your own.

Millennial Fruit Roll-Ups
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