Lucky Peach’s days are numbered: Earlier today, Eater learned that the independently owned publication — originally launched by McSweeney’s but now run by Peter Meehan and Momofuku mastermind David Chang — would likely cease publication in May, after the release of its “Suburbs” issue.
The magazine made a splash with its very first issue, one that’s best represented in a piece by former Gourmet editor and prolific author Ruth Reichl. “Instant-Ramen Showdown” set up one hallmark of LP’s modus operandi: Get one of food writing’s most vaulted stars (Reichl) to conduct a taste test of the most famously lowbrow food (dorm-room instant ramen) — a highbrow/lowbrow high-wire act that the magazine would perfect in the coming years.
But over its 22-issue run, Lucky Peach has published hundreds of gorgeously rendered food stories. That achievement hasn’t gone unnoticed: The magazine won a James Beard Award for Blog of the Year AND Publication of the Year in 2016 (just two of its nine total JBFA honors to date), and a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2016.
Below, a look at some favorite Lucky Peach stories as selected by Eater editors (sadly, the vast majority of the magazine’s articles — including that Reichl instant ramen story — are not available online). In the interest of being service-y, here are the ones that readers can inhale right now:
“Eat, Drink, Fuck, Die,” by Anthony Bourdain
The Lucky Peach tone in a nutshell, as embodied by unofficial mascot Anthony Bourdain: This essay, which is just as much a quick history of food on film as it is a look at the unfortunately sexual metaphors that have steeped into food writing, is full of passion, humor, and, well, profanity. “I’m not so sure that food is inherently sexy — though the body provably reacts similarly in anticipation of both sex and a good meal,” Bourdain writes. “I like food. And I like sex. But I don’t want them together. Ever.”
“What Happened to Lespinasse?,” by Amanda Kludt
Issue #3, The Cooks & Chefs Issue
Eater’s own Amanda Kludt tracks down the oral history of New York City’s influential fine-dining palace Lespinasse, which shuttered before its time in 2003. Once the realm of chef Gray Kunz, it’s notable for the simple fact that Andrew Carmellini, Corey Lee, and Christian Delouvrier once worked there. But “more importantly, its shuttering may have also been the death knell of the high-stakes American kitchen, where cooks proved their mettle under old-school, hell-raising chefs.”
“American Food, Whatever That Is,” by Peter Meehan
Issue #4, The American Food Issue
Two heavyweights of American food criticism — the Los Angeles Times’s Jonathan Gold and then-Village Voice critic Robert Sietsema (he’s now a critic at Eater NY) — sat down for a meal inside a Kansas City barbecue restaurant, far from their respective home turfs. The free-flowing conversation, moderated by Peter Meehan, covered everything from trends to Calvin Trillin to current diners’ obsession with the act of discovery, all points on the messy roadmap that is defining “American food.”
“America, Your Food Is So Gay,” by John Birdsall
Issue #8, the Gender Issue
John Birdsall, who won the 2014 James Beard Award for “Food and Culture” writing for this piece, cold-opens on his San Francisco childhood and the lovingly cooked food, that, looking back, he sees as “unflinchingly, unapologetically, magnificently queer.” In this hybrid personal essay/cooking history, Birdsall identifies three gay men — James Beard, Richard Olney, and Craig Claiborne — who helped shape how Americans approach their food today.
“Dick Soup,” by Fuschia Dunlop
Issue #8, the Gender Issue
“The four pizzles lay sprawled out on the kitchen counter,” writes Fuchsia Dunlop in this story, which admirably tackles the process (mental and actual) of cooking stag penis in the Chinese style without overly exoticizing the practice. The story won the James Beard Award for personal essay in 2014, Dunlop’s second Beard Award-winning piece published in the magazine (the first, “London Town,” won in 2013).
“Life, and How It Happens to a Cook,” by Peter Meehan
Issue #9, the Cooks and Chefs Issue II
“My best days are behind me,” proclaimed chef Claudia Fleming, once a top New York City pastry chef and recipient of an Outstanding Pastry Chef honor by the James Beard Awards. This five-part profile, separated into geographic spaces, follows Fleming’s trajectory personally and professionally, leading to an ending that’s simultaneously tragic and beautifully human.
“A Day on Long Island with Alex Lee,” by Francis Lam
Issue #9, the Cooks and Chefs Issue II
Francis Lam beautifully captures under-the-radar chef Alex Lee, a workhorse in New York City kitchens like Daniel but otherwise considered by outsiders a “ghost chef,” a chef without a (household) name. Lam bottles Lee’s unbridled passion toward food while also examining his own complicitness, as a member of the media, in the whole “star making” process. “I almost didn’t even want to write that down,” Lam writes of Lee’s remarkable recruitment story. “Origin myths are not meant to be fact checked.” The piece won the James Beard Award for profile writing in 2014.
“Fixed Menu,” by Kevin Pang
Issue #11, the All You Can Eat Issue
Is feeding prisoners poorly an inhumane act? Kevin Pang wrestles with his question as he visits Indiana’s Westville Correctional Facility, where he receives a surprisingly comprehensive access to the prisoners, cafeteria, and commissary — Nutriloaf and all. The 134-word introduction, written in the first person, is a gut punch where Pang succinctly and evocatively identifies his privilege as a free man able to eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants: “The thought of losing this control,” he writes, “sends me into a panic attack.”
“The History of Pho,” by Andrea Nguyen
Issue #19, the Pho Issue
Inclusion of this piece is perhaps cheating, since it’s an excerpt from Nguyen’s excellent 2017 release The Pho Cookbook, but props to the magazine for dedicating an entire issue to the dish. That would happen just twice during its run: in the pho issue and the debut, ramen-specific issue.
BONUS recipes and online-only content:
Recipe: Instant Ramen Cacio e Pepe
Issue #1, the Ramen Issue
Again, LP set the tone with this brilliant stoner-food mashup of a storied Italian dish (the simple butter and black pepper cacio e pepe) with a 20-cent instant ramen noodle packet.
Online only: “Disney Princesses Reimagined as Hot Dogs,” by Anna Hezel and Gabriella Paiella
Online only: “How to Eat a Burrito,” by Walter Green
Online only: “The Official Hostess Power Rankings,” by Lucas Peterson