Finding the perfect snack in the early morning hours after a night spent either out or holed up in Bobst can be difficult. Luckily, there is a place that offers both savory and sweet treats around the clock.
Ray’s Candy Store, located on the corner of Avenue A and East Seventh Street in the East Village since 1974, is a holy site for all things junk food related. Complete with an eclectic, charming interior that makes you feel as if you just traveled back to the ’70s, Ray’s is a hidden gem worth discovering for yourself.
Walking up the steps and into the hole-in-the-wall junk food jointis an overwhelming sensory experience.
The sound of countless whirring machines powered-up to prepare treats fills the room. The walls are splashed with color, leaving one unsure where to look. Without a single consolidated menu to look at, the names of all the snacks are written on pieces of paper or printed-out pictures and collaged on the walls. Red, blue and green colored LED lights dance on the ceiling like a disco ball. Even without previous knowledge, one can get a sense of the history of the candy store after laying eyes on the old fashioned cash register and reading the various newspaper articles featuring Ray’s over the years.
But this sensory overload isn’t where the experience ends. After taking everything in, I had to get it together and focus on the task at hand — ordering food.
I recruited my two roommates, and together we tackled $50 worth of junk food delicacies. Chicken tenders, french fries, fried bananas, fried Oreos, beignets, mozzarella sticks, grilled cheese and an Oreo milkshake. All of this, and it’s safe to say we didn’t even make a dent into the menu.
Everything was delicious. The ratio of cheese to powdered sugar to grease to chocolate was perfect. However, the thing that sets Ray’s food apart from the other dives around New York City has to be the packaging.
The grilled cheese was wrapped in tin foil and placed in a paper bag, making it feel as though I was back in grade school and my mom had just packed my lunch for the day. The different sauces that came with our food (honey mustard, ketchup and marinara) were squirted into to-go coffee cups and placed in a drink carrier. The chicken tenders and fries were too large for their plastic container — a problem solved by tying a rubber band around the whole thing. A lack of obsession with perfect presentation means the taste of the food is really what Ray’s is all about.
If you’re worried about the variety of things to choose from, get the beignets and wash them down with a milkshake. It’s a sugar overload you won’t ever regret, no matter how vehemently your stomach protests.
The one flaw in Ray’s is its lack of seating. Being able to chow down on our food right as it came out of the fryer would have been nice. Instead, we were forced to take it home. When the weather warms up, an easy solution will be to take your treats across the street and have a picnic in Tompkins Square Park.
Towards the end of our visit, Ray sauntered out of the kitchen and joined us at the counter to say hello to the folks who had ordered so much food at once. Still going strong at 86 years old, Ray’s sweet smile and warm demeanor made it clear why his candy store holds a special place in so many people’s hearts.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, March 4, 2019, print edition. Email Calais Watkins at [email protected]