New York City, with its historically sizable Jewish community, is world famous for Jewish-style delicatessens. From mile-high pastrami sandwiches to matzo ball soup, here are our top picks.
When you think of New York City cuisine, you’re probably imagining pastrami on rye (followed closely by dollar-a-slice pizza and bodega bacon egg and cheese). At one point, there were more than 1,500 Jewish delis located throughout the city churning out these sandwiches. These establishments provided New Yorkers a quick bite to eat and were also spaces for surrounding Jewish communities to congregate. Today, only a fraction of Jewish delis remain, but their cultural impact is still a huge part of the city’s history.
Ask a New Yorker what their recommendation for a Jewish deli is and they’ll probably say Katz’s. This NYC institution, famously immortalized in When Harry Met Sally, is the go-to place for hand-carved corned beef, thick-cut fries, and pastrami by the pound. Long lines often trickle down the block during warm-weather weekends, but it’s well worth the wait.
Located just steps away from the Midtown Tunnel is Sarge’s, serving up in-house cured pastrami, steamy matzo ball soup, and homemade blintzes since 1964. Nosh in style beside Tiffany’s stained glass lamps and burgundy diner booths.
If you’re a Sarge’s first-timer, Andrew Wengrover, third-generation owner, recommends the Number 3 Combo Sandwich: a corned beef and pastrami sandwich with coleslaw and Russian dressing. For something a bit different, order the Blockbuster, a square knish stuffed with your choice of meat and cheese, topped with mustard or Russian dressing and sauerkraut.
Stepping into Frankel’s is like traveling back in time. Although it opened in 2016, the space is reminiscent of a bygone era, with vintage photographs and colorful signage by the legendary Coney Island sign painter Sam Moses. Expect to see classics on the menu, from potato latkes to hot pastrami Reubens, plus creative specialty sandwiches such as “The Nettie,” made with Eastern Nova smoked salmon, dill cream cheese, horseradish beets, and red onions.
Aptly nicknamed “The Sturgeon King,” a visit to Barney Greengrass means sampling some of their smoked fish (their gently smoked sturgeon is a must-try). Besides their to-go counter, they also have casual seating and a separate dining room with walls covered in sepia-toned murals. Don’t be surprised if the interior looks familiar—Barney Greengrass has appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, including Law and Order, Seinfeld, and You’ve Got Mail.
Known for their larger-than-life sandwiches, creamy cheesecakes, and pillowy-soft potato knishes, Carnegie Deli is just as famous as its celebrity patrons. The historic deli has been in business since 1937 and today is helmed by its third-generation owner, Sarri Harper, and her mother, Marian. “My grandfather Milton Parker, or as he is lovingly known, The Corned Beef and Pastrami Maven, turned Carnegie Deli into an icon for many of the city’s most famous entertainers,” shares Harper. From Stevie Wonder to Stephen Spielberg, tons of celebs have frequented Carnegie.
Two of the most popular options at their Madison Square Garden location are the corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. According to Harper, “Rangers fans love their hot pastrami sandwiches and we can’t argue with the Broadway Blueshirts!”
Russ & Daughters is a fourth-generation Lower East Side appetizing shop synonymous with high quality smoked fish, fresh bialys, and decadent babka. “Appetizing shop” is a term for the dairy counterparts of Jewish delis. Because of Kosher dietary laws, these shops carried fish and dairy, whereas “delis” sold meat. Founded in 1914 by Joel Russ, Russ & Daughters is the first business in the country to have “& Daughters” in its name after Russ made his three daughters partners. Here, bagels are made the traditional New York way, by boiling first and then baking. While you’re here, don’t miss the famous smoked salmon and pickled herring.
Inspired by delis in Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood, a Jewish community, Mile End Deli brings a bit of Canada to the States. Here, traditional Jewish comfort food is paired with Canadian classics for an exciting twist, like poutine topped with smoked meats. The deli uses from-scratch cooking techniques, fresh ingredients, and recipes inspired by its founder’s grandmother to create their nostalgic dishes.
At Pastrami Queen, smoky, melt-in-your-mouth pastrami is stacked high on Orwasher’s rye bread and washed down with Dr. Brown’s soda. A favorite of Anthony Bourdain’s, he once shared that Pastrami Queen was his go-to for pastrami sandwiches in New York.
Both 2nd Avenue Deli locations offer quintessential Jewish food, such as frankfurters, kasha knishes, and chicken schnitzel, as well as harder-to-find delicacies, such as ptcha, or jellied calves feet. Their uptown spot also has a cocktail lounge, called 2nd Floor, right above the shop.
Considered a New York staple, Ben’s Kosher Deli has been making potato pancakes, hot open roast beef sandwiches, and rugelach since 1972. Try Ben’s Fresh Turkey Wrap, which is made with cranberry sauce and tastes like Thanksgiving dinner. The deli also recently rolled out a plant-based menu, which includes a plant-based “corned beef” Reuben and a meatless burger.