Make mine pastrami on rye. Or corned beef on rye. With a briny full sour pickle on the side. Despite the demise of the famous Carnegie Deli, the traditional Jewish deli is alive and well in NYC. These are the best in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
The beloved Carnegie Deli in Midtown closed its doors forever the last weekend of 2016. Named for its location across the street from Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Deli was equally famous for its overstuffed sandwiches and walls decorated with framed, signed photos of celebrities who ate there.
If you are hungry for classic overstuffed meat sandwiches, the best pickles on the planet, and a casual, unpretentious ambiance, head for one of these classic Jewish delis. Several are in the same location, or operated by the same family, or both, for generations.
This legendary 128-year-old Lower East Side deli became Katz’s Delicatessen in 1910 when Willy Katz and his cousin Benny took over another restaurant that was there. Famous for its towering sandwiches of house-cured corned beef, brisket, pastrami, matzoh balls the size of baseballs, it’s no-frills decor. Katz’s is also famous for that famous scene where Meg Ryan moaned over her meal in “When Harry Met Sally.” Just don’t ask for “that” table or you’ll get a moan from a weary staffer whose heard that once too often. Katz’s is also one of the few places left to sell Cel-Ray soda, which was the go-to soft drink of my childhood. It’s the perfect companion for a sky-high meat sandwich. Open 365 days a year.
- 205 E. Houston St., 212.254.2246
Abe “Sarge” Katz, opened his deli in 1964, when he retired from the NYPD. It’s been in the same East Side location ever since, serving a traditional deli menu in a location dotted with old-fashioned Tiffany-style lamps and burgundy-brown banquettes. Unfortunately, the addition of large screen TVs showing sports detracts from the traditional deli ambiance. But the TVs are in the back of the restaurant, so sit in the front area. This genuine NYC deli experience is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- 548 Third Ave. at 38th St., 212-679-0442
Although it moved a few years ago from Second Avenue on the Lower East Side to First Avenue on the Upper East Side, it still serves the same Jewish comfort food, including a dish of pickles on every table, except maybe at breakfast. Cheese-filled blintzes and meat-filled pierogies are served throughout the day. If you want to be alone after dinner, opt for the “knoblewurst”, a brat-sized wurst with enough garlic to bring tears to your eyes. With the opening of the new Second Avenue subway, and stop just two blocks away, 2nd Avenue Deli on First Avenue is sure to get a boost in business. There’s also a midtown outpost.
- 1442 First Ave., at 77th St., 212-737-1700
- 162 East 33rd St., 212-689-9000
Also known as “The Sturgeon King”, this Upper West Side institution (since 1908) is known more for its classic Jewish fish delicacies, from lox and whitefish salad to pickled herring in cream sauce, than it is for its meat sandwiches. Also known for its Yiddish-speaking Latino waiters. Meat sandwiches are served on rye or pumpernickel, while fish sandwiches are on either bagel or bialy, a baked Eastern European roll with a depressed center usually filled with diced onions and other savory ingredients. Traditional desserts include rugelach, chocolate babka and handmade chocolate-layered halvah.
- 541 Amsterdam Ave.,at 86th St., 212-724-4707
Some say the expansion to multiple locations as far away as Florida and a heavy emphasis on take-out and catering has diluted the experience, others are devoted regulars. You be the judge. This is one of the few places left to get beef tongue in a sweet-sour raisin sauce, the way my Bavarian-born mother used to make it. Although she never called the sauce Polonaise. Or, just stick with the more traditional menu of meat sandwiches and smoked fish platters.
- 209 W. 38th St, 212-398-2367
- 211-37 26th Ave., at Bell Blvd, Bayside, Queens, 212-398-2367
Traditional Jewish deli foods from Montreal include house-smoked meats and the Quebequois staple poutine. This restaurant in Boerum Hill is about as wide as one of its well-stacked sandwiches, so go early or late or opt for take-out. There’s also a larger sandwich shop in the Manhattan financial district. Note that the Brooklyn location closes between lunch and dinner. Open daily.
- 97 Hoyt St., between Atlantic and Pacific Streets, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, 212-852-7510
- 53 Bond St., between Bowery and Lafayette St., 212-529-2990
70s style decor and menu in this local favorite on the border of Flatlands and Mill Basin. Traditional meat sandwiches and hot dishes, including brisket, of course. Open daily.
- 5823 Ave. T, Brooklyn, 718-241-4910
This isn’t a deli, but a restaurant with equal helpings of favorites from both Eastern and Western Europe, along with entertainment. It’s been described as a perpetual Bar Mitzvah party, where guests sing and dance with friends and strangers. Go on Friday for the stuffed cabbage special, like my Ukranian-born mother-in-law used to make. I’m partial to the calves liver and fried onions, and a dollop of schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) to spread on bread. Reservations are recommended.
Have we missed one of your favorite NYC delis? Tell us about it.
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