Make mine pastrami on rye. Or corned beef on rye. With a briny full sour pickle on the side. Despite the well-publicized recent demise of the Carnegie Deli and Stage Deli in Midtown, the traditional Jewish deli is still alive and well in NYC.
If you are hungry for classic overstuffed meat sandwiches 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.
Ess, my friends. (Ess is both German and Yiddish for eat).
Lower East Side and Brooklyn
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 and it’s no-frills decor.
Katz’s is also famous for that memorable 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 Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray or Cream soda, which were the go-to soft drinks of my childhood. Either one is the perfect companion for a sky-high meat sandwich. Open 365 days a year.
- 205 E. Houston St., 212.254.2246 and an outpost at DeKalb Market, Brooklyn
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
Upper East Side and Midtown East
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 and the ex-friends around you.
With the recent opening of the Second Avenue subway, and a stop just two blocks away, 2nd Avenue Deli on First Avenue has gotten 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
Upper West Side
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, now mostly retired.
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 that’s 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
Times Square and Bayside
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
Boerum Hill, Brooklyn and Financial District
Traditional Jewish deli foods from Montreal include house-smoked meats and the Quebequois staple poutine – they even have a Poutine Week, including a version topped with housemade pastrami. 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.
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
Mill Basin, Brooklyn
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
Lower East Side
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, like my Bavarian mother used to make, and a dollop of schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) to spread on bread.
Reservations are recommended. Open for dinner only.
- 157 Chrystie St., 212- 673-0330
Brother-owners and Upper West Side natives Zach and Alex Frankel (former chef at Jack’s Wife Freda) grew up blocks from Zabar’s and Barney Greengrass, and serve up smokey reminders of classic staples in patrami-starved Greenpoint.
The shop’s hand-cut, thick-sliced pastrami is a fatty marvel. Get it plain, on rye with mustard, to savor the taste, instead of slopping it up Reuben-style, with sauerkraut and that pink gag-worthy stuff called Russian dressing, which I wouldn’t even use on a salad.
Matzoh ball soup is served at lunch only, but traditional bagels and lox are on the menu all day.
- 631 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 389-2302
Upper East Side
About as wide as a pickle, this is more luncheonette than deli, with more counter space than table space, but it serves up tender, smoky pastrami and turkey on Orwasher’s rye, one of the best bakeries in NYC. You can also order by the pound, or take-out.
It’s been one of the best-kept Jewish deli secrets for more than 20 years, and gets bonus points for being Kosher.
- 78th St. and Lexington Ave, 212-734-1500
Flatbush and Bay Ridge
This old-school Jewish deli serves just three items: pastrami, brisket and corned beef, plus sides. Get yours piled high on a roll or rye, with a side of brisket-drippings gravy. In two Brooklyn locations
- 533 Nostrand Ave.at Herkimer Place, 718-789-1155, the original location
- 7721 Fifth Ave. at 78th St., Bay Ridge, 718-333-5662
When Joseph Liebman first opened this Riverdale deli in 1953, it was one of nearly 100 Jewish delicatessens in the Bronx. Now, it is one of the few survivors.
Despite its faded decor, including Formica tables and green plastic booths, it’s a local landmark, serving up classics like beans and franks along with signature overstuffed smoked meat sandwiches, including house-made pastrami
- 552 W. 235th St. at Johnson Ave., 347-227-0776
The other survivor from when Riverdale was a Jewish neighborhood and my father’s butcher shop was a few doors away, this deli has been serving up traditional Jewish favs since 1960.
- 214 W. 231st St., 718 601-6665
At the bottom of the NYCOTC list, and not recommended
Lower East Side
The original Harry and Ida, who opened a traditional Jewish deli in Harlem in the early 1900s must be spinning in their graves over the abomination that two of their grandchildren have concocted for the two sandwich shops named for them.
Buttermilk-fermented sauerkraut? Anchovy mustard and dill mucking up perfectly wonderful thick-cut pastrami? A smushy crustless soft roll instead of crusty rye bread? Vegetarian chopped liver made out of beets? Sauerkraut with mint?
What’s next? Vegetarian pastrami wraps or tofu gefilte fish?
Also, I like my pastrami sandwiches with pickles on the side, not layered into the sandwich like a Big Mac.
Scotty, beam me up from this ersatz “vegan-forward” monstrosity that bills itself as a real Jewish deli.
- 189 Avenue A, Lower East Side
- Update – The Financial District location, at 11 Park Place, closed in August 2018 but remains on some outdated lists.
Have we missed one of your favorite NYC delis? Tell us about it.
email [email protected] and we’ll check it out.
This list of best NYC Jewish delis was published originally in January 2017 and updated in September 2018 and March 2019.