Even though it can trace its roots to the cuisine of Eastern Europe, the Jewish delicatessen is a purely American invention, refined over decades in cities where large populations of Jewish immigrants landed, especially New York City. Today, the Jewish deli canon is set in stone, and certain menu items are mandatory: corned beef, pastrami, brisket, tongue, matzo ball soup, potato pancakes, chopped liver, hot dogs, pickles, knishes. Truly great Jewish delis aren’t too easy to come by outside of a handful of major cities, but these 20 are the best in America.
Jewish deli fare is by and large unabashedly artery-clogging, so its popularity tends to ebb and flow, but two characteristics remain constant: timelessness and deliciousness. As new generations discover the salty, smoky, fatty, briny culinary masterpiece that’s called pastrami for the first time, they claim it as their own and run with it. Legendary establishments like New York’s famed Carnegie Deli close while new restaurants like Atlanta’s The General Muir open, but the Jewish deli, like baseball, endures.
Many of the best delis have changed little since first being opened more than a half-century ago; some are more than 100 years old and still family run. Many still make their corned beef and pastrami the old-fashioned way, using recipes handed down by their great grandparents. In the ever-shifting sands of the American culinary landscape, the Jewish deli soldiers on, past the fads and trends. Because at the end of the day, a corned beef sandwich with a pickle and a Dr. Brown’s is still one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat.