Even though it can trace its roots to the cuisine of Eastern Europe, the Jewish deli 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.
With three Miami locations and one in Aventura, Roasters ‘N Toasters has made a name for itself as Florida’s premier Jewish deli. In business since 1984, this deli hits all the right notes: corned beef, pastrami, brisket, roast beef, tongue, Reubens, a wide variety of gutbusting combo sandwiches, smoked fish, matzo ball soup, and homemade baked goods. If you’re near Miami and have a hankering for some good old-fashioned deli fare, Roasters ‘N Toasters is the place to go.
Established in 1945 and essentially unchanged since then, Nate ‘n Al is still run by the founding Mendelsohn family. They’re famous for their house-made pastrami, corned beef, brisket, smoked salmon, potato pancakes, coleslaw, rye bread, tuna salad, and especially the hot dogs — these quarter-pound extra-long dogs are the stuff of legend.
James Camp Photography/Yelp
The General Muir is a deli unlike any you’ve seen before. Chef Todd Ginsberg’s modern and upscale restaurant is subway-tiled and decidedly gourmet, but all the classics are still there. Corned beef, pastrami, matzo ball soup, bagels, and lox are all made in-house, and while the breakfast and lunch menus resemble what you’ll find at a standard Jewish deli, the big guns come out at dinner, when entrées like hanger steak with blackened winter radish and purple turnip, shaved baby celery, saffron and rutabaga puree, and beef jus; braised short rib with poppy spätzle, glazed carrot, roasted apple, baby mustard greens, and red wine jus; and charred octopus with riso di nero polenta, charred lacinato kale, Sea Island red peas, pickled red peppers, lemon, and chile oil come out to play.
Veronique L./ Yelp
The highlight of Baltimore’s “Corned Beef Row” since it first opened its doors in 1915, Attman’s is a counter service landmark that’s a textbook Jewish deli, unchanged for decades and run by the fourth generation. Corned beef and pastrami come out of steaming kettles throughout the day, and the matzo ball soup, homemade pies, brisket, rare roast beef, knishes, and jumbo potato pancakes are spot-on. Regulars also swear by Attman’s jumbo hot dogs and the (decidedly un-kosher) barbecue ribs, and it’s one of the last places in Baltimore where you’ll find coddies, deep-fried balls of cod and potatoes sandwiched between two saltine crackers with a dab of mustard.
Locals line up around the block to get into the two locations of Zaftigs, the best deli in the Boston area. It’s most famous for its breakfast (which is thankfully served all day), with standouts like ham and cheese Benedict, pastrami scramble, chocolate French toast with raspberry sauce, buttermilk pancakes, smoked fish platters, and potato pancakes. But the sprawling lunch and dinner menu isn’t to be missed, either; specialties like chili and Cheddar “loaded” latkes, homemade borscht, stuffed cabbage with cranberry-tomato sauce, chicken pot pie, and slow-cooked brisket “Bolognese” with egg noodles are also must-trys.
Chef-partner Ziggy Gruber is a third-generation deliman, plying his trade for literally his whole life, with a stop at London’s Cordon Bleu along the way. He’s run delis in both New York and Los Angeles, but today he calls Houston — and Kenny & Ziggy’s — home. Houstonians pack into his deli for housemade pastrami, corned beef, softball-sized matzo balls, knishes, smoked fish flown in from New York, blintzes, stuffed cabbage, and other traditional Jewish favorites, all made with love to Gruber’s exacting specifications.
Every sandwich packs in nearly a pound of meat at Manny’s, which has been going strong for more than 70 years. Crowds pack into the cafeteria-style restaurant on a daily basis for said sandwiches (Barack Obama is a fan of the corned beef), Reubens, brisket, short ribs, meatloaf, and other hearty and comforting fare. No visit is complete without a slice of homemade pie.
Kenny & Zuke’s may be a relative newcomer on the national Jewish deli scene (it’s less than 10 years old), but they still do things the old-fashioned way; the pastrami alone went through dozens of iterations before the owners struck perfection (with oak smoke). That pastrami, along with house-made corned beef, chopped liver, roast beef, meatloaf, chicken noodle soup, and pickles, have put this place on the map.
One of the borough’s only surviving kosher delis, Ben’s opened in 1945 and is today run by third-generation owner Jay Parker. Parker takes as much pride in his business as his grandfather did, and still does things the old-fashioned way, using recipes that haven’t changed in over 100 years: Rye bread is custom-baked daily, pastrami is still cured in barrels and smoked for six hours, and many of the same vendors from day one are still in use. If you want a sense of what a real kosher New York deli is like — and what it was like — come out to Queens.
A little bit of the Old World comes to the Mission District with Wise Sons. Pastrami is made in house and smoked over hickory, bread and bagels are fresh-made on-premises daily, produce is local, and all meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free. Popular offerings include seasonal vegetable hash, patty melt, pastrami or corned beef on rye (or in a Reuben), matzo ball soup, chopped liver toast, pastrami cheese fries, and egg creams. It’s about as comforting as it gets.
David’s Brisket House/Yelp
Serving Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood for more than 50 years, David’s was founded by a Russian Jew and is today owned by three Yemenite Muslims who keep the place strictly halal. Still, David’s is about as Jewish a deli as you’ll find in these parts. The menu is much smaller than its Manhattan counterparts, but when you come to David’s, you try the corned beef, the pastrami, and of course the brisket. It’s the pastrami (which is steamed at high heat and slowly cooked throughout the day) that’s the real winner; it’s almost a crossbreed between pastrami and barbecue, and when enjoyed in such a no-frills, old-school dining room, there’s nothing else like it.
The Jewish sandwich shop Mile End is strongly influenced by the Montreal roots of founder Noah Bernamoff. Opened in a converted Brooklyn garage in 2010, this shop quickly grew in popularity as their unique (to New York, at least) offerings became more and more popular. Mile End’s Canadian heritage manifests itself throughout the restaurant’s menu — for example, in their unique meat-smoking process. Traditionally, meat-smoking consists of soaking meat in brine, curing it, and then smoking it. But Mile End cuts out the brining process and goes straight to curing and smoking, creating a wholly unique product.
The menu item that’s most influenced by the process is the Montreal-style “smoked meat” sandwich, which accounts for 30 percent of the shop’s sales. The brisket is dry-cured for 12 days, then smoked for 16 hours — a little mustard and rye bread is all that’s needed. Even if you don’t go with the smoked meat, you can’t go wrong with this shop’s Montreal-style poutine, the best in New York.
Zingerman’s opened its doors in 1982 and has since grown into a huge organization encompassing its flagship deli, a bake house, and a candy manufacturing division among other businesses. All of their soups are made from scratch and include matzoh ball, Jewish chicken broth, and kreplach. It also features knishes, chopped liver, potato latkes, and noodle kugel. As for the main event, most customers flock to their corned beef, Reubens, and other specialty sandwiches like Jon & Amy’s Double Dip, made with Zingerman’s corned beef and pastrami, Switzerland Swiss and Wisconsin muenster cheeses, as well as hot and regular mustards on pumpernickel and rye bread.
Since opening back in 1947, Langer’s Delicatessen has grown to become one of the premier delis on the West Coast. In 2001, the James Beard Foundation gave Langer’s the Bertolli America’s Classics Award, which “is presented each year to a select few restaurants noted for timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the history and character of their communities.”
The crowning achievement here is the No. 19. It’s made with hard-carved pastrami, which is smoked and steamed for hours, creamy coleslaw, and Russian dressing, between two slices of double-baked rye bread. It’s the best Reuben you’ll ever have.
Everything at Harold’s in Edison, New Jersey, is super-sized. A cold smoked fish platter filled with whitefish salad or sable feeds two to three people. The deli sandwiches feed the same (maybe even more) and offer items like corned beef, brisket, hot pastrami, and beef tongue. Whatever you decide to go with at Harold’s, be sure to swing by the world’s largest pickle bar — a real sight to behold.
Sarge’s Delicatessen & Diner/Yelp
Serving hungry New Yorkers from a small Third Avenue storefront since 1964, the 24-hour Sarge’s boasts a menu that contains more than 200 items, running the gamut from traditional Jewish fare (lox, eggs, and onions; chopped liver; stuffed derma; matzo ball soup; smoked fish; corned beef; pastrami) to traditional diner fare (hot open sandwiches, Greek salads, burgers, stuffed French toast, meatloaf) to the completely unexpected (16-ounce New York strip, Southern fried chicken, fish and chips, barbecued spareribs). They’re also making some of New York’s best homemade cheesecakes. It’s old-school to the max, quintessentially New York, and thankfully completely unchanged following two years of renovations after a catastrophic 2012 fire.
Shapiro’s Delicatessen and Cafeteria has been serving loyal customers in Indianapolis since 1905. Best known for its cured meats and sandwiches piled high on rye or egg buns, it’s also world famous for its smoked pickled tongue. Their corned beef is sourced from Vienna Beef in Chicago and the pastrami is shipped in from Brooklyn. Their most famous creation, however, is the peppered beef, which is made by salting, washing, curing, peppering, smoking, and seasoning lean beef, and it’s a must-order.
After its humble beginnings on the East Coast in Jersey City, this 24-hour Jewish deli has been a Los Angeles staple since 1931. Its bakery is the heart and soul of the operation, where it pumps out items like bagels, rye bread, pumpernickel, and challah several times daily. All of its signature sandwiches like pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, or oven-roasted turkey are served on rye, unless the customer requests otherwise. Today, it also caters to the vegetarian and gluten-free communities by offering gluten-free buns, bagels, and matzoh.
Abe Lebewohl was a true New York original: a Polish immigrant who came to America in 1950, his first job was a soda jerk at a Coney Island deli, where he graduated to counterman. In 1954 he invested his life savings in opening a small luncheonette on Second Avenue and 10th Street in Manhattan, which over the years became the beloved institution known as the Second Avenue Deli. In 1996, at the height of the restaurant’s success, Lebewohl was murdered while walking to the bank to make a deposit, and his death made national news.
The original location closed in 2006 after a landlord dispute and is now a bank (such is sadly the way of many New York institutions), but Lebewohl’s legacy lives on at the two locations that have opened in Manhattan since. One of just a handful of strictly kosher delis remaining in New York, Second Avenue is the place for authentic Jewish cuisine in New York: kasha varnishkas, knishes, matzoh brei, cholent, noodle kugel, kippered salmon… the possibilities are endless, artery-clogging, and delicious. If you have to order one thing, though, make it the hot pastrami on rye. Thinly sliced, perfectly spiced, and smoky, it’s one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat. So drop by, raise a glass of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray to Abe, and enjoy some real-deal Jewish deli fare.
Katz’s Deli, on New York’s Lower East Side, is a New York institution. Its corned beef and pastrami, made on-premises and sliced to order, legendary, and the simple act of taking your ticket, standing in line, bantering with the counterman, and finding a table has become as New York an exercise as, well, eating a hot pastrami sandwich.
Katz’s opened its doors in 1888, originally serving many of the immigrant families on the Lower East Side who landed in New York. Word to the wise: You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you leave without sampling the corned beef and pastrami on rye with some deli mustard. The corned beef is brined and steamed, the pastrami is cured and smoked, and nobody does it better. Receiving a small plate with a taste of what’s to come from the counterman as he hand-slices your meat is one of those can’t-miss New York culinary experiences, surpassed only by the first bite of your sandwich. Katz’s isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience. And more so than for any other deli in New York (especially that touristy one near Times Square), no visit to the city is complete without a trip to Katz’s. While a towering high-rise is currently under construction next-door, the sale of the restaurant’s air rights by 29-year-old owner Jake Dell have guaranteed that thankfully this New York legend won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.