It is believed that the Germans might have invented the delicatessen, but certainly New York has taken that concept and made it its own: a style of restaurant, a culinary tradition, a pervasive flavor, heavy on the onions and garlic. For most New Yorkers, deli means pastrami and so we went on a search of the best deli’s in New York. New Yorkers know their pastrami and aren’t shy about telling you how to eat it: Add Russian dressing, a classic deli condiment. In a shocker, on Sept. 30, New York City’s famous deli restaurant, Carnegie Deli announced that it would be closing down at the end of 2016. The establishment which first opened in 1937 is known for its trademark pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. Now that the owners have decided to shut down the NYC restaurant, sandwich lovers and tourists will have to find other places to satisfy their sandwich needs. Below are 10 restaurants you should try that serve delicious sandwiches.
205 E. Houston St., at Ludlow St.; 212-254-2246 – This legendary orgasmic deli (see Meg Ryan’s performance in When Harry Met Sally) is also the only place in town that still carves all its pastrami and corned beef by hand. For most New Yorkers, deli means pastrami, and pastrami means Katz’s. This is simply a fact of life, like death and taxes. But Katz’s exceptionalism is based on more than the meat — which, in and of itself, can be great or middling, depending on the day and the cutter. It’s based on the establishment’s insistence on hand-slicing and the intimate relationship it fosters between customer and cutter (tips appreciated). It’s based on the clanking, chaotic living history of the place itself — less stuck in time than beyond time, somehow. The sprawling dining room alone is worth a visit, with its 1930s water, Formica tables, and throwback neon beer signs (include one that Budweiser itself wants to buy back from the restaurant). But the main draw is the black pepper- and coriander-laced pastrami, sliced to order by no-nonsense countermen, piled atop rye bread, and slicked with brown mustard. The ‘strami sandwich is the main event, but the brisket and snappy hot dogs are worthy audibles (or additional orders if you’re game for a belt-loosening meal).
- 2nd Avenue Deli
162 E. 33rd St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-689-9000
1442 First Ave., nr. 75th St.; 212-737-1700
It’s not on Second Avenue anymore, but everything else is the same at this kosher deli, once ranked as the best in the Lower East Side. (Now it’s the best in Murray Hill and the Upper East Side.) Like most New Yorkers, we have a soft spot for 2nd Ave, from back when it was actually on Second Avenue, before it relocated to Kips Bay and the Upper East Side. Many fans never get past the ever-popular pastrami and even better corned beef (we like them served as a pair, on twin rolls). But there are other worthy attractions, namely rich, earthy mushroom-barley soup; relative rarities like cholent, the long-cooked Sabbath stew; and especially chicken in the pot, which has doubtless cured many a cold in every neighborhood in the delivery zone.
- Artie’s Delicatessen
2290 Broadway, at 82nd St.; 212-579-5959 – Named in honor of the late restaurateur Artie Cutler (of Carmine’s, Dock’s, Ollie’s, Virgils, Gabriela’s, Jake’s and Columbia Bagels), this top-notch joint was based on the concept of the classic, 1930s Jewish delicatessen. Artie’s is a vision in tile, with simple flooring complemented by a display counter and tables appointed with an array of condiments. The place can get loud (especially at lunch), and it always seems to be busy … But, then again, what’s more New York than that? The old school eats range from the Famous Romanian Pastrami, piled high with peppery cured beef, to the open-faced steak sandwich served on an onion roll. And, for the truly indulgent, there are french fries topped with melted cheese, scallions and pastrami
- Pastrami Queen 1125 Lexington Ave., nr. 78th St.; 212-734-1500 A small, almost nondescript descendant of Kew Gardens’ late, great Pastrami King, this mini-deli punches way above its weight. And even though there’s lots worth ordering — jumbo knishes; a vinegary, vibrant “health” salad; garlic-laced fries — the pastrami is the thing. No less a deli maven than Mimi Sheraton is a devoted fan; she takes her smoky, spicy meat half-lean, half-fatty. Request it hand-cut, which does make a difference. So does the Orwasher’s rye it’s served on.
- Carnegie Deli – 854 Seventh Ave., at 55th St.; 212-757-2245 – This Old World deli charges $29.99 for a Reuben—albeit one with about a pound of corned beef and Swiss cheese. Get there soon as it will close for good on Dec 31, 2016
- Barney Greengrass Deli Ask the old Jews of the Upper West Side where to get the best lox, and they’ll point you to this classic appetizing shop, which has been in business since 1908. Like all delis worth their salt, Barney Greengrass has gruff, matter-of-fact servers and an appreciation for the classics: schmears, whitefish, smoke sable, and secret latkes for special customers. Sit down with a cup of coffee and an unbeatable bagel sandwich—smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato—and take in the throwback scene. Long live the “Sturgeon King”! Order this: Whitefish; smoke sable; bagel with lox and a schmear
- Carve Unique Sandwiches – 760 Eighth Ave., at 47th St.; 212-730-4949 – A theater-district takeout shop with a menu of carved-to-order rotisserie meats, such as Virginia ham and turkey, and quirky combinations like the “steak house”: herb-roasted beef with iceberg lettuce, tomato, crisp onions, crunchy hash browns, and blue-cheese dressing on ciabatta.
- Mile End – 97A Hoyt St., nr. Atlantic Ave.; 718-852-7510 – When Noah Bernamoff and Rae Cohen arrived here from Montreal, they revived a tradition that had been growing as stale as a day-old bagel. (They also brought us Montreal-style bagels, but that’s another story.) Besides introducing New Yorkers to smoked meat, the Canadian version of pastrami, the young couple challenged current deli convention by taking a seasonal approach and doing all their own curing, smoking, baking, brining, and pickling. Their locavore delicatessen belongs to a brave new breed that is attempting to preserve the grand tradition by returning to its hand-crafted roots. And let’s not forget what may be Mile End’s greatest contribution to the canon: smoked-meat poutine. Mile End serves deli food for the new generation. Owners Rae and Noah Bernamoff take cues from the Jewish deli traditions of Montreal (where Noah grew up), updated with top-notch ingredients and new-school flourishes like smartly chosen wine and craft beer. The already renowned smoked brisket (called smoked meat here) is seasoned aggressively with pepper and hand-sliced into big, meaty hunks glistening with fat; have it’s served traditionally on rye bread with a schmear of mustard, or chopped up and smothered on fries with cheese curds and gravy in the smoked-meat poutine. Head to the original location in Boerum Hill for brunch specials and weekday breakfast; at the NoHo location, you’ll find Sunday-night Chinese dinners and creative sandwiches like tuna salad with sliced soft-boiled egg, fried capers, and red onions on pumpernickel. Order this: Smoked meat sandwich, the Ruth Wilensky, chopped liver, poutine, smoked-meat burger
- Sarge’s – 548 Third Ave, nr. 37th St.; 212-679-0442 – So named because it was opened by a retired cop in 1964, Sarge’s is a sentimental favorite for its haimish vibe, its lovably dated Tiffany-lamp décor, and its 24/7 hours, which makes it a beacon in a city that, as you learn when you’re searching for a late-night latke, does indeed sleep. Souper Soup boasts not only a fluffy, grapefruit-size matzo ball, but also noodles and a delicious kreplach. There’s a $41.95 stunt sandwich called the Monster, and a trio of titanic cheese blintzes with sour cream that might be even worse for you than that. The place has character, and so does the menu, which suggests the unfettered reach of a Greek diner, with such deli digressions as fish and chips, barbecued ribs, and an entire burger section. As if this might be unthinkable, try to leave room for one of the many homemade cheesecake varieties including peanut butter
- Russ and Daughters – The original “appetizing store” debuted in 1914, and today stands as a throwback to a time when the Lower East Side was a neighborhood of new immigrants. The iconic storefront on East Houston Street stocks a broad selection of Jewish-American staples like hand-rolled bagels with cream cheese and lox, buttery pistachio halvah and unctuous, irresistible pickled herring. The renowned caviar selection spans Siberian and American roes, the bagels and bialys are made on-site, and pastries like cinnamon babka, raspberry rugelach and hand-dipped chocolates are the reason gym memberships exist. After 102 years on the LES, Russ & Daughters have opened a site at the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side. 179 E. Houston; (212) 475-4880 The Cafe, 127 Orchard St.; (212) 475-4881