Delis are to New York City as bistros and brasseries are to Paris; they carry all the necessities, can be found in every neighborhood—and most of them are really good.
We’ve narrowed it down to the best the Big Apple has to offer. Here’s where to get your deli on:
What It Is: Barney Greengrass’s eponymous Upper West Side cash-only institution.
What Our Inspectors Say: “It's the sort of spot families flock to for brunch—imagine a triple-decker (tongue, turkey, and Swiss cheese) on rye, paired with a pickle, of course. Whether you take-out or eat-in, items like chopped liver with caramelized onions and boiled egg are sure to sate. Finish with a black-and-white cookie, rugelach, or rice pudding, which are all local faves and fittingly so.”
What It Is: A Bronx landmark since 1953.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Residents wax poetic about the place: a true-blue deli with a neon sign in the front window, the grill slowly roasting hot dogs, and meat-slicing machines churning out endless piles of pastrami. Soulful classics include stuffed veal breast, potato latkes, and tongue sandwiches with tangy pickles. Some order to-go, but a hearty Reuben stacked with mounds of hot corned beef, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing is more enjoyable when freshly plated and served in a comfortable booth.”
What It Is: The iconic deli serving mile-high sandwiches on Houston Street. And yes, cinema fans can sit at the famed table to proclaim “I’ll have what she’s having.”
What Our Inspectors Say: “Walk inside, get a ticket, and don't lose it (those guys at the front aren't hosts—upset their system and you'll get a verbal beating). Then pick up your food at the counter and bring it to a first-come, first-get table; or opt for a slightly less dizzying experience at a waitress-served table. Nothing's changed in the looks or taste. Matzo ball soup, pastrami sandwiches, potato latkes—everything is what you'd expect, only better.”
What It Is: “This middle-aged Brooklyn treasure is as old-school as it gets,” per inspectors.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Part deli counter, part artsy dining room, and part party hall, Mark Schachner's beloved spot serves up all the classics—from beef tongue sandwiches to gefilte fish. The wildly overstuffed sandwiches (all served with homemade pickles and coleslaw) are a home run, as in soft rye bread with pastrami, which is steamed not once but twice, leaving the meat juicy yet hardly fatty.”
What It Is: Abe Lebewohl’s beloved “authentic Jewish culinary experience” located on the Upper East Side.
What Our Inspectors Say: “The menu remains as it should: kosher, meat-loving, and non-dairy with phenomenal pastrami, pillowy rye, tangy mustard, perfect potato pancakes, and fluffy matzoh balls in comforting broth. Have the best of both worlds with the soup and half-sandwich combination. Carve a nook during midday rush, when in pour the crowds. The deli also does takeout (popular with the Midtown lunch bunch), and delivery (grandma's latkes at your door). Giant platters go equally well to a bris or brunch.”
What It Is: Montreal native Noah Bernamoff’s modern version of the classic serving up Montreal-style smoked meat, homemade hot dogs and poutine.
What Our Inspectors Say: “A cured and charred brisket sandwich, stacked onto soft rye bread and smacked with mustard, is the stuff that dreams are made of. The smoked mackerel sandwich heaped with fennel slaw, avocado, and chunky tartar sauce is an eclectic take on the deli theme, which also reveals poutine and a Middle East-inspired falafel platter.”
What It Is: Widely regarded as one of the very best in the city, the century-old storefront on Houston opened the nearby cafe in 2014.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Regulars perch at the bar to watch the 'tender whip up a cocktail or classic egg cream, while serious diners find a seat and get noshing on hot- and cold-smoked Scottish salmon teamed with everything-bagel chips. The result? A thrilling contrast in flavor and texture. Caramelized chocolate babka French toast is crowned with strawberries for a sweet-savory treat; and "eggs Benny" with salmon, spinach, and challah never fails to peg a bruncher.”
Hero image courtesy of Katz's Deli.