Is Tupac still alive? Which co-worker ate your leftovers out of the work fridge, even though your name was clearly written on the container? These are all tough questions without clear answers. And here’s another one you can add to the list: what happened to traditional Jewish delis in Chicago? There are plenty of Jews in this city, something I can confirm firsthand as a member of the tribe, but the art of the Chicago Jewish deli like Katz’s in New York or Canter’s in LA went full post-Exodus Moses and got lost somewhere along the way. That is, except for the lone survivor - Manny’s.
At the corner of Jefferson and Roosevelt, Manny’s is THE classic Jewish deli in Chicago. And in true Chicago form, it’s also been a political hangout over the years (some crooks, some not). The area today isn’t as happening as it was when Manny’s opened more than 75 years ago, but the restaurant is still a destination spot. It has all the things you’d want from a classic Jewish deli - it’s family-owned, has a long history, there’s counter service, and to eat, there are stacked corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, matzo balls the size of your head, latkes, and black and white cookies to cap off any meal.
Manny’s has even managed to adapt to modern times without pissing everyone off and making old people clamor for the days before millennials ruined everything. A recent renovation provided a face lift and a new take-out deli counter that spruced up the space just enough without killing the old-timey vibes. We give them props for pulling this feat off, even if Manny’s is still only open until 8pm most nights, which is our one complaint.
Can Manny’s compete with the other recognizable delis throughout the country when it comes to food? That debate could go on for 40 years, and to be honest, the answer probably depends on where you grew up and your emotional allegiance lies. But there’s no denying Manny’s is good, and if you find yourself craving traditional Jewish deli food, Manny’s will always fill that void.
One day we’ll figure out how to stop all the Jewish delis from dying out, but for now we’re just happy Manny’s is still around.
Corned Beef Sandwich
The usual reason we’re craving Manny’s. Piled high with plenty of corned beef between two pieces of rye that are mainly used as receptacles to eat the meat. You always want a latke with it for an extra $1.
Like your meat a little fattier? Get pastrami instead of corned beef. A mix of both is always an excellent idea.
Matzah Ball Soup
If it’s cold or you’re sick, this is a staple. And you should probably get a bowl with any sandwich even if you don’t need both.
Don’t skip the potato knishes. Who doesn’t want a large potato ball stuffed with meat? These are a great side for sharing because there’s no way to not overdo it here.
Cookie or piece of pie before leaving? Don’t mind if we do. You should too.