The Best Jewish Delis in NYC
It’s impossible to say the phrase “Jewish Deli” and not immediately think of eating a pastrami sandwich while looking out over smoking manhole covers in the streets, or that scene at Katz’s in When Harry Met Sally. Many of these essential New York City institutions have stood the test of time, while others put a modern spin on the tradition of eating matzo ball soup at a counter. Here are our favorite Jewish Delis in NYC.
Midwood has a sizeable Orthodox Jewish population, so it’s no surprise that one of our favorite Jewish delis is in this South Brooklyn neighborhood. There’s nothing touristy about Essen, it’s a deli that exists to serve its community — and to make the best pastrami sandwich in New York. Yeah, we said it. This isn’t a monstrous, too-big-to-eat affair. The pastrami is juicy, thinly-sliced, and piled high between two slices of soft rye bread. The matzo ball soup and latkes are both exemplary, and if you’ve never had a pastrami egg roll, you should try one here.
Sarge’s feels like a cross between a Jewish Deli and a diner in all the best ways. Ideally you want a corner booth, so you can stretch out and settle down for a long meal of gigantic proportions. Everything here is huge, from the “appetizer” portion of stuffed cabbage that could feed a family of four to the open-faced, melty-cheese-covered sandwiches. We’re partial to the #20, a tower of corned beef and pastrami on grilled rye bread, covered in broiled swiss cheese and sauerkraut. You’ll be full after this, but get the cheesecake anyway.
This Kosher lunch counter in the East Village has been open since the 1940s, and is the kind of classic New York place that makes us say, “goddammit I love B&H Dairy” every time we pass by. The Eastern European breakfast and lunch menus are extensive, but you can’t go wrong with the pierogies. Get them filled with potato or sauerkraut and mushroom, and you’ll spend your afternoon living in a sour cream-allium-filled paradise. Otherwise, try one of the soups or giant sandwiches (like the tuna melt on toasted, homemade challah). Feel free to bring your own newspaper and tattered hat for a full New York experience.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
The no-frills dining room at 2nd Ave Deli in Kips Bay may look like a hundred other diners, but this spot stands out because it’s one of the best delis in NYC. Every table automatically gets crisp pickles and vinegary slaw, and you should keep those things company by getting the thinly-sliced tender and smoky pastrami sandwich, a hearty bowl of matzo ball soup, and some buttery and flaky franks in blankets. Recite your order quickly because the servers have more than they can handle, and don’t ask them to toast any bread if you want to stay on their good sides. Note that this place serves no dairy, and they don’t take orders after 7pm.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
This Upper West Side institution is known for its smoked fish. When you walk in the door, you’ll have to make your way through the carnivalesque fish counter, weaving through stacks of sturgeon, before you get to the dining room. Settle in at a table and you'll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Smoked fish platters are the thing to order here (we recommend the controversial bialy over a bagel), but we also love their matzo ball soup, borscht, and chopped liver.
Katz’s is still good after 130+ years on Houston Street. It remains one of the few NYC tourist spots worth anyone’s energy, partly because of the sheer spectacle of how rapidly things move in here and partly because Katz’s Jewish staples still melt us into nostalgic puddles. Order pastrami on rye and a matzoh ball soup with one big ball, and don’t lose your ticket. We repeat: Do not lose the paper ticket they hand you when you order. We can’t confirm what happens if you do lose this ticket, but we imagine it involves being yelled at by someone who is powered by pastrami and impatience.
photo credit: David A. Lee
We always hope that restaurant reboots are as good as the one the Court Street Grocers team has pulled off in the old Eisenberg’s space. S&P Lunch combines everything you want in an old-school Jewish deli (counter-style seating, exceptional pastrami, life-affirming matzo ball soup) with modern touches like the option to swap meat for broccoli in your reuben. We particularly love the Dinkelburger, which is like if a burger and a reuben had an illicit child. If you like rugelach, you should order it here.
Eating pastrami on rye from Pastrami Queen feels as quintessentially New York as hailing a cab on 5th Avenue or stepping in a puddle and screaming a synonym for sexual intercourse that starts with F as small children pass by. This kosher Jewish deli in the East 70s has been open since 1956, which should be obvious when you see the straightforward counter setup and the TV playing NY1 in the back. It's where you should go to get the finest pastrami sandwiches with pickles on the side. The sandwich you order will be simple: fatty pastrami on half-inch thick rye with a swipe of dijon in between.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
A retail shop and Jewish deli counter with around fifteen seats on the Greenpoint/Williamsburg border, Frankel’s was opened by two brothers, one of whom is in the band Holy Ghost!. We’ll give him a pass for that exclamation point since he’s partly responsible for this place. The food here is absurdly good. From the lox, to the latkes, to the brisket, to the pastrami, egg & cheese, we haven’t eaten anything here that didn’t impress. Even the BEC (definitely not Jewish, definitely don’t care) is taken to another level. Whether you’re here to cure your hangover or show your out-of-town friends who get really excited about eating bagels in New York City a cool Brooklyn spot, you will leave satisfied.
photo credit: Kate Previte
The Russ & Daughters bagel experience should not take place without smoked fish. We repeat: You must order a bagel with some sort of fish topping, or at least a side of their excellent hot-smoke-cold-smoke salmon combination dip to dunk your bagel into. The near-translucent nova at this Lower East Side appetizing institution is sliced so fine that a puppet master could use it as a backdrop for casting shadows. Russ & Daughters staff expertly layer the soft, pliable fish drapery onto sturdy bagels. These chewy bagels, which are comparatively small, act as the ideal mattress for all of the toppings.