The Great Deli Debate: Best Jewish Delis in America

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When I wrote the post about Conde Nast Traveler’s top rated zoos, a few friends were surprised because all I seem to talk about is food and coffee! And that’s true, especially since I returned from my last trip to New York City. I talk a lot about Jewish delis. Have you seen the movie Deli Man? I’ve seen it three times. It came out in 2015. It’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s 160 years of history and deli tradition and it makes you REALLY hungry!

My friends were asking me which of my favorite delis were left out of Deli Man, because they couldn’t possibly talk about all the great ones, and it got me wondering. Did anyone have a list of the top 10 delis, as they did about zoos? Yes! Would I agree? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Do I have a few of my own to add to the list? Well, of course :)

Before we get to the lists I found online (Conde Nast Traveler’s: 10 Best Jewish Delis in America), let’s first define, at least a little bit, what makes a Jewish deli a Jewish deli. In the last half of the 19th century and into the 20th century, Jewish immigrants began arriving in the United States, bringing their culture and their food with them.  Wherever they settled, these immigrants opened “delicatessens” that featured the foods they grew up with in Eastern Europe: bagels, pastrami, matzoh ball soup and chopped liver, for example. While you might associate Jewish delis with New York City, there are many delis across the country that serve Jewish-style home cooking.

Certainly a great deli has to have amazing corned beef and pastrami. I’d add that pickles should not be just an afterthought but hold their own in deliciousness. The menu should be extensive, the bread homemade, and a great bakery helps a lot. While these foods might appear on all menus in the Jewish deli food scene, not all delis get it right.

So which delis made the Top Delis in the United States list? A few delis made every list I looked at! Katz’s Deli in NYC always comes up as the number one deli. I was there on my most recent trip to NYC, and for sure, the corned beef was the best I’d tasted in a long, long, long time. It was delicious. The sour pickles were addicting! Katz’s opened in 1888 and is considered an institution. It’s a wild scene at Katz’s and it’s always busy. It’s a fun place to watch what others order and eat, too!

Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles opened in 1931 and is open 24 hours a day. It ranks right behind Katz’s in the number 2 spot. I’ve been there many times and know people who will drive from Long Beach and suffer the Los Angeles traffic just to eat at Canter’s! The bakery there is wonderful, and for sure it’s the go-to deli for many people in the LA area.

If we look to the middle of the US, two delis that always rank in the top ten are Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, and Shapiro’s in Indianapolis. I haven’t been to Zingerman’s Deli, though I really like their humorous mail order catalogue. Friends tell me that Zingerman’s isn’t so much a Jewish deli as it is a great place for creative sandwiches. Shapiro’s, on the other hand, has me wanting to book a trip to Indianapolis! Shapiro’s has been around since 1905 and many say it’s the best deli outside of NYC. If you’ve been, let me know if I should start planning a Shapiro’s trip right away :)

And Texas… how could there not be a great deli in Texas? Kenny and Ziggy’s New York Deli was featured in Deli Man. Ziggy Gruber, the owner, is a third generation deli man, and this place looks incredible. Each time I see the movie Deli Man, I say to myself, “I gotta get to Houston!” I’m actually planning a deli eating trip to Houston right after I finish writing this post!

If we head back to the East Coast again, there are other delis that consistently pop up on the top ten lists. In Brooklyn, Mile End Deli gets a lot of votes. They seem to be famous for their Montreal style smoked meats. I’ve had Montreal smoked meats when I’ve been in Montreal, so I’d be curious to try Mile End’s meats. Also in Brooklyn, David’s Brisket House sounds great. People have told me it’s the Katz’s of Brooklyn. That’s a lot of pressure to live up to.

Ben’s Best Kosher Deli, in Queens, NY was featured in Deli Man. From seeing Ben, a second generation deli man himself, in the movie, if I were in Queens, I’d stop in and try his deli. The Second Ave Deli in NYC has been around since 1954. It’s moved a few times but is still rated one of the top delis in NYC. I’ve been there but many years ago, so I’m not up on their current scene. I’d guess that given its loyal customer base, it’s still a great deli.

Harold’s Deli in New Jersey is my aunt and uncle’s favorite deli. I’ve never been, but how can I not give a nod to their favorite? It does pop up on many top deli lists. I actually have a favorite deli in Philadelphia: Schlesinger’s. A few years ago, I attended a wedding in Philly. I tried Schlesinger’s and went back a total of three times in 4 days! Great old style deli with a wonderful pickle bar.

On the West Coast, Langer’s Deli in Los Angeles makes every top ten list. I actually hadn’t heard of it. It’s been around since 1947, so I’m not sure how I’ve missed it all these years, but now I’m looking forward to trying it when I’m in LA.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give my hometown deli a nod because even though it doesn’t make the top ten lists, it’s really great. DZ Akin’s Deli in San Diego opened in 1980 and is an institution, at least in San Diego! I was recently in a highly rated deli in Boston and two of the dishes we tried were definitely better at DZ Akin’s. So if you’re in San Diego and craving deli, especially chopped liver, DZ is the place.

There’s also a new style of deli popping up around the country. When I say new style, it means a new take on classic dishes. Wise Sons in San Francisco gets a lot of praise. My friends keep sending me copies of their menu and from what I see, I may have to try it next time I’m in SF.

So let the great deli debate begin! What’s your favorite deli in the US? Have you tried any of these top ten ranked delis and not liked them? Let me know in the comments below!

37 thoughts on “The Great Deli Debate: Best Jewish Delis in America

  1. dhammer53

    Bens in NY? Brent’s in LA. Feh.

    My cantor, Jack Mendelson from NY, married Ziggy (Deli Man). He was in the movie.

    Reply
  2. Brian Cohen

    I have written several articles pertaining to Kosher and Kosher-style delicatessens; and my favorites are Ben’s Best Kosher Deli — NOT to be confused with Ben’s in Manhattan, to which my buddy Flatbush is referring in the comment above — and Katz’s Deli.

    I also do like Mill Basin Deli in Brooklyn. I would be shocked if dhammer53 never ate there, as it was close to his home in Brooklyn.

    The other delicatessens — including Shapiro’s in Indianapolis, which I reviewed, and Nate’n Al in Beverly Hills — are okay to good; but they do not measure up to the ones in New York, in my opinion.

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      Katz’s is hard to beat, I agree. I also really like Barney Greengrass for smoked fish. Thanks so much for stopping by, Brian!

      Reply
  3. Mike

    would encourage anyone passing through Philadelphia to/from the West of it to stop by Bala Cynwyd, PA which is a town along Philly’s western boundary (aka the “Main Line” area). Big Jewish community there that, along one city block, has 2 great deli’s (Hymie’s and Murray’s, neither Kosher) and several Kosher restaurants. Not only can you eat your face off but it’s a block with great street life at the right times (e.g. not on Shabbat).

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      Thanks for the suggestions, Mike. I’m in Philly from time to time to visit with family, so we’ll be sure to try these places out.

      Reply
  4. MFK

    Langer’s is legit. You have to try it next time you’re in LA (FYI-closed on Sundays). I’m usually a corned beef guy, but their pastrami is so good, I haven’t had a corned beef sandwich there in over a decade. I had a #19 for lunch two days ago, in fact. Yum!

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    1. Mallthus

      Langer’s is good. Better than Canter’s, I’d say. Neither are as good as the dearly departed Junior’s.

      Reply
  5. dhammer53

    Brian,

    Went to Mill Basin many times, the last with Jim – magic111. It’s not what it once was, but it still survives.

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      I was hoping the Deli Women would add to the deli debate:) Thanks, Liz. My friends who love Zingerman’s are all UM alums. I use Zingerman’s catalogue. What’s your favorite sandwich?

      Reply
  6. Steve H

    I would say that, while Katz’s has the best pastrami, Langer’s has the best overall sandwich. Their No. 19, not a traditional sandwich, has home baked rye, Coleslaw, cheese and pastrami. Sacrilege to many purists, but it’s better than Katz’s, which has amazing meat, but the bread kind of falls apart and is almost an afterthought.

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      Thanks for the tip! Not sure why it didn’t make any of the lists I saw. I just looked at Manny’s menu and it looks like the real deal. What do you eat there??

      Reply
  7. BothofUs2

    I usually get the pastrami on rye, with potato latke, matso ball soup. Everything is really good there, though. It is done cafeteria style, they serve it up with comments and jokes while you wait for them to slice the meat and dish up what you want. Some of the counter staff have been there many years, and have served plenty of politicians and celebrities. Lots of stories!

    Reply
  8. Boraxo

    This survey lost all credibility by including an SF joint. There are no delis in SF that belong in the top 50. Personally I would rank Canters above Katz’s because it is much more user friendly and the prices are not jacked up. Langers has been great for years, and I’m also partial to Juniors on the West Side though I heard it closed. Zuckys was great, too. I really don’t miss Carnegie or Stage, the staff attitude was never acceptable.

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    1. Steve H

      Carnegie had the best corned beef in NY (as opposed to Katz’s, which has the best pastrami), and Stage had the best Blintzes. But, you’re right. The staff attitude at both was just. . . surly. And what was with the :sharing fee” at Carnegie? $20 for a sandwich wasn’t enough?

      Reply
    2. Mallthus

      Junior’s did close. Their location was taken over by Lenny’s Deli, which I’ve not tried, but people seem to like it.

      Reply
      1. Shelli Post author

        HI Mallthus, In Deli Man they spend quite a bit of time talking about so many delis closing, and that was even before the Carnegie closed. I remember when Junior’s closed. At the time I read an interview with the owner of Junior’s. I just dug up the interview and here’s his take on the deli scene.

        “Part of the problem is younger customers, said David Saul, who with his brother John had inherited Junior’s from their father, Marvin. The deli always drew an older crowd, one that grew up eating at diners and other family-centric eateries. But millennials, ages 18 to 34, “don’t understand delis or comfort food” and are “used to quick food and instant gratification, going through a drive-thru in 10 seconds,” Saul said.

        Reply
          1. Shelli Post author

            Thanks for posting your article, Brian. Great read! It had me missing bialys, a lot. And one of your commenters mentioned Del Vista Boca, which made me think of Seinfeld episodes :) Whenever I’m on the east coast all I eat is deli. From what my commenters said, I’m looking forward to trying Langers in LA. I think it’s a lot of factors, but no matter which way you “slice it”, still seems like a shanda that so many have closed. If you haven’t seen Deli Man, you’d like it. Hope to meet up someday soon. The Dr. Brown is on me!

  9. Shelli Post author

    Great response, Boraxo. I like strong deli opinions! I’ve for sure got to get to Langers. I wanted to make one last trip to the Carnegie, for old times sake, before they closed at the end of 2016 but never made it.

    Reply
  10. cj

    Harold’s much better then NYC deli’s

    Your in philly you must go to reading market in downtown philly its not a jewish deli but was voted best sandwich in the USA in 2014 or 2015 and when in reading market go to Tommy Ninicks and get the pork and cheese Tommy ‘s is easy to find its the place with the long line but it moves fast

    They have many types of sandwich’s incase you dont eat pork

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      My aunt and uncle will be happy to hear you vote for Harold’s, They’ve been going there for years. Thanks for the tip on the Reading Market. We’ll check it out. Have a great weekend, cj.

      Reply
  11. Debbie

    Pastrami and Friends should be on the list. They are in Commack New York. They have the best Pastrami and corned beef anywhere, and theyslice it paper thin! I grew up on Jewish deli food. I know!

    Reply
    1. Debbie

      By the way, Pastrami and Friends is located on Long Island which has a huge Jeeish population that came mostly from Brooklyn after WWII. Katz’ deli is good but the slice the meat too thick

      Reply
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  13. Chris

    Wow, I live in San Diego just a few miles from DZ Akin’s Deli, yet I’d never heard of it. I love delis, so now I can’t wait to try it.

    Reply

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