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!