Jewish delis have played a huge role in shaping American Jewish food, delivering pastrami sandwiches, knishes, matzah ball soup, and latkes to the table for at least 100 years. Delis are not just about the food — they serve up Yiddish culture (knish, kugel, kishke, kasha varnishkes), and history with every briny bite.
David Sax, a food and business journalist, wrote about the classic Jewish deli experience in Save the Deli: In Search of Perfaect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen. To him, delis represent “the tale of the immigrant counterman, the no-nonsense supplier, the kvetching customer, and the fourth-generation deli owner, all of whom are balancing the tastes of tradition with the necessities of a business.”
As we receive the unfortunate news of beloved institutions closing their doors — Carnegie Deli in New York and Jerry’s Famous Deli in LA, among others — we thought the best thing we could do would be to celebrate the ones still thriving, open for business. It’s hard to whittle down our list of favorites to just five, since all Jewish delis — described by Sax as “temples of worn formica and chipped dishware fronted by a Jewish surname in the possessive” — are definitely worth visiting.
Here the are, in order of their opening:
1. Katz’s Deli, NYC
Established in the Lower East Side in 1888 by the Iceland Brothers who later invited Willy Katz to join their team in 1903, Katz’s Deli has been among NYC’s greatest eateries from the beginning. Their pastrami is cured for 30 days, which they say is the secret behind their flavor-packed beef.
2. Shapiro’s Deli, Indianapolis
Since 1905, Shapiro’s Deli in downtown Indianapolis has been living by its motto: “Cook good, serve generous, price modestly, and people will come.” They specialize in mile-high pastrami sandwiches, chicken soup, and cheesecakes.
A photo posted by Canter’s Deli (@cantersdeli) on
3. Canter’s Deli, LA
Voted the best pastrami in LA by the LA Times and LA Weekly, Canter’s is a 4th-generation establishment that prides itself in serving classic Jewish dishes, in its 1950s-era cafeteria-style deli. Established in 1931, it’s one of California’s oldest Jewish delis.
4. Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen, Chicago
This deli has been a family-run business in downtown Chicago since 1942. According to one of our editors, the corned beef and potato latkes are a must-try!
5. Ben’s Best Kosher Gourmet Delicatessen, Queens
Ben’s Best opened in Rego Park, Queens, in 1945. Its legendary deli classics have been celebrated by grandmothers, Martha Stewart, The Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, President Bill Clinton, and Pope John Paul II. They make everything from scratch, even the rye bread.