In 2010, journalist David Sax published a book called Save the Deli that chronicles his quest to find the best examples of classic Jewish cuisine — pastrami, double-baked rye bread — in America.
What he found was a piece of America’s cultural identity was in a state of flux. Though the New York-style deli had been a crucial cultural institution in the early 20th Century, spread largely by immigrants and their children who began to move west across the continent, its importance had faded as American cities began to sprawl and tastes began to change.
But in recent years, younger entrepreneurs have been breathing new life into old delis, whether by growing a family business or by creating new recipes based on deli standards. Today, people from Oregon to Tennessee to Maryland are rediscovering these foods that helped shape America.
Here are 21 delis, some old and some new, carrying on the deli tradition outside of New York.
Brent’s Deli, Los Angeles
With storefronts in Northridge and Westlake Village, Brent’s Deli is a family-owned company that inherited a tradition fortunate name from its previous owners. Cleveland native Ron Peskin bought Brent’s Deli in the late ‘60s after having spent years working there as an employee. By pure coincidence, Ron had a son named Brent, so he kept the name. Brent helps Ron run the business today, too, alongside Ron’s daughter, Carie, and his son-in-law, Marc.
Canter’s, Los Angeles
Canter’s on Fairfax Avenue is an LA institution, serving as home to one of the West Coast’s best pastramis since the storefront opened in 1931. It’s still a family-owned business, too. Carter’s serves up classic deli fare 24 hours a day: The bread is freshly baked, and those pickles everyone loves are made in-house.
Evan’s New York Style Deli, Marblehead, Massachusetts
Evan’s Deli, which is a 45-minute drive up the coast from Boston, is definitely a cozy place to stop in for lunch. The New Yorker pastrami sandwich here is excellent. But if you’re in Marblehead for a nice summer weekend with family and friends, maybe out on the water or in one of the historic inns, have a look at Evan’s platters and catering menus.
Famous Fourth Street Delicatessen, Philadelphia
Famous Fourth Street Deli first opened its doors back in 1923 and for nearly 100 years has continued to pickle its own corn beef, smoke its own pastrami and bake its own bread. The team here makes a lot of food. We’ll let a couple of reviews we found speak to that:
“‘Go hungry’ to this ‘quintessential’ Jewish deli in Queen Village and ‘be prepared to take home leftovers.’”
— Zagat’s summary of customer reviews
“I have been searching for a long time for a place that sells that sandwich the size of your head filled with tasty deli meat. Maybe these are easier to find in the east coast but I’m from a place where they stuff skinny sandwiches with arugula and goat cheese.”
— Scott H. from Portland, Oregon, who left a five-star review on Yelp
The General Muir, Atlanta
A relative newcomer, The General Muir opened its doors in 2013 near Emory University and immediately won over locals in a city already famous for its own comfort food. Chef Ginsberg isn’t afraid to color outside the lines with his dishes (check out his Canada Day poutine, for example), but his classics are on point, too. As Atlanta Eater says of his Avenue D (salty lox, cream cheese, salmon roe, cucumber, and chives on a bagel): “[I]t’s hard to find a better example of this New York classic in the South.”
Jake’s Deli, Milwaukee
Like Manny’s, Shapiro’s and Kramarczuk’s below, Jake’s is one of the great Midwestern delis to open in the mid-20th Century — and one of but a handful remaining. Founded in 1955 at the site of a former butcher shop, Jake’s Deli does a corned beef Philly that you have to try the next time you’re in Milwaukee.
Kenny & Ziggy’s Deli, Houston
Kenny & Ziggy’s Deli does New York-style deli food, sure, but it comes in Texas-sized portions. “If I knew anyone would go hungry after eating at Kenny and Ziggy’s … it would break my heart,” co-owner Ziggy Gruber says.
Kenny & Ziggy’s menu is basically one big gastronomical tour of Central and Eastern European classics, so your best bet is to get a group of friends, order several dishes and share. Just remember to pace yourself.
Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen, Portland, Oregon
It’s funny what well-made pastrami can do to people. Kenny & Zuke’s deli in downtown Portland (there’s also a bagel shop on the northwest side of the city) is really the result of a couple of guys who just thought their city needed some better deli meats and bagels. So, they concocted their own pastrami recipe, rigorously taste-tested the results and began to sell it in small batches.
Co-founder Ken Gordon tells the story of what unfolded next: “We were now considered ‘artisans’ when all we were really doing was fabricating something the way it had always been done, before commercialization and standardization took its toll. But boy did people notice, and our pastrami took us from a little farmer’s market in Hillsdale to a standing room only brunch at my old restaurant, Ken’s Place, to the wildly successful Delicatessen that bears the name Kenny and Zuke’s.”
Wasyl and Anna Kramarczuk opened their deli in 1954 to reflect the foods they grew up with and loved as children in Eastern Europe. Kramarczuk’s has since gone on to become a local favorite, serving up sausages, fresh deli meats and Old World breads.
And if you can’t make it to the Twin Cities anytime soon, you can recreate some of Kramarczuk’s classic dishes with their cookbook, which is available for purchase online.
Langer’s, Los Angeles
Another LA deli founded during the golden age of Hollywood, Langer’s is famous across the city for its No. 19 sandwich, made of hand-cut pastrami, coleslaw, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on rye. If you live within 5 miles of Langer’s Westlake shop, they’ll deliver a No. 19 to your door. And if you live farther away, they’re happy to mail you one.
Food writer Kristen Oliveri, in her own roundup of America’s best delis, gives high praise to Langer’s matzoh ball soup.
A South Loop institution, Manny’s opened at its current Jefferson Street location in the mid-1960s, after spending a couple of decades looking to find a stable home as Chicago was undergoing massive changes.
“Even when Manny’s opened its location 52 years ago, it was among the last of the unique style of urban eatery — the home style, family-run cafeteria bubbling with the spirit of its neighborhood and attracting patrons from all walks of life,” the team says. “In those early years, if you lived or worked anywhere in the vicinity you could hitch a ride on the Manny’s van that circled around making deliveries and picking up customers for lunch.”
If you’re in the neighborhood, we recommend the Manny’s Chazzer, a sandwich made with corned beef and pastrami on rye, served with coleslaw and Muenster cheese with thousand island on the side.
Michael’s Deli, Boston
At Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Michael’s Deli has been serving Boston’s best corned beef for more than 40 years. New owner Steven Peljovich took over from the deli’s original founder, Michael Sobelman, in 2012. So far, so good: Just two years later, Zagat named Steven’s corned beef reuben one of the city’s best sandwiches.
Mitchell Delicatessen, Nashville
Though a fully modern establishment, Mitchell Delicatessen honors NYC deli traditions by prioritizing fresh, high-quality ingredients. In the nine years since the shop opened, this approach has won over thousands of Nashvillians.
“Mitchell Delicatessen first opened its doors in 2008,” the owners says. “The idea was simple: provide East Nashville with a full service delicatessen that only uses the highest quality, natural ingredients from local sources. This idea immediately resonated with local residents, so much so in fact, that the first day Mitchell’s was open for business the delicatessen ran out of food! Humbled and amazed by this enthusiastic response we immediately adjusted to the higher demand and began working furiously on expanding our menu and making our products even better.”
Nate ’n Al Delicatessen, Beverly Hills
In a prime spot just off Rodeo Drive, where it’s been for more than 70 years, Nate ’n Al is one of the classic LA delicatessens. The menu is huge and the ingredients are always spot-on, so you have to make some tough decisions when you walk through the door.
Brant Cox at The Infatuation recommends the stuffed cabbage: “This is Nate ’n Al’s signature dish and an absolute must-order. You can pretty much stuff cabbage with anything, but they go the route of ground beef and it’s wonderful.”
New York Deli News, Denver
Fast approaching its 30th year in Denver, New York Deli News was actually founded in Manhattan more than 50 years ago. And to this day, many of the ingredients the Deli News team cooks with are trucked in from New York. You’re not going to find a tastier, more authentic pastrami sandwich in this time zone.
Parkway Deli & Restaurant, Silver Spring, Maryland
A third-generation family business, Parkway Deli & Restaurant first opened its doors in 1963 and has since been the go-to spot in the DC area for traditional New York-style deli sandwiches. Parkway is always packed during lunchtime, but if you can squeeze in, there’s a pickle bar that will make the wait worth it.
Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, Berkeley, California
Saul’s specializes in fresh takes on Old World traditions. The eggplant schnitzel with Levantine spices such as muhammara and harissa is a perfect example. Any twists on classics are steeped in an understanding of tradition, though. Just take a look at Saul’s events calendar, and you’ll find cultural celebrations and even explorations of Jewish preserving techniques.
Also, the team at Saul’s makes its sodas from scratch.
Shapiro’s Deli, Indianapolis
At 112 years old, Shapiro’s Deli is one of America’s great turn-of-the-century delis. Over the years, the family-owned business has expanded to a few more locations beyond downtown Indy (there’s a deli at the airport and a brand new storefront over in Cincinnati now), but the Meridian Street location where Louis and Rebecca Shapiro first opened a grocery store in 1905 after emigrating from Russia is a destination in its own right.
Slyman’s, billed as the home of Cleveland’s “biggest and best” corned beef, is uncompromising in its approach to classic deli fare. And that’s earned the company generations of loyal customers.
“[A]t Slyman’s, nothing has changed in five decades,” Thrillist writes in its list of America’s best sandwich shops. “Nothing has needed to. The joint has stood tall among old-school New York-style delis since owner Freddie Slyman’s folks opened the doors to the no-frills diner back in 1963.”
Wise Sons, Five Locations in Northern California
With storefronts all around the Bay Area, Wise Sons has been growing quickly since it first opened up shop in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2011. That growth is in large part thanks to strict quality standards:
- The rye bread gets double-baked daily.
- The babka cake uses real chocolate and “lots of real butter.”
- The pastrami and corned beef get smoked for almost seven hours over hickory.
Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Celebrating its 35th year, Zingerman’s focuses on “education, flavor, tradition, and the integrity of ingredients has helped create a living culinary laboratory,” the owners say. But set aside the shop’s excellent fresh bread; its noodle kugel; and that Double Dip sandwich made with corned beef, pastrami, and Swiss and Muenster cheeses on rye and pumpernickel.
What makes Zingerman’s truly awesome is its educational events such as its kid’s bread-baking class, its Vinegars 101 class, and its class on honey and mead-making.
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