American delicatessens come from a variety of cultural traditions, from Jewish to Southern. Whether the hybrid restaurant/grocery store is serving Reubens, tuna salad or corned beef sandwiches, the right combination of quality food and good service served with a helping of tradition seem to be a recipe for success for these 12 top delicatessens.
1. Zingerman’s Deli Ann Arbor, Michigan
Zingerman’s, which opened in Ann Arbor in 1982 as a small corner deli has grown into a $45 million community of businesses. Dubbed the “coolest small company in America” by Inc., the heart of the operation remains the deli, known for an outstanding selection of made-to-order sandwiches, a host of traditional Jewish dishes, farmhouse cheeses, estate-bottled olive oils, varietal vinegars and other foodstuffs.
2. Katz’s Delicatessen, New York City
Katz’s Delicatessen opened its doors in 1888 and is arguably one of the best-known delis in the country. First, it’s regarded for its fresh-cut pastrami that takes as long as 30 days to cure and perhaps just as well-known for the famous scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally (the Lower East Side institution has a sign hanging above the seat where Meg Ryan sat).
3. 2nd Avenue Deli, New York City
2nd Avenue Deli is actually located on 33rd street after a landlord dispute closed the original location in 2006, but the classics remain the same. This strictly kosher deli offers authentic Jewish cuisine such as kasha varnishkas, knishes, matzoh brei, cholent, noodle kugel, kippered salmon and more. There’s also new favorites like the Instant Heart Attack, with meat sandwiched between two potato pancakes.
4. Carnegie Deli, New York City
The family-owned and operated Carnegie Deli has been a New York City landmark since 1937. All of the meat is smoked from its own factory based in Carlstadt, New Jersey and pickles are cured in-house. The deli was put on the map in 1979 when The New York Times named its pastrami sandwich the number one pastrami against 22 other delis in New York City. The lines haven’t died down since!
5. Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, San Francisco
Wise Sons pairs classic Jewish recipes with the best California ingredients to make delicious fare that would make owners Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman’s bubbies proud. Frustrated by the lack of Jewish deli food available, they realized they had to make their own and smoked their first pastrami in a San Francisco backyard in 2010. They now have three locations in the area.
6. Canter’s Deli, Los Angeles
Famous for being open 24 hours a day except on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Canter’s Deli has been a Los Angeles staple since 1931. The bakery turns out bagels (even gluten-free versions), rye bread, pumpernickel, rugelach, chocolate babka and challah among other delights, twice daily. All signature sandwiches are served on rye, unless instructed otherwise.
7. Shapiro’s Indianapolis, Indiana
Kosher deli Shapiro’s has been serving Indianapolis since 1905. Best known for its cured meats, it’s world-famous for its smoked pickled tongue. The chopped liver is also a specialty as Shapiro's adds a little schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat) for good measure.
8. Mile End, Brooklyn, New York
This delicatessen is the hipster version of the Montreal Jewish delis of Owner Noah Bernamoff’s youth. Mile High is committed to breathing new life into old-world traditions. Everything is homemade, from the breads and bagels to slow-cured meats to smoked mackerel and whitefish salads. Gourmet options like Fried Artichokes with Cauliflower-Leek Puree are available at dinner.
9. David’s Brisket House, Brooklyn, New York
It’s probably obvious what David’s Brisket House is known for at its multiple locations in Brooklyn, but they prepare brisket three ways. One of the most popular is brisket with brown gravy on the side. This Jewish deli was originally opened in the 1970s and is now run by observant Yemini Muslims.
10. Kenny & Zukes, Portland, Oregon
This Jewish deli in Portland has been open only since 2007 but has been named one of the top 10 sandwich shops in the country by Bon Appetit and Food & Wine. They hold on to traditions like hand-cutting the pastrami to preserve juiciness.
11. Manny’s Chicago, Illinois
President-elect Barack Obama picked up three corned beef sandwiches and two cherry pies at Manny’s in Chicago just weeks after his presidential victory in 2008. The famed cafeteria is also famous for its sandwiches that pack almost a pound of meat as it is for its golden latkes. Some of Manny’s recipes date back more than 50 years.
12. Kenny & Ziggy’s Houston, Texas
The owner of Kenny & Ziggy’s is a third generation deliman, who knows his way around pastrami. In true Texas “supersized” fashion, the deli also serves softball-size matzo balls as well as textbook-perfect pickles.
This list of top delis showcases both old and new businesses all over the country. No matter how long their doors have been open, they have all been able to offer their loyal customers tradition as well as delicious food. What is your favorite delicatessen?
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