Overstuffed pastrami and towering Reubens. Deep bowls of rich, hearty soup. Massive pickles by the barrel. If you're looking for something in between fast food and a traditional sit-down restaurant, a great deli is more than just a shop for outstanding sandwiches — it's an oasis in the desert. It all started in 1888 when the first Jewish delicatessen opened in New York City. By the 1920s, the neighborhood deli was a cornerstone of Jewish-American culture that was in some ways, according to author Ted Merwin, as important to the community as the local synagogue. Today, the delicatessen is no longer the bastion of a single ethnic group but a staple of American cuisine — and amazing delis can be found not just in the crowded boroughs of New York City, but in every corner of America.
katz's | new york city
Prior to the arrival of Willy Katz in 1903, America's most famous Jewish deli was called Iceland Brothers after the siblings who founded it. It was established in 1888 on Ludlow Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side, although what would become Katz's Delicatessen later moved across the street to its current location to make way for a new subway line. While Katz's has long been famous just for being Katz's, the New York City institution is still best known for its pastrami, corned beef and brisket, which Katz's meat masters cure for up to 30 days, as opposed to the industry standard of 36 hours. Katz's is also a famous movie location.
slyman's | cleveland
Like Katz's in New York City, Slyman's in Cleveland is hardly a secret. From Rachael Ray to former President George W. Bush, bigwigs of all stripes have joined the common Clevelander in making a visit to Slyman's a must-do deli pilgrimage. Known for bread-topped walls of meat they call sandwiches — most famously the corned beef — Slyman's also supplements its menu with a few entrees it refers to as "hearty dinners."
famous 4th street delicatessen | philadelphia
A landmark in the food mecca of South Philly since 1923, the Famous 4th Street Delicatessen was run by the same family for 80 years. Although it was featured in movies like 1993's "Philadelphia," the traditional corner deli is most famous for its food. Its overstuffed sandwiches are available in regular, which is huge, or "zaftig," which is not even really a sandwich anymore.
schlesinger's | philadelphia
Although it doesn't have the word "famous" in its title like its neighbor to the South, Center City Philadelphia's Schlesinger's is well known among locals as arguably the best deli in the City of Brotherly Love. Joseph Schlesinger opened his first deli in West New York, N.J. in the 1930s after becoming one of the 2 million Jewish people who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe between 1881-1924. Schlesinger's specialty sandwiches are the crown jewel of the hefty menu, which also includes combos like brisket served between two potato pancakes with gravy.
mitchell delicatessen | nashville
Far from the iconic Northeastern spots where America's deli culture was born is Mitchell Delicatessen in Nashville. Mitchell puts a modern twist on the old-school deli, but is no less serious about its sandwiches than the old-timers. Although it has only been in business for a decade, Mitchell has cemented its claim to some of the best lunch fare in Music City, particularly the artisan sandwiches, in-house-cured meats, handmade sausages and an impressive selection of vegan and vegetarian offerings like seitan and tofu sandwiches.
kenny & ziggy's deli | houston
Ziggy Gruber, a third-generation deli man who ran successful delicatessens in both New York City and Los Angeles, was featured in a 2015 documentary about America's Jewish deli culture. His partner, Kenny Friedman, has roots dating back to New York's famous Carnegie Deli. Their operation, Kenny & Ziggy's, is now the premier deli in Houston, with two locations that both feature menus as big as their sandwiches — many of the 200 offerings can be customized to order.
zingerman's deli | ann arbor, michigan
Farmhouse cheeses, Black Angus pastrami and corned beef, homemade chopped liver, and estate-bottled oil with varietal vinegars are among the key ingredients that help Zingerman's consistently rank as one of America's top delis. The deli dates back to the early 1980s but has since grown into a self-perpetuating mini-empire — Zingerman's Bakehouse gives birth to the breads and bagels, Zingerman's Candy Manufactory dishes up the confections, the cheeses come from Zingerman's Creamery, and Zingerman's Coffee Co. selects, imports, roasts and grinds the beans that make the brew.
tamarind ave. deli | los angeles
Since opening the Bowery restaurant in 2005, George Abou-Daoud has become one of the most prolific restaurateurs in Los Angeles, with more than half a dozen successful and popular eateries popping up under his umbrella since then. Among them is the Tamarind Ave. Deli, which many of the shop's loyal local customers don't even know is part of the Abou-Daoud restaurant empire. A little slice of the East Coast just off of Sunset Boulevard in L.A., the deli is famous for its generous selection of sub-$10 offerings and its interesting variety of specialty sodas from around the world.
kramarczuk's | minneapolis
You'll take a step back in time to yesteryear Eastern Europe when you enter Kramarczuk's in Minneapolis. Kielbasa and head cheese are Old World delights, and the handcrafted sausages, some of which you'll see hanging from the ceiling, are available in more than 40 traditional varieties, including tea sausage, mettwurst, jaternice, kishka, and linguica. The in-house bakery churns out bread, pastries, sweetbreads, tortes and more using preserved traditional baking methods.
wise sons jewish delicatessen | san francisco
Founded in San Francisco's Mission District, Wise Sons brings East Coast Jewish comfort food to the Bay area, but insists on using fresh California ingredients. Virtually everything they serve is made in-house, including the brisket-derived corned beef and 7-hour hickory-smoked pastrami, which is first saturated in a proprietary brine. Their Jewish rye is double baked throughout the day and their handmade bagels are boiled in malt-inflected water before baking.
weiss deli and bakery | henderson, nevada
When you think of the country's best delis, Henderson, Nevada, might not come to mind, but from TripAdvisor to DoorDash, it's hard to find anything short of a 4.5-star review of Weiss Deli and Bakery. The chicken noodle soup is better than grandmom's — yes, your grandmom's, too — and the Mother of All Hash is as epic as the name implies.
mile end delicatessen | brooklyn, n.y.
Although Mile End has spread its goodness to a couple of locations in the American South, the apex of the franchise will always be the original location in Brooklyn, N.Y. While New York has been exporting deli culture for more than a century, Mile End actually imported its unique delicatessen style from, of all places, Canada. Modeled after the delis made famous by Montreal's Mile End neighborhood, the Brooklyn hotspot represents a unique fusion of classic Jewish fare and modern Canadian cuisine. Try the pierogies, the maple mustard-infused Hoyt dogs in a blanket, or the outrageously good matzo ball soup.
kenny and zuke's | portland, oregon
Kenny and Zuke's, which also owns Bagelworks in Portland, was founded on the idea that there simply wasn't a pastrami sandwich in Portland that the owners deemed fantastic. Whether or not that's true, owner Ken Gordon brought some truly amazing meat to the City of Roses. The oak-smoked pastrami has reset the bar in Portland, and locals and tourists alike flock to Kenny and Zuke's for not just the sandwiches, but the handcrafted pickles, rye, bialies, bagels and challah.
jake's deli | milwaukee
A Milwaukee staple since 1955, Jake's Deli still operates in a building with a long, proud history in the city, starting with a butcher shop that held the space as early as 1903. Corned beef is king at Jake's, and they've got the towering Reubens to prove it. Those massive Reubens are always topped with what just might be the best sauerkraut in the city and perhaps the country — oh, and if you're feeling lazy, they deliver.
roasters 'n toasters | miami beach, florida
Since 1984, Roasters 'N Toasters has brought a little taste of New York City to South Florida. The bagels are made in-house, as is the schmear. Standard deli fare — corned beef, pastrami, and brisket sandwiches — is complemented by outrageously hearty and huge specialties like smoked fish platters and comfort food entrees like meatloaf and stuffed cabbage.
harold's new york deli | edison, n.j.
North Jersey boasts a huge selection of quality delis, but few can match what Harold's in Edison is cooking. The locally famous deli/restaurant claims to be home to the world's largest pickle bar. Whether or not that can be validated, the soup selection alone is worth the price of admission. If you're so incredibly hungry that hot or cold borscht with sour cream just won't fill the void, go for the gargantuan 60-ounce fluffy matzo ball soup.
shapiro's delicatessen | indianapolis
It's hard for any deli that isn't Katz's to boast more than a century of tradition, but thanks to four generations of Shapiros dating back to 1905, the family's self-named Indianapolis deli can do just that. The Shapiro lineage can be traced directly to a little grocery that opened in Odessa, Russia, in 1795, before anti-Semitic pogroms sent many Russian Jews scrambling to the West. A little less than 200 years later in 1989, USA Today dubbed Shapiro's most famous offering "the best corned beef sandwich in the world." Thirty years later, that statement is still hard to argue with, and most of the ingredients are still locally sourced, including the cabbage, tomatoes, brown eggs, corn, asparagus, and more.
zaftigs delicatessen | brookline, massachusetts
Zaftigs Delicatessen is so authentically Jewish that it lists its year of establishment as 5757 — that's 1997 in gentile years. The menu is filled with imaginative modern creations that are made from classic ingredients, including the barbecue brisket quesadilla, pastrami breakfast scramble, and latke piccata — although the cheese blintzes just might be the star of the show.
the general muir | atlanta
Locals rave about the atmosphere and staff at The General Muir as much as they do the food. It can no longer be called a hidden gem thanks to a visit from the Food Channel, but even before the hype, an imaginative selection of open-face bagel sandwiches, noshes, and breakfast plates kept the crowds coming back for more.
manny's | chicago
Although the restaurant space and deli counter has undergone a major renovation in recent years, the folks at Manny's promise the Chicago landmark has the "same soul" as always. Ken Raskin now runs his late father Manny's labor of love, and Ken's son and full-time employee Danny represents the delicatessen's fourth generation of family. Favorites like Babka French toast and matzo brie rule the breakfast menu while during lunch and dinner, your options range all the way from oxtail stew and fried smelts to tongue and mushrooms and baked whitefish, depending on the day.
parkway deli & restaurant | silver spring, maryland
The Parkway Deli & Restaurant was serving up authentic New York deli fare long before the Food Network profiled it as one of America's top delis. While the TV heat introduced Parkway to the world, locals have long flocked there for not just the king-sized sandwiches, burgers and dogs, but the undeniable history. Parkway still maintains a copy of its original menu from when Lou Gurewitz founded the place in 1963 (his grandsons run it now). Back then, you could score a corned beef sandwich for $1.15.
attman's delicatessen | baltimore
Mark Attman now holds the reins of the delicatessen that bears the name of his grandfather, Harry Attman, who established the Baltimore landmark in 1915 — Harry's son/Mark's father Seymour was the second-generation proprietor. Attman's survived a century thanks to a vast, sprawling menu that includes the deli's famous combo sandwiches as well as the classic sandwiches that Attman's promises are "fit for a king or a queen."
nate 'n al delicatessen | beverly hills, california
Nate 'n Al has been a fixture in one of America's ritziest enclaves since it opened in 1945. To this day, tourists mingle with local families and Beverly Hills bigshots alike in the famous SoCal delicatessen, which is bursting with East Coast traditions. With the exception of belly lox and barbecued cod, all the deli's smoked fish products are flown in from New York, including their famous wild smoked Nova salmon.
mudgie's | detroit
Old World flavor meets modern style at Mudgie's, where classic deli fare is reimagined in dishes like The Barret, which pairs Sy Ginsberg corned beef with creamy coleslaw, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing on a warm onion roll. The Brooklyn piles house-roasted brisket and nitrate-free cherrywood-smoked bacon on a kaiser roll with sriracha beer cheese and caramelized onions. Oh, and there's also more than 100 boutique wines and beers along with a full bar.
2nd ave deli | new york city
New York City is crowded with so many stellar delis that it's hard for any single establishment to stand out from the crowd, but for more than a half century, 2nd Ave Deli has earned its place as a bona fide Manhattan institution. The deli's stature can be largely credited to the contributions of its magnanimous and magnetic founder, Holocaust survivor Abe Lebewohl, who was killed in a still-unsolved robbery/murder en route to making a bank deposit after closing one night in 1996. When Lebewohl was killed, the city came together in mourning and a Manhattan park was named in his honor. Today, celebrities, politicians, global power brokers, and average New Yorkers alike still converge on 2nd Ave Deli to get a taste of delicacies like pastrami deviled eggs, gefilte fish, the Nova sandwich, and heaping portions of what is arguably the greatest chopped liver this side of heaven.