HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


NYC Delis

Ok, you can get very good Italian food outside of Italy, you can get very good Chinese outside of China, you can get very good Indian outside of India, and on and on...so why can't you get a great deli with great pastrami and corned beef like you can get in NYC...say at Katz's Deli somewhere other than NYC???

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I live in Southern Cal and I love the Hat for Pastrami. It's actually really good!

    I know what you mean though. Living in Orange County I always wonder why there are no good deli places out here.

    Hmmmm?? Maybe I should open up a deli like Carnegie.

    We used to have Jerry's Famous Deli! Haha!

    5 Replies
    1. re: Jaytizzle

      You've got to try Tommy Pastrami. The original on Harbor and Sunflower is, IMO, the best of the lot, though the franchises are good as well. Tommy owned over a dozen delis in NY and when he retired to So Cal, he couldn't put the deli behind him! He still uses his East Coast meat supplier and the quality is superb! I've introduced Tommy Pastrami to many of my NY friends and the ONLY complaint I heard was... the pastrami was a little too lean LOL, but that comment was followed by the remark that too lean really wasn't a fault.

      I think the brisket with a side of juice is the best sandwich, but also love the Ruben and the Italian sub. hmmmm If it wasn't Ash Wednesday, I'd be stopping their on my way home.........

      1. re: janetms383

        Delicious, I'm sure, but you're not talking "NYC Deli" when you mention Italian subs.

        1. re: CindyJ

          Try the pastrami or corn beef, then report back to me

          1. re: janetms383

            I didn't say it wouldn't be good. I only said that when Italian subs are on the menu, you're no longer talking about the type of NYC deli the OP was asking about. (I'm not sure if you get that distinction.)

      2. re: Jaytizzle

        Do you seriously consider the pastrami at The Hat and that at Katz's to be anything other than a meat with the same name??? I happen to like both but would never recommend either one to anyone looking for the other.

      3. But you can. You just can't do it in Los Angeles after 4 PM, which is when Langer's closes.

        1. Well, the people in Montreal would say "pastrami? corned beef? why bother? We've got smoked meat". They consider corned beef/pastrami poor cousins to their supernal smoked meat.

          And finally, in Toronto, we have our own unique taste - Zane Caplansky's fusion of southern flavours with smoked meat. It's not like anything I've ever tasted before, but geez, it is good!

          1. I've been asking that question for a long, long time. Those delis that try sometimes come close, but in the end, they always fall short. A NYC deli is the whole package -- it's the pastrami, the corned beef, the rye bread, the pickles, the franks w/kraut, the knishes, the tantalizing aromas when you first walk in, and of course, the attitude. Now, I'd be willing to give in a little on the 'tude in exchange for the real deal on the rest of the stuff. Or maybe it's that "New York State of Mind" that makes all the rest of it possible. I don't know, but I've been known to travel 2+ hours up the PA and NJ Turnpikes to feed a craving for pastrami on rye at Artie's on B'way.

            12 Replies
            1. re: CindyJ

              I don't get why the NYC deli experience has been unable to be duplicated elsewhere (and I am not talking about the "tude" but the food). We have a large Jewish population in the greater Boston area and you can get good, cold corned beef but no pastrami like in NYC...nothing even close and how I hate to admit that NYC does something better but they just do!!

              1. re: bakerboyz

                The common belief as to why NY/NJ area products cannot be duplicated is the water available from this area. NYC water has long been noted as very clean and fresh tasting.....while I am not a scientist, in the case of preparing products, it's been said it has to do with the mineral contents and the fact the water is soft and not hard.

                The water is also the reason why we have great bagels, pizza and crusty Italian bread unique to this area.

                (CindyJ), the cut-off for this water is believed to New Brunswick.....but i believe it is the Newark/Harrison area, as that is were many of the great New Jersey bakeries hail from. I also seem to recall there was a rumor was the Carnigie Deli had their meats prepared out of Secaucus. Best Provisions, which I think is a quality meat purveyour is also located out Newark.

                1. re: fourunder

                  I cannot believe that it's just the water!!!

                  1. re: bakerboyz


                    Then why do you suppose you cannot get any good Sourdough Bread outside of San Francisco? Do you think it's the flour or yeast?

                    1. re: fourunder

                      Actually, it IS the yeast -- traditional San Francisco sourdough is made with wild yeast, which varies depending on the location. And why would the water have anything to do with pastrami??

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek


                        I am aware it is suggested /determined to be the yeast.....but theoretically, you could take the same yeast off the walls or wherever it is started and bring it to New York....it still would not come out the same...and I believe it has been tried many times over. As I mentioned....it is believed to be a combination of factors....with water being the common denominator and being an integregal part of the equation.

                        With regards to the water and Pastrami.....the meat is brined before it is smoked with spices. you can purchase the same meat from the same purveyour, purchase the exact same spices and have the recipe....but without the water, it's just ......whatever you are trying to make and close...but not the original....so they say.

                        With regards to baking....there have been many start-up pizzerias in South Florida made by transplanted New Yorkers who have their water shipped in tanks to make their dough.....extreme yes, but actively done for their desire to be a little different and make a better product.

                        1. re: fourunder

                          No, in the case of SF (Bay Area, really) sourdough, it really is all about the yeast. You can't "take it off the walls," you must allow it to collect in your fermenting starter from the air. You can bring the starter to another location, but because creating bread means exposing it to air, the local yeast strains will infiltrate and take over. It's not the water here in the Bay Area that creates our distinctive sourdough tang, it's the air!

                          Concerning deli, I doubt the water has anything to do with it. Rather, I think it's the talent, the artisanship that doesn't travel far from the NY area and its iconic Jewish delis.

                  2. re: fourunder

                    I've heard that said about NYC bagels ... and I believe it, because bagels are boiled before they're baked. But how does the water supply affect corned beef or pastrami?

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      The water in the steam table would permeate the meat to some extent.
                      But I think fourunder is talking about the manufacturing plant itself, and the brine.

                      1. re: coll

                        coll and CindyJ,

                        (coll), yes you are correct. My comments meaning was that it was due to the process during the brine with the water available in the region.


                        The bagels in the area are not better simply because they are boiled before baking...it's the fact that the dough is made with the water. The same holds true for the Italian Bread and Rolls we have herein New York and New Jersey. The water is the reason we have the crusty bread unique to this area.

                  3. re: bakerboyz

                    NYC Deli's are about far more than pastrami and corned beef. They're about chopped liver and kishke and knish and kugel and herring and whitefish and latkes and tongue and great fresh (half-sour) and full sour pickles and brisket and etcetc... Boston doesn't even come close in terms of the remaining population. Boston did have some areas - enclaves in Revere, West Roxbury - but that was many, many years ago. The Jews dispersed into the burbs long ago - from Brookline to Newton to Lexington to everywhere, and even there it's not anywhere close to the spread out of NYC.. Nobody wants a piece of herring any more, or a nice piece of kishke with gravy, never mind a decent pickle.

                    It's funny that the Deli's we do have (Joan&Ed's) that have those things have lousy pastrami and corned beef - not super lousy, but packaged stuff - Sabrett or Hebrew National. If you want a real Jewish pastrami in the area, you have to go to an Italian sandwich shop (Sam LaGrassa's).

                  4. re: CindyJ

                    Take 280 from the Turnpike to Livingston, NJ (Eisenhower Pkwy exit), and go to Irving's Deli on rte.10. Even as a native NYCer, I've got to acknowledge that it has hand-cut pastrami comparable to Katz's (both of which are superior, IMO, to Artie's), and offers a classic deli menu and ambience to boot. At the very least, it'll save you the bridge or tunnel toll!

                  5. Easily the best corned beef and pastrami I've had in my life is not in NY but in Florida. I've had it served at more than one country club, but the latest place was Boca Pointe. If you do not know someone who lives there, then I'm not sure how you can get this. When Woodmont in Tamarac had their carving stations on Sundays, that too was in the same league.

                    In Washington, DC, I think the pastrami or corned beef at Deli City is equal to the best NY has to offer.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Steve

                      I would love to try Deli City, but why oh why are they located in Bladensburg??

                    2. As an ex-NYer now living on the central east coast of FL, Jewish Deli is one of the food groups I've missed. Recently, a TooJay's ( http://www.toojays.com/index.html ) has openned in our area. They're a chain of about 2 dozen locations spread around FL. They serve the usual Jewish Deli menu & bake their own breads & desserts. We went there for the pastrami on rye and it wasn't bad. The pastrimi was warm & moist. My chief knock was on the bread. While it was better than most I've tasted down here, its texture was a litle light & the crust wasn't crispy enough (same can be said about their rugalah.) Will I go back? Of course...when you're dieing of thirst in the desert, the water doesn't have to be Perrier to be enjoyable.

                      On the bagel front, we've found Rays NYC bagels in Publix's frozen food dept. You have to bake them in your oven for 6-7 minutes and they do come out of that with a nice crisp crust. Again, not the best I've ever had, but far from the worst.

                      Now if I could only find a NYC hard roll down here....

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: cavandre

                        IIn my limited FL experience (visiting the in-laws), I've found that the best NY-style baking can be found in FL. Seems all the bakers retired to the "Old Coast" and took their secrets with them and passed them on to the bakers there. The onion rolls in FL are the best and you can still find corn rye. Just try that in NY. Have you tried Star bakery in Delray? It's pretty good. I can't help you with the bagels,though. The MIL seems to prefer squishy white bread type bagels so I've yet to find a good one there.

                      2. My first time having pastrami (any kind of pastrami) was at Katzs deli, and it was an experience I'll always remember. The cooks let me taste it on a plate, and it was hot and juicy and literally melted in my mouth. My mouth is watering just thinking about it now. When I'm in a grocery store, or even at a local diner/deli, I refuse to get pastrami, just because I'm sure I'll be disappointed. I'm waiting for my next visit to Katz's to have another magical experience.

                        1. This type of question pops up every now and again.
                          I think its a great conversation piece, but at the end of the day, I think its the wrong question being asked.

                          As you say, you can get good Italian outside Italy, good Chinese outside China, etc etc. But good to who? Ask an Italian from a specific village and he'll say a specific food *cannot* be duplicated the same as his home town.
                          Same with Chinese, Indian etc.
                          So maybe it is good, but only for someone who did not grow up with it.

                          I don't think its specifically the water or the ingredients or whatever, but more the subjectivity of the food.
                          As KevinB points out, Montreal smoked meat (akin to pastrami) is number one around here. Katz's pastrami, while good (as in "you can get good Italian from Italy"), isn't as good as smoked meat from Schwartz.

                          I think a more accurate question would be along the lines as
                          Why can't I be satisfied with a product in a different location from where I've grown up with? Or something like that...you know what I mean.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: porker

                            I've had smoked meat at Schwartz's and pastrami from Katz's. They're not the same thing. Close, but different.

                            I prefer the pastrami; however, that's a personal decision that others may make differently, depending on where they grew up and what tastes "right" to them.

                            1. re: porker

                              Do you mean if a good chef leaves his little town in Italy and opens a trattoria in New Jersey and can't be as good as what he cooked in Italy?

                              1. re: bakerboyz

                                It will not be the same as what he made in Italy because the ingredients will be different. From the most expensive right down to the most humble and basic, water.

                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                  That's amazing. But I honestly believe much like the many "blind" wine tastings where the so-called experts usually cannot differentiate between "cheap" wine and expensive wine or even white from red, you would not be able to tell the difference. Just my humble opinion.

                                2. re: bakerboyz

                                  Oh, It'll be good no doubt, I agree along your lines below about a blind tasting. Its more than just taste and the dish, though.
                                  As a few people pointed out, it isn't *just* the pastrami or *just* the rye. The NYC deli experience is the whole enchilada.

                                  I think if you had a blind taste test in a darkened, undergound room somewhere in northern Nebraska, you might just find other sandwiches are just as good or better than Katz's. Just my unsubstantiated opinion as well {8->

                              2. Believe it or not, the meats can be found outside of NYC, but the bread is horrible. What passes for rye bread here is a travesty (Texas) at most "delis". So soft that it breaks up while you are eating it, and no flavor. Like brown white bread.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: RGC1982

                                  Some Brooklynites from my old neighborhood opened up a deli here in NC. They actually baked their own rye bread initially because they couldn't find anything suitable here. Within a few weeks they went over to using lame squishy store-bought rye. Why? Too many complaints from the customers about how tough and chewy the rye was. So the choice was stay authentic and lose customers or give the customers what will keep them coming back, whether we think it's good or not. Not even a close call. These people are in business to make a living so soft bread it is. Too bad, but that's reality.

                                  1. re: rockycat

                                    Have to say that bagels are, in some sense, in decline in NYC as well...just go read some posts on bagels on the Manhattan and Outer Boroughs boards. The good ones now have to be sought out, though there are still a lot of good places. Somebody was just griping that they can't get good bagels on the upper east side.

                                    I don't know how this has happened.

                                    1. re: rockycat

                                      I think you've got the answer - there just aren't enough people who want to eat a pastrami/corned beef/ tongue sandwich on rye and half sour pickles - the way it's meant to be - overstuffed, warm, chewy, squishy, fatty, fatty, and fatty - and they have to want to eat that way more than once a year - in NY, it's a style of food for locals to eat occasionally and it's a tourist attraction - so there is an endless supply of customers