Oldest Delis in NYC

8 Oldest Delis in NYC That You Can Still Eat At

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There’s nothing that screams classic New York like a local deli. From the most popular Jewish sandwich shops to the neighborhood Italian joints, these places have decades of city culture backing them up. If you’re in New York and you want two slices of history wrapped around the meat of the city, you need to visit one or all of the 8 oldest Delis in NYC.

8. Sarge’s Delicatessen

Location: 548 3rd Ave
Opened: 1964
Known for: Pastrami and brisket

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Sarge’s Deli is open 24/7, which you won’t find too often in NYC, particularly in Murray Hill. The restaurant was closed for a couple of years in 2012 following a grease fire, but it’s back and kicking now. Their sandwiches are not only melt-in-your-mouth meaty, but they’re piled so high you may not be able to fit them in your mouth. They have a $20+ sandwich called “The Monster,” which has an incredible amount of roast beef, shaved turkey, corned beef, pastrami, and salami on it.

They have burgers, rolled beef, traditional tongue, brisket, and even breakfast. The décor is old-fashioned, near to tackiness, with Tiffany lamps and Naugahyde booths, but if you stop at Sarge’s, one thing at least is certain. You know what you’re there for (it’s the meat).

Did you know?

99% of everything you eat at Sarge’s is made at the restaurant, including in-house cured meats made from the recipes of Sarge himself, Sgt. Abe Katz. After retiring as a sergeant on the New York City police force, Abe made it his goal to make something that would last. He passed the recipes down so the neighborhood’s favorite sandwiches would never go out of style.


7. David’s Brisket House

Location: 533 Nostrand Ave
Opened: 1960s
Known for: Brisket

David’s Brisket Housephoto source: Flickr

David’s Brisket House was owned by a Russian Jewish man who opened it in the 1960s (the site lists no more specific date). He ran it as a neighborhood sandwich shop into the 80s when it was sold to a Muslim Yemeni family who owns it today.

It continues to serve pastrami, brisket, and other treats like it did in the 1960s. It stands as a melting pot of faiths and melt-in-your-mouth beef in the heart of Brooklyn.

Did you know?

The Village Voice has awarded David’s Brisket House the Best Beef Brisket in Brooklyn (how’s that for alliteration).


6. 2nd Ave Deli

Location: 162 E 33rd St
Opened: 1954
Known for: Kishka

photo source: Flickr

The 2nd Ave Deli is one of the most authentic Jewish deli experiences you can find. Abe Lebewohl founded the deli in 1954 and since then the place has seen a ton of celebrity guests and even more delicious meals.

The place is famous for its pastrami, corned beef, and kishka, which is a Jewish sausage-based dish. Also called derma, kishka blends pork, pork liver, snouts, and beef blood and adds it to buckwheat groats, onions, and spices, stuffing it into a sausage casing. Kishka is served like sausage but not smoked – it’s cooked through and creamy. 2nd Ave also has a to-die-for cholent, which is a Jewish bean stew.

Did you know?

On his way to the bank in 1996, Abe Lebewohl was murdered. A decade later, the 2nd Ave Deli closed due to a rent dispute. However, Abe’s nephews Jeremy and Josh eventually reopened the place and even started a second location at 1442 1st Ave. Abe’s dream (and the kishka) are alive and well today even if he, unfortunately, is not.


5. Liebman’s Delicatessen

Location: 552 W 235th St
Opened: 1953
Known for: Hot dogs and knishes

Liebman’s Delicatessenphoto source: Flickr

Liebman’s Kosher Deli down in the Bronx was founded in 1958. It’s been owned and operated by the Dekels since 1980 and on into today, where locals still enjoy the retro décor and stellar food. If you’re looking to eat in 50s-era wood Formica, neon windows, and Naugahyde booths, this is the place.

On the food front, Liebman’s is famous for soups, hot dogs, as well as corned beef and pastrami sandwiches cured on site. They serve fries with gravy, overstuffed meat sandwiches of all kinds, and famous, signature Jewish knishes. If you didn’t know, a knish is like a potato appetizer, almost a little pie. They’re doughy and filled with mashed potatoes, cheese, onions, and more, and deep-fried into crispy, classic comfort food.

Did you know?

There were over 100 Jewish delis in the vicinity of Liebman’s when it opened in the Bronx in 1953. He had the last laugh though because his stood the test of time and is now the oldest in the area. It’s so venerated in fact that when Dekel acquired it, he changed nothing on the menu. Instead, he had the old chef train the newcomers to keep the Liebman’s staples as classic as possible.


4. Junior’s Restaurant

Location: 386 Flatbush Avenue Ext
Opened: 1950
Known for: Cheesecake

Junior’s Restaurantphoto source: Flickr

Junior’s Restaurant has been a classic Jewish deli since it opened in 1950. Recently, they’ve expanded to include more traditional sit-down fare, a restaurant menu, and more of a diner setting. Make no mistake though – in the back, Junior’s still has the heart of the old Brooklyn deli staple.

While it now serves up everything from eggplant parmesan to jerk chicken, Junior’s made a name for itself on Jewish staples like pastrami, corned beef, chicken livers, and their famously delectable, unbeatable cheesecake, which they sell all over the world.

Did you know?

Junior’s is a city staple debatably around since even before 1950. The Rosen family was running a diner at the corner of Dekalb and Flatbush since 1929 before renaming the brand “Junior’s.” They are now a nationwide brand, with total revenue in the hundreds of millions.


3. Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop

Location: 174 5th Ave
Opened: 1929
Known for: Breakfast

photo source: Flatiron District

In the upscale real estate in and around Madison Square Park, Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop is a bit of an anomaly. It’s a homey, downtown Jewish-owned-and-run deli that dishes up breakfast and deli meat all day long and has been doing so since it opened in 1929.

From a stool at the long bar or the limited tables, you can sample Eisenberg’s classic all-Jewish-American fare, including chopped liver, whitefish salad, famous pastrami, and earth-shatteringly classic meatloaf.

They’re temporarily closed right now in the generally underserved Flatiron District of New York, a neighborhood where the pandemic hit the job market like a wrecking ball hits a wall. But they’re expected to be back on their feet soon!

Did you know?

Flatiron is part of the classic NYC borough, named for the Flatiron Building. It crosses Union Square, Greenwich Village, and at a certain point, Broadway cuts straight through. Renovations on Broadway and the gentrification of Madison Avenue make Flatiron a mix of pay scales and cultures. This is why you can walk 3 minutes from the luxurious Madison Square Park into an old-school neighborhood deli. Only in New York.


2. Barney Greengrass

Location: 541 Amsterdam Ave
Opened: 1908
Known for: Smoked fish

Barney Greengrassphoto source: Flickr

Barney Greengrass is known for its incredible store of preserved smoked fish, which is why it’s stylistically called itself “Sturgeon King.” This Jewish deli on the Upper West Side serves not only that famous smoked fish but also an assortment of sandwiches, from staples like pastrami, turkey, and salami, to Jewish eccentricities like tongue and chopped liver.

The wallpaper and tables are retro, maybe a little sticky, but definitely loved by the locals. The most unfortunate thing they’re known for is not taking cards – come in, eat as much pastrami as you can, and pay cash.

Did you know?

Barney Greengrass has a few odd Jewish-American fusion food options as well as the sandwich staples. Locals enjoy some of its weirder offerings, such as a pastrami-cured salmon bagel sandwich as well as a tongue omelet.


1. Katz’s Delicatessen

Location: 205 E Houston St
Opened: 1888
Known for: Cranky servers (on purpose!)

Katz’s Delicatessenphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The oldest deli in NYC is Katz’s Delicatessen. This thing is the staple in the Lower East Side. When you say “deli,” people think Katz’s. Since 1888 they’ve prided themselves on making what many consider to be the city’s best pastrami sandwich.

Way back then, the diner called “Iceland Brothers” became Iceland and Katz and then Katz’s Delicatessen when the brothers got iced. Originally, the deli was near the National Theater where it gained popularity as the only local deli open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, ie, Saturday.

As far as Jewish New York delis go, this one is the icon. Its campaign in WWII to “send a salami to your boy in the army” was a huge hit and drummed up a ton of business for the place. It’s been hot and pressed, like its sandwiches, ever since. Its waitresses serve up show-offy crankiness to give that movie restaurant impression. People love it.

Did you know?

In addition to receiving patronage from all quarters of the Lower East Side, Katz’s Delicatessen has been featured in a number of major films. The “send a salami” campaign appeared in the Martin & Lewis picture, At War with the Army. Sinatra paid homage to the deli in Contract on Cherry Street.

Modern films have also dropped by for some famous NYC pastrami, such as famous scenes in When Harry Met Sally, Across the Universe, and even Disney’s Enchanted.


The Takeaway

Old delis in New York City are emblematic of the charm of the old neighborhood and the amazing smell of meat you can sense wafting down most avenues in Brooklyn. Whether you’re looking for juicy corned beef or some rarer cultural favorites (looking at you, kishka!) you should add these delis to your bucket list.


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