Here's the Beef: New York's Best Pastrami Sandwiches

Julie Besonen

Where can you get a pastrami fix if you can't gorge at Carnegie Deli? That's been the question since the fabled landmark closed in April owing to gas problems, among other issues. It's supposed to reopen any day now, but the deli's absence has forced carnivores to seek out this iconic New York City staple elsewhere. For old-school curing, smoking, steaming and slicing expertise you're in safe hands at Barney Greengrass and Zabar's on the Upper West Side. The beloved Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop in the Flatiron District also does a solid job. If you find yourself in the Bronx, go to Liebman's Kosher Delicatessen, where prices are modest and spice-rubbed sandwiches enormous. Another pastrami whisperer is Noah Bernamoff at Mile End Delicatessen, but technically he offers Montreal-style smoked meat, which purists say is not the same thing since it's a slightly different cut of beef and uses different spices. We challenge you to tell the difference, as well as to look at our slideshow highlighting six other contenders for best pastrami in the City.

Photo: Sadeq Alshugaa

David's Brisket House
533 Nostrand Ave., 718-789-1155, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
The Brooklyn-bound A express train will quickly deposit you at Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, a block from where one of the City's finest pastrami sandwiches can be found in a humble deli. Despite its name, David's Brisket House is stronger in the pastrami department, the marbled, juicy meat sliced up similar to bacon strips and generously piled on your choice of bread. The regular size is $12, but to go all out, get the large, for $15; it's colossal. It's equally good on rye or a club roll stained yellow with pungent mustard. There are a handful of booths and tables, the primary decor consisting of a large beverage case. What's more of interest is a look at David's multiculturalism—run by Yemenite Muslims who cater to a blended Brooklyn clientele of African Americans and Jewish families. The pastrami is halal, not kosher, and everyone seems at peace with that.

Photo: Erin and Erica

Harry & Ida's Meat and Supply Co.
189 Ave. A, 646-864-0967, East Village, Manhattan
A recently opened East Village deli and general store is fast becoming a rival of Katz's for best pastrami sandwich found south of 14th Street. The cured, smoked and steamed deckle meat is threaded with fat and layered on a club roll with strips of pickled cucumber, fresh dill fronds and anchovy mustard ($17.50). For traditionalists harboring doubt, accept a glistening slice from the counterman and experience instant seduction; the pastrami is pliant and delicious. What's more, it's hormone-free and locally sourced. The only downside is there is no seating (you can rest your sandwich on a small bar). Still, there are worse things than standing around noshing and perusing the locally made provisions on the shelves curated by brother-sister co-owners Will and Julie Horowitz. They named the charming storefront for their great-grandparents Harry and Ida, Hungarian immigrants who once ran a deli in Harlem.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

Katz's Delicatessen
205 E. Houston St., 212-254-2246, Lower East Side, Manhattan
It's hard to dispute that Katz's is king when it comes to pastrami. The countermen are cocky as they spear and slice slabs of ruby meat with blackened edges. And why wouldn't they be confident? They're upholding a tradition that began in 1888. Whether or not you shove a dollar into the tip cup they'll slip you some free pastrami slivers on a plate, proving that they're sweethearts underneath the swagger. The slow-cured, coarse meat is heaped on rye, brushed with mustard and served with pickles on the side. At $19.75, it's not cheap—unless you consider that it feeds two. The overstuffed sandwich can be messy, so find a table and lean over. Cops, firefighters, construction workers and tourists by the busload make the lines look intimidating, but the energetic staff keeps things moving.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

Pastrami Queen
1125 Lexington Ave., 212-734-1500, Upper East Side, Manhattan
The ruddy pastrami at this Upper East Side deli is buttery, fragrant and supple, with blackened peppery edges. It's quickly and neatly mounded; little spills out from the mustard-slathered rye bread. Not quite as huge as the sandwich at Katz's, it's still supremely filling, comes with pickles and costs $16.50, which is $3.25 less than its downtown competitor. The small kosher storefront seats scarcely more than a dozen patrons and does a brisk takeout and delivery business for locals. It's not widely known outside the neighborhood, but it should be since it's walkable from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pastrami Queen opened on the Upper East Side in the late 1990s and has occupied its current location since 2006, although it traces its origins back to Queens' now-defunct Pastrami King, established more than 50 years ago.

Photo: Michael Berman

Sarge's Deli
548 Third Ave., 212-679-0442, Murray Hill, Manhattan
This throwback diner, founded by a retired cop, has been in operation since 1964 and never closes. Ever. Not only is Sarge's open 24/7, it'll deliver anytime to pretty much anywhere in Manhattan. That means if you're in a hotel and craving a pastrami sandwich at 4am, you can pick up the phone or order online and soon be gripping one in your hands. The nonfatty, mild, crimson meat is shaved thin and stacked about three inches high on soft rye bread. Take a bite, and feel the tower crumble in your mouth—no excessive chewing necessary. Zesty mustard adds a kick. If you patronize this Murray Hill cafeteria in person, you'll also get a kick out of veteran waitresses slapping down creamy cole slaw and fat pickles as soon as you're seated. That, along with half a pastrami sandwich (enough, trust us), a cup of soup (get homey matzo ball or hearty mushroom barley) and a generous handful of hot fries, all for $14.95, will keep you full for hours.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

2nd Ave Deli
162 E. 33rd St., 212-689-9000, Murray Hill; 1442 First Ave., 212-737-1700, Upper East Side, Manhattan
The 2nd Ave Deli hasn't been on Second Avenue since 2006, but no matter. It's still the most New York-y of New York experiences. The Murray Hill location opened in 2007, doing a good job of mimicking the East Village original that dated back to 1954. Expect kibitzing at the door. "We're four," an arriving group will say, followed by the host shouting, "Four nice people!" The next party will say, "Two," and the host elicits they're from Australia. "Two nice people from Down Under!" he announces to the room. Locals get just as warm a greeting. The clean, white-tiled space has counter seating and booths, and dare we say this is where you can indulge in the best pastrami sandwich in the City? The kosher beef is incredibly smoky and flavorful, edged with pepper and blessed with just the right amount of fat, the rye holding it all together. Another branch opened on the Upper East Side in 2011.