11 of the Best Pastrami Sandwiches in NYC

It doesn't get more "New Yawk" than this smoky, salty meat. Whether you like yours on a bagel or on classic rye, adorned with a heap of coleslaw or just a dab of spicy mustard, here’s where to sample some of the best pastrami the city has to offer.

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By: Emily Lee

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Photo By: Robyn Lee

Photo By: Wally Gobetz

Photo By: Robyn Lee

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Katz's Delicatessen

We can thank Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal for spreading the good word about Katz’s far and wide, but longtime New Yorkers know this Jewish deli on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has been a neighborhood institution for roughly 130 years. Despite the attention that’s been lavished on this family-owned business, with countless book and travelogue show appearances glorifying the mystifyingly unctuous, smoky pink meat, Katz’s stays true to its roots. Fatty, navel-cut brisket, which can withstand long stints in a smoker, is cured with sodium nitrite-enriched salt for up to four weeks. Then, it’s rubbed down with a top-secret spice blend, and from there, it’s off to the smoker for two to three whole days. In the final phase, the meat is boiled and steamed, locking in the fatty juices that beg to be mopped up. (That’s where the rye comes in.) Dress it up with a swipe of Katz’s housemade spicy brown mustard — but don’t dare ask for ketchup. Or mayo. Or yellow mustard, for that matter. There’s only one way to eat Katz’s hot pastrami sandwich, and this is it.

Harry & Ida's Meat and Supply Co.

In 2015, this East Village sandwich counter and general store opened its doors amid the launches of other sandwich giants — Superiority Burger and David Chang's fried-chicken-sandwich spot, Fuku, to name a couple. Nevertheless, the humble deli quickly carved out a space for itself on Sammich Row with its locally sourced and in-house-prepared Jewish noshes. Despite the shop's very modern focus on food sustainability, a deep vein of tradition runs through the whole operation. Named after the shop owners' great-grandparents, Hungarian immigrants who opened a kosher delicatessen in Harlem nearly a century ago, Harry & Ida's uses recipes based on the originals from the uptown deli. Without a doubt, the best thing to order here is the pastrami sandwich: ultrathick slabs of brined and smoked brisket deckles served with buttermilk-fermented cucumber kraut, cracked rye berry, anchovy mustard and fresh dill on a long, pillowy bun.

David's Brisket House and Deli

Unlike the rest of the pastrami hotspots on our list, this Bedford-Stuyvesant treasure, tucked among beauty supply shops and Chinese takeout counters, is owned and operated by Muslim immigrants from Yemen. Dave, the original owner and namesake, maintained a kosher deli — but ever since the business came under new management, the meat has been handled according to the halal tradition. And despite the appeal of the eponymous brisket, the true masterwork at David's is the pastrami sandwich. The warm, delicately marbled meat, which bears pastrami’s signature peppery-black rind, comes stacked between slices of standard rye with just a touch of yellow mustard and a classic deli pickle.

2nd Ave Deli

An East Side legend for over 50 years, the beloved original 2nd Ave Deli shuttered in 2006, a decade after the devastating (and still unsolved) murder of its convivial owner, Abe Lebewohl. One year later, Abe's two nephews reopened the business on East 33rd Street, and then opened another on First Avenue. We're happy to report that both locations have retained the spirit and look of the original, complete with retro tile floors, Yiddish theater posters and the exceptionally friendly waitstaff — everything except for the deli's original neon sign. (You'll have to hop the train to Brooklyn to see that; it's installed in the City Reliquary in Williamsburg.) Another thing that hasn't changed is the stellar pastrami sandwich made from the deliciously marbled navel cut, and smoked and cured by A to Z Kosher Meat Products. It comes with a generous plate of pickles and crispy, not-too-sweet coleslaw (the best kind, if we're being honest).

Sarge's Delicatessen & Diner

There's truly something for everyone at Sarge's, a 24/7 diner with a storied history preserved in its Old World decor. (Think leather-upholstered booths, real Tiffany stained-glass lamps and, of course, a wall of celebrity photos.) The menu, which boasts over 200 items, includes the usual suspects: blintzes made from scratch, heaping smoked fish platters and a velvety New York cheesecake slice that will knock you to your knees. The pastrami is nothing to scoff at either. Try it diced up in an omelet, wrapped around a hot dog or stacked high on a triple-decker sandwich along with other meats, like salami or tongue (an acquired taste, perhaps). You can even order it baked into puff pastry along with blended potato and corned beef, a creation known as the Deli Wellington. If you're erring on the side of tradition, stick to the basics and order the Hot Pastrami off Sarge's sandwich board.

Frankel's Delicatessen & Appetizing

Feast your eyes (and then your belly) on the mounds of whitefish salad, cold cuts and smoked lox that tantalize from behind a wall of deli glass at this old-school-meets-hipster spot on the Greenpoint side of Brooklyn's McCarren Park. The hot pastrami on rye with mustard is as classic as it comes. But unlike earlier generations of New York City Jewish delis, which view tampering with the simple pastrami-rye bread-mustard formula as the ultimate taboo (we're looking at you, Katz's), this relative newcomer encourages customers to add some melted Swiss and make it a Reuben. Better yet, stop by for breakfast and try the juicy pink pastrami on rye bread, a challah roll or a bagel, with griddled eggs and cheese.

Jay & Lloyd's Kosher Deli

This Sheepshead Bay gem recently celebrated its 25th birthday — meaning it’s still young in NYC deli years! The relative youth of Jay and Lloyd’s is evident in the playful, kitschy decor: A neon frankfurter donning a top hat and bowtie graces the signage above the store entrance, another poses in the window, and a third, gigantic frank hangs over the register. Nevertheless, the pastrami that’s sliced, stacked and sandwiched here is as no-nonsense as pastrami comes. Smoked to juicy perfection, cured in-house by an expert staff — and with "just the right amount of schmaltz," say the owners (and childhood best friends), Jay and Lloyd — the pastrami is then sliced to thin perfection and served in a towering stack between slices of rye bread. Honorable mentions go to the stellar stuffed cabbage, noodle pudding and zucchini pancakes.

Russ & Daughters

As the old saying goes, you need to know the rules before you can break them — and few establishments understand great pastrami flavor as well as Russ & Daughters, a fourth-generation, family-owned Jewish appetizing store on East Houston Street. You won't find pastrami of the usual sort behind the counter, so order up a fresh bagel piled with Russ & Daughters' pastrami smoked salmon, a marriage of two time-honored Jewish food traditions. This is no fishy imposter: The salmon is worked over with a peppery, pastrami-style rub, then cold-smoked to lock in the flavors. Try it on the Pastrami Russ, which stars the thin-sliced fish along with Muenster cheese, sauerkraut and mustard, all piled onto a soft pretzel roll. At first you're hit with bold pastrami notes, but after a few seconds of contemplative noshing, the clean-tasting lox comes to the fore. If you're feeling skeptical, consider the fact that Ina Garten famously called Russ and Daughters the "most fantastic Jewish appetizing store in all of New York."

Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop

Combine Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda with melt-in-your-mouth pastrami on rye for a true New York experience at this Flatiron institution, which boasts "raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929" on the cover of its menu. It’s something of a miracle that this old-school diner — where most menu items don’t top $10 — hasn’t yet gone the way of the dinosaur, despite being tucked among Fifth Avenue’s high-end makeup counters and sparkling new yoga studios. Longtime customers feared the worst when the former owners of Eisenberg’s, unable to keep up with soaring rent demands, sold the unpretentious lunch counter to an up-and-coming restaurateur with a more corporate background, back in May of 2018. But so far this little slice of old-school New York has continued to churn out the most reliably good pastrami, egg creams and all-day breakfast that the neighborhood has to offer.

Pickler & Co.

This busy lunch hub just steps from Manhattan's Grand Central Station is popular among Midtown East's suited professionals who are in need of a caffeine jolt and a hearty breakfast sandwich. There are over 30 sandwich and wrap options on the shop' s menu, but Pickler's take on a classic pastrami sandwich — served on toasted rye with Swiss, whole-grain mustard, caramelized onions and a sour pickle — is popular among the New Yorkers who really know what's up. Gearing up for an afternoon of marathon meetings? Sidestep the inevitable beef coma by ordering the Rachel. It features Pickler's leaner turkey pastrami with Swiss, Thousand Island dressing and sauerkraut on rye.

Pastrami Queen

No one observes tradition more meticulously than royals, and Pastrami Queen on the Upper East Side lives up to its name by serving 150-year-old recipes from the old country. (Think chopped liver sandwiches, sour pickles, knishes, noodle pudding and fall-apart pastrami made on-site.) Space is limited, and the table-and-chair situation seems like an afterthought. But thanks to the fast-moving takeout counter, there isn't a more ideal checkpoint for refueling after a tour of Central Park or Museum Mile. The World Famous Hot Pastrami is an overstuffed monster that requires both hands on deck, so if you do get yours to go, you'll want to find a stoop or park bench to settle into before your first bite. If you're feeling particularly dexterous, top it with creamy housemade slaw, or red onions for extra bite. Most visitors ask for it the traditional way: with nothing more than a smear of spicy mustard. Either way, expect a literal mountain of the pink, salty meat on malty rye flecked with caraway seeds.